“Maybe we’ll do it your way in the end, but if someone else has a different idea, they’re allowed to say it!”
When Mrs. Katz announced the plans for the siyum, I was so excited to be in Nechama’s group.
I mean, obviously. Everyone always wants to be in Nechama’s group. She’s smart and fun and popular and knows exactly how things should be done.
“Everyone should pick a pasuk from Sefer Bereishis,” Mrs. Katz said, “and create a banner based on that pasuk. You can use any materials you want.”
The other girls in our group were Avigail, Sima, and Yocheved.
All the groups split up to work. Our group went to an empty tutoring room at the end of the hallway.
Nechama said, “Okay, I think we should do a field of tulips out of tissue paper.” She used a tissue to show us how the poster would be divided into sections, with fluffy tissue paper in each section filling the spaces to form the scene. “We can use a pasuk about Hashem creating the plants and flowers,” she said. “Okay, Leah, you run up to the office and get the tissue paper and glue. I’ll start drawing the outline.”
“Okay,” I said. “What colors do you want?”
“Yellow and purple green for the flowers,” Nechama said. “And as many shades of blue and green as they have.”
I went upstairs to get the supplies. It took a little while until the secretary was able to get me what I needed.
When I came back down, I saw right away that something was wrong. The poster board was lying on the floor, and part of the outline was already drawn in thick black marker. But Nechama was standing on one side, facing Sima and Yocheved. All of them looked angry. Avigail was off to the side, looking upset.
“Listen,” Nechama was saying, “this is the only way it’s going to look normal.”
“I didn’t say not to do it…” Yocheved started saying.
Sima interrupted before Nechama could answer. “Maybe we’ll do it your way in the end, but if someone else has a different idea, they’re allowed to say it!”
Nechama rolled her eyes. “Fine, so say it.” She folded her arms. “I’m waiting.”
“Forget it,” Yocheved said.
Sima looked really mad. “You’re not the teacher here. We’re all in this group together. We’re all allowed to work on the banner. You don’t get to make all the decisions!”
“You want the banner to be good, or not?” Nechama said.
“You’re not the only one who can make it good!” Sima said.
“Fine,” said Nechama. “So do it yourself.” She started walking away.
I was really upset. “Don’t leave!” I said to Nechama. “What’s going on?”
“They don’t get the whole thing,” Nechama said. She looked back at Avigail. “Coming?”
Avigail left her place and walked away with Nechama.
“This is crazy,” Yocheved said. She ran after Nechama.
After a minute, I also tried to follow her, but I didn’t see where she went. I didn’t really know what to do next, so I went back into the classroom.
I was shocked to see Sima there. She was sitting on the floor near the pile of tissue papers, gluing them on one after another, as if nothing had happened.
“Hi,” she said when she saw me. “Pull up a chair and sit on the floor!”
How could she be all cheerful like this after what just happened?
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“Gluing on the papers,” she said. “Obviously.”
Sima shrugged. “Why not?”
I looked at Sima. It’s not like she was a neb, exactly, but she wasn’t like Nechama. She wasn’t popular and everything. It wasn’t the type for her to be in charge.
“There’s no point in finishing without Nechama,” I said.
“Why not?” Sima said. “Is the banner for Nechama, or is it for the siyum?”
When she put it like that, I didn’t have an answer.
I sat down next to Sima and started gluing. Without Nechama there, the project seemed much less exciting. I realized that a lot of my excitement about working on the banner was really because I wanted to be with Nechama.
Yocheved came back. She didn’t say anything, so I didn’t know if she had talked to Nechama or what they had said. She just sat down and started gluing with us.
Sima pulled out a bag of Laffy Taffies. “Why did the chicken cross the playground?” she read. “To get to the other slide!”
Soon me, Sima and Yocheved were eating taffies and cracking jokes. The gluing went much faster when we were having fun.
When the bell rang, we started cleaning up. “I wonder what Nechama and Avigail are doing now,” I said.
“Who cares?” Sima said.
I cared. I kept thinking about Nechama and Avigail. It felt to me like they were doing the real thing, and I was left out. I felt like a loser.
We went outside to the carpool line. As we were waiting to be picked up, Sima said to me, “Can I ask you something? What’s so great about Nechama anyway?”
“What do you mean?” I said. “She’s a real artist!”
Sima didn’t look like she agreed. “So what?” she said. “I think the banner is coming out great even without her.”
“It was her idea!” I told Sima.
I couldn’t believe what she was saying. We would never have managed to make the banner without Nechama! Nechama always knew how to make everything look perfect and professional. If Nechama did something, it came out right. Of course we needed Nechama.
“The point is to have fun,” Sima said.
“Fine,” I said. “But it was much more fun when Nechama was there.”
“It was more fun with Nechama?” Sima was looking at me like I was crazy. “When Nechama was there, she was just bossing us around. She wasn’t letting anyone do anything except herself. When Nechama was there, we were just fighting the whole time! It was much more fun after she left!”
I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to say. Nechama was doing the whole thing herself because she was the best artist. She was in charge because she had the best ideas. The whole fight was only because we weren’t listening to Nechama.
“If we had listened to her, the banner would be perfect!” I said to Sima. “Now she’s going to make a different banner without us!”
“So what?” said Sima. “Why do you need to be with her?”
