Miriam didn’t say anything more, but I could tell that she was confused. It might have been cold, but we never left without Faiga
inter fell upon us suddenly, dousing us in frigid rain until we were chilled to the bone. The walk to school was freezing, and we huddled together while the rain poured down on us in sheets. We weren’t even a few blocks from home, and already we were soaking wet. I wished I could run all the way to school where I would be able to warm up and get dry, but I couldn’t leave Leiba behind. So I poked and prodded her as Faiga did the same to Bracha.
“I’m so cold,” Leiba whined, dragging her feet.
I looked at her, about to snap. We were all cold. My feet were numb! Why couldn’t she just walk so we could warm up already?
But before I said anything, Miriam gently took her hand. “Come, Leiba,” she said in that soft way of hers. “We’ll be there soon and then we’ll be able to warm up.”
Leiba stopped complaining then, and plodded along next to Miriam, their hands clasped. I looked at my younger sister, impressed. Somehow, she always knew how to make Leiba do what we needed. Somehow, she always understood what needed to be said. I wished I could be like that.
When we got to school, the building was one dripping mess. As much as everyone tried, there was no way we could keep all the mud outside, and the hallways were covered with dark streaks.
My mind brought me back to that day in Chevron all those years ago, when my boots got stuck in the mud. The memory of Papa’s soft caress of my cheek and his pride as he showed us around our new city filled my mind, and for a moment I felt as if he was there.
“Elka?” Faiga’s voice cut into my musings.
I looked up at her, slightly startled, a sad feeling filling my mouth and burrowing its way down my throat and into my chest. The classroom came into focus and with it, the image of Papa faded away. Into the past. Into oblivion.
“Elka!” Faiga was whispering urgently now, and I suddenly realized that the teacher had already walked in. I hurriedly took my seat and folded my hands on my desk before the teacher noticed.
“Thanks,” I breathed in Faiga’s direction as soon as the teacher’s back was turned.
She nodded, a soft smile on her face, without turning away from the front of the classroom.
As soon as class was over and the teacher had dismissed us for recess, I stood up. There was already a game of jump rope forming in the hallway and I did not want to be last or I would end up turning the rope. Everyone knew that the girl who turned usually ended up turning for most of recess.
“Elka!” Malki and Nechama, two girls from my class, were standing in line, motioning for me to join them.
I hurried over to them. From the corner of my eye, I could see Faiga staring. With my hand, I motioned for her to join us, but she just ignored me, her face surly and upset. It was almost as if she didn’t like that I had other friends. But why would she care?
“What’s going on, Faiga?” I asked when recess was over and we had sat down at our shared desk. “Why are you angry with me?”
Faiga turned her head to look in the other direction and pretended not to hear me.
Fine. If she wanted to be that way, I didn’t have to chase after her. Opening my book to the right place, I focused on what the teacher was saying. Faiga could be angry all she wanted; I didn’t care.
When it was time to walk home, I gathered Miriam and Leiba and began to leave.
“Aren’t you going to wait for Faiga?” Miriam asked, pulling her coat closer to her body to block out the wind.
“It’s cold,” I said, pointedly. “Let’s just get home already.”
And so we began to walk. Miriam didn’t say anything more, but I could tell that she was confused. It might have been cold, but we never left without Faiga.
When we got home, I carefully dished out the bean stew Mama had prepared, while Miriam left to pick up Yisroel.
“Come sit down,” I beckoned to them when they finally walked in the door. Placing a warm plate of beans down in front of him, I noticed Yisroel’s eye looked a little red. “You look tired, little one,” I said, lifting him up and planting him on my lap. “Did you nap today?” I scooped out a spoonful and zoomed it towards his mouth. “Open up,” I said, and he laughed, opening his mouth for a bite.
The rain was still coming down hard. We had finished eating and I wasn’t sure what to do next. We couldn’t go outside, it was too wet and cold. But inside? The small room behind me seemed to laugh, mockingly. There wasn’t enough room to breathe in this tiny apartment, how could we play? Yisroel and Leiba were already jumping around. Something was going to break. Or someone would get hurt. How could we entertain them for the next few hours?
Before I could despair too much, however, I heard a loud knocking sound coming from the front door.
“Faiga!” Miriam’s voice drifted through the hallway and into the living room.
I was so busy pulling Yisroel off the table, I almost forgot to be shocked. What was Faiga doing here? Wasn’t she angry at me?
“It’s so wet out there,” Faiga said, hanging up her coat and walking into the living room. “Yisroel!” She held her hands out towards my baby brother and scooped him up.
“Faiga?” I asked.
“Hmm?” She looked up at me from her place on the floor where she was now sitting and tickling Yisroel.
“Why are you here?”
“What do you mean? Don’t we spend every afternoon together? The better question is why didn’t you wait for me after school today? Don’t we always walk home together?”
But I could tell from the look on her face that she knew exactly why I didn’t wait for her. She just wanted to forget about it. I sat down on the floor next to her, noticing Leiba and Bracha heading off to the corner of the room to play. Good. At least I wouldn’t have to deal with Leiba’s whining the whole afternoon. She and Bracha could entertain each other — or at least be bored together and leave me out of it.
“Mama told me she’s hoping that we can come to your house for a seudah this Shabbos,” I said, trying to bring up a new topic. If Faiga wanted to move on, I would let her. But this behavior, this “sometimes I love you, sometimes I hate you” behavior – was really confusing me. Did she want to be my friend, or didn’t she? Which is probably what brought me to tell her Mama who wanted to go to them for a seudah. Because as much as I didn’t want to go, I did want Mama to see what was going on, to help me figure out why Faiga was acting so strange.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 920)
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