| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 41 

“That letter that you got a while back, can we look at it?” he asks. “Maybe there’s a clue in there”



The days blur past.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve been in this twilight zone forever, a never-ending black tunnel of not knowing, nerves-stretched-taut waiting, waiting for news.

Other times it feels like it’s been no time at all, like I’m frozen in a time warp, still sitting at Bubby’s dining room table that first night when the news broke: that my family is missing, while civil war rages in India.

But according to my calendar, it’s been exactly three days. No more and no less.

There’s a knock on my bedroom door, then another, more insistent. It can only be Yaakov; Bubby and Zeidy are trying to give me space. I’ve been up here all afternoon, just sitting, just being, in agonized aloneness. There’s nothing anyone can say or do to make it better.

Well, unless they have news to share. Real news. Good news. Like, they’ve found Ima and Abba, safe in some remote village, they’re being airlifted from the country now. Or maybe they’ve already escaped, maybe they’re en route to England or America or Israel even as we speak. Are the airports even functioning like regular in India now?

The knocks become more insistent. “Ashira? You in here?”

I sigh, heave myself off the bed like I weigh 1,000 pounds, and open the door.

“Finally. Come downstairs, Bubby’s getting super worried about you.”

I give him a baleful look. “Seriously? Tell her I’m fine.”

Yaakov gives me that I-know-better big brother look.

I sigh. “I’m not in the mood of hanging out downstairs. Everyone’s miserable and there’s no news. I just want to be alone. If you don’t mind, of course.” I inject some sarcasm into the final sentence. Okay, so I’m glad to have him around these days, but it doesn’t mean my brother gets to run my life.

Yaakov sticks his foot in the doorway just as I’m about to firmly close the door again.


“We’re not exactly hanging out down there. We’re making Shabbos. Bubby’s not feeling great, so I’m doing the floors and some aunts are bringing food, and I’m sure Bubby would really appreciate if you could do the dishes. Shabbos is in a couple of hours, you know.”

Shabbos. How is the world just… continuing? As if nothing’s happened?

But he’s right; I should go down, do something for Bubby.

Aunt Chana’s rushing around the kitchen with foil pans. “Ashira, sweetie, come here,” she calls as soon as she sees me, and she wraps me in a hug. Tears immediately spring to my eyes. Ugh, why am I so… overemotional these days?

“Ashira, I wanted to ask you… you know the American and British embassies are both involved with the search for your parents, and they’ve sent people to search the house…”

Everything inside me tightens when she mentions my parents. I just can’t think about it anymore. I listen through a fog, can’t seem to focus.

“…So at one point, one of the people at the embassy thought he’d maybe found a clue.”

My mind snaps back into action. “A clue? What? Where? Why did no one tell me?”

Aunt Chana puts a steadying hand on my arm. “Ashira, hold on. They’re not sure. It could be something, it could be nothing, but there was a note, a large note on the fridge that said in heavy black marker, letter to Ashira. One of the investigators noticed it, wondered if it could… mean something.”

Letter to Ashira.


My heart sinks. And here I’d thought it was a real clue. Something that was going to help find my family.

“Ima wrote me a letter… recently. It was probably just a reminder for her to mail it or something.”

Aunt Chana’s eyes are slightly narrowed, thinking. “Ashira, did your mother often put up reminders to  herself on the fridge? On a large paper, in black permanent marker? Or is that… unusual?”

I frown. When she puts it that way….

“You’re right, she usually makes shopping lists on our whiteboard, and jots stuff down in her diary,” I admit. “I don’t remember her ever putting something in big on the fridge like that… especially because she mailed the letter ages ago.” My brow furrows even more. “Could it be… maybe, that Ima mailed me another letter? That’s still on the way? And that that letter is gonna say where she is?”

Aunt Chana gives a shrug-nod. “We were wondering that, too.”

Yaakov’s joined us in the kitchen; he clearly knows the update already. “That letter that you got a while back, can we look at it?” he asks. “Maybe there’s a clue in there.”

I think back, what had Ima written? About friendships and family and ohmigosh, I do not want Aunt Chana reading this. What had we been talking about? Raizy, school, my most personal and private feelings?

“I-I don’t think there was anything,” I stammer.

“Let’s see. Who knows?”

Aunt Chana looks at Yaakov, nodding, then she looks at me. “You know what? I think Ashira should have a look herself, and maybe we can all take a look after Shabbos. I’m not so sure a clue would be in that letter. I suspect there’s another one on the way. So let’s sit tight, Ashira can look through that letter, and tomorrow night, if you’re comfortable, maybe you can share it with me, or Uncle Yossi, or someone who can look through it and see if they can find a clue inside.”

I shoot her a grateful look.

I don’t end up doing the dishes. By the time Aunt Chana leaves, it’s almost Shabbos, and I run upstairs to shower and change. I’m just about done by the time Shabbos is coming in.

“Ashira? We’re going to shul.” It’s Yaakov again, but this time I don’t open up, I just call back that I’ve heard him.

“You ready? Bubby’s lighting candles in a few minutes.”

“Yeah, all ready.” I switch off my bedroom light and put on my Shabbos lamp. It casts a small, golden circle of light in the gloom.

They could be anywhere, I think. Anywhere, India is huge, each region is huge on its own. It’s impossible to find them if they’re hiding. We need a clue, a direction.

A clue…

Could that note of Ima’s, letter to Ashira, actually mean something? For real?

The thick envelope with Ima’s letter inside is right by my bed. I pull out the letter, lean in to read it by the light of my Shabbos lamp.

I’m so happy you ended up enjoying it by Aunt Chana, and that you’re starting to get comfortable with your cousins… Ouch. No way am I letting the extended family read that. There’s nothing like being close with family, so I’m happy that you’re getting a chance to do this…

This is a letter, for goodness’ sake. It’s not a clue. She’s writing about family and friends and Tammy and the play. There’s barely a word about what they’re doing in India. A little about Chanukah, something about Baruch’s birthday….

I pause, though, on the very last page.

You can always call me and Abba, we’re here for you, Ima had written, and I bite my lip, hard, reading it. If only I could just call my parents now.

And remember, the key to everything is closer than you think.

And then there was Ima’s little illustration, a key outline.

I slow down. Is that something? No, it’s just Ima’s drawing to illustrate what she was saying. She likes talking about keys and closeness and the secret to everything in our heart.


Unless it did mean something?

But what?

Did she even know about the war at the time she wrote this letter?

I sit in the dark, eyes aching from straining over the handwritten letter.

So many questions.

No answers at all.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Treeo, Issue 984)

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