What was Elka doing outside at this time of night? How could she have found me?
moved past the low buildings on either side of me, first quickly, then slowing down, until I was just meandering through the narrow streets of Geula. After all the time we had been here, I knew the streets quite well. They were quiet now. Almost empty. Most people were inside their houses eating supper, getting ready for bed.
The cool air cleared my head, and, after the frustration embroiled within me had settled down, I was able to finally think. I couldn’t think at home. There was no room for thinking in the one room we all shared, even with the curtain Mama put up now that Dovid and I were getting bigger. The quiet of the streets seeped into my limbs and I let it fill me.
I was almost in Meah Shearim before I allowed myself to think about Bubbe’s letter. Bubbe. The last time I had seen her had been so long ago, I could barely remember her face. I imagined her in my mind, but somehow, the picture in my mind looked a lot like our old neighbor in Chevron. It couldn’t be Bubbe. I tried to dig up the image from the past. I could feel her warmth. Her love. I remembered when Leiba was born, back in Riga, and we had all stayed with Bubbe while Mama recovered. But even when we lived in Kovno, Riga was far away. Bubbe barely visited and we went to her even less. I couldn’t dig up her face from inside my mind — it was all just too long ago.
Not that it mattered. Bubbe was there, and she loved us, and she wanted to take care of us. And no matter what she looked like, I wanted to be there with her, too. Mama said we were managing. Miriam said we had Yocheved and Baruch to help us whenever we needed. But I kept thinking back to Leiba and those tomatoes and wondering — was Yocheved and Baruch what we needed? I didn’t think so.
Wandering back toward my house, I tried to think of ways that I could convince Mama to move us all to Riga to be near Bubbe and Zeide. But when I rounded the corner, past the yeshivah, I stopped short.
“Dovid?” I asked. Was that really him? The boys next to him didn’t look like the boys in the yeshivah, or even in the Talmud Torah.
“Elka!” Dovid turned around, looking shocked, and quickly stuffed something into his pocket. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same question,” I replied, gesturing at the three boys surrounding him. One of them, the only one that seemed to be near his age, was a kid I recognized from Chevron. I didn’t remember his name. He was one of the Sephardi boys who lived in the other section.
The sound of her voice made me jump. What was Elka doing outside at this time of night? How could she have found me?
“Elka,” I said, lowering my voice so the boys behind me couldn’t hear what I was saying. I stuffed the map we had been working on into my pocket. It was enough that she had seen my friends, I couldn’t let her see the map, too. “I’m taking care of something important,” I said. “I can’t have you barging in.”
“Does Mama know what you’re doing?” Elka demanded.
I shook my head. “No. She has no idea. And it needs to stay that way – so don’t you dare tell Mama anything. Do you hear me?” My voice grew stronger and louder as I said it.
Elka’s eyes grew wide and I realized I must have gone a little too far. If I spoke so strongly, she would tell Mama right away and that would be the end of our plans.
But a little part of me was egging me on, pushing me to keep scaring her. Let her tell Mama. Let someone know so I could get out of this mess. But then I felt Zev’s presence behind me and I just couldn’t. We were in this together. If someone found out about our plans, none of us would be able to carry them out.
“It’s just…” I lowered my voice again so it would be softer. “I… I have something I need to do and these boys are helping me.”
“But — who are they?” she asked, her voice softening, too, to mirror mine.
“Don’t worry, Elka,” I said, hoping my voice was reassuring. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Are you sure?” she pressed.
I nodded. It was a lie, but I knew it would be the first of many if this operation was going to be carried out as we had planned it. It was good practice for what lay ahead.
Elka looked at me suspiciously and for a long moment I thought she wouldn’t believe me. Then she nodded. “You’re coming home soon?” she asked before turning around to leave.
“Yeah,” I whispered. “Just got to — to finish up something here.” She started walking away when I called after her, “I’ll be back at the time Mama usually expects me.” I could see her nod even though she was facing away from me. And I knew my sister well enough to know that she wouldn’t tell. My secret was safe.
For some reason, the thought caused waves of dread to rise up in my throat.
Trying to ignore my storming emotions, I turned to Yitzchok and pulled the map out of my pocket.
“Okay,” I said, smoothing out the creases. “Let’s go over this one more time. Quickly, though. I can’t afford to get home late tonight.”
“What about your sister?” Avi growled, looking in the direction Elka had disappeared. “She’s good,” I said, trying to wave off the whole thing, “I know her. She’s not going to tell.”
“She better not.” Zev looked almost scary, his eyes dark and threatening. “Or we might find ourselves all swinging in the center square, if you get my drift.”
“You said the British wouldn’t hurt kids like us,” I reminded him.
“Whatsamatter?” Yitzchok said. “You scared? We all know there’s a risk in this and let’s not pretend we don’t. But we have no choice. Remember Cafferata? Remember Akeem?”
The name of the head of the British police in Chevron and of my father’s assistant who had betrayed us slammed me back to reality. The fury built inside me once more.
“Let’s go over these plans,” I said, pointing to the map again. “And don’t worry about my sister. She won’t tell. Besides, even if she does, she didn’t hear anything. She doesn’t know what we’re planning. If I need to, I can make up some excuse.”
“Are you sure?” Avi demanded. “Because we’re not about to risk this whole thing just for you. You may have good ideas but they’re not worth it if we get caught.”
“I said I’m sure,” I said darkly. “Now show me the guard’s route again. Was it the same on Sunday as it was yesterday?”
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 926)
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