It wasn’t hard to guess where the anti-Danny vibes were coming from, but Danny said Tefillas Haderech and tried not to mind
The flight from London to Gibraltar was pretty ordinary, according to the frequent fliers — boys who flew twice a year to Eretz Yisrael for Yom Tov or to Switzerland for skiing. Danny was not among these, nor was Yanky, whose parents’ joint salaries (his father was a rebbi in a cheder, and his mother taught in a girls’ school) didn’t stretch far enough even to visit family in Eretz Yisrael. But he’d be going to yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael after learning in Gateshead.
“And then I’ll probably never come back home, because I won’t be able to afford the ticket!” he said with his trademark nonchalance. Everyone laughed; Yanky managed to make everything sound cool, even not having money.
But Danny was a different matter altogether; he was distinctly uncool. Strapping into his seatbelt as soon as he sat down, he listened with concentration to the flight attendant’s instructions before carefully studying the plastic card with further safety details. What a bore he was, and the fact that he didn’t know all this stuff about planes was another sign that he just didn’t belong.
It wasn’t hard to guess where the anti-Danny vibes were coming from, but Danny said Tefillas Haderech and tried not to mind. The only sign of his embarrassment was the redness that crept up his neck right to the tips of his ears.
Yitz Green was sitting a few rows in front of Danny and Yanky. He’d made someone swap places so that he could have Zvi Leader next to him. But Zvi, sitting miserably with the zipper of his jacket closed right to his chin, wasn’t much company. Yitz got up and went over to a row of seats where a group of younger boys were sitting. Blocking the aisle, talking loudly and making everyone laugh, he didn’t appear to notice when two flight attendants appeared with a trolley of drinks and snacks.
“Can you kindly return to your seat?” said a flight attendant.
“Sure ma’am,” said Yitz. “No worries.” He idled back to his seat, yawned and stretched. Then he turned and winked at Danny, and everyone laughed again.
Danny bit his lip and said nothing.
“Pity Rabbi Shine is at the back of the plane,” said Yanky. “If he saw what’s going on, he’d have something to say about that boy’s behavior.”
The No Smoking sign blinked on.
“Too late now. Looks like we’re nearly there,” said Danny.
An announcement came over the loudspeaker. “Flight attendants, please prepare for landing. Cabin crew, please take your seats for landing.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, as we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. Thank you.”
There was a general clicking and rustling throughout the plane as passengers strapped themselves in. Two of the flight attendants did the usual thing of going up and down the aisle, checking that lockers were closed and people strapped in.
“You can get rid of that sick bag,” Yitz said to Zvi. “We’re landing.”
Zvi shook his head.
“Go on, I dare you,” said Yitz. “You’re gonna have to tough up for camp, you know. It’s not preschool.” But Zvi, looking green, gagged and stuck his face in the sick bag.
“Don’t be such a coward,” said Yitz. “Believe me, I’ve flown loads of times, so I know. This is a perfectly smooth descent.”
He stood up to get something from the overhead locker.
“Ladies and gentlemen. We are now crossing a zone of turbulence,” came a sudden short announcement, broken off suddenly by the angry voice of an attendant.
“Will the tall young man in the white shirt please sit down immediately.” Yitz turned slowly, shrugged and went to sit down, a half-smile playing on his face.
“Some people,” he drawled, just loud enough for the boys sitting around him to hear.
“He’s still not strapped in,” said Yanky. “The show off.”
Then everything happened at once. The plane began to rock violently from side to side. A heavy bag came crashing out of the overhead locker that Yitz had not closed properly, landing on an elderly passenger. And Yitz was forcefully thrown up against the ceiling of the plane, banging his head.
Pandemonium hit. Another locker flew open, a cart became dislodged and went careering down the aisle; screaming passengers were flung hard up against their seats, and the three flight attendants, attempting to reach their places so that they could strap in, were thrown up and then sideways. It seemed that the only person unharmed was Danny. But in the middle of helping the elderly gentleman whose arm now hung loosely by his side, Danny received a harsh blow in the stomach, which winded him and sent him reeling.
The turbulence subsided as suddenly as it had come. Two of the flight attendants had twisted ankles and shoulder pain but they managed somehow to go around offering Tylenol, bandages, and water to passengers. Rabbi Shine had hurt his back despite being strapped in and Rabbi Ganz had several gashes on his forehead as well as a swollen eye. They were going to need the assistance of the older ones to sort everyone out.
“Where’s Zvi?” said Danny.
“He’s not under the seats,” said Yanky. “Perhaps he’s in one of the overhead lockers.”
“Funny,” said Danny. He found Zvi hiding in the bathroom. A large lump was growing rapidly on his forehead. Danny helped him stand up.
“Let’s get you to your seat.”
“Not next to Yitz Green,” said Zvi. “He could’ve got me killed with that suitcase.”
“Nah,” said Danny. “You’re okay. You should have stayed in your seat. You know the rule. Sit down and strap in.”
“I’m not sitting next to him.”
Danny looked at Yanky. His face was rather pinched and white, and he was rubbing his back but he looked pretty cheerful, considering.
“Will you swap?” he said.
“Of course,” said Yanky. “You can’t be expected to sit next to Yitz. He’d probably bite your head off. My, he has a great punch.”
“He punched you in the stomach. Didn’t you feel it?”
Danny stared at Yanky. “I didn’t know it was him. I thought it was one of the objects flying round the plane.” He blinked; embarrassingly, his eyes had filled with tears. He could cope with pain and with danger but not with the hatred of Yitz Green, the school star, for no good reason. What had he ever done?
“Look, I think Yitz was just panicking,” said Yanky. “The way he was thrown up against the ceiling and the bang on his head. It was just an instinct, like self-preservation. He could just as easily have punched the wall. It’s just that you happened to be there ….”
Danny shook his head. It was nice of Yanky to want to make him feel better, but he was wrong. If Yitz had punched him in the stomach, he had meant to because he hated him.
Danny sat down and closed his eyes. He should never have come on the trip. It was true; he just didn’t belong. He couldn’t bear to look at the other boys. He couldn’t bear to look at Yitz who was already showing off as if he hadn’t gashed his head through his own arrogance and stupidity.
Danny kept his eyes shut throughout the few short minutes it took for the plane to finally descend. The captain announced that they had been diverted to Malaga, but Danny didn’t join in the excited discussions that erupted up and down the aisles. He stayed in his seat with his eyes closed as the wounded and weary left the plane.
“Come on, Danny, wake up. What’s the matter with you?” said Yanky.
“Leave me alone,” said Danny. “I’m not coming.”
“You can’t just sit here. Anyway, you’ll get kicked off. You’ve got to get over this, Danny. You’re needed. There’s only me and Refoel Schein and Mordy Spitz to help Rabbi Shine and Rabbi Ganz.”
“Why’d you tell me that Yitz punched me?”
“You’re right, I shouldn’t have, I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d take it so badly,” said Yanky.
Danny breathed in deeply and stood up.
“Ok I’m coming. But just try to understand what it feels like. Being an outsider.”
“You’re not an outsider—”
Yanky shrugged. “Whatever you are, we need you.”
Danny stood up, hauled his knapsack onto his back, and followed Yanky off the plane. But his heart was heavy. What future was there for him in yeshivah if he didn’t belong?
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 948)
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