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Portrait of a Family: Chapter 3

Tamar looked around guardedly, but no students seemed to be in the office. She breathed; her life still wonderfully, blessedly secret


When she opened her eyes in the morning, Tamar couldn’t remember where she was for a minute. The quiet and calm washed over her. Yesterday the Weisses had given her the day to herself, and she had used it to its utmost — spending almost the whole day in her own company. Within seconds, her calm turned to panic. Today was the day she was starting a new school.

What am I going to tell the kids at school? They’re for sure going to ask why I switched to their school. No way can I tell them the truth. But she couldn’t think of any good, foolproof lie. With a sigh, Tamar got up and made her bed. At home she hadn’t always made her bed, but this wasn’t home.

Tamar and Devorah walked to school in the crisp autumn air, their altercation still hanging between them.

“Here’s the school,” Devorah said, breaking the silence for the first time since they left home. “Your classroom is on the second floor, but the secretary said to go to the office before you go upstairs.”

Tamar nodded silently.

“Hi, Devorah,” said a girl with curly blonde hair, walking into the building with them. She looked at Tamar questioningly, but Tamar was too busy looking around for the office. There it was, to the right. As Tamar turned toward the office, though, she could hear the blonde kid say in a fairly loud voice, “Who is that?” Tamar strained her ears, but they were already too far away for her to hear the answer. Please, Devorah, she begged mentally, please don’t say anything. Please keep my life quiet. Give me a chance to be a normal kid in this school. But from what she’d seen of Devorah, Tamar wasn’t so optimistic.

She was standing in front of the office door now, but before she could so much as lift her hand to knock, the door swung open and a tall, broad woman came barreling out, bumping straight into Tamar. “Oh,” she said, sounding surprised. Addressing someone behind her, she called, “Mrs. Roberg, there’s a student here for you. You can go in,” she added, turning to Tamar and opening the door.

Stepping carefully through the door, Tamar found herself in a small, cluttered office. Immediately in front of her was a large wooden desk which, along with a mammoth-sized copy machine, took up most of the room. The woman behind the desk was staring at her, seemingly waiting for Tamar to begin.

“Um…” Tamar started, not exactly sure why she was supposed to see the secretary.

“Yes?” the secretary prompted her.

“I’m, um, starting school today? Tamar Dayan?”

A look of understanding dawned on the secretary’s face. “Ohhh,” she exclaimed, “You must be the one staying with the Weisses. I suppose Devorah told you to come see me?”

Tamar looked around guardedly, but no students seemed to be in the office. She breathed; her life still wonderfully, blessedly secret. Then she realized the secretary was staring at her, waiting for an answer. She nodded, confirming her identity.

“Okay, so here’s your schedule,” the secretary continued, pulling out a printed piece of paper from some drawer in front of her. “You’re in classroom 206 — that’s on the second floor, to your right. This paper here,” she said, moving the schedule to reveal another sheet underneath, “is the list of school rules. The principal’s not in just yet. She should be available to talk to you at recess. Come to me when the bell rings. Clear?”

Tamar took the papers from the desk, and, with a nod, excused herself from the office. Slowly she made her way up the stairs, following the stream of girls that seemed to be getting thicker as the minutes passed.

It was surprisingly simple to find her classroom. Standing outside the open door, Tamar hesitated. “Well, here goes nothing,” she muttered to herself and, with a deep breath, stepped over the threshold.

A few girls crowded around a desk near the door looked up at Tamar. “Are you looking for someone?” a short brunette asked.

“Actually, I just switched schools,” Tamar started saying, the words coming out slick, almost suave. She didn’t know how she had managed that. “The secretary told me I’m in this classroom. Is there an empty desk somewhere?” She looked around the classroom, almost as if she could figure out the answer to her own question. Tamar didn’t know where this smooth confidence was coming from, but she didn’t let on. For all they know, this is me, she thought, and she rather liked the idea.

“You switched now?” asked one of the girls, as another pointed to an empty desk in the back corner of the classroom.

“Yup,” said Tamar, swinging her backpack around the back of the seat that was to be hers. “I was in a different school, but had to travel, and decided I’d rather be local. Commuting to school was such a drag.” Tamar was even impressed with herself. This confidence was coming out of nowhere.

“Hey, cool,” a kid with large round glasses shot back. “Which school?”

“Tiferet Miriam. D’you know anyone there?”

Before anyone could respond, the teacher walked in and silence fell over the classroom.

As soon as class was over, the entire class converged on Tamar’s desk. “Sorry, guys,” Tamar announced to no one in particular, “got an intro meeting with the principal now.”

“Good luck!” someone called, as Tamar extricated herself from the crowd and exited the room.

Through the whole short walk to the principal’s office Tamar wondered how long she’d be able to put on this show. Probably until the novelty of a new kid wears off, she figured. And she knew she was right. Looking up, Tamar found herself in front of the office door. A quick knock and she was buzzed in.

“The principal’s waiting for you,” the secretary said, motioning to a door to the right of the office without looking up from her computer.

Tamar walked over and knocked on the door. Hearing a faint “come in” from the other side, she turned the knob and stepped inside.

“Tamar.” The principal smiled. “Have a seat.” Tamar sat. “The Weisses have told me a little about you, and with their assurances we accepted you into our school.” She nodded at Tamar encouragingly. “We understand your background may be a little different from the average girl here, so what you do outside of school is between you and the Weisses. In school, though, we have rules that cannot be broken. Nail polish.” Her eyes traveled to Tamar’s hands. Tamar looked down at her carefully shellacked nails. “Not allowed. Even a light color, like the color you have. The secretary will give you nail polish remover when you leave my office. Hair needs to be tied back at all times.” Tamar felt relieved that she had decided to put her hair in a pony today. “And no dangling earrings.”

That one won’t be hard, Tamar thought. I left all my earrings at home. And it’s not like anyone here’s gonna buy me any.

“Besides for that, just go through the rules on the paper you received from the secretary. We’re happy to have you in our school, Tamar. It should be with a lot of hatzlachah.”

Tamar realized she was being dismissed. It seemed the hard part of the day was over. Tamar felt her shoulders relax as she headed upstairs to her classroom. Then she remembered. It was Wednesday. So much for the hard part being over. After school she’d be going to meet her social worker. Yeah, that social worker. Yael Baum.


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 836)

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