This story was first published in the Gay Authors Winter 2007 Anthology


 

 

** Thud Thud ** 

 

Jake desperately tried to ignore the loud thumping downstairs. He had to find a place to hide in this desolate room. 

 

** Thud Thud **

 

He had to! He had to! He had to!!!

 

** Thud Thud **

 

The sound of soldiers coming up painfully echoed in his ears as he tried to calm himself. Apart from the bed and chair, there was a creaky closet on his right that seemed would fall apart at any moment.

 

** Thud Thud **

 

It was really risky but he had no other choice. He cautiously and silently opened the closet and slid his nine-year-old brother and himself in and closed the door. All he could do now was hope they were not discovered.

 

“Peters has gone berserk. Jews in here?” Jake finally heard a voice boom. He tightened his hold on Owen, his brother at the mention of ‘Jews’.

 

“They would have never made it here and if ever they had, they wouldn’t be alive now. You check in this room. I’ll wait for you downstairs. After this round, we can go to the camp and chill off without that General Peters breathing down our neck,” the same voice said though it seemed quite nearer.

 

Jake hugged Owen as the sound of footsteps on the other side of the door echoed in his ears. He dared not even breathe lest it revealed the two boys to the soldier. Every fiber in his body prayed for their safety. Each second stretched excruciatingly…

 

His eyes went wide when the door opened. His whole body went cold as he stared in those emotionless blue eyes. For an instant, he thought he saw death in those eyes. That’s it? Would this be his last breath? And Owen…

 

“Please don’t kill us,” Jake pleaded so quietly that he doubted that the soldier heard him.

 

Nothing had prepared Jake for what happened next- the soldier closed the door. He could hear the footsteps fade away. He couldn’t understand this strange reaction. But searching answers for weird happenings took a subordinate place when it came to saving one’s life during times of war. Jake let out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding back. He realized that Owen was hugging him in a vice-like grip. He kissed his little brother soothingly on his head and could feel him relax. Although Jake knew they had just escaped from a great danger, he felt as though there was still an army of soldiers out there, behind the door of the closet. Perhaps that’s why he didn’t come out and stayed in the closet.

 

Jake didn’t know how much time had pass but when next time the door opened, the bright sunlight of afternoon had given in to the creeping darkness of the evening. But Jake didn’t notice it for he was much more interested in the stranger in front of him. It was the same soldier he had seen earlier. He was looking a bit different now; perhaps it was the demeanor or just those mysterious blue eyes. Jake realized that the soldier wasn’t much older than he was; perhaps he was eighteen or a bit less.

 

“You can come out now. No one will harm you,” he said soothingly as he opened the door wider.

 

Jake lifted Owen, who was lying on his lap, and both stepped out of the dingy closet yet keeping maximum distance between the stranger and them. He noticed that both of his legs had become excruciatingly numb due to sitting in the same position for hours. Owen seemed to be having the same problem since he kept pinching his leg.

 

“You can stay here for some time. No one will come here now,” the soldier said with a soft smile, “by the way, I’m Keith. And what’s your name?”

 

“My name’s Jake, Sir and he’s Owen,” Jake replied as he lowered his head and tried to feel his legs.

 

“Drop the ‘Sir’. I’m no Sir. It’s only Keith,” he said in the same joyous voice, “Here, there’s some bread in here. There’s not much but that’s all I managed to smuggle out. I’ll bring more tomorrow. I’ll leave you now and I’ll be in the next room if you want something.”

 

He handed Jake a paper bag and left the room after biding them goodnight. Jake ate a few morsels and gave the rest to Owen. He couldn’t shake this deep feeling in the pit of his stomach. Why would a German soldier show so much generosity to Jews? Once was enough to ignore but twice? It was so weird… Then, he remembered a few other fugitives he had met a few weeks ago. At night, when Owen had gone to bed, they had told him things that were enough to make his food remake surface. Was this the answer to the question that was bugging him? He didn’t want to believe it. But there was no other reason…

 

“Owen, you stay here. Okay?”

 

“But,” Owen uttered while staring at him with his big green eyes.

