Recap: Bayla discovers with amazement and joy that the reason people kept thinking they had already met her is because Mimi was in England. Mimi and Bayla are reunited, and then Fraidy comes to Tante Aimee’s house, as well. Mimi shares how she and Fraidy traveled on the last Kindertransport from Holland.
That Friday night, Shimon Zev came and Mimi told him about her trip.
“You were really hiding in a zoo right in front of the Nazis?”
“Glass doors everywhere. We were right in front of them all right, but Fraidy had to go somewhere else. It was too risky to keep her there. They were so kind, the Zabinskis, and they saved so many Jewish families.”
“Righteous gentiles. They are for sure. They are risking their lives.”
“They have a son, Rys. He’s very sweet and amazing with animals. You should see the strange animals they have. But the Nazis came and killed a lot of them. They just shot the animals for no reason. It was so sad. Mrs. Zabinski was beside herself.”
“Respect for human life doesn’t exist for them, and I guess even for creatures and animals there is no respect for life. There are so many laws about tzaar baalei chayim. It sounds like they violated them all.”
The next day, Tante Aimee put me and Sophie and Mimi in charge of the little kids. She suggested we invite more of the children in the neighborhood and run a little playgroup. The mothers were all busy volunteering to help with the war effort, and this would make it much easier for them if they had childcare during the day.
I told Mimi I liked the idea. Sophie was quiet.
“You don’t want to?” I asked.
“It’s not that.” She pointed at her crutches. “I won’t be much help running after them.”
“There are lots of other things you can do in the play group. You can run the dance lessons and the craft lessons.”
Sophie said okay, and her face brightened.
As she strolled out the door, carrying a big bag of yarn, Tante Aimee called over her shoulder. “I’ll be at Mrs. Cornman’s home. A group of us are knitting gloves and scarves for the soldiers. If you need me, call the number I left by the phone.”
Tante Aimee had only called two mothers, but six children, all between the ages of two and five, appeared at the door in quick succession. Some of them Mimi recognized from the Kindertransport ride.
Benny saw a friend, Jacob, and pulled on his hand to come follow him. We’d set out blocks and balls, and dolls and even a doll baby carriage. The toys were left over from when Sophie was small and her family had taken a vacation in England in this house.
“Everyone sit in a circle,” I said.
The children all sat down obediently. They were used to sitting and being quiet. War and traveling had made them grow up too fast, I mused.
“Now, we’re going to thank Hashem for a new day that He gave us back our neshamah. I sang Modeh Ani and they copied me.
We said Sh’ma and then we sang Adon Olam.
Mimi led them in some clapping games and then we had a coloring project.
After the children went home, I stayed outside with Benny. Mimi wanted to practice her flute. Benny suddenly ran over to a bush and pointed.
“What is it?” I strolled over.
Benny pointed and put his finger to his lips. A kitten with shiny green eyes was hiding behind the bush.
“She’s so tiny,” I said. Her meow was high pitched and soft.
“Can we bring her some cream?” Benny asked.
I went inside and found some cream in the refrigerator. The kitten approached cautiously and then dipped her delicate tongue into the bowl.
“Where did she come from?”
Benny slowly lowered his hand towards her. I was surprised she let him pet her.
Before long, she was in his lap. “Can we keep her?” Benny asked.
“Do you think she belongs to anyone?” I asked.
“Mrs. Cornman told us there are lots of stray cats around and there was a stray cat that had some kittens this week,” Mimi said.
I remembered seeing a ginger colored cat strolling around the backyard.
One day, Mimi found Benny in the shed in the back playing with the ginger cat. Mimi named it Gunther and she and Benny put out milk for it, but it was a street cat. It shied away from people.
“Why did you choose that name?” I asked Mimi.
“I don’t know, but it felt like it fit the cat.”
I thought of how I had to come up for names for the characters in the book I was writing. The name just had to fit and it took a while to find the right one.
Benny hugged the kitty. “Kot,” he said over and over.
“Benny, we may not be able to keep her,” I said. I thought about rationing going on now and it might be hard to get food for her.
When Fraidy woke from her nap, she came outside and ran after the kitty. We all called her Kot. Benny and Fraidy went into the small shed and played with the cat. I noticed that the ginger cat was prowling nearby.
Benny motioned Fraidy to be quiet. He pointed at the ginger cat. The cat paced back and forth and then gradually it approached Benny.
He didn’t move towards it and he didn’t make a sound. He was a natural with animals. I envied him. I still didn’t like animals.
I watched, and to my surprise the ginger cat entered the shed, and when I peeked in on Benny and Fraidy they were playing house and the two cats were their babies. Mimi peeked in and then she whispered, “Benny is a lot like Mrs. Zabinski. She had a natural way with all creatures and she even knew how to soothe evil people. She had this instinctive way of speaking and acting. Mimi thought for a minute. “It’s a special gift from Hashem.”
When Tante Aimee came home, she saw Benny patting the kitten. The ginger cat saw her and fled.
“What a cