It was a good thing Ahuva had no email access when she wasn’t at work or I’d seriously never get a thing done. The last exchange about the ad campaign had been 40 minutes earlier. I was on my own program, but I felt a stab of guilt knowing that Ahuva was employed. Wasn’t it against halachah to chat during work hours? I took the chance and asked her.
“I don’t get paid on the hour,” she replied. “I get paid to get my work done, so no worries. Worst case, I stay late to catch up.”
We definitely discussed business about five percent of the time. The other ninety-five percent was other stuff.
What was all that “other stuff,” anyway?
At first it was simply some amusing chitchat. Ahuva was sharp as a tack with a wicked sense of humor. Naturally, I felt challenged to match her wit, and every email correspondence turned into a cleverness contest. There was something mysterious about this girl, something alluring. In short, we were having fun.
This went on for a while. Every workday from nine to five, except the few hours I was out teaching, we emailed back and forth.
One day, our conversation took an interesting twist. Unlike our typical joking and hocking, we headed into a pretty serious discussion. The jesting slowed. The writing got simpler. Realer. Weirder.
At 4:55, Ahuva paused the conversation.
I need to leave in five minutes. But I want to continue this conversation. Can I call you later?
It was Thursday afternoon. That night, while I was cleaning the kitchen, she called.
“Why does it feel so weird talking to you?” I asked bluntly. It wasn’t the first time we were talking. We’d spoken plenty of times over the weeks but mainly about marketing projects. We’d even met once, when I’d visited the office to meet with Mr. Templer.
“Because something is happening,” Ahuva said quietly.
My stomach contracted. “You think?”
She laughed. Then she asked me a question about the conversation we’d started earlier that day. A very direct, very personal question.
I paused. “There’s no way I’m going to answer that.”
It was more than just a personal question. It was a secret. A topic that weighed on my heart and that I kept bottled up at all costs. Miriam, my BFF, was vaguely aware of it, but I’d never really shared it with her.
“I’m not forcing you to answer,” Ahuva said softly. “It’s your choice.”
I heard her inhale slowly. Then she added, “But I think you want to tell me. I have a feeling you’re going to share this with me really soon, like, probably even before Shabbos.”
Who was this girl? A month ago, I hadn’t known her name, and here she was telling me that she was convinced I would share my most guarded secret with her in a matter of hours?
I felt nauseous. Something stirred in me, telling me to hang up the phone, forget her name, move on with my life.
But this was Ahuva. She was smart and dramatic. There was something that drew me to her like magnet.
“Let’s talk about something else,” I finally replied.
You know what happens when you make a conscious effort to change a discussion. Obviously, there was no other topic I could think of that moment. Ahuva pretended not to notice. She continued talking with ease. I have no idea what she spoke about; I didn’t hear a word. My mind was in turmoil.
We hung up the phone, but two hours later, when I was ready for bed, I locked my bedroom door and called her back.
We spoke for ten minutes. For an hour. I braided and unbraided my hair. I paced the room, moved knickknacks around on my dresser, opened and closed my closet door again and again.
Four hours later, when we hung up the phone, I continued sitting on my bed, staring at the wall. I’d told Ahuva. I’d told her everything, hadn’t spared a detail. She’d listened quietly, and then she’d confessed: my secret was hers as well. We were in the same boat.
I felt numb. I’d told my darkest secret to a practical stranger.
And worse than that: While we spoke, and it all came tumbling out, fast and furious, I did something else.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 759)
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