| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 25

“The newspaper? Are you for real, Ashira? Why are you even reading this? They don’t know what they’re talking about.”


The headline is a blur, text darting across the page like millions of scurrying ants. I take a deep breath, squeeze my eyes shut, and then open them again, forcing myself to focus.

… a wave of political unrest… shockwaves to the nation… what began as localized demonstrations in the Rajasthan region has now snowballed….

My heart rate picks up. The radical party, the terrorists that are trying to seize power, the ones Ima reassured me were far away in the north of the country… is it them? What does this mean for my family?

I skim further, frantic. Government’s response in the north, Jammu, Kashmir, no, no, no. I want to hear about the capital, the major cities, about what’s happening near my home. My parents. My siblings. My baby sister.

The president has expressed concern… citizens stockpiling food in case of civil war… nation stands divided….

And then the final, heart-stopping paragraph:

The party leadership, emboldened by the swelling ranks of their followers, has made it clear that they will stop at nothing to achieve their objectives… The nation braces itself for the consequences of a radical party intent on reshaping the political landscape, regardless of the violent storm it may unleash.

My hands are clammy. Cold. I’m sitting here on a park bench in the winter night; of course I’m cold. But I’m also hot, and my heart is thumping, faster, stronger, like a ticking time bomb about to explode. But I  spoke to Ima today, and my sisters. They didn’t say a word. Why am I taking this so much more seriously than anyone else?

Am I misunderstanding it?

A sudden noise breaks into my thoughts, and I startle. A group of people are heading through the park; it looks like the path is a shortcut to the main road. They’re talking loudly, laughing, gesturing, and I’m gripped with a sudden fear, this time for myself. What am I doing here, all alone in the dark, empty park? What if it’s—

The group comes closer and I realize they are yeshivah bochurim, not shady characters.
I sag back in relief. The slats of the wooden bench press into my spine, even through my coat. Park benches were not designed to be comfortable.

“… I guarantee, the best cholent you’ll ever taste,” a familiar voice says as the boys come closer, and with a start, I see the one person I’d never thought of calling, the one person I could share my fears and worry with: my brother.

“Yaakov!” I say. My voice emerges a squeak. Somehow, though, he hears, and so does everyone else. The bochurim stop short, glancing around, and Yaakov gives an exclamation when he sees me.

“Ashira! What are you doing here? My sister,” he says to his friends, motioning them to go ahead.

“Hey, don’t leave us in suspense about the cholent, Newman,” a short, chubby guy says.

“Yeah, you’re not getting away with it now, we’re holding you to it. Thursday night, eh?”

“Guys, chill out about the cholent, it’s gonna be epic.” Yaakov waves them away, but doesn’t sit down beside me, even though I’ve moved over to make space for him. Instead, he lowers his voice. “What on earth are you doing here, Ashira? It’s totally not safe to sit around in the park after dark by yourself. Do Zeidy and Bubby know where you are?”

Usually, I’d be annoyed at how my brother, less than two years older than I am, thinks he can tell me off like that. But now I have only one thing on my mind.

“Yaakov. Look at this.”

I hold out the newspaper. The pages I’ve been clutching are damp with sweat, and my fingers have grimy ink stains. Some of the words, where I was touching the page, are blurred.

But Yaakov doesn’t even try to decipher them.

“The newspaper? Are you for real, Ashira? Why are you even reading this? They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

He’s a yeshivah bochur and he thinks he knows everything, but he doesn’t, he does not.

“Yaakov! This is about India. It’s not a lie. There’s this radical party trying to take power, even Ima told me. And this newspaper… Zeidy had it at home, he was reading it. It says that, that—”

My brother grabs the paper, skims the headlines, and then looks up in disgust. “It doesn’t say anything. It’s just reporting people’s fears and concerns and getting everyone nervous. Listen, Shir. Abba and Ima are right there. Abba’s friends with the police chief guy, remember? If it was really dangerous, they would leave. They have passports. They know how to book flights. Right?”

What he’s saying is reasonable, so reasonable. And yet… why do I still feel like I’m the only one who feels the situation is worse than everyone thinks?

“You shouldn’t be out here, and you shouldn’t be reading this,” Yaakov says, crumpling the newspaper and tossing it into the nearest trash can. “I’m telling you, it’s just making you scared for no reason.”

“Hey!” I say, indignant.

Yaakov thrusts his hands into his pockets. “You can take it back if you want, but I don’t think you should. Number one, would Abba and Ima want you to? Number two, would Bubby and Zeidy?” He lets the words hang in the air between us, and I know he’s won. I’m not going to dig through the garbage now. I know my parents wouldn’t want me doing this; they’d want me to ask them directly what’s going on. But —

“Come on, I’ll walk you home,” Yaakov says. “I haven’t said hi to Bubby and Zeidy in a while, anyway.”

I don’t say anything. The truth is, it’s gotten darker and colder, and I’m happy not to be walking alone. But I’m still angry at how cavalierly he dismissed my fears.

“Ashira! I was just starting to worry,” Bubby says. “Oh! And Yaakov! What a nice surprise!”

“We ran into each other,” Yaakov says smoothly, before I can say anything. “Hi, Zeidy. Hi, Bubby. Just a short visit because I have to get back soon.”

At least he’s useful for something, my brother. He’s clearly taking all the attention off me, so no one’s asking questions about where I’ve been or what I’ve done.

Zeidy, I notice, is still sitting in the same place at the table. But the newspaper is gone. Did he throw it out, too? Not that it matters; I saw everything I needed to see.

“I’ll come by again,” Yaakov promises. He’s now holding two bags of goodies: muffins and chocolate chip sticks and rugelach from the freezer.

“We’re having the family Chanukah party next Tuesday,” Bubby says. “You’ll be here?”

“No chance I’m missing that,” Yaakov says, with a grin. “Maybe I’ll come by on Shabbos also. No, Bubby, don’t get up, I’m fine, I’ll walk myself to the door. Or Ashira can walk me.”

I’m tempted to just refuse, but of course I won’t. Yaakov stops on the doorstop, looks back at me seriously. “Listen, Ashira, I know you’re worried, but I’m telling you, everything’s okay. Abba and Ima know what they’re doing. I’ll come by more often if that’s what you want, but don’t go looking for things to worry about in the newspapers and stuff. It’s just going to make you scared for no reason, talking about wars and things that haven’t even happened yet.”

As the door closes behind him, the words I didn’t get to reply bubble up in a soundless scream: But what if the newspapers are right? What then?

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 968)

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