For nearly half a year I transported the two women, from the same apartment building to same destination. Both had German accents, one was tall while the other short and blind.
The tall one, Margarete always went to the Washoe County Senior Center where she helped other seniors with their social security and other paperwork. Gertrude’s ride always ended at Washoe Medical Center where she played the piano for visitors coming through the front door.
One July morning, when the temperature was approaching the 80-degree mark, I assisted both women onto the bus. Gertrude immediately complained that it was to hot, so I offered to turn up the vehicles air conditioning.
This caused Margarete to worry that she’d get too cold. So Gertrude decided on a compromise – she’d remove her long-sleeve sweater.
Once she had it off, I noticed the strange look on Margarete’s face. She then leaned across the aisle and said something in German.
Gertrude responded in kind and then held up her left arm, showing Margarete what appeared to be a small tattoo on her forearm. They continued to talk between themselves in their native tongue.
Within minutes we pulled up in front of the senior center, where Margarete needed to be. There was a certain amount of reluctance on her part to get off the bus, but finally after chatting some more with Gertrude she got up and exited the vehicle.
After escorting her to the doorway of the building, I rushed back onto the bus, sat down in my seat and strapped in. I looked up into the overhead mirror and saw Gertrude had a small grin on her face.
Without prompting she started, “It’s a very small world.”
“It is,” I returned.
“For nearly five-years I’ve lived across the hall from that woman and not once have we spoken more than simple pleasantries to each other,” she continued, “And now this.”
I remained quiet, knowing she was already preparing to explain.
“In 1943, I was deported to Sobibór,” she stated flatly, “You know of the place?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered.
“There the Nazi’s gave me this tattoo – marking me as a Jew – an undesirable,” Gertrude said, “ And I now find out that Margarete was a prisoner at Sobibór too.”
“That does make it a small world,” I commented.
“Too make it smaller still – while I cannot recall her face, nor she mine from 53-years-ago, her identification number is one digit higher than mine,” she lightly smiled, “meaning she was right behind me in that awful line.”
“Oh, my,” I exclaimed, “That gives me goose-bumps.”
She grew quiet and remained so for the rest of the ride to the hospital. As was my custom, I escorted without a word inside the front doors.
Also as usual I poured myself a complimentary cup of coffee, and then spent a few minutes listening to Gertrude warming up on the keyboard. It was at that moment that I truly felt the old woman’s inner sadness as she began playing Chopin’s “Raindrop” prelude.
And for the second time that early morning, I felt the tingle of goose-bumps as they effortlessly rushed over my skin. Then I left early, fearful that someone might see my eyes filling with tears and I’d have to explain.