The old woman sat dozing on the bench, soaking in the warmth of the sun. Her careworn face was shadowed by the green scarf that hung out over her forehead. She was wearing an ancient, black wool coat, frayed at the cuffs. It had been carefully brushed. Not a speck of lint clung to it. Her black oxfords were worn down at the heel and the soles around the toes looked paper- thin. But they had been carefully polished. Her work roughened hands clutched a frayed cloth bag in her lap. A sack of groceries sat by her side, a loaf of bread peeking out of the top.
Passers-by wouldn’t have given her a second glance. They had no idea that inside that shell of a body beat the heart of the young girl she had once been. Her resting brain was once again watching that young girl as she cowered behind the out- building, covered by the bushes that grew there in rank abandon. Once again she heard the screams of her parents and younger brothers as the gun-fire started. Why was this happening? What could she do? She stifled the sobs that would give her away. She turned to run, right into the arms of the German soldier. Sobbing, she startled herself awake. She bolted upright in her seat, looking around to be sure no one had noticed. She was embarrassed, and her heart was racing. She unconsciously rubbed the spot on her arm where the faded, hated numbers still seared her heart.
Gradually, she brought herself into focus. She was here, sitting in the park, in New York City in the United States. The year was 1980. She blinked. The pain was here too, the pain of missing her family, and the longing for her childhood. She closed her eyes against the strong sun. “Be grateful for what you have,” she reminded herself. The past is gone. You have Paul and Anna and their children. Your life is here. This is all there is or will be. It will be enough until you are gone.”
“Grandma, are you okay? You look so sad. Do you feel all right?”
She looked up, and the pain eased off a bit. Here was her darling Zelda, her youngest granddaughter, her joy. Blue eyes smiled into her own from the sweet face, brown hair falling from her shoulders. Skinny and awkward, Zelda bent over her, her right hand resting lightly on the bent shoulder. The old lady straightened her scarf and smiled. She reached up and touched the girl’s face.
“Yes, I am fine, Darling. I just wanted to rest a bit before I came on home. Did they send you to look for me?”
“I was worried about you. You’ve been gone a long time. Shall we walk on home together? I can carry your bag for you.”
“Yes, I am ready- to go home. Thank you, Zellie.” She slowly pulled herself upright, with a helpful pull from Zelda. She squeezed Zelda’s hand. It still surprised her that the twelve-year-old Zellie was as tall as she was. She smiled at the girl, and her heart expanded. “I’m ready to go home,” she repeated. “Tell me what you did in school today. It must be wonderful to be learning so much. What did you have for lunch?
Together theywalked toward home.