| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 43 

“It’s okay.” I rest my head in my palms. “I just… want to sleep. And also I can’t sleep”

12:04 p.m.

“You’ll send out a special unit? As soon as possible. Thank you… yes. We appreciate all your help.”

Uncle Yossi ends the call and looks at all of us. “The British ambassador himself. He’s taking this situation very seriously and is assuring me he’ll send a unit to the shul and see if they can find — and rescue — your family.” He nods at Yaakov and me.

My breath catches in my throat.

It just feels like… too much. First the terror, the unknown, then the straining our minds for clues, and then the sudden rush of adrenaline that came with the realization….

And now, my heart is still racing, I want to race somewhere, do something, but there’s nothing to do but wait.

I feel hot and cold and all over the place.

“Ashira, sweetie, are you okay?” Aunt Chana asks, putting a hand on my arm. Her phone buzzes just then and she holds up a finger. “One sec. Hello?” She listens a moment. “No, you can’t come over to Bubby’s, I’m sorry. It’s not a good time to have everyone running around here… I’ll speak to you soon. Yes, you can take Shabbos nosh. Yes, you can invite friends over. No, you can’t bake on your own… unless Raizy wants to supervise. She doesn’t? I can’t say I’m surprised, girls. Listen, I’ll call you back soon, okay?”

She turns back to me. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay.” I rest my head in my palms. “I just… want to sleep. And also I can’t sleep.”

“Maybe go lie down on the sofa?” Aunt Chana suggests. “You’ll be right nearby if there’s any update.”

I shrug. “I guess I will.”

1:36 p.m.

“Crackle, crackle, unit, crackle, dispatched.”

I wake up to hear noise. Oh, so I guess I slept.

“What’s going on?” I ask Yaakov. He’s relocated to the armchair across from me, shoes off, one leg crossed over the other, watching the goings-on at the table intently.

“Hey, sleepyhead.” He turns when I speak.

I ignore that. “What’s happening? Any update?”

He gestures. “Just this, right now. It sounds like they’ve sent some sort of special unit to rescue our family. Armored cars and all. They don’t know if our family is there yet,” he says quickly, cautioning. “It’s just they want everything in place in case they are, so the unit can rescue them right away.” He grimaces. “Sounds like the area is really not in great shape. Pretty dangerous to move around alone.”

I bite my lip, trying not to let my mind stray to worst-case scenarios. “We should’ve thought of the shul earlier.”

“Everyone assumed it wasn’t an option. A shul is more of a target than a home,”  Yaakov says. “Besides, those storage rooms weren’t really usable as living space, they didn’t have much air… I guess after the renovation…”

“Yes. Abba had them cleaned up, we wanted to gut them and make an event hall or something but it cost too much, so he just had them cleaned and repaired and I think strengthened or something,” I say. “He put in some sort of ventilation also. I remember he was thinking maybe we could use it as dorm kinda rooms for students to stay.”

“So it was the perfect place to hide.”

“Yes.” I wince. The perfect place, and I — the only one who had the knowledge, and literally the key — didn’t think of it.

“Don’t beat yourself up for not thinking of it earlier,” Yaakov says, surprisingly astute. “Honestly, no one thought they were still in the area. And they might not be, either.”

“We’ll find out soon, I guess.” I fall silent. My heart is beating fast. Surely my parents are there. Surely everyone is okay?

“Daven,” Yaakov says. He points to the Tehillim open next to him.

I go wash my hands, I’ve slept a while. Aunt Chana seems to have gone home but now Aunt Shevi is here, puttering in the kitchen as if cooking for an army will make everything better.

“Ashira! You want lunch? Or breakfast? I don’t know where anyone’s up to.” She’s rambling, nervous, talking too much and too fast. “I know it’s so nerve-racking but we need to eat, keep up our strength for whatever happens… im yirtzeh Hashem good news very soon.”

I take pity on her, trying so hard to say the right words. “I’m good. Thanks, though.”

She looks at me and shakes her head. “You’re so brave,  Ashira.”

That just makes me want to cry. Because I’m not brave, I’m just… well, I don’t have a choice.

4:29 p.m.

“They’re entering the shul.”

Uncle Yossi announces it, reading off his phone like a news reporter.

My heart starts to race, race, race.

“It took them so long to get there,” Yaakov says. His Tehillim is still open, but he’s been staring into space for the past hour or so, looking tense and unfocused all at once.

“It’s a war zone,” Uncle Yossi replies. “I guess it was dangerous to go fast, or directly.”

Aunt Chana — yes, she’s back — notices the look on my face. “Don’t worry, Ashira, they know what they’re doing. They got to the shul, remember? Hopefully this whole nightmare will be over soon, hopefully they’ll get to the basement and be able to find your parents and rescue them quickly and easily…”

Without anyone getting hurt. No one says it, but I know that’s what everyone’s thinking.

Aunt Shevi’s sniffling into a Tehillim but I’m just numb, pictures playing out in front of my mind of what’s going on right now in India. I’m picturing special unit soldiers head to toe in black, with bulletproof vests, weapons out, creeping down the steps inside the shul building… will they scare my family? What if they won’t come out, what if they’re scared of a trap?

Uncle Yossi’s eyes keep darting back to the phone. Bubby looks white. Aunt Chana is holding her hand and talking quietly. Ugh, why am I obsessively reporting on what’s going on, instead of, instead of—

I don’t want to cry in front of everyone, and if I start davening here, I will. But if I go to my room, I’ll miss hearing any news.

I need to daven. These are the crucial moments… and only Hashem, not the special unit, not the clues and the keys, only He can save them.

I drag myself back to the couch, position myself away from the dining room, and open my Tehillim.


5:48 p.m.

Buzz. Crackle. A voice, mumble jumble morphing into words, then a high-pitched sound like a cry and then finally, a clear sentence—

“Mr.  Auscher? Is that you?”

Uncle Yossi stands up, gripping the phone tightly. Yes. Yes, it’s me, and my parents are here, too, and the children of the missing—”

More crackles, a shout — “Turn right!” and then the voice again — “This is the leader of the special forces unit deployed, I spoke to you earlier, and I am happy to tell you—”

I feel the room start to swirl, grip the sofa armrest tightly. Happy to tell you… that must mean…

“The family has been found. They are with us now in armored vehicles, leaving the danger zone, and we are arranging for their return to England at the earliest opportunity. They are safe!”

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Treeo, Issue 986)

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