Recap: Some unsavory visitors in a car with tinted windows came to Shoshana Rosa’s house to do business with her father. She overhears her father telling her mother that he is planning a trip to China. She doesn’t want her father to go there. China is a dangerous place to visit.

There was a long silence until Lena came in with the next course. After she left, Aba turned towards me. “I may be going away soon for an extended trip. I’ll need you to keep Mommy company.”

Mommy’s forehead creased with worry. “It’s not a good idea, Yaakov. I really don’t want you to––”

“When you work as a biochemist, there are responsibilities that come up. The nation’s health is depending on you. Remember that pandemic. It wasn’t that long ago. We don’t want another one––”

“Are you working on a new vaccine?” I asked.

Just then, Lena returned with a bowl of roasted vegetables.

After she left, Aba smiled. “I’m always working on new vaccines. Hashem created them; my job – well, the job of a biochemist – is to discover them.”

“So, stay in America,” Mommy said. “Traipsing off to a foreign country where it’s not a free country is not a safe idea.”

“I don’t want to be away from you or Shani, but this is a serious mission and I don’t have a choice. Let’s shift to another topic.”

Mommy sighed. When Aba said that he doesn’t have a choice, that meant we would have to accept it. He was going away for a long trip in a dangerous place.

“Tell me a d’var Torah you learned this week, Shani.”

I shared something from my Navi teacher about the danger of not listening to the rabbis of the time.

After supper, Mommy went into the kitchen to speak to Lena, and Aba motioned me to follow him into his study.

He closed the door. “Shani, I want to show you something. It’s important, and Mommy is too upset for me to show her this, but someone has to know about it.”

“I’m working on a vaccine, and it’s something that could save millions of lives, but it could be lost if it slips into the wrong hands. There is a group of unscrupulous people who heard about our work, and they may try to steal our research work and our findings and use them for their own selfish gain. Hashem should protect us. That is why I am storing the originals of all my papers and findings in the safe.”

I felt a chill creep up my back.

He removed a painting of a waterfall that I’d always enjoyed looking at on the wall behind his desk. To my surprise I saw there was a small crack in the wall, and he tapped it three times. The wall leaned in and a drawer pulled out. He punched something onto a keypad and the drawer opened.

“This is where all the information is. Don’t ever show this to anyone. I know I can trust you, Shani. If anything should happen…” He paused. “If a time comes when you need to give this to someone, it should only be to someone reliable like Mr. Abraham from the research lab.”

I swallowed.

“You understand?”

I nodded slowly. “Aba, going so far away – is it necessary? I mean, Mommy’s worried and maybe there is another way?”

Sheifele, Hashem will protect me. I’m on a lifesaving mission that can protect the whole world from another pandemic. There’s a certain plant that grows only in China. I can’t say more.” He quickly replaced the drawer and tapped on the wall and then he replaced the painting.

There was a knock on the office door.

Lena stood in the doorway. “Your brother is here to accompany you to Maariv, sir.”

“Thank you.” Aba sent me a look that said I trust you and we’re done discussing this.

I followed Aba to the door as he was leaving for Maariv and a shiur. “You’ll be careful when you go.”

Aba hugged me. “I’ll be careful, and it’s just for a month – not forever.”

He whispered in my ear, “Listen, sheifele, please don’t tell anyone. It’s a top-secret mission I’m on, and we can’t let it leak out.”

“Okay. A month! That’s so long.”

“Love you,” Aba said as he hurried out the door.

I headed upstairs, thinking how empty our house would feel with Aba gone for a month.

I hadn’t even asked him when he was leaving. I felt a pit in my stomach. I didn’t want to know. What if it was tomorrow?

I trudged upstairs to go do my homework. I was sitting at my desk, trying to concentrate on a word problem in the math book when my phone rang.

Hey, it’s Penina.

“Oh, hi.”

“I’m so excited about coming to your house on Shabbos. I want to bring something. Are you allergic to anything?”

“What? You don’t have to bring anything. Just come.”

“No, I always like to bring something.”

“Well, I don’t eat junk. I know that sounds weird.”

I heard someone yelling in the background.

“Excuse me,” she said. “I’m going to move to another room.”

It sounded like raised voices and then the sound died away.

Penina spoke quickly. “I have to go but I’ll bring fruit. What kind do you like?”

“Any is fine.”

“But I want to bring something you like.”

“Pineapple. That’s my favorite.”

“Okay. Pineapple. You really don’t eat junk food.”

“No, I… No, I don’t.” I was about to tell her why, but then I thought, I don’t know her that well. We just met.

“Okay, see you on Shabbos.” She hung up.

To be continued…

By Susie Garber