Building Dreams: Chapter 41| December 6, 2022
I wondered what had happened to them. Were they in jail? Out and about and just hadn’t made contact with me?
“Bubbe?” I said, slipping my hand into hers and quickening my footsteps to match her pace.
“Yes, dear?” she replied, squeezing my hand.
“On Sunday I’m going home.”
“I know,” Bubbe said, giving me a small smile. “We’ll miss you. It’s been so nice having you around, seeing how grown up you’ve become. The house will be so quiet without you.”
I smiled a little, knowing it was all true. Bubbe would miss me.
“So,” Bubbe said, a little more strongly, “if I gave you the choice to stay here for the winter or go home… what would you say?”
I stared at Bubbe, my eyebrows slightly raised. What was she thinking? Stay here in Riga?
“Not that I’m really asking,” Bubbe quickly clarified, “just… how would you feel if you did get that chance? You know, before you came here, you told your Mama you’d want to move back here. So how do you feel now? Now that you’ve been here?”
“Can I think about it?” I asked, frowning. It was a pretty big question.
“Sure.” Bubbe laughed, swinging my hand high in her own. “Meanwhile, let’s prepare for our last trip in Riga. It’s going to be a good one.”
“What are we doing?” I asked, but it was too late. We were already home and Bubbe pulled ahead of me while I slowly took the stairs one at a time.
I frowned in concentration and dipped the quill back into the ink. If I wasn’t careful, ink would blot on the klaf and the whole page would be messed up. Slowly, painstakingly, I scratched out an alef on the page. This would be perfect. It had to be. I was doing it for Papa.
Zalman walked into the room and leaned over my shoulder to see how it was going. “Wow, Dovid, that looks amazing.”
“Thanks.” I smiled, looking at the page as objectively as I could. The words looked beautiful, although I still had a while to go before I would be finished.
“You know, Dovid, if you have time maybe you can decorate the kesubah also,” Zalman suggested.
“Decorate it?” I looked at Zalman incredulously. “Is that done?”
“Sure,” Zalman shrugged. “All the time, if someone has the money for it. Are you artistic?”
“Um… no idea.” I tilted my head and looked back down at the letters I was forming. “It’s really coming along nicely, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Really nice,” Zalman stressed. “I don’t think I could do better. You’re really good.”
We were silent for a moment and then Zalman cleared his throat. “I’ve got to get back to yeshivah,” he said, “lunch is almost over.” He hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Are you coming?”
“I don’t think I even have a chavrusa anymore,” I admitted, looking away from Zalman. He must have known that I was rarely in yeshivah. He wasn’t a fool. But we had never spoken about it before. I’d never spoken to anyone about it before. Not to Elka, not to Zalman or Baruch, and certainly not to Mama.
“I’m sure your chavrusa is still waiting for you. You’re learning with Moishy this zeman?”
“Come with me. We’ll see if he’s there and if not, I’ll learn with you, okay?”
My heart jerked, but in a pleasant sort of way. “Yeah?” I said, the end of the word forming into a question. “I mean, uh, okay, I’ll come today. But no guarantees for the future, okay?”
Zalman looked at me, a twinkle in his eye, but didn’t say anything as I stood up to gather my klaf, quill, and ink.
The walk to yeshivah was a short one but Zalman was rushing and I had to run to keep up. We passed the corner where I always met with Avi and Zev. I wondered what had happened to them. Were they in jail? Out and about and just hadn’t made contact with me? I wouldn’t know how to find them and certainly couldn’t find out, but still I wondered. And as I thought about them, I realized that I didn’t miss them in the slightest. But Yitzchok? Well, I did miss Yitzchok.
“Dovid?” Zalman called back to me, and I looked up, noticing that he was already half a block ahead of me.
“Sorry,” I said, running to his side. “Just thinking about my friend.”
“The one who came to your house a few days ago?”
“Yeah.” I wasn’t sure why I was telling him this. Did I want him to ask? Well, whether I did or not, I could sense the question coming.
“What happened that night?” Zalman asked.
“I—” I stopped. I really wanted to tell him. I needed to tell him.
Zalman turned around to look at me. “Dovid,” he whispered, putting his hand on my shoulder, “if you need to talk, I’m here. Yeshivah can wait.”
“We’re going to the beach?” I squealed as I watched Bubbe pack up swimming clothing and drinks.
“That’s right,” Bubbe beamed. “A perfect trip to end a perfect visit.”
Excitedly, I tried to help Bubbe pack but I just ended up spilling the bottle of water we were going to be taking with us.
“Don’t worry, sheifeleh,” Bubbe said, taking the bottle from my hands. “I’ll take care of packing us up. You run down to Chava’s house and let her know we’re ready to leave. Do you remember the way?”
I nodded and dashed down the steps. A trip to the beach! And with Chava! Bubbe sure knew how to make things exciting.
The air at the beach was gloriously warm, with the wind fluffing up our bobs and whipping our hair into our faces. Bubbe had chosen a quiet spot, away from all the swimmers who seemed to frequent the sand nearby.
“Come, girls, let’s spread out over here,” Bubbe said, stopping in a sunny spot and pulling out the sheet we’d brought to cover the sand. Chava and I each took an end and shook it out. Fighting the wind, we set the sheet on the ground and plopped down. But only for a moment. Within minutes we were up again and changing and then off to the waves. The tide was high and we jumped and jumped in the choppy waves, watching them crash over our feet and up to our knees.
When we were soaking and exhausted and our hair hung in wet, salty strands, we went back to where Bubbe was sitting and spread ourselves out on towels in the sunshine.
“You know, Elka,” Chava murmured, laying back, head tilted to the sky, an arm slung over her eyes to keep the sun out. “I don’t think I’ve had so much fun in years.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “we never go to the beach in Tel Aviv. It’s way too far and Mama can’t take us.” And to my surprise, I didn’t feel sorry for myself as I said it. Sad, yes, but not sorry for myself. Maybe it was because Chava had lost so much more.
“I’m leaving tomorrow,” I added.
“I know,” Chava said, “you’re so lucky to live in Eretz Yisrael.”
And because it was Chava who said it, because it was someone who’d lost so much, just like I had, only lost it here in Europe, I found myself thinking, You’re right. I really am. I’m so lucky.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 939)
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