Recap: Feter Dan and Shimon Zev return from Dunkirk. Sophie starts exercising and is able to stand for a second. Bayla discovers that her lookalike is Mimi. Mimi is in England.
We stood and stared at each other. I felt like I was in my dream – the one with Mimi. We both fell into each other’s arms crying.
“How?” we were both asking at the same time.
“Bayla, how did you end up here?”
I told her about leaving France before Germany attacked.
“Hashem was with you.”
Hashem was with me right now. I was actually standing here with Mimi.
Tante Aimee hugged Mimi. “Let’s all go into the living room and we can have hot cocoa and hear all about your trip here and how your family is doing.” I followed Mimi into the living room. Sophie’s crutches clicked on the floor.
Mimi sipped her hot cocoa. “The Zabinskis were so kind. They kept bringing Jews in from the Ghetto every day and hiding us in their villa right under the Gestapo’s nose. Mrs. Zabinski had a signal for when Nazis were there and we all scurried back to hiding. Fraidy came with me and the Miller girls came with me on the Kindertransport, and the cutest boy, Benny. He’s an orphan. His parents were killed by the Nazis but he doesn’t know.”
“Are they all right, Mama and Papa and Bubby and Zeidy?”
“Yes, they’re fine. They sent us partly because Fraidy wouldn’t be quiet when Nazis came, and the farmer who was keeping her said it was too dangerous to keep her there.”
Mimi was thoughtful. “The boat ride was harrowing. There were Germans bombing near us, but somehow it was a miracle. They said we were the last boat out of Holland and we made it to England. But, Bayla…” She turned towards me and tears were pouring down her cheek. “I had no idea. I mean Hashem is so good. I had no idea that you were here in England.”
“I want to see Fraidy,” I said.
The neighbor had tears in her eyes. “She’s at my house. Benny, too. I’ll bring them both, if you want to have them here with you. Benny is very attached to Mimi. He will only talk to her, so I think it best that he stay with her.”
“Yes, thank you so much. I want my nieces to all be here together, and Benny is welcome, as well,” Tante Aimee said as she escorted the woman to the door.
“Thank you, Mrs. Cornman, for everything.” Mimi gave her a quick hug.
“Hashem orchestrated us to both come to England and to be in the same neighborhood. The lady I was staying with kept telling me there was someone who looked just like me. I couldn’t imagine why she kept harping on it,” Mimi said.
I offered Mimi an oatmeal cookie.”
“Looks yummy. Thank you,” she said.
“People actually thought I was you,” I said. “A lady told me she’d sat next to me in shul. I told she hadn’t, but she didn’t really believe me.”
Mimi turned to Sophie. “Do you think we look that much alike?”
Sophie shook her head. “I mean you have a strong resemblance, blonde hair, and blue eyes. You look like sisters, but you are very distinctive.”
“I am so, so happy to see you, Sophie.” Mimi and Sophie hugged.
“Your sister is amazing,” Sophie said.
“I know that.”
“Mimi, what was it like riding on that boat? Did you get seasick? Did you have to take care of the little kids?” Sophie had so many questions.
Mimi looked thoughtful. “The scariest part was the ride with the German soldier across Germany.”
“What?” Sophie and I both said together.
Mimi nodded. “Yeah, it’s a long story.”
She shared her terrifying experience with Hans driving and how they were stopped for papers.
“Anna Schmidt.” She pointed at herself.
“I can’t believe you did that. I don’t think I could have said anything,” I said.
“It was so scary but I was responsible for Benny and the Millers. I had to be brave. I just kept davening and asking Hashem to help me.”
“What about the boat ride?”
I saw Mimi’s shoulders tensed. “It was hard. I felt sick from the constant rocking and so did all the other children. Those waves – just thinking of them makes my stomach fluttery. I tried to keep them occupied with stories. It was always scary during the day. We didn’t want to be spotted by German boats.”
“I just can’t believe you’re here,” I said.
“Let’s get you all settled,” Tante Aimee said.
Tante Aimee showed Mimi the guest room where she and Fraidy and Benny would be sleeping. “Do you want me to switch and have you sleep with Bayla?”
“No,” Mimi said. “That is so thoughtful, but Fraidy and Benny need me right now.”
“I’ll have to borrow a crib. We don’t have Sophie’s old one,” Tante Aimee said.
Sophie scrunched her nose. “I’m a bit past that.”
This was a dream. I just couldn’t believe it. Chasdei Hashem!
