Recap: Yonah is chased by Jed’s gang and ends up telling an FBI agent about their chasing after him the night his friends were arrested. It turns out they were murdered by the KKK.
It was Monday and the dry cleaner’s door was propped open. Sweat poured down my back as I pressed the shirts. Joseph marched into the front door. “Where’s Ben?”
I shrugged. Ben was always prompt. “I’m sure he’ll be here soon.”
The day wore on with the relentless heat, but no sign of Ben.
I was getting ready to leave when Mrs. Chaney appeared at the doorway.
I stepped outside. She asked, “Ya know where Ben is?”
“He didn’t come to work.”
Her face was pinched with fear. “He didn’t come home last night. I’m so worried. I can’t lose another son. Please, Yonah, help me find him. Where would he go?”
I knew right away where I thought he might go. “Maybe to the Freedom School.”
“I have to go to work tonight. Can you go see if he’s there? Please. Call me if he’s not. Then I will contact the police, but I don’t want to have to do that yet.”
I knew how upset Ben was. I hoped he was all right. “Hashem, please help me find Ben. Help me comfort him.”
I hopped on my bike. I biked over to the gas station. Henry was outside, fixing a side view mirror on a station wagon.
“Hey,” I said. “Listen, Ben’s missing. I gotta go look for him. I’m gonna bicycle to the Freedom School.”
“Wait an hour; I could come with ya.”
“Thanks, but I gotta go now.”
Even though I was dripping in sweat, I headed top speed towards the Freedom School. The air was so heavy here. I just kept thinking of how distraught Ben had looked when he heard his brother was killed. What an awful blow for a 12-year-old. He adored his brother.
As I approached the Freedom School, I felt like Mickey or Rita or Gandhi would appear and greet me. And Andy Goodman. I thought of his easy-going manner and how he’d come here this summer to make a difference. Hashem is in charge, I kept telling myself. Everything He does is for the best. We can’t understand why things happen. Hashem, please help me find Ben.
I parked my bike under a tree and headed to the door. It creaked open when I pushed it.
Inside, there were still voters’ forms and readers piled on the desk. No sign of the dog. Rita had taken Gandhi back with her. The air inside was stuffy. I called out, “Ben, you here?”
My voice echoed in the empty room. “Ben?”
I strolled up and down the room, remembering all the times I’d come, and I just felt the presence of Mickey Schwerner, Andy Goodman, and James Chaney in that room.
“Ben, I need to talk to you. I need to. Please, are you here?”
There was no answer. I heard some birds outside. I was about to leave when I thought I heard something like a rustling noise.
Please, Hashem, I can’t go back without him. For a second, I thought of how Yehudah must have felt when he had to face Yaakov Avinu without Binyamin.
I stepped into the back room where Mickey and Rita had slept. My footsteps echoed on the broken tile floor.
I was trying to think where else Ben could be. Where would he go?
I was just turning to leave when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. There was something under the desk. At first I thought it was a pile of clothing, but then the clothing took on a human shape. There was someone with his knees drawn up to his chest.
Ben stared at me. His eyes were red with crying.
“Why are you here?“
Ben just shook his head. “I can’t. I can’t. I need my brother.”
I put my arm around him and let him sob on my shoulder.
Ben slowly slithered out from under the desk.
He moaned. “I wanted to feel him. I thought I would feel him if I was here,” he said. His voice was choked with sobs.
“I’m so sorry, Ben. It’s so wrong and horrible. James would have wanted you to continue his fight. He would want you to be strong.”
Ben stood up. “I just miss him so much.”
I put my arm on his shoulder. “He loved you. He was a great big brother.”
Ben nodded. “I’m not brave like him.”
“Oh, I think you are, “ I said.
“Come on, let’s head back. You can ride on the back of my bike.”
Ben slid on the back and, though it was much harder peddling, I felt much lighter as we headed back to his house.
To be continued…
By Susie Garber