 

“Don’t worry. I’ll only be gone for a moment. If I’m late, you go to sleep. I’ll come back,” Jake kissed his anxious nine-year old brother on the forehead and left the room.

 

He knew he had to do it; it was the only way to save his and Owen’s lives. The walk to Keith’s room seemed to be very long; each step was so heavy that he thought he would never make it. He wiped his face in case there were traces of dirt or tears before he knocked on the door. As he heard the ‘Come in’, he entered the room.

 

“Oh, Jake! What happened? Any problem?” Keith smiled from his armchair on which he was sitting and staring outside.

 

“It’s… I came to tell you… thank you for saving us today,” Jake stammered as he walked to Keith.

 

“I just did what I needed to do,” Keith said soothingly.

 

“If there’s anything you want me to do, just tell me,” Jake said as he knelt and laid his trembling hand on Keith’s upper thigh in an obvious manner, “I’ll do anything.”

 

“Jake!” Keith yelled as Jake’s hand went higher. He sprang from his seat as if Jake’s hand were red-hot iron. The armchair toppled and he backed away from the kneeling figure.

 

Jake couldn’t take it any more and burst into soft cries. He had just ruined everything; the price for this small mistake would probably be his and Owen’s lives.

 

“Please don’t kill us,” he sobbed.

 

“Jake, you misunderstood me. Whatever I did, it was for my own reasons. I never wanted these things from you,” Keith said as he lifted Jake and made him sit on a chair. “What made you think that I wanted… Did I say or do anything?”

 

“No,” Jake didn’t elaborate, trying to wipe the tears away.

 

“Then why?”

 

“It’s just that a few weeks ago, we met other fugitives,” Jake whispered, uncertain whether he should say this, “they told us that some soldiers spared their lives if they… I thought that you were…”

 

“Those guys must have met the worst. I’m not defending my kind or things like that but all of us are not like that. Most of us are forced to do these things. Look, you guys stay here. You’re secure here. Please, believe me. And I don’t want anything in return. I just want you to be safe.”

 

“Why?” Jake asked as he lifted his tear-stricken face and immediately regretted it. He could see the soldier’s face visibly pale.

 

“Just… like that,” he stammered softly, “it’s really late now and Owen is alone. Go! And goodnight.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

Jake lay wide awake on the bed as he felt Owen stir by his side. The last night’s events were still too complex for him to understand. He couldn’t help but feel a bit wary of Keith though he hadn’t shown any sign of danger…yet! For one hour, he remained like this yet he couldn’t understand why the soldier was feeling so magnanimous. For a moment, he thought of running away from this stranger but Jake rejected the idea the next second. Running wasn’t safe and it was better to keep hiding, especially in places like this where the Germans had already been through. He would have to stay here but be a bit wary.

 

The sun was already in the sky when he wandered outside the room with Owen close behind. The whole house was empty and he could feel a chill go down his spine. What if Keith had gone to fetch other soldiers? Carefully, he stepped in the kitchen in search for some food. Like the other rooms, this one had the coldness of war; the warmth and intimacy usually found in a common kitchen were missing. There was no food at all; all the shelves, drawers and cupboards were empty.

 

He had barely walked a few steps when he heard the front door open and a few seconds later, Keith stood in front of him with three full bags of groceries and vegetables.

 

“Good morning. I went to fetch a few groceries from the quarters. You were sleeping so I didn’t bother to wake you guys up,” he said cheerfully as if he had just returned from the market, “I’m really famished. What will you have?”

 

His blue eyes looked at the two expectantly. If the incident last night had affected him, it didn’t show at all.

 

“Tell me, Owen,” he said as he knelt in front of the nine-year old boy, who in turn clutched Jake’s hand tighter, “What will you like to have as breakfast? Today, we’ll have your favorite dish. So? C’mon, what would you like to have?”

 

Keith watched as neither of them replied so he tried once more, “C’mon!  I’ve got everything! Okay, what did you used to have everyday?”

 

“Maypo pancakes,” Owen said slowly as he looked at the stranger with his large brown eyes.

 

“Maypo pancakes!” Keith said as he rose up, “hmm, sounds delicious. Nice pancakes for a sweet little boy. So, here are the ingredients.”

