Recap: Shoshana Rosa’s father tells her he is going on a secret mission. He shows her where his important papers are hidden. He tells her that if anything happens to him, she should only show these papers to a certain person. He explains that he is working on a lifesaving vaccine for the world, and he has to travel to China where a rare plant grows.
I reread the word problem: Two trains started from the same point, at five a.m., traveling in opposite directions at 40 and 50 mph respectively. At what time will they be 450 miles apart?
Distance equals rate times time. I reread the formula. Then I started doodling. Then I started imagining. Who’s on the train? Where is she going? It’s late at night. She has an important business meeting tomorrow. She’s delivering a priceless diamond to a museum. She clutches her bag tightly and worries about falling asleep. She’s entrusted with such an important mission. Meanwhile, unknown to her, there’s a notorious jewel thief aboard in the next car.
Suddenly, I heard a loud knock at the front door. I headed to the top of the stairs. Mommy opened the door and an Asian man was standing there, holding a large brown mailing envelope. He had small beady eyes and one eyebrow arched in a nervous twitch. “When will he be back? I can wait.”
“I am his wife. I’ll give them to him.”
I noticed a bulge in the man’s back pocket. Could it be a gun?
“Be sure he gets this.” The man bowed slightly and handed Mommy the envelope.
Mommy backed away, clutching it. “I will,” she repeated.
I swallowed. Aba must be leaving soon. I wondered what was in that envelope.
I rushed back into my room and stared out the window. The same car with tinted windows was parked outside, and the man disappeared inside of it.
I bounded down the stairs. “Mommy, who was that?”
Mommy was still standing in front of the door. She was holding an airline ticket and a passport. “I don’t know but I didn’t like him. There was something about him. He didn’t trust me to give these to your father. He acted like, well like a criminal. I hope Aba knows whom he is dealing with.”
“Aba knows about people. He wouldn’t get involved with bad people.”
“Not on purpose, of course not. But your father can be naive. He’s idealistic about saving the world from disease and he may be trusting people he shouldn’t.”
I thought of the secret place he’d stowed his documents and I was about to mention it when my phone rang.
“Hey, how are you?” Aviva’s friendly voice was a welcome distraction. How’s it going?”
“Okay. I’m…” I headed back up to my room. “My father’s going away on a long trip.”
“That’s sad. I hate when my father goes away, especially to places like Brazil and South Africa. We worry about him, but he’s going to spread Torah, so my Ima always says he’ll be fine.”
“Yeah, I never thought about how much your father travels.”
“He’s always speaking somewhere. It’s great when he’s home. So, I know how you must feel.”
“I started that coding class.”
“Oh, yeah. How was it?”
“Impossible. I can’t do it.”
“Well, maybe you can explain to your parents.”
“It means so much to them, especially my mom. I’m just stuck, but there was a good part. I met this really nice girl, Penina. Oh, she’s coming over this Shabbos, so if you can come, you’ll meet her.”
“That would be great.”
“Yeah, she called before and asked to come over this Shabbos.”
“She asked to come over? She didn’t call to invite you to her house? I wonder why she did that.”
I hadn’t thought about that until Aviva brought it up. It was a bit strange to call and invite yourself to someone else’s house.
Shabbos came and Aba’s suitcases were standing in the front hall closet like shadows hovering over us. He was leaving after Shabbos. We couldn’t even take him to the airport. He would be leaving with those men who brought the brown envelope that contained the passport and documents.
We ate our lunch s’udah in a tense silence. Mommy was barely eating, and Aba was trying to force cheerfulness like a weak ray of sun trying to break through thunder clouds.
Aba sang z’miros and I joined in. Mommy just sat, staring at her plate.
After the meal, I excused myself. I wanted to straighten my room before Aviva and Penina came.
I straightened the quilt on my bed, and I took down some board games: Apples to Apples and Caton.
A short while later, there was a knock on the door. Penina stood in the doorway. She wore a wrinkled black skirt and a plain pink button-down blouse. I was surprised she wasn’t wearing a Shabbos outfit. “Come on in.”
“I was so excited to come. We don’t live that far from you.”
I led her upstairs to my room.
“Sorry I was late. It was hard to get out.”
“It’s fine. You weren’t late. Aviva didn’t come yet.”
I told her about my best friend Aviva. She looked a little disappointed. “I was hoping it would just be you and me,” she said.
Just then I heard a knock. I headed downstairs and called over my shoulder. “You’ll love Aviva.”
“Hey.“ I opened the door and Aviva stepped in. She was wearing a smart-looking outfit, a black pleated skirt and a pretty spring sweater with flowers on it. Penina was right behind me.
“Aviva, this is Penina Katz.”
They nodded at each other. Aviva surprised me when she asked in a not so friendly way, “Do you have an older sister Ruty?”
“I think I know who she is.”
Penina’s face turned red and she turned away.
“Let’s go play something,” I said, hoping to lift the heavy feeling.
Aviva followed us upstairs and I pulled out the Caton board.
When Penina went to the restroom, Aviva whispered to me. “Her sister isn’t frum. She’s a real troublemaker.”
“That’s not her fault,” I said, feeling angry at Aviva’s quick judging.
“Well, just make sures she’s––”
Just then Penina returned. She glanced at me, and I had the terrible feeling that she might have overheard our conversation.
“Where do you go to school?” Aviva asked.
“Bnos Sheindel,” she said.
“Oh, do you know Lena Cohen?”
“Is she in eighth grade?”
“I think tenth.”
“No, I don’t know her.”
We played the game but there was a stilted silence between us.
Penina studied the board, but she barely glanced at me.
After the game, Aviva started putting the pieces back in the box. “Does your sister come home for Shabbos?” Aviva blurted.
I shot her an angry look.
Penina blushed. “I just remembered I have to go home early. Thank you,” she mumbled, and she rushed out the room and down the stairs.
“Why did you do that?” I asked Aviva as I heard the front door close. I didn’t even have time to escort my new friend to the door.
“I’m sorry,” Aviva said.
I hurried downstairs, grabbed my summer jacket, and headed after Penina. I didn’t know where she lived, so I had to catch up quickly.
Why would Aviva purposely say something so hurtful to Penina? That wasn’t like Aviva. I had to make it up to Penina.
I ran down the block. I glimpsed her ponytail swinging in the distance. She was very far ahead but I’m a fast runner. I didn’t know if it was so good to run on Shabbos, but this was an emergency. I didn’t want my friend to be hurt at my house.
She crossed the street. I was gaining on her. I had almost caught up and then I slowed my pace. I wanted to think about what I would say. I didn’t want to say anything mean about Aviva. I had to think of a way to excuse her nosiness and to ask Penina to forgive and to start over.
She stopped in front of a house with peeling brown shutters and a broken front step. In the dirt in front of the house, one lone daffodil was bobbing in the breeze.
I watched her go into the house and then I took a deep breath and headed to her door.
To be continued…
By Susie Garber