AFTERWORD T he room at the bottom of the stairs is wide and long. Everywhere children are asleep on mattresses spread across the concrete floor. A young woman in uniform sits in a chair facing the door. On her lap rests a rifle, and in her hand she holds a book. She has watched Eva descend the iron stairway into the bomb shelter. The two women come together now in the center of the floor. “I cannot go to visit your grandfather today,” Eva says, “because I am very busy.” The woman with the book and the gun is speaking at the same time. “Have you gone to my grandfather’s house yet?” she asks. “He waits-for-your -vtif.” The room has a low ceiling. Yellow and orange balloons float like zeppelins in the heavy underground air. “What did you say?” “What did you say?” “I ask if you go to see Shmuel,” the guard tells Eva. Their conversation wakes a redheaded boy, who sits forward and rubs his eyes with both hands. The women lower their voices. “Today is the day for your visit to my grandfather. He waits for you.” Behind the guard more children are fidgeting and moving in their sleep. Eva sighs. “I will go now,” she promises. The Norwegian girl steps carefully over mattresses. As she moves past the last sleeping .child, the tip of Eva’s nose is tickled by a string hanging from a balloon. She stops at the darkened stairs. The young Israeli woman who is guarding the nursery has followed Eva to the door. The rifle-carrying soldier has dark skin. Dark hair. Dark eyes. Full red lips, and white-white teeth. “You came here for something?” the soldier asks. “I wanted to see the children.” “That is not possible,” she says. “They sleep now.” Eva climbs the stairs and starts down a narrow dirt road bordered by a razorwire fence. The kibbutz sausage factory is in the distance, next to the ruins of a castle built during the Crusades. Rings of greasy smoke are rising from the factory chimney. Past the castle Eva comes to an area of the kibbutz where the houses are all small and neat, resting in the shadows of the Lebanese hills. One house is more perfect than the others. The grass in front of the door is greener, the flowers brighter. The_ _music coming front the –windows is classical. Eva climbs onto the porch and magically the door of the little house opens before she can knock. An old man bows and leads Eva inside. No one has ever bowed to Eva before, except as a joke. Except this old man. Every Wednesday he bows and invites Eva into his home. “How are you, Shmuel?” “I am well.” Shmuel bows again. “Why,” he asks, “would I not be well?” “I have just seen Laliv in the nursery.” “I know,” he says. The old man sits down opposite Eva. Behind him a rifle leans against the wall. On the far side the living room of his tiny house leads to an open dining room. The open dining room.leads to the open kitchen.The far side of the kitchen is the closed door to the bedroom. . The old man is the kibbutz shoemaker. On this kibbutz also live a doctor, a mechanic, an accountant, and two electricians. The kibbutz is a little town, except here everyone eats together in a communal , dining hall and, here no one has many possessions. In truth the old man is too old to work much anymore. In truth the people of the kibbutz have been buying shoes in the city for many years. The best that the old man can do now is sometimes fix a pair of shoes. Even that is difficult because modern shoes are made to be used and thrown away. Not repaired. But shoemaking is the trade that he learned when he was a boy in Europe. Once a week, Eva comes to the old Jew’s house to drink tea and eat fruitcake. Today Shmuel serves banana bread instead. The bread is good but today the old man offers coffee to Eva, not tea. The coffee is Nescafe. Bad tea can be okay, Eva has discovered, but bad coffee is always terrible. To be polite she smiles as she drinks. “It is to your taste?” “Yes,” she lies. Sometimes Eva and Shmuel communicate only with their eyes. They sit and drink and look at each other. The old man can speak Hebrew and English and Polish. Eva speaks Norwegian and English. They both know German. But in this gingerbread house German is not spoken. Shmuel is wearing short sleeves. He has faded numbers burned into the skin of his arm. All the old people on the kibbutz wear short sleeves. Even in winter. They all have concentration camp numbers burned into the flesh of their arms. Their arms want you to know. “I survived,” is written on their arms. Eva is already very knowledgeable on the subject of concentration camps. She saw a documentary about the Holocaust before she left Norway. She knows all the names of the Nazi camps. Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka. Auschwitz. Dachau. Dachau was not one camp. “Dachau” was the name of a system of more than 100 camps spread across Germany. The old man was born in Poland. Probably he would have gone to Auschwitz. The film did not tell Eva that. She already knew “How are your studies of the Jewish people?” “Good.” During the War BY LUCIUS LOMAX 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/24/02
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