| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 10

This isn’t working. Why can’t you see it? Why can’t you see ME?


There’s something I need to ask you.

My words echo on the line. I hate when there’s a time lag on calls, and I can hear my own voice bouncing back at me. It makes me so self-conscious.

“Sure, sweetie,” Ima says a moment later. Her voice is warm, guileless. I can’t imagine Ima hiding stuff from me, and not being absolutely straight and honest with all of us. And yet she did. She hid something huge. And… and she sent me back here, where it all began, without knowing a thing.

I open my mouth, play with the words, try to formulate them into a question. I don’t want to accuse or demand, but I do want to know

“Is that Ashira? Can I speak to her?”

“Just a minute, Mali. Shir?”

I picture Ima, probably doing a million things at once in our large-but-oh-so-old kitchen back in India. Maybe there’s challah dough rising on the counter, a tower of vegetable peels, soup bubbling on the stove. Mali’s around, so Ita Naomi is probably also, and then Abba could walk in any minute with some guest….

Even if I ask, even if I find the words — Ima’s not going to tell me anything I don’t know. Not with everyone around.

“Never mind, I have to go to school now,” I say, the words dry and sandpapery on my tongue.

And then I stand, holding the silent phone, feeling even further away than before.

There are lots of things I don’t like about school, but geography class probably tops the list.

It’s just… boring.

The teacher is Miss Wolff, and for some reason half the class is obsessed with her. I don’t understand why; she teaches as if she memorized the textbook the night before. She also seems to think we’re around five years old.

Great question, Michal! We’ll get to it next lesson,” she says, jotting something down in her planner. I’ll bet she’s going to look it up in the meantime.

We’re reviewing the differences between immigrant, emigrant, economic migrant, and refugee, and I’m sorry, it just is… Boring. Like, no other word for it.

I push my textbook to one side of my desk, position my pencil case carefully, and slip the letter out of my bag. Yes, I’ve brought it with me. I don’t know why. I just… feel like I need it with me. Maybe I think if I read it one more time, I’ll figure out what it means.

The words haven’t magically changed and shifted into something more coherent. I read it again anyway, beginning to end, sentence by sentence. I trace the heavy, angry, purple ink with my fingers, wishing the paper could speak, give me answers.


You don’t understand me. I’ve tried telling you again and again.

This isn’t working. Why can’t you see it? Why can’t you see ME?

Words. Voices, receding in the background. Shadow, over my desk.


I look up, alarmed.

Miss Wolff is standing there, so close I can see the slightly smudged edges of her eyeliner.

She doesn’t look happy.

“Ashira,” she says, clamping a hand down on the letter — the letter! — on my desk. “This does not look like geography to me.”

My breath tangles in my throat. “It—” I cough. “Um, I’ll put it away.”

She gives me a sharp look. “I’ll put it away. You can come collect it from me during lunch break.”

She will take it? But but but—

“No… it’s… I’ll put it away,” I stammer. My classmates are staring; they’ve never seen me anything but completely composed. Mortification creeps over me, tingling from my head, down my spine, curling in my toes.

Miss Wolff swipes the paper from my desk and marches to the front of the room without looking back.

I watch her put it in the front pocket of her bag and continue with the lesson, just as if nothing happened.

There’s another whole period after this, before lunch. As if she’s not going to read it. Ha.

Embarrassment churns inside me, mingles with anger. Like hello? This isn’t second grade. I mean, it’s not like I went to an actual second grade (try take away a fidget spinner over Zoom). But I imagine Morah Esther, the sweet bubby who taught us Hebrew subjects for two years, would’ve liked to, some of the time.

But this… I mean, we’re in high school, and this is a letter, personal, private, nothing to do with Miss Know-It-All Geography teacher, who thinks she owns the place—

I am seething.

Miss Wolff assigns some work, something about refugees from Syria, and I open my notebook — sorry, exercise book — because everyone else does. But I don’t write the answers. Instead, I start to scribble in the margins, angry, tight circles.

By the end of class, the entire page is covered.

I make it through Chumash class uneventfully, and I’m outside the door of the teachers’ room almost before the bell finishes ringing.

Miss Wolff herself answers. I see it in her face; she’s read the letter.

“Ashira. You’re here for that… the letter.”

And who told you it’s a letter? I want to scream. Instead, I just look her in the eye and say, “Yes.”

Her bag is over her shoulder, but she doesn’t show any signs of reaching into it.

“I’m actually happy to get the chance to speak to you,” she says, tranquilly, as if she hasn’t just embarrassed me in public, taken away something extremely personal, and shamelessly read its contents. “How’s it going, settling in? New school, new country… it can’t be easy.”

She gives a charming smile, and for a moment I think I see why my classmates seem to be so into her.

But I’m not. No chance.

“It’s fine,” I say shortly. “I just want my… that paper back.”

Miss Wolff’s face freezes over, and I regret my curtness; for all I know, she’ll decide she’s going to keep the letter another week. I know the words by heart, but I’m not interested in having this secret make the rounds of the teachers’ room. She’ll probably think it’s l’toeles to show people. Like, did you know about her mother…?

Wait. The letter isn’t signed. It could be from anyone, right? Like, a friend, or something….

The thought buoys me.

“Please?” I add, in a softer tone.

Miss Wolff hesitates, then pulls it from her bag, making a show of folding it over so the writing is not visible.

“Here you go, Ashira,” she says. I can hear she wants to say something more.

I don’t wait around.

I snatch the paper from between her fingers and make my escape.

For once, I’m relieved to get back to Bubby’s after school. I just want my own space.

I open the front door and a wild burst of color hits me in the eye. Black canvas, covered in neon-colored splatters, lurid green and vivid yellow and fluorescent pink—

“Ashira? Ashira, is that you?” Bubby hurries out of the kitchen, her hands dripping. She points toward the stairs. “Did you see what came?”

My mind catches up with my eyes.

They’re here.

My suitcases have arrived.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 953)

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