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The Midwife Of Auschwitz Book Part 1 Chapter 1 PDF– ESTER
As the clock of St Stanislaus’ cathedral rang out midday, Ester Abrams sank gratefully onto the steps beneath it and turned her face to the sun. The soft rays were warm on her skin but autumn was sending tendrils into the stone and it felt chill against her legs. For a moment she considered taking off her coat to sit on, but it was new and bought in a recklessly pale blue that her younger sister had said brought out the colour in her eyes, and she didn’t want to risk staining it.
Ester flushed. It had been a foolish purchase really but Filip was always so beautifully dressed. Not extravagantly – an apprentice tailor had little more money than an apprentice nurse – but with care and pride. It had been one of the first things that had struck her on that day back in April when he’d first sat down on the far side of the steps and she’d felt every cell in her body fill up, like the blossom bursting into life on the nearby cherry tree. She’d looked down again straight away of course, fixing her eyes firmly on her pierogi, but had eaten her way through the little dumplings without tasting one morsel of her mother’s finest mushroom and sauerkraut filling.
She hadn’t dared look up again until, finally, he’d risen to go and she’d risked a quick glance. She could picture him now – his body long and lean and almost gangly, save for the purpose with which he walked; his jacket coarse but cut with style; his kippah intricately bordered as it clung to the back of his head. She’d feasted on the sight of him until, suddenly, he’d glanced back and his eyes had locked tight with hers and she’d felt not just her face but her entire body flush with something that should have been embarrassment but had felt more like… like joy.
The next day she’d been there early, tense with anticipation. Midday had struck but there’d been no young man, just an old one in a too-low hat, doddering up the steps on a stick. She’d rushed to help him, partly because it’s what her mother would expect of her, and partly in the hope that by the time she came back out, the young man would be sat there. He hadn’t been and she’d thrown herself down with her bajgiel, picking crossly at it as if the poor bread was to blame so that it had taken her until at least half the way through her food to realise that he was back in the same spot as yesterday. He’d been quietly eating his own lunch and immersing himself in
a newspaper, save that whenever she glanced over, he’d seemed to be less reading it than staring through it.
For six long days they’d eaten at opposite sides of the steps as the people of Łódź had bustled and pushed and laughed their way along Piotrkowska Street below them. Every day she’d spent the whole time rehearsing sentences in her head that had tangled into agonising lumps whenever she’d tried to force them out of her lips. Then, finally, a woman had stepped between them and tutted loudly. Who knows what had annoyed her, for when they’d both looked up she’d already gone on into the church and instead they had found themselves looking straight at each other.
All the clever sentences had run round and round Ester’s head, staying stubbornly within, and in the end he had said something asinine about the weather and she had said something even more asinine back and they had grinned at each other as if they’d just had the wisest ever debate, so perhaps he’d had other sentences inside his head too. Once those first words were out, others came more easily and soon they’d been, well, not exactly chatting, for they were neither of them the type to be extravagant with words, but sharing quiet, simple facts about their lives.
‘I like your kippah,’ she’d managed. ‘The border is so pretty.’ He’d touched it self-consciously.
‘Thank you. I embroidered it myself.’ ‘You did?!’
He’d flushed and she’d noticed that although his hair was dark, his eyes were as blue as her own.
‘I’m training to be a tailor. It’s mainly jackets and trousers and shirts but I like the…’ He’d tugged at the edging of the cap. ‘My father calls them the “fiddly bits”. He doesn’t approve. He thinks that embroidery is for women.’
‘But you do it so well that he must be wrong.’ He’d laughed then, short but deep.
‘Thank you. I think clothes should express something of yourself.’
Ester tugged at her pale blue coat now, remembering that comment and how much it had surprised her. She’d been brought up to believe that clothes should be neat, clean and modest, and had never thought about them expressing anything other than good housekeeping.
‘Tell me more,’ she’d invited, and he had, opening up as he’d talked so that she could have gladly sat there all afternoon, save that she only had half an hour for lunch and Matron was a tartar. If you were even a minute late,
you’d find yourself on bedpan duty all afternoon, and although it might have been worth it to stay with the young tailor, her parents had sacrificed much to pay for her to train as a nurse and she’d owed it to them to do well. It had been so hard to pull herself away and she might as well have been on bedpan duty for all the attention she’d paid to her work that afternoon. But he’d been there the next day and the next, and she’d come to treasure those midday half hours like the finest jewels from the Russian mines. So where was he today?
She looked anxiously down Piotrkowska Street. Perhaps he had been held up at work, or perhaps there had been an incident of some sort. The air seemed curiously charged this morning, the people more animated than usual, the shops fuller. Everyone that went past seemed to be carrying bags rammed with groceries as if they were afraid they might mysteriously run out. The newspaper hawkers were shouting louder than ever but Ester had heard all the nasty jumble of words – Nazis, Hitler, invasion, bombs – too many times in the last months to pay them much heed. It was a beautiful autumn day, even if the step was rather chilly, and no one could, surely, do anything too terrible beneath such a blue sky?
There he was at last, weaving through the crowd outside the butcher’s, striding easily between the myriad people. She half rose and then forced herself back down. For three months they had been meeting like this, eating their lunches closer and closer on the steps of St Stanislaus’ cathedral as the blossom on the cherry tree had turned to fruit and the leaves had darkened and started to rust around the edges.
They had talked, growing in confidence with every shared piece of information. She knew his name – Filip Pasternak. She had, of course, tried it out against her own – Ester Pasternak – though when her little sister, Leah, had done the same she’d snapped at her not to be ridiculous. He was training in his father’s well-respected tailoring workshop, got no special treatment from him and said he was glad of it (though she wasn’t sure that was entirely true), and he wasn’t expected to marry yet because he had ‘work to do’.
The conversation had hit a rut at that piece of information. Ester had managed to say that it sounded as if he had a lot of talent to give to the business and Filip had taken this and smiled gratefully and then said, in an unusually gruff tone, that ‘fathers aren’t always right about everything’. Then they’d both looked guiltily around in case anyone had heard such
blasphemy and the clock had conveniently struck the half hour, sending them both leaping up. Ester had been on bedpan duty that afternoon but had barely noticed for the unruly thoughts bouncing around in her head.
She was pretty sure her parents would think her too young to marry, or at least too committed to her nursing and, to be fair to them, she’d spent the last two years saying she wasn’t in any way interested in men and probably never would be, ever. Her mother had always smiled a wise smile that had annoyed her at the time but felt like a comfort now. Not that there’d been any mention of marriage, or even of dinner, or a walk in the park, or anything more than lunch on the steps of St Stanislaus’ cathedral. It was like a rigid little bubble of a ritual they were both too shy to pop in case it had no other substance.
He called her name across the crowd. There was a tram coming and for a terrible moment she thought he was going to try and cross in front of it, but despite the strangely wild look in his eyes he hung back and for too many agonising seconds it rumbled past. Then he was there again, bounding across the tracks and calling her name once more. ‘Ester!’
She stood up.
‘Filip. Is all well?’
‘No! That is, yes. All is well with me. But not with the world, Ester, not with Poland.’
‘Why? What’s happened?’
‘Haven’t you heard?’ She raised an eyebrow at him and he hit his hand against his forehead so comically that she almost laughed save that he looked far too worried for such frivolity. ‘Of course you haven’t or you would not ask. I’m sorry.’
He was standing two steps down from her and for the first time their eyes were level with each other. She looked deep into his, too concerned to be embarrassed.
‘Please don’t be, Filip. What’s happened?’ He sighed.
‘Germany have invaded. The Wehrmacht are swarming across our borders and we are none of us safe.’
‘You will have to go and fight?’
‘Perhaps. If there is time. But they are coming fast, Ester, making for Krakow and Warsaw.’
‘Who knows, but it looks that way. We are a fine city with much industry. Germans like industry.’
‘But they don’t like Jews.’
‘No,’ Filip agreed. ‘They say some are leaving already, collecting up their gold and heading east.’
He shook his head.
‘Father won’t leave his workshop for anything. And even if he did…’ He stopped, stared deep into Ester’s eyes.
‘Even if he did…?’ she prompted.
She saw his chin go up, his eyes darken with sudden determination. ‘Even if he did, I would not go with him. Not without you.’
‘Without me?’ she gasped, but he was taking her hands and dropping to his knees before her, his long legs clumsily balanced on the narrow steps.
‘Ester Abrams, will you do me the very great honour of becoming my wife?’
Ester blinked at him, stunned. For a moment all of Piotrkowska Street seemed to stop its panicked bustle and turn their way. Two old ladies, dragging a wheelbarrow of shopping bags, paused and stared. She stared back and one of them gave her a wink and a nod, so that she turned her eyes back to the handsome man at her feet.
‘Because this is war, Ester; the moment I heard it, the moment I thought of soldiers and guns and an enemy marching into our city, I could only think of one thing – that it might rob me of you. And then I thought how ridiculous it was that I’d already wasted twenty-three and a half hours of every day of this summer not with you and I couldn’t bear to waste another half an hour more. So, Ester, will you?’
‘Marry you?’ ‘Yes.’
The word exploded out of her and then she was tugging him up and he was taking her in his arms and his lips were touching hers and her only thought was that she, too, had been wasting far too much time. The world spun with the joy of him and a great noise buzzed in her ears as if God had set all the angels singing. Though if he had, he needed to pick a better choir,
for it was more of a wail than a heavenly chorus and it was only when she finally pulled back that she realised it was an air raid siren crackling out of the rusty old speakers set along the street.
‘Quick,’ Filip said, taking her hand and pulling her up the steps and into the cathedral as, overhead, two German planes cut, dark and menacing, across the bright blue sky and Ester had no idea whether this was the happiest day of her life or the worst.
It was a question she was to ask herself again and again over the dark years to come.
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