The three men
Once there were three men chosen by fate to be at the same unfortunate place at the same forgotten hour. Amsterdam, February 1941, the three men lost their freedom a year ago along with their countrymen. Thrown into a small room, awaiting death or horror, they met each other.*
Aart had a perfect family; two beautiful kids, Angela and Andrianus, and his loving wife, Angelina.
He was a farmer by profession, and the bothers of the world never knocked on their door. Calamities, though, have always had the force to break every intricate bead of peace. First, the news of war. Then, they saw the war and terror. Their farm was ravaged on a regular night; it was not any different that the preceding or following nights. They led funerals of their regular lives, buried them in silence and tears. And when they were finally hollow, having accepted the loss*of all, they were reminded of the unacceptable loss of a loved one. Angela, 5, and Angelina, 37, had left for bread and chocolate, and never returned. Aart could fathom parting with his shadow, but never Adrianus, after all, wouldn't he lose himself if Adrianus was no more? The nature of uncontrollable events is that you realise life is always fleeting and was never yours to control, and everything*good is simply good fortune, and hope everything bad doesn't erase all traces of good. Aart hoped too, but one such night walked away with Adrianus and dragged him to Auschwitz. He was not going to ascend to the stars in silence, but shout and scream so loud that ages of men would hear him.*
Arjan loved the scent of rebellion and the aroma grew more irresistible with time. He was fifteen and ready to walk across the border to a world free of family and culture. Cas was a stern father, a firm believer in lectures and articulated all that he knew to Arjan without respite. Arjan had lived only part of Cas' pages, and Cas remembered only few pages from his early life. Even though Corola agreed with her husband, she couldn't tear away the rough early pages from the diary; she loved Arjan too dearly. Once the war started, Cas became unemployed and Arjan began experiencing asthma. Corola understood the asthma well,*but still got an inhaler, and with it, the entire family came upon a shocking realization that was always there, but now accompanied the quiet dinners. Poor Corola tried, but soon the silence overpowered her will too. War, silence and suffocation prompted Arjan to leave behind everything and run towards a new life, and so he did. It was a few days later, he sat in a typical small cafe enjoying coffee, croissants and fresh air, when the newspaper solemnly informed him that Vondel Street had been annihilated, people, houses and memories all wiped away. As he folded the moist newspaper and moved the plate away, he knew freedom didn't wait for him, it was elsewhere. Rebellion had a different meaning now, it carried not anger or revenge, but to speak in a voice so thunderous that it would carry all the lost voices.
Hagan had a huge family, as he had always wanted, two sons and a daughter, two daughter in-laws and a son-in-law, four grandkids, and of course, his lovely wife, Haley. He was born poor and with only sufficient money for two meals, education was a luxury his parents couldn't afford. With no education, but a burning desire to craft his own fortune, he began working from the tender age of seven. Tender, soft hands slowly became rough, and the pink hue departed from his face, left only with the reside*of sweat. He was an exceptional carpenter and soon surpassed the necessity of meals to other luxuries of life, and on such a simple day he met Haley. She was rich, but also possessed a heart of gold. Hagan had seen heaven, and could not walk away from it, and so they got married. And soon, they had a daughter, the day she graduated remained the most precious moment of his life. In that moment, he realised life was fair and it would always do good to those who remained true. Only more happiness came through the door and finally retired, he was content. He had lived and tasted the sweet nectar of life, and he was ready to go. But then, news of the war broke. A life crafted for more than sixty years would take an eternity to be wiped away, but it took only one airstrike, and only Haley survived with him. He held her hand, looked at the ruins and cried. They spoke no words, simply cried. They also knew that the captors were nearby, but they held hands and cried. They knew it would be the last time. Soon they arrived and three men bashed their hands, and as they were pulled away with bloodied, broken hands, he knew in that moment life was not simply fair because you were true. He was not ready to leave the world anymore, because he carried only discontentment and even though, the world was blurry and gray, he would walk away only when he could carry the contentment of all he loved.*
And so, Aart, Arjan and Hagan found themselves in a small room. Heads dropped in sorrow, the three broken men sat. But in their sorrow*they sought to stand one last time, with their heads high.