 

Jake watched as Keith removed the ingredients from the bag. The German soldier was visibly very flustered. When he broke the egg, the shells fell in the bowl. He removed the shells as he muttered “clumsy”. Then he started adding salt and started mixing the salted egg yolk with water and Maypo.

 

Jake exchanged a glance with his little brother and Owen broke into fits of giggles until he started roaring with laughter. Jake was trying to stifle his laugh but it was so hard.

 

“I’m sorry,” Keith said with his eyes downcast, obviously embarrassed and hurt, “I… I never heard about a Maypo pancake before. I’m sorry.”

 

Jake froze as he saw that the soldier sad; it wasn’t wise to hurt a German these days. He had been helping them, but now…

 

“It’s not like this! We never make pancake with these things,” Jake heard Owen say as the little boy went next to Keith, “You have to first combine water and Maypo. And you have to let it stand five minutes…”

 

Jake watched amusedly as the little boy directed and gave orders to the bigger one. For a small second he was scared but then, he realized that if Keith had to kill them, he could have done it hours ago. And then, Jake had a pancake to make!

 

“You’ve never cooked, have you?” Jake asked after all three feasted on the delicious pancakes.

 

“Today was the first day I cooked. And I really enjoyed it,” Keith beamed “Who knew that making a pancake could be so gratifying? But you guys know a great deal! How did you learn all this?”

 

“We had a restaurant in Paris, a very famous one in fact,” Jake said proudly, “We often welcomed eminent personalities. Our parents were passionate about their job and didn’t wait to teach it to us. You can even say that we learnt walking in the kitchen itself.”

 

“Wow, that’s great. I would have loved to know Paris…in different times, you know. My parents never let me approach the kitchen. My dad used to say that it’s a place only for women,” he said casually, “But I would love learning to cook. Never know when it might be handy. And where’re your parents?”

 

“Well,” the older brother said as he shot a furtive look at the younger one who suddenly looked sad, “we don’t know. It was no longer safe for us to be there. But they didn’t want to leave their restaurant. They made us flee.”

 

“I’m sorry,” that’s all Keith could say as he saw the tears in Owen’s eyes.

 

“How come you brought all this food? And aren’t soldiers supposed to live together?” Jake asked as he tried to change the topic.

 

“The General who’s in charge of our troop is a very close friend of my dad. He’s known me since I was a kid. He knows that I don’t like all these things. And when I asked if I could live here to see if any Jew is entering the region, he agreed. I do have to go to the camp everyday but most of the time, I have to be here,” Keith said, “And I’m allowed to have food for one week. Being acquainted to the General gives you some unspoken rights and I took a bit more than was needed!”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

In the days that followed, Keith became much closer to the two brothers. Cooking together had become a sort of ritual for the three where they would have something to smile and be happy about. Keith learnt a few dishes, including Maypo Pancakes. None of them deemed it important to say or show that they were supposed to be enemies. Or that they were amidst a deadly war. They soon became a family and Jake felt his insecurities around the soldier fall.

 

One night, after Owen had fallen asleep, Jake rose to fetch something to drink. He noticed that Keith’s room was empty and when he looked for him, he found him on the roof. Jake smiled as he saw the strong frame of the young fair soldier against the background of the dark night and twinkling stars.

 

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Keith said as he contemplated the dark sky.

 

“Yes,” Jake agreed as he sat next to him and joined in the stargazing, and after a few minutes of utter silence, he asked, “You never told us anything about your family.”

 

“There’s not much in my family. My mother died when I was just ten. Since then, it was Mrs. Wayne who looked after us. She was our governess. My father is a general in the army. We rarely saw much of him but whenever he saw us, he told us how much he wanted us to follow in his steps. Right now, he must still be in some corner trying to devise plans or strategies. Then, I had an elder brother, Alan. You can say he’s the only family I had. He was always there. He was really strong, you know. When the war started, our father had both of us integrated into the army. Alan passed away last year. On the battlefield,” he said with a tear in his eyes.

 

It was the first time Jake saw tears in the eyes of the soldier. It seemed bizarre to see that soft smile gone from his face and tears running down his pale skin. It didn’t seem right. He felt the urge of wiping those tears away and bringing that contagious smile back. But all he could do was to lay his hand on Keith’s shoulder and sit closer to him.

