Home Ground: Chapter 3| January 24, 2023
Ima. I want to speak to her so much, it actually hurts
I wake up at seven a.m.. The joys of traveling long-distance. My body clock is totally off schedule.
I try to go back to sleep, but I can’t. And it’s far too early to go wandering around Bubby’s house, I don’t want to disturb my grandparents or anything. If I had my suitcases, I could unpack and try to settle in, but I don’t have them, so instead, I lie on my back and stare at the ceiling, wishing I could just call Ima.
Scratch that; if I’m making a wish anyway, it’s gotta be that I’m on a plane back home.
What was I even thinking?
I must have fallen asleep again, because when I next check the time, a couple of hours have passed. I change my T-shirt for a hooded sweatshirt — the only spare item of clothing I had in my carry-on — and head downstairs, where my grandparents are both eating toast and sipping coffees.
“Some toast, Ashira?” Bubby offers.
I’ve never had toast for breakfast in my life. At home, we do cereal, or pancakes, or oatmeal muffins or something.
“Not so hungry,” I say, but it’s not true. I am hungry; I’ve just somehow lost my appetite.
Bubby looks concerned. “Are you okay? Did you sleep enough?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. It’s just jet lag,” I mumble, even though it’s not. Five and a half hours (what’s the half hour all about, anyway?!) is not that major of a time difference. And yes, the flight was exhaustingly long, but it’s not like when we fly to New York. That kind of trip, we get real jet lag.
Bubby looks relieved.
“Um, how do I call India?” I blurt. Zaidy and Bubby have a landline, but whenever we speak to them from home, we use Skype. Does their phone plan even have international calling? Do I have to sit by the computer every time I want to speak to Ima? No way, how did I not think of this?
“There is a code you can dial,” Zaidy starts saying, but before he gets further, there’s a quick knock and a key turning in the keyhole.
“Yoohoo! Anyone hooome?” Aunt Chana calls, and a moment later she’s striding into the kitchen, wearing a cream-colored ribbed T-shirt and pleated midi skirt with a geometric design. She doesn’t look like she’s Ima’s older sister. Her pocketbook is swinging from her shoulder, and I catch a whiff of an intensely flowery scent as she sweeps inside.
“Oh, good. You’re up! Ready to go shopping?” she asks. It takes a moment to register that she’s talking to me. Shopping, right.
Well, I guess I do need one or two things. Or, like, one or two hundred.
“I don’t… um, which stores are we going to?” I stammer, wondering how to phrase it, what to say. Abba and Ima gave me a debit card to use, linked to an English bank account, and they’d deposited a generous amount of spending money, but generous meant enough for coffee and ice creams with friends and the occasional new book or accessory. Not an entire wardrobe, Shabbos to weekday to pajamas, socks, shoes.
“I figured we’ll start at the mall, do the basics, and then hit the Jewish stores for whatever we still need — a couple Shabbos outfits, some sets, you know,” Aunt Chana says. She takes another look at me and, surprisingly, seems to get it. “Oh, and don’t worry about the money, sweetie. I’ll take care of it, I’ll speak to your mother later, we’ll work it out.”
I want to speak to her so much, it actually hurts.
“Can we… do you think we could go a little later? Like in a half hour or so?” I ask.
Aunt Chana scrunches up her face in an expression that is probably meant to look apologetic, but only looks like she has a bad stomachache. “Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry. But Raizy’s waiting in the car, and we wanted to hit the stores already — she has something on later….”
I decide that I officially hate being called sweetie.
“Raizy’s here? She should come inside,” Bubby says, perking up.
Aunt Chana shrugs. “I thought we’d just be a minute.”
How on earth did you just assume I’d be ready to leave, I want to ask, but I don’t. I just grab my purse and the bottle of water that Bubby stuffs in my hand. I follow Aunt Chana out the door with the sinking feeling that I’m walking to my doom.
By the time we sit down for lunch at a cute — and crowded — café, I’m yawning too widely to even pretend I’m not tired.
“Oh, you poor girl. You need a good night’s sleep,” Aunt Chana says, squeezing my arm.
Raizy rolls her eyes. She’s spent most of the trip doing her own shopping, coming to find us when she needed a credit card or her mother’s opinion on something or other.
“It’s nice, ask Ashira what she thinks,” Aunt Chana said, examining the tiered, black-and-white skirt that Raizy was holding up. “You need another summer skirt? We’re nearly changing seasons. Hey, Ashira could get the same!”
Raizy and I both started saying, “No,” at the same time. It could’ve been funny, except that Raizy glowered and stalked off, and I was left to cough and pretend I hadn’t said anything.
But now we’re done with the mall, and we’re sitting sipping coffees while waiting for our lunch order to arrive — a kale, spinach, and feta cheese salad for my aunt, halloumi and mushroom salad with a Nutri Juice for Raizy, and my primavera pasta with a side of gourmet fries (I’m hungry¸ okay?)
Raizy picks at her salad. Her eyes keep roving to my fries. I can’t possibly eat them all, so I push the bowl to the middle of the table. “Have some,” I offer, before I remember that we’re not exactly talking.
“No, no, it’s fine,” she mutters, looking away. “Um, I really have to get going…” she looks at her mother meaningfully. “I promised Deena I’d be there by 1:30, latest.”
“I haven’t forgotten, sweetie. We’ll leave in five minutes.” Aunt Chana motions for the bill, and I quickly put down my fork. I’m still hungry, but I’m not going to keep them. “No, no, Ashira, take your time. We still have a few minutes. Raizy, I have a great idea. Why don’t you take Ashira along to Deena’s? It’ll be a great chance to introduce her to all your friends.”
I don’t know who’s more horrified at the idea, Raizy or me.
“Uh, Mommy, it’s nooot the type,” Raizy says, rolling her eyes. “I mean, no offense,” she adds in my direction. “But this is like a surprise party for one of my best friends, and there are six of us doing it together….”
“It’s fine, I’m not offended at all,” I say, matching her tone. “Besides, I have plans for this afternoon.”
Plans, my foot. I guess planning to not do something absolutely socially mortifying is kind of a plan, no?
“How about we hit the local stores tomorrow?” Aunt Chana suggests. “I think we have enough to tide you over till then.”
I run my eye over the bags. We’ve bought some basics like pajamas, a couple of summery T-shirts and skirts (though honestly, they call this weather summer?! It’s been drizzling and cloudy since I’ve arrived), a top for all year round, and a pair of shoes, since I travelled in my sneakers.
And my suitcases will arrive any day now. Why should I shop around more?
We get home, and I get to finally, finally, finally, call my mother.
Hearing Ima’s voice is like cuddling up in the softest, warmest blanket.
“Ima,” I say. And then, without meaning to, without planning to, and almost without knowing what I’m doing, I simply start to cry.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 946)
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