Aart broke the silence first, and narrated a particularly heartwarming tale. Everyday as he would walk his children to school, he found a man ratting an empty mug begging for a few coins. They walked by day after day, and he would still be there, and the mug was always empty. However, after a while he began noticing a change not in the man's empty mug, but the man's face. He seemed happier as each day went by, and Aart couldn't understand. He couldn't let it go, even his children had noticed and asked, and what was he supposed to tell them? He argued that the man was insane, the smile was a trap for coins or he found something amusing about Aart. Troubled by it and with no answers, Aart confronted him. He asked the man, why was he happier than the day gone? He was always alone, he had no coins and the impending worsening cold would most likely consume him, how could he be happier? He smiled and replied, "I have been here for too long, without knowing my fate. I know now. I won't survive this, but ask a soldier who fights in a lost war how he feels. Ask him what awakens in him to fight in the lost cause. It is the vision of your life's finest moment, and you walk towards it, limping, on all fours, crawling, but however you do it, try not smiling - it will be the hardest thing you will do."
Arjan wiped away tears, and shared his darkest thought, as so often happened he got into an argument with father over an event he could not recall. After speaking words of long-forgotten hate for over an hour, both of them sought refuge in their rooms. Mother knocked and Arjan didn't answer. She knocked again, and he didn't answer. She knocked yet again, and he didn't answer. The soft knocking continued until he felt asleep. He despised his father, but in that moment, he despised her more. Her love could consume the cosmos, he would never be able to deny it and every passing unanswered knock would gently dwarf his conscience. He also knew that mother could soften the hate and the seething anger, but perhaps, he didn't want that. A senseless world that raged against him made sense, a world of sense with love, did not. Arjan looked at the door, but only heard the sound of heavy boots and rifles.*
Hagan recounted a story about the construction of his house. He was a young man, newly married, and possessed sufficient coin to build a house. The house wouldn't merely serve as a place of rest and peace, but a place his children would recount with joy, where they would build their own memories, where they fell the first time, stood up, cried, laughed, broke curfew, a safe house that would harbour generations of Hagans whenever they sought joy. Every brick of the house had been the source of lengthy discourse. One such incident came to his mind with regards to the cabinets, they had roamed the markets for days and a unanimous decision seemed implausible. Until one morning, he was hunting in the woods and came across a withered tree, it stood alone in a forest of immortal trees. The tree was going to pass soon, it was the only one remaining from its line and he chopped the tree, and carried it back home. At the bottom, he carved the words 'Once withered, but now life."
He pulled out the*small piece of wood from his pocket and passed it around.*
For Hagan, the piece of wood was still not withered, it was all he carried from his past life, and with it he began writing on the wall. Names of all he had lost. His wife, the love of his life. His daughter, the beacon of inspiration. His twin sons, a source of everlasting light. His grand kids, a source of infinitey life. The Hagans, a family of joy and vitality, now and forever.*
It was passed to Aart who sought to urge upcoming generations to break the circle that has preyed on civilization like a vulture. Not for Aart and Angelina, but the children. We are predators, he acknowledged, but can we at least spare squirrels?*
And finally, it was passed to Arjan. He wrote simply "Thank you, mother and father, and I love you." He always had known it.*
As if time had been resisting fate until then, the doors opened and the three men were led to the gas chamber. The path was bleak, the roof had been sealed to ward off any ray of sunlight and warmth, the floor was hard with glass, cigarette butts, blood and clothes strewn about, and the three men joined the line of men walking towards another world. As each men walked in the chamber, only silence followed and then another men walked, and so on forth.*
Aart closed his eyes as he entered and remembered his last dinner. War had been announced, and the country was under siege, but Angelina, Adrianus and Angela had all been smiling. It was just like any other dinner, and with that he walked on forth smiling.*
Arjan kept saying "Cas and Corola, my father and mother. Cas and Corola, my father and mother" as he walked in. With every chant, his heart grew stronger and fear grew timid. Hope grew mightier, and death was becoming one with life, divinity was flooding his entire being and in suffocation, he smiled even as he got down on all fours and coughed, and coughed. Cas and Corola. Cas and Corola, he repeated.
Hagan, however, could still feel discontentment. He attempted resistance, but they beat him and pushed him away from light that he was unwilling to leave. It was then, he saw Haley and she him. They were both at the door, the gaze was only a fraction of a second, as momentary as a drop of rain in the sea, but they were the raging sea and felt the minuscule*drop of water. It was all they needed. They sat down in the chambers, as if they were sitting on the porch next to each other separated not by steel exteriors. Hagan and Haley held hands, and happily looked on from the porch on to the setting sun, with their family around them.