The breeze hit my face as I trod slowly while listening to the sound of my shackles as it dragged across the rocky soil. It’s been months since we’ve started working but the grime stayed plastered on my face and on what remained of my tattered clothes. The men, who were shackled at their ankles like me, wore the same distant eyes and hollow expressions. And all of us have a name, or rather, had a name; all we know of ourselves now are our numbers tattoed on our arms.
“NEXT!” the attending guard growled, as he waved his weapon at our faces threateningly.
We were forced to enter a dark, empty room.
“Where am I?” I thought to myself.
We had to squeeze ourselves in as the guards pushed more people inside the room we were in. I managed to catch a glimpse of them smirk before they shut the door behind us, leaving us on this other, mysterious side.
After realizing there were no more guards surrounding us, I shut my eyes in relief.
The room was quiet. I opened my eyes and to my surprise, the prisoners I entered with disappeared. In the silence, I heard my chains clatter and felt my tattooed number burn my skin. The room was not as dark anymore so I could slowly make out a figure in front of me. I saw a tall man with warm eyes looking at me. I quickly glanced around only to find him and myself in the room.
What happened? Where am I? I thought out loud in panic.
“What’s your name, little boy?” the man said in a kind, almost concerned, tone.
I stared at him and showed him the tattoo on my arm. He shook his head. “No. Not number. What is your name?”
“But…thi-this is what everyone calls me.”
“You are not a number, little boy.” He said, somewhat lovingly. “You are not a slave. You are a human being with a name.”
“I don’t feel like one,” I said, looking at my ragged clothes and torn shoes. “Nor do I look like one.”
“Yet you are.” He said with a soft chuckle.
I shook my head as I tried to hold back my tears.
“But, look at me…”
“I am.” He said. Suddenly, a gentle fog filled the room and I gasped in surprise as I saw my ragged clothes transform into a crisp white shirt and untattered pants. My black shoes gleamed and a red hat sat on my head. It was the clothes I wore before I was taken into the camp.
I felt a teardrop roll down my sooty cheek. The man patted my head gently, “How do you feel?”
“I feel so…free.” I chuckled as more tears ran down my face. “Thank you, sir,” I continued.
But the chains at my ankles and the tattoo started burning again. I stared at my dirty ankles. “I hate these shackles.”
I clenched my fist. Tugged it off my leg, harder and harder, until my feet were freed as the chains transformed into broken rope. I then carefully tried to rub off my tattoo. To my surprise, the numbers faded and my fair skin resurfaced.
“You don’t have a number, anymore,” the man said, nonchalantly.
‘No, I don’t.” I replied. “But I still don’t remember my name.”
“Well, your name is just outside that door.” He points to the door behind me and nudged me toward it.
“No! They’ll get me!” I shrieked as I quickly distanced myself from the door. “The guards!”
He grabbed me by my shoulders before I distanced myself any further and turned to me. “No. Nobody will get you. You’re safe now, little boy.”
I looked at him in disbelief, but his eyes quickly reassured me. I nodded. He took my hand as we took one, two, three steps towards the door. I watched him grip the doorknob with so much ease and slowly opened the door.
I gasped in awe as sunlight filled the room almost completely. The rays warmed my face and splashed some color unto my pale skin. The camp was gone and the scenery that replaced it was exactly how I remembered it to be from before the war.
I’ve forgotten how beautiful the world was.
“Yes, little boy?
“My name is Jair.”
Written by WYAAP Regional Intern from the Philippines, Aisha Puy Ibrahim, after encountering Viktor Frankl’s Experiences in a Concentration Camp, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’ Edited by Mary Imbong, WYAAP Regional Director
The story of Jair revolves around a boy who was separated from his family and taken to work in a concentration camp. Jair means to be light or to give light; to shine.