the star

Short Stories / Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

The big marble hallway felt empty as a church when the clock strikes three in the morning, although it was only early afternoon. Heavy sunlight filtered in through the windows, illuminating the countless oil portraits suspended from the wall, each one more intricate, more colourful than the last. Giant rivers of red velvet curtains were being held back on either side of the double windows by thick gold brocade. The same red velvet was covering the floor, winding its way through one room to the next, leading the odd visitor by artfully crafted sculptures of grape-eating gods, naked amazons and fearsome beasts of the Greek mythology. You would have thought that all this splendid art would make the rooms feel warm and homely but not even that managed to smooth over the coldness that seemed to emanate from the white stone and was thrown back hundred-fold by the white stone opposite it.

This was no place for a little boy, yet here he was, finding himself unable to avert his eyes from the naked statues on proud display everywhere around him.

“Where’s Mommy?” he asked one of the stone-faced statue of a woman, this one with her head slightly tipped to the side which gave her an air of constant suspicion.

“I don’t know, little boy,” she said. If he hadn’t seen her lips move and her eyes shift in their stony socket, he would have believed that his head had only made up her raspy voice. He looked at her more closely, mouth wide agape.

“Did you just… talk?”

“I’m not supposed to. As you may well know, statues are no big talkers. But you looked so sad. Tell me, why can’t you find your Mommy?”

“It all went so fast! Mommy shook me awake in the middle of the night and her eyes looked so heavy that I wanted to hug her but she said there was no time and that we needed to go and she held me close and ran to the station with me. Through the pitch-black night, can you imagine?” The statue didn’t give an answer and he was half worried that he, indeed, had only made up her ability to talk but then she gave a small twinkle with her eyes to signal him to continue.

“And there were so many people already, at the station, I mean! And Mommy wriggled past them all and everyone looked at her really angry and said mean things to her but she just kept on elbowing her way through and she wouldn’t let me down so I couldn’t walk by myself. And then I heard a whistle from far away and it kept coming closer and getting louder and Mommy’s face kept getting more miserable and then she finally put me down and held my face with two hands and told me to look at her. Directly into her eyes, which I did, which is what I always do when she speaks to me, and then she told me that she needed to leave me now because there were so many bad people in our hometown. Then she pinned my badge on,” he pointed to a star pinned to his chest, one word embroidered on it in black, “Mommy says it stands for bravery, she gave it to me before I walked to school by myself for the first time and she said that I always need to wear it before I leave the house, so that other people know they can come to me for help if they are in trouble.”

“You must be a very brave little man then,” the statue said, her lips of stone barely moving.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. But I gotta admit, I was really scared when Mommy said she would leave me here and get on the train because I’m only seven you know? So, I wasn’t really sure how I would get my homework done without her help and because I’m too small to light a fire on the stove, I wasn’t sure how I was going to cook dinner all by myself. And then Mommy hugged me so tightly that I thought my bones would break. And she kissed my cheeks and my forehead and everything and I was getting a little embarrassed because the boys from my class would have laughed if they’d seen it and I told her that I’m not really comfortable with her leaving me here and she laughed, and it must have been really funny because she was crying, also, and she hugged me again. ‘It’s not me that’s going on the train, silly, it’s you. You must promise me to be good and polite in the house that you’re going to and I will come find you when the bad men have gone and I’ll bring you back home.’ That’s what she said. And that didn’t really make things all that better, you know?”

“Łukasz, there you are!”

He could hear the old man and owner of the marble house wheezing down the stairs on the opposite end of the hallway. “I’ve been looking for you all over, you can’t just leave your room and wander about the house.” Łukasz turned around guiltily, because of the wandering or because of the talking with a statue, he was not quite sure himself.

“Where’s Mommy?” he repeated, this time directed towards the old man.

“I don’t know where she is, frankly. But she knows where you are, and that’s the most important thing.” He had already half-turned away when he looked at him again, squarely into his eyes. “And for heaven’s sake take off that yellow star. In this house, we do not care if you are a Jew or not. In this house, you are a human-being, just like me.”

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