 

“You remember the moment when I opened the closet and found you?” Keith said with his eyes downcast, “I had seen it in your eyes, Jake! That fear of death, the fear if it was your last breath… In that moment I realized how far I had fallen, Jake! I had become a murderer. A killer. I had killed people. I saw them cry over the corpse of their loved ones. I was about to even kill a child! This isn’t me. I was never like this and I never realized how much I had changed. I never wanted all this, Jake. I would have never killed people. But we were forced. They used tact, words and pressure to enroll us. And I know I’m not the only one.

 

You once asked me why I saved your life, right? It was for my own selfish reasons. I wanted to redeem myself in my own eyes. I wanted to look at myself in the mirror without any shame. I wanted a free conscience. Perhaps, that’s why I saved you. I’m no great person or savior, Jake. I did it just for me.”

 

Neither of them said anything after this. They stayed like this, each of them lost in their thoughts. For a moment, Jake thought of getting away- this man had killed so many innocents; he was one of those he hated. But Jake didn’t or perhaps, he couldn’t. Keith could have well kept this a secret. But he didn’t. He could have killed them the moment he saw them. But he didn’t. That night, he could have done anything with him. But he didn’t. Keith wasn’t a real murderer. He was as guilty as the gun in his hands. Only that his trigger was in the hands of someone else.

 

Jake was still mulling over his thoughts when Keith got up and left. Jake followed him, a few steps behind.

 

“Good night,” Keith said with a feeble attempt of smile as he stopped in front of his room.

 

“You’re not as bad as you think you are, Keith,” Jake comforted him as he stepped next to the German soldier, “Don’t be harsh with yourself. You’ve got a conscience, even in this cold world, Keith and that says a lot. You’re not like the others. You’re different…special.”

 

“Thanks!” Keith said, “I don’t know about me. But you’re definitely special. You’re very strong, Jake, just like Alan. You cared for your brother’s life much more than your life. And…”

 

Jake fell silent as he lost himself those blue eyes, which now seemed to be a sea of love, of care... The silence wasn’t like the one they experienced before. This one seemed alive… with love, anticipation and desire. Jake found himself coming closer to the soldier, closer than he ever had.

 

“And …you’re very beautiful,” these were the words Keith said before their lips met.

 

Jake felt like time had stopped when their lips met. Perhaps it was because he had forgotten to breath. His whole body went still as Keith sucked on his lower lip and held his face in his hands. Then, as abrupt as it started, Keith tried to break away but Jake stopped him. He held onto his collar and kept their lip lock intact. This time, it was he who was kissing. Both of them were so entwined that they didn’t know who opened the door as they stepped inside Keith’s room.

 

The room watched as the two stripped out of any question or hesitation that would have stopped them. Their eyes held the flame of love, which reduced the obstacles and bigotry received in heritage from their fellow ancestors to ashes. They were so close that it felt like one’s heart was beating in the chest of the other. Within those four walls, they became one while outside the walls, one was becoming two.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“Where were you last night?” Owen reproached his elder brother as he finished his breakfast, which was comprised of bacon and eggs.

 

“Well…I…It’s…” Jake stammered, caught by surprise, as he tried to find something to say.

 

“He was with me,” Keith smiled, “In fact, I was having a bad dream and Jake came to comfort me. He must have fallen asleep. I’m really sorry.”

 

“It’s ok,” the little boy said, “It’s just that when I woke up, I was quite scared. But Jake is very good at comforting people. When I used to have bad dreams, he used to cradle me and kiss me on my head. Jake, did you kiss him on his head too?”

 

“Oh…hmm, yeah, yeah!” Keith grinned as Jake blushed, “He kissed me.”

 

“Owen, did you make your bed?” Jake asked to change the topic.

 

“No.”

 

“Go and make it!” Jake said with a tinge of stern and on queue, the little boy went upstairs.

 

“Oh, I’m still feeling quite shaken up after the night,” Keith sighed, “So where’s my kiss?”

 

“Oh that?” Jake grinned, “Well, bad boys don’t get kisses.”