I opened my mouth to answer her but then a black car pulled up. It was Sima’s mother. Sima got into the car. Before she drove away, she rolled down the window and tossed me a pink Laffy Taffy.
I was waiting by myself. I had nothing to do but think. I didn’t understand Sima at all. Of course it was better to be with Nechama. She always knew how to do everything, and she was smart and everyone wanted to be with her. Everything felt special when she was there. That’s just how it was. I thought Sima was being ridiculous for trying to pretend it wasn’t true.
When I got home, I ate supper, and then I went to my room. I sat on my bed with my homework, but I wasn’t really doing any work. I kept thinking about what happened that day. I wondered what kind of banner Nechama would make without us.
I heard the phone ringing, and then my sister came in with the cordless.
“It’s for you,” she said.
I put the phone to my ear. “Hello?”
It was Nechama! My heart skipped a beat.
“Yeah?” I said.
“It’s Nechama,” she said. “Listen, me and Avigail are working on the banner tonight by my house. Can you come?”
“Come?” I said. I felt like my brain was stuck. “What about… what about the tulip banner? What about Yocheved and Sima?”
“What about them?” Nechama said.
I understood. She wasn’t inviting them. She hadn’t changed her mind. She still wanted to do her own banner.
But she was saying I could join her.
This was what I wanted. I should have been thrilled. Why wasn’t I thrilled?
“Why don’t we all do it together?” I asked.
Nechama laughed. “Oh, Leah, you’re adorable. I have a great idea for an awesome banner. It’s going to be gorgeous.”
I felt so torn. I wanted to be with Nechama. But I was thinking about Yocheved and Sima. We had so much fun together. I felt embarrassed to just walk off on them and join Nechama.
I realized that either Nechama would be annoyed at me or Yocheved and Sima would be. There was no way I could make everyone happy.
“He-lloooo, Leah? You alive?”
“I— I don’t think I can make it,” I said. I felt like I was choking on the words.
“What?” Nechama sounded shocked. Then she said bye and clicked off.
I was pretty shocked also. I felt very nervous. I thought it was probably a mistake not to join Nechama. She always knew what she was doing. Maybe I should have listened to her.
The next day was the siyum. Sima brought a gold plastic table skirt to school. She said it was left over from her brother’s upsheren. The top edge was sticky, and she stuck it across the top of the banner. It hung down and covered the banner like the curtains of a stage.
“This way no one can see it until we’re ready to present it,” Sima said.
We practiced pulling back the curtain from both sides at the same time so we could reveal the banner all dramatically. I had to admit it was a very good idea.
When it was time to present the banners, Nechama and Avigail went before us. The had covered a poster board with black velvet and glued on tons of tiny rhinestones all over, to look like the stars in the sky. In the middle, they used big rhinestones to spell out the pasuk where Hashem promises Avraham that his children will be as many as the stars.
It was stunning.
Nechama made a little speech about their banner, explaining the pasuk and talking about how Bnei Yisrael are compared to stars. Maybe it was just because of what Sima had said, but I noticed that she used the word “I” a lot. She said, “I wanted to show how many stars there are, so I put tons of tiny rhinestones all over,” and things like that. She talked as if she had done the whole thing herself. She probably had.
Everyone was very impressed, including Mrs. Katz. Now Sima would understand why it was good to be with Nechama.
Nechama looked happy and proud as she and Avigail went back to their seats.
But Sima had put all kinds of thoughts into my head. I looked at Avigail. I wondered if she felt happy and proud like Nechama. Did she have fun working on the banner with Nechama?
When it was our turn, me, Sima, and Yocheved walked to the front of the room. Because of the curtain covering the banner, no one had seen it yet. Everyone got excited and started whispering when we went up.
Sima and I stood on either side, holding the banner. Yocheved started saying the explanation. She said which pasuk we chose and explained it. As soon as she stopped talking, Sima and I each pulled back a side of the curtain so everyone could see the banner.
I watched the class as they looked at our banner. Kids were leaning forward or standing up to see better. I could tell everyone liked it. Plus the presentation, with the curtain, had worked out very cool.
Nechama was looking at the banner also. I didn’t know what she was thinking. It had been her idea, but we had done all the work. Did she think it was good? Was she surprised that we had been able to finish it without her? Did she think the idea with the curtain was good?
We leaned the banner against the board and went back to our seats. From my seat, I looked back at it. I thought it looked amazing. It made me smile to look at it.
Nechama’s stars banner was right next to it. It looked perfect, like everything Nechama does. I thought I would feel bad, but I didn’t. Our banner was also really good. Maybe even as good as Nechama’s. I was proud of it.
I remembered Sima asking me why I wanted to be with Nechama. I knew the answer. The answer was because everything Nechama did was special. I thought Nechama was special. Nechama was popular, and always knew the right thing to say and do. I wanted to be part of that.
I can’t really explain it, but it didn’t feel like that anymore. It was true that Nechama’s banner was stunning and perfect. But ours was good too. And I had a part in making it, and I felt proud of it. And I had fun while I was making it. Nechama wasn’t the only one who could do things. I could do things too. I didn’t need Nechama.
Mrs. Katz hung the banners in the classroom. For the rest of the year, those banners were a reminder to me about how special and important I was, too.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 931)
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