Fraidy held Mrs. Cornman’s hand. When she saw Mimi, she let go and raced over to her.
“Fraidy, here’s Bayla.” Fraidy looked at me and shyly smiled.
“You got so big,” I said.
Fraidy was taller than I remembered. Her hair was cut short with bangs. The hair cut surprised me. Fraidy always had long wave hair. “Mimi gave me a haircut,” she said.
“So pretty.” I patted her head.
Benny ran over to Mimi and held her hand. He was a cute little six-year-old with big blue eyes.
Later, Mimi confided: “I had to cut her hair. I was afraid she could get lice. Baruch Hashem, she likes it. I was so scared she wouldn’t let me cut it, but she sat still for me.”
Mimi unpacked her clothing. The skirts looked too short and some of the blouses were frayed.
“I know these look shabby. We haven’t been able to buy cloth to make anything in months, and of course stores were closed.”
I helped her organize Benny and Fraidy’s clothing in the dressers in the room. Fraidy was still clinging to Mimi.
“Did you forget who I am?” I asked.
“So. Come give me a hug. I missed you.”
Fraidy stepped towards me and I enveloped her in a big hug. I didn’t mean to, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. “I missed you so much, Fraidy,” I said.
Shimon Zev called, and Mimi got on the phone.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “What hashgachah! I can’t wait to see you, Mimi. I’ll be there this Shabbos, b’ezras Hashem.”
Sophie was showing Mimi, Fraidy, and Benny around the house. “Did you bring your flute?” she asked.
“Yes, how did you know I play flute?”
“Bayla just mentioned it like a hundred times. Will you play for me?”
Mimi ran upstairs to get it with Benny following her.
“He’s her little shadow,” Sophie said.
Mimi came downstairs. She drew her silver flute from its battered case and assembled it.
What happened to your shiny flute case?” I asked.
“A long boat ride and being almost thrown overboard and other things like that.” Mimi held the flute to her lips and began playing some of the country dances we used to play together.
Sophie was tapping her feet. “I love it! I want to make up a dance to go with it. “
“We just need Bayla’s piano accompaniment,” Mimi said.
“In Paris we had a piano,” Sophie said wistfully.
I missed playing the piano, but the music was pretty to listen to.
Mimi began making up a dance using one crutch and leaning against the wall. Fraidy imitated her foot positions and soon Sophie started teaching Fraidy the ballet positions.
I motioned to Mimi. Mimi stopped playing and we both watched in amazement as Fraidy did first and second and third and fourth position just as Sophie instructed.
“Did she take ballet before?”
“No,” I said.
“She’s a natural. I’m going to make up a dance for her.”
Mimi was getting tired and stopped playing the flute, but Sophie kept working with Fraidy on the dance.
Benny was standing next to Mimi holding onto her skirt. His eyes were wide. He looked like he was afraid she might disappear if he didn’t stick right to her.
“Benny, would you like to color?” I asked.
I brought him a paper and some crayons.
He sat down and started to make a picture.
Mimi leaned over and complimented him.
“Please make me a picture of Kot,” he said.
Mimi drew a little cat with a white stripe.
“He had a pet cat named Kot in Poland. He talks about it all the time.”
Sophie came over and looked at the drawing of the cat. “Wow, Mimi, you draw so well.”
I thought about the art classes we used to take and how the art teacher complimented Mimi’s work. She had so many talents. I wasn’t jealous, but I just wished I knew what my talent was.
After dinner, I helped Mimi put Fraidy and Benny to sleep. Fraidy fell asleep right away after saying Sh’ma, but Benny was frightened of the new room. Mimi couldn’t seem to settle him down.
“Bayla, can you make up a story for him? I am running out of ideas.”
I sat down next to him and started a story about a frightened prince who had a magic cat. Benny watched me, wide-eyed. As the story progressed, he lay down and soon he was breathing evenly.
“Thank you. You have a way with making up stories.”
“Thanks. I just––”
“I remember how you got Alexi to sit, and he kept wanting more of the story you made up for him. You should write stories.”
I thought of the pink journal Papa had given me, and I decided I might try to write a story, not the ones I’d told Benny or Alexi, but my own story for me. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. It would be about a girl who had to leave home because of a war. Mimi hugged me good night.
I headed downstairs. When I went to sleep on that tranquil September night, I had no idea that our quiet nights in England were numbered.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes the community column for The Queens Jewish Link and she writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivahs and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.