 

Knock Knock

 

Both guys stiffened. They were used to just the three of them in here. A fourth person wasn’t an auspicious omen.

 

“Keith…” Jake said with his voice trembling in panic.

 

“Shh, I’ll see who it is,” Keith reassured him.

 

“What if it’s someone from your camp? And Owen?” Jake hissed as he felt sick from anxiety, “Where is he? What if they see him?”

 

“Calm down, Jake! I’m going to get him,” He comforted his friend, “You trust me right?”

 

Jake nodded.

 

“Stay here!” he said, as there was a second knock, “And get rid of the additional plates!”

 

Jake took his and Owen’s plates and put them in the last drawer. Meanwhile, Keith returned with Owen. The small boy had heard the knock too; his scared face told his brother that he realized the potential danger.

 

“Hide in this cupboard. Quick!” Keith hissed hurriedly as he pointed to a medium cupboard. It was empty and big enough to accommodate the two brothers.

 

Jake closed the door from inside and at the same time, heard Keith opening the front door.

 

“Good morning, Sir,” Keith’s voice boomed. It was unlike the sweet one the two brothers were used too. It was hard and rough.

 

“Good morning, Keith!” a voice unheard of before said, “I was thinking of passing by and checking on how you were doing. I still don’t understand why you want to live alone. At the camp, there were so many facilities. If there’s any problem, you can tell me. Anyway, that’s your decision.” The voice kept becoming louder. “Living alone is rather difficult. You must have looked after yourself. Water for bath, the basic chores…and you made your meal yourself?”

 

“Yes Sir!” Keith said, “My father said that we should never depend on others, even if it is for cooking. It made him vulnerable. He thought it was very easy to poison or weaken someone by tampering with his food. That’s why he saw to it that my brother and I learnt at least a minimum number of dishes.”

 

“George! That man will never cease to astonish me. Always two steps ahead of others. And it seems like he had transmitted his secrets to his sons. You will go far, my son!” The unknown voice said, “I have heard from our sources that the war is almost lost! We need to go back. The Allies have started entering Germany and it’s wise that we leave.”

 

“We’ll no longer be here?” Keith asked.

 

“No!” the other man said, “Many are returning. The Allies can come here anytime.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

“Is it necessary for you to go?” Jake asked.

 

“Yes. Everyone’s going and it’s no longer safe to be here,” Keith said as he packed the last of his items.

 

“Look, why don’t you stay? I’ll talk to the soldiers when they come. I’ll tell them how you saved Owen’s and my lives.”

 

“It’s not so easy, Jake,” Keith said as sadness filled his eyes, “this is war and words rarely have meaning here.”

 

“But…”

 

“Don’t worry. Once the war is over, I’m coming back to France for you and staying here forever. With you. And I got the address,” Keith smiled as he pointed at the piece of paper he kept in his pocket.

 

“I’ll be waiting for you, Keith,” Jake said as Keith went to the door. It was hard to see him standing there, ready to go.

 

“I’ll be waiting too,” Owen said meekly and as an answer, he received a smile and a kiss on the head.

 

“I love you, Jake,” Keith whispered as he hugged his Jewish friend

 

“I love you too.”

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

And the war ended. The soldiers returned to their home and Owen and Jake returned to their restaurant and their parents. They heard that their parents had disappeared one day and no one heard about them. Slowly, the wounds of war started to heal.

 

But Jake’s eyes were waiting for just one thing, or rather just one person- Keith. He had given him the address and knew that he would be coming soon. So he waited. Days and nights. At the restaurant, standing and looking at the road. But weeks were replaced by months and months gave in to years.

 

Jake looked for Keith everywhere with the little he knew. But he found nothing. But his hope never wavered. He knew he would come.

 

 

*        *        *

 

 

More than sixty years has passed but Jake still lives at the restaurant in Paris. Often, a person called Owen, accompanied by his wife, came to see him, telling him things he doesn’t recall. And there are many other people who say that they know him. But he doesn’t.

 

But the one he remembers never came. Everyday, he waits for a glimpse of that smile, those blond locks, and those blue eyes…

 


A huge thank you to Sharon, without whom this story wouldn't have been the same