Icy winds whipped through the barbed wire that towered above the flock of people. Jews. Pushed through the gate by stalky German soldiers, they huddled together on the cold November day, shivering uncontrollably. The air was dry and pierced their lungs. Little white puffs billowed into the sky between blue lips. This was the first step towards imprisonment. In this place, void of compassion, two men—bundled warmly in coats, scarves, and gloves and sitting behind a small table—would determine who would live and who would die.
“Men to the left, women to the right!” ordered an officer while others enforced the command.
Jaron and Kaila glanced at each other from across the space separating them. Fear and love burned in their eyes—it heated their bodies. Jaron did his best to stand firm, to comfort her with a reassuring look. He wanted to be strong for her right now. It’ll be okay, his eyes whispered. Despite his strong body and clenched jaw, he trembled in the wind; he couldn’t control it. Kaila’s frail figure was hunched over. She wrapped her arms around waist, pulling her dress tighter against her skin, clinging to any warmth her body, or the dress, would provide. Chestnut eyes shone glossy with tears and worry as dark strands of hair whipped the tight, dry skin on her face. She turned her head away from his hopeful eyes, not wanting him to see the fear and weakness within her.
But he already knew. And he was afraid. What if the ever present, looming death sentence claimed her life? “She’s so frail…”
The line started moving as the officers at the table eyed each person. His heart was beating faster now. At the shake of a head, men and women were either led to the huddle of survivors or guided to an open back truck and pushed inside. The man judging the women was stern and condemning. “Too weak,” he snarled under his breath, waving his hand so the guards would take the young girl in front of him away.
“No!” she screamed. “I can work, I can!” Ferocity and desperation shown clear in her young face, desperately pleading as they dragged her away.
Kaila could be next. She met his eyes, but then bowed her head. She was thinking the same thing. A tear dripped to the snow. How he longed to stroke her face. To wipe the warm, salty tears away and hold her. To protect her. Everything blurred. Anger and sorrow swirled together in his dark eyes.
“Step forward!” an exasperated officer shouted.
The man behind Jaron nudged him forward. Bowing his head as the officer looked him over, he concealed his hate. The man nodded and motioned to group of survivors. Jaron jointed the group but kept his eyes on Kaila. She stepped forward. The air in his lungs escaped through his open mouth. His temples pulsated. He was straining to hear the verdict. Live or die?
“No,” the officer muttered. “It’d be a wonder if her little arms could make bread” he chuckled, smirking at the other officers who quickly joined in jest.
At their hostile grasp, she shuddered and sobs became free. Tears flowed down her pale face. After the first step desperation ceased her tears. “Jaron,” she said, frantically searching the crowd for his face. Over and over she said it. “Jaron. Jaron!”
Her increasingly alarming cries brought him out of the foggy haze his mind and body had gone into. Fury at last delivered air to his lungs, strength to his muscles. He was immune to the bitter air and snow now. “Kaila!” Lunging forward, he escaped the officers grasp. “Kaila!” he shouted again. He was by her side in seconds, ripping her from the grasp of the officers.
He swept her up in an embrace. “I will never stop loving you,” he whispered as she cried. He knew this moment wouldn’t last. In those precious seconds he wiped the tears from her face and kissed her. As he pulled away to look at her face, sharp gunshots echoed through the bitter air. He winced, feeling the cold metal rip through his core. Her brow furrowed too, and she gasped in pain. Her legs collapsed beneath her and she hit the cold earth, blood spilling from her stomach and running onto the gravel. Jaron’s head started spinning, his mind couldn’t focus, and he landed on the ground beside her.
The life was quickly draining from his body. They locked eyes—both were glossy with tears of pain and sorrow. His eyes fluttered and Kaila closed hers, letting the tears flow freely. By the time she opened her eyes, his were closed—completely. His body was still. Her own breath was becoming laborious and her eyelids felt heavier with each passing second. “I’ll….see you…soon,” she breathed, painfully sucking in small breaths. She gently touched his face, stroking her fingers from his temple to his jaw, then resting her fingers upon his lips. He’d kissed her only moment ago. “I love you,” she exhaled; and the life slipped from her too.