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Why, Zaida?

 

An old man and a young boy sat close together beside a stream. The similarity of their features - the contour of the head, the shape of the chin and nose - showed they were related. Neither spoke as they listened to the rushing water, the birds, the squirrels, the breeze and their thoughts.

The old man had passed his seventieth birthday and now his life revolved around his son and grandson. He loved them both. They were his hold on the world he had built after surviving the war and the Holocaust. But today he was troubled. His son had told him his grandson was asking questions - ones the old man would rather not answer.

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The clear stream bumped its way down the slight incline, churning into white froth where it struck the scattered partially submerged rocks. Multi-coloured leaves floated along the surface, moulding themselves to the ups and downs of the current. The little boy looked up at his grandfather and said, "Zaida, birds have fathers and mothers, don't they?"

The old man had just flipped a pebble into the stream. "Yes," he said softly.

A squirrel scampered in front of them, an acorn in its mouth. The squirrel stopped, his teeth grinding away at the morsel.

"Zaida, squirrels have fathers and mothers too, don't they?"

The old man looked solemnly at the young boy. "Yes, of course they do."

The little boy frowned. "Then how come you never had a father or a mother?"

"That's not true. Why are you asking?"

"I never saw them. There are no pictures of them. Nobody talks about them. That's why."

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The old man gazed at a floating branch as it bobbed and dipped over each wave until its progress, halted by two rocks was trapped, as water ran over and around it.

"It's hard to explain," he whispered.

"Why, Zaida? What's so hard?"

The old man continued to stare at the trapped stick. I'm like the stick, he thought. Trapped in my head are images of the past and I can't find the key to open the door. What do I tell him? I was his age when it all happened and I don't understand why I had to suffer such pain.

Upsetting the delicate balance, the changing current released the stick and it floated out of sight. The old man stared at the water rushing freely between the two rocks.

"Zaida?"

He looked down at his grandson, choking back his feelings before replying. "They . . . they died when I was very young."

"Why?"

"Because."

"Daddy said 'because' is not an answer. It's an excuse."

The old man grinned. "I know. I told him that."

 

This is the story of a grandfather trying to explain the Holocaust to his nine-year-old grandson by using a dog, a robin, squirrel, stick, steam, grass and weeds to relate what had happened to him when he was his age.

 

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