| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 37

But now… it’s happened, somehow; I feel like I have a place here. I have friends.


I’m not interested.

The angry words echo in the air.

I watch Tammy’s receding back and I’m tempted to do the same, just turn on my heel and leave, because honestly, I’m done trying to make up with her. If she’s not interested, I’m certainly not. Like, hello, I was just trying to make things right. To do the right thing.

That makes me think of what Aunt Chana said about Ima. When she wants to do the right thing, nothing and no one can stop her. It makes me remember what happened to my mother — with her teacher, the accusation, the humiliation — in this school, at the same sort of age as I am now.

Okay…so yes, Ima would probably react a little differently from me over here.

I think of how she left the school, quietly swallowing her pride and overturning her life so as not to embarrass someone who’d embarrassed her a lot worse. And how she did it, not for recognition or praise, but just because it was the right thing. How I might never have even known.

Suddenly I’m embarrassed of myself, how petty I’ve been, refusing to see that Tammy’s simply lonely and hurt. Trying to start afresh without ever really getting vulnerable, letting her see that I want this, too.

Do it for Ima, I think. For my family. For everything to be okay for them in India, for me to see them again soon.

I walk purposefully down the hallway, to the locker area where I find Tammy.

“Wait,” I say. “Please. I want to…talk to you.”

I force myself to meet Tammy’s eyes when I talk to her. They’re light blue pools of hurt. I’ve hurt her, that’s why she’s being so… standoffish. Why should she trust me not to treat her cavalierly again?

I haven’t done anything to show that it’ll be different this time.

But now I can.

“I was wrong back then,” I say. We both know what I’m referring to. “It wasn’t nice. You reached out, I didn’t reciprocate, I wasn’t a friend back. I’m sorry.”

I want to defend myself more, explain that now things are different, but I hold back, suck the words in until Tammy lets out a breath and a tiny smile.

“Okay,” she says, simply.

Is that all? Are we friends now?

“Can we move on?” I ask her.

Move on — not to that awkward businesslike relationship we had when we prepared the interschool activity together, not to the way we’ve been avoiding each other’s eyes during play practice as if we don’t have a history between us, as if we’re both pretending not to care. Move on as in start over. Start fresh.

I don’t say all that, but she gets it.  And for the first time in months, Tammy gives me a real smile. “Yes,” she says.

The night passed in a blaze of spotlights, hot and bright, music and microphones and scenes passing, props changing, backdrop switching, building up to the grand finale, the entire school jostling onto the stage, singing at the tops of our (very hoarse) voices….

And just like that, production is over.

There’s no school the next day, but everyone from play comes in for a celebratory party with Miss Muller and the Year 11 production heads.

There’s food and laughter and music booming through the speakers, the finale song that’s coming out of our ears by now, but no one cares.

I sit between Tammy and Libby Shine (who I still think of as Faiga). The scenery girls rush past waving; it looks like the whole Year 11 showed up even though it’s just supposed to be a play party. I guess that’s how it goes, since they’re the ones who led the performance. They’ll be graduating this year. I know some of them will stay for Year 12, but not many. The rest go to seminary right after Year 11.

I wonder what I’ll do at the end of next year.

A few weeks ago, I would’ve said instantly that I’m leaving after Year 11. Why stay another year in this place, right?

But now… it’s happened, somehow; I feel like I have a place here. I have friends.

The music changes to something fast and pumping. The Year 11 girls are dancing, whirling and twirling in the middle of the auditorium. Libby kicks back her chair to join them.

“C’mon, let’s dance!”

Sari and Devorah spot us coming over and break the circle to make space for us to join. Libby, Tammy, me in the middle, the scenery girls on either side of us….

The music pulses and pumps, the girls around me jump and dance, and finally, I’m dancing along.

It’s cold outside but I come home warm and glowing anyway. The party was super fun, and I’m going to start power walking with Faiga-Libby tomorrow, and I’ll have Tammy, too. I’m actually excited for school again tomorrow, is that crazy?

“Ashira? Is that you?” Bubby calls from the dining room. Her voice is a little high-pitched, worried. About me? But I told her I’d be out all morning….

I stop short at the doorway to the dining room. Bubby and Zeidy are sitting at the table, together with Aunt Chana and Uncle Chaim, Uncle Yossi and my brother Yaakov…and the looks on their faces makes my stomach drop.

The warmth drains away. My heart turns to ice.

Something is wrong.

“What happened?” I ask, my voice emerging hoarse.

I look at Yaakov, but he shrugs, helpless. My brother at a loss for words?

“Ashira…come sit, sweetie,” Aunt Chana says. She pats the chair beside her and puts her arm around me.

“What happened? Is it Ima? Abba?” My voice rises, if they don’t tell me now, I think I’m going to scream.

“No — I mean, yes, something happened, but hopefully everything is okay,” Aunt Chana says, stammering a little. Aunt Chana never stammers.

Uncle Yossi takes over, leaning across the table.

“We hope and daven that everything is okay,” he said, “But in short, civil war has broken out across India. The region near the capital is very badly affected, communication has gone down, and that could be why… we imagine that your parents and the family simply fled from the area when they saw how things were going, and they’re probably hiding in another town without cell phone service, or something….” He swallows, glances quickly at Bubby and Zeidy, and then says, all at once, “But the fact is that, for a few days already, no one has heard anything from your parents. It looks like… somehow… they’ve disappeared.”

To Be Continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 980)

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