The Surprise: Part 2 of 3| November 8, 2022
There was not an inch of private space where one could avoid the prying eyes of two nine-year-olds with a complete inability to keep a secret
sti had fallen asleep brimming with ideas about the amazing surprise that she would make for her mother as a way of saying thank you. But when she awoke to the noisy chatter of her twin sisters playing on the landing, cold reality dawned upon her. There was not an inch of private space where one could avoid the prying eyes of two nine-year-olds with a complete inability to keep a secret.
How was the birthday cake ever going to be a surprise?
“Where are you going?” said Dini, as Esti attempted to slip downstairs to the kitchen.
“What are you hiding under your pajama shirt?” said Dassie.
It was useless to ignore them; the twins could ask and ask until you were forced to say something or go insane.
“My notebook. I’m looking up a recipe.”
“You don’t have baking today,” said Dassie. “It’s not your week.”
Esti pretended not to have heard but Dini wasn’t letting her get away with it.
“I know what you’re doing. It’s a surprise for Auntie Shevi ‘cos she just passed her exams.”
This was too agonizingly near the truth to be ignored.
“If you really want to know—” she began, without any idea of what she would say.
Thankfully at that moment, Moishy came running out of the bathroom, followed by an outraged Dovid.
“Moishy took my toothbrush!”
This was an interesting diversion for the twins.
“The Mickey Mouse toothbrush is Dovid’s,” said Dini.
“No, it’s mine!” said Moishy.
While Dassie and Dini attempted to wrest the disputed toothbrush from Moishy, Esti was able to steal downstairs to the kitchen.
Annoyingly, the old, battered recipe book, with its smears of margarine and melted chocolate, was not in its usual place balancing precariously at the edge of the windowsill. Esti discovered it eventually at the back of the baking cupboard. The cover was loose and there were pages missing, but she found the recipe she was looking for. She’d just begun writing down the ingredients when Dini and Dassie came bounding into the kitchen.
“Told you! See — she is making a birthday cake for Auntie Shevi!”
“No she isn’t. Why would Esti make a cake for her?”
“Well, who else is she making it for?”
This was a good point. There was no one else they could think of who deserved to be celebrated.
“It’s a secret, isn’t it?” asked Dassie.
“Does Mummy know?” asked Dini.
Esti was saved from further awkward questions by her mother entering the kitchen. She had a job interview that morning, and she was wearing her best sheitel and clothes. If she got the job, she wouldn’t work at home anymore, and the back bedroom could be used as a bedroom again, instead of an office.
Mrs. Levy looked at Esti and seemed to blush slightly at the sight of her sitting with the cookbook at the kitchen table.
“Esti’s making a surprise,” said Dassie.
“No, I’m not,” said Esti. She banged the book shut and shoved it across the table.
“I know,” said Dini, coming up with an unexpected solution. “There’s a baking competition in Bnos and she thinks she’s going to win it, but she won’t.”
Mrs. Levy decided to pretend she hadn’t noticed anything. She turned away toward the fridge and said to Esti, “Aren’t you supposed to be getting ready for school?”
Esti stared at her mother. She seemed so distant, as if she was deliberately avoiding making eye contact with her.
She went to get her schoolbag. Wait, she had forgotten to get her homework signed. She hurried back into the kitchen. Her mother was balancing on a rickety stool on her high heels, her head in the NO TRESPASSING cupboard where things like confectionery sugar and chocolate sprinkles were kept.
Her mother lost her balance and almost fell. Esti jumped forward, just managing to save her mother from falling. They were both a bit flushed and giggly after that. Esti helped her mother fix her sheitel and her mother kissed her goodbye as if nothing had happened the night before and they were the best of friends.
By the time everyone had left the house, Esti had missed her school bus — she would have to walk. She missed attendance and davening and arrived in the middle of first period, then compounded her troubles by writing a shopping list for birthday cake ingredients under the cover of her notes, which, when discovered by Mrs Zimmer, was torn into tiny pieces in a dramatic display of a teacher’s authority.
“What were you so busy writing?” her cousin Gaby, Auntie Shevi’s daughter, wanted to know, but, given the unfortunate comments made by Esti’s twin sisters regarding aunts and cakes, silence seemed to be wisest course of action.
A serious disappointment was in store for Esti at lunchtime. She had resolved to ask Rochel, the organizer of the ice cream store get-together, if it could be postponed from 7:00–8:15 p.m. That way she could help her mother and eat ice cream with her friends without feeling guilty.
Rochel was standing in the middle of the playground, surrounded by the usual admirers. Esti had to force her way through the tight group that seemed to form a guard of honor around their idol.
“Uh… Rochel?” said Esti.
From her superior position, conveyed by a combination of thick hair, a rather prominent nose, new boots, and a stream of expensive gifts showered upon her by adoring grandparents, aunts and uncles, Rochel looked down a little pityingly at Esti.
Esti immediately knew this wasn’t going to work, but with everyone staring at her, she had no choice but to continue. She felt herself blushing ridiculously.
“I was wondering… the ice cream store…”
“What about it?” said Rochel.
“It’s a bit early for me… I mean… could we meet later? I’ve got to… help my mother with the kids.”
There was an awful silence. “Can’t your mother manage without you?”
“Well… she’s not feeling well… and they get a little crazy at bedtime…”
“Tell her to get a babysitter,” said Rochel, and everyone laughed.
Still Esti plowed on. “It’s too much money.”
Someone smirked, another girl let out a loud guffaw. General hilarity ruled.
“You probably can’t afford the ice cream then, either,” said Rochel. “Why did you think of joining us? Were you hoping someone would pay for you?”
There was a short, stunned silence. Rochel had the decency to look ashamed of herself. Esti went very red, then white. She managed to turn away without anyone seeing her cry, but it was a long, lonely walk across the playground, and she spent the rest of the day hunched over her desk, unable to look anyone in the eye.
That evening Esti helped her mother put the little kids to bed.
“Aren’t you supposed to be going out?” said her mother at seven o’clock.
“I’m not going,” said Esti. “I’m staying at home to help you.”
“But you were so looking forward to it.”
“They’re not my friends. I’d rather stay home.”
Mrs. Levy put her arms around Esti. “What happened?”
Esti shook her head. “It doesn’t matter… I don’t want to talk about it.”
Her mother looked at her. “I don’t like to see you so unhappy.”
“It’s okay,” mumbled Esti.
Her mother shook her head. “No, it isn’t, but I won’t press you.”
“Can I have the kitchen to myself?” said Esti. “I have a project. I can’t have the twins disturbing me.”
Her mother hesitated. “I was rather hoping for the kitchen myself tonight.”
Esti stared at her mother. “You never cook at night.”
“Neither do you.”
Esti was about to answer back, but she managed to bite her tongue. She’d have to think of another way to bake the cake.
It would have to be in the middle of the night.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 935)
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