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Rocking Horse: Chapter 11

If she says it with enough enthusiasm, they may be able to pretend that they are off on a fairytale journey

 

T

he three girls are gathered in Becca’s cabin, cardboard suitcases packed, leather satchels bulging. All morning, they’ve been taking turns watching their possessions, while the other two go up to the deck and watch the land growing closer.

Freidl and Raizel will be staying in Istanbul, for now at least. Becca is traveling on to Izmir. They do not even have addresses to exchange.

Freidl sits on the bed, hugging her knees, rocking slightly back and forth. “If I write to my parents and ask them to forward the letter to your parents, then they can send it to you, and that way we can find out our addresses.”

She looks so hopeful. She has lost weight on the voyage, as if there was any more to lose, and Becca had found herself fretting about the girl, as if she were her little sister. Letter writing. When she was in Paris, she wrote home every week. It was part of the requirements. The director wanted to instill them with a feeling of respect, derech eretz, he had always preached in his French-Hebrew accent.

She had written every week, although she had never once received a reply. Shneur told her that around Pesach time, five letters had appeared at once. By that time, she must have sent over 30.

But she cannot disappoint this 14-year-old girl who is hopeful that Turkey will prove to be as small as the little village where she comes from: A day’s walk will bring her to the neighboring village, and with it, Becca to care for her. She does not want to disappoint her, and tell her that Izmir is far, far away from Istanbul, where their boat will dock and where there is work waiting for them. It is another week’s travel, or at least four days.

She thinks for a moment, and then the idea comes to her.

Prague. The mail to Prague is nothing like the mail to the outlying villages and hamlets. They have a postal service, with men in blue uniforms with red tassels on their sleeves. “I have a sister in Prague,” she says eventually. “I shall give you her address. You both write to her and she will send the letters on to me, and that way I will learn your addresses and we will be able to stay in touch.”

She rips two pages out of a notebook and carefully writes down Hannah’s address. She hands one paper to each girl. Raizel studies it. “I’m committing it to memory,” she explains.

“You do that.”

Freidl simply stuffs it into her boot.

Becca looks around. “Come now. Let us gather our belongings and take them up onto the deck.”

Neither of the girls moves. Something pummels inside her, and she has the childish, motherish urge to cheer them: “Look. There will be sunshine. There is no sun like this in Europe at this time of year. Look at the color of the ocean. When we left, it was gray like iron, and here it is blue tinged with green, and clear like glass.”

If she says it with enough enthusiasm, they may be able to pretend that they are off on a fairytale journey. An adventure, like a hero in a storybook. They are going to sample the waters of Marienbad. They are traveling to a cousin’s wedding in Bucharest. They are venturing across great distances to find the Sambation, puzzle out a way to cross over the stormy waters, and find the lost tribes of Israel.

Becca gives each of them a big smile, a tight hug. For some reason, she wants to give each of them a brachah, the same brachah her father always gave her when they parted, the brachah that he gave them on a Friday night.

But to do so would be strange, and possibly unnerving, and she doesn’t know what else would come out of her lips or leak from the corners of her eyes. And for the journey ahead, they need courage and strength and a big smile pasted onto faces.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 680)

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