The Secrets of a Library
Books hold many secrets. Ona Simaite had known this for many years, ever since she was a young child. They could teach you how to fix anything, from a broken spirit to a cracked jar. But sometimes a library could hold much more than the power of words.
Ona had always thought of the library as a place for safety, security. It didn’t hold secrets—all secrets were there on the shelves. All one had to do was be patient enough to look for them.
But her library had secrets that couldn’t be found on the bookshelves.
Ona shut her eyes and she could still see it…glass littering the ground of the Jewish ghetto like the reflection of stars shining along a lake. Small fires lit the darkness, illuminating the broken glass and giving a light in the utter darkness. She didn’t understand how something that was so ugly, so horrendous, could also be so beautiful. But in some ways, that’s how the Jews were. And the girl—her precious little girl with deep brown eyes and dark curls. Beautiful and broken, just like the rest of Lithuania.
She stared out the window, and could see the Soviet soldiers running through the streets, carrying their guns in the manner that a woman might carry her purse, entirely at ease. The feeling of safety, but not for others. Only for themselves. They never ceased to come, an endless pool of soldiers and brutality compared to a handful of Lithuanian freedom fighters.
When the Germans came, they were the heroes. The enemies of the Soviets, ready to finally set their people free. But while it might have been better for her people, it wasn’t better for all. She looked to the cupboard, and her heart skipped a beat. Hoping she hadn’t made a grave mistake, she stepped away from the window and drew the curtains closed.
Two powerful extremes, and a small country caught in between. How could they survive it?
Ona shut her eyes against the biting wind, tucking her hood tighter around her face. She could see fragments of her reflection in the broken shards of glass along the road as she kept her head down and out of sight. Green eyes, a hard-set face, carefully braided-back hair.
Rule one: to remain safe, remain hidden.
She rehearsed the rule in her head as she tightened her fingers on the bulging bag. She could sense a guard’s eyes watching her, searching for a threat. She knew what he saw—nobody but a haggard librarian. Her heart beat steadily faster, her fingers tightening on the bag until she could feel her nails biting into her palms. She tried to avoid thinking about how risky her plan would be—she could be caught.
She could be killed.
Rule two: looks can be deceiving.
She could feel herself tensing, and convinced herself it was just the cold. Forcing her steps to remain slow and steady, she felt her heartbeat quicken, as if in rebellion to her forced steadiness.
She lifted her head once to catch a sight of the grim ghetto, hazy in the fog, but for once she was glad of the thick fog, and how hard it was to see through the pale haze. The air felt heavy, like the place was holding its breath in expectation. She could feel the eerie silence tickling her skin as she stepped up to the guard at the entrance.
“Business?” He demanded grouchily.
“I have come to reclaim library books.” She shoved her papers at him with what she hoped was an impatient manner.
He scowled at her in disgust and handed her papers back. He told her to proceed with a lazy flick of his head.
Rule three: always have the right paperwork.
She walked into the ghetto, aware of the sour, bitter smell that came with having people crowded anywhere they could fit. Some had become bitter and angry, refusing to cooperate, but many still lived on, because it’s all they knew to do. It was all they could do. Despite the threat, they still tried to make a living. The children still played in the streets, a young boy was causing trouble with a store owner, a woman was sewing a doll’s arm back on as a little girl watched on tearfully.
Ona could feel eyes watching her, and she turned, expecting to see a guard. Instead, a friendly, bright face waved at her.
“Miss Ona!” A small, delicate girl with her deep, golden brown eyes and dark glossy curls greeted her. Sala wasn’t blonde and blue-eyed, but she was more beautiful. She had something the perfect German child didn’t have—endurance; hope.
“Hello, Sala,” Ona stepped towards her and knelt to her level. She pulled an apple out of her pocket and handed it to the girl. Sala smiled and thanked her with a large toothy grin. Ona didn’t know who her parents were, or if they were gone. Sala never talked about them, and she’d never seen them in the ghetto.
One way or another, that was more of an answer than Ona needed. It didn’t matter how—the girl was completely alone. But there was her smile, a sharp contrast to her thin, frail body, and to her grime-coated face.
Rule four: don’t let them take away your hope.
She could feel the guard watching her, glaring eyes through the back of her head, but she ignored him. She pulled out a book out of her coat, making sure her back was to the guards so they couldn’t see.
Sala watched her carefully as the book slid into her hands. Her eyes roamed the baby blue cover, tears building up in her eyes as they quietly fell down her cheeks. Her fingers cautiously caressed the cover, stained from dirt and a spot of grease as it was. Though the edges of it were singed from fire, the words were still there in clear, printed ink.
“Thank you,” she whispered, hugging it to her chest.
“I wish I could have given you one that wasn't burnt,” Ona patted her head, “But this will do for now, eh?”
Sala thought for a moment, then slowly shook her head. “This one is perfect. I like that it has scars.” She opened up the book, revealing the dim pages, yellow from age.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” Ona asked quietly. She turned cautiously to be sure nobody was close enough to see what she had written there along the top corner of the first chapter. She hugged the girl to her chest, feeling the child’s bones protruding through her skin, then reluctantly turned to walk back to the library.
The words echoed in her mind as she twisted to make sure the girl had gotten her message. She smiled slightly as she saw Sala following her a moment later, bare feet falling silently against the grime-coated streets. The words echoed in her head again, stronger than before. Dangerous words, illegal words. Deadly words.
Eik su manimi.
Years passed, and Sala had grown up. With time, she and her people were free, but with scars that would never heal. Ona shut her eyes and she could still see her—a fugitive, nothing but a child, huddled under the cupboards of the library, like a mouse carefully avoiding the cat.
Rule five: stay alive.
Ona turned back to the window, and gave a weary smile at the Lithuanian flags hanging on every corner. Her people had taken back their independence. She slowly, carefully hummed the words to an old Lithuanian song her mother had sung to her as a young girl. A song that was no longer illegal, but she whispered the words all the same, absorbing every moment of the words, not wishing to break the moment:
“Eik su manimi.”
Come with me.
Cara Reeder. I am currently 17 years old. I graduate from high school next year but am currently enrolled in the CCP program and pursuing a degree in Creative writing from the University of Cincinnati. I've been writing from the age of 14, and one day I hope to publish as an author. I am also an avid reader; it's one of my favorite past times alongside writing, and much of what I read influences the material that I write. Some of the genres that interest me the most are: fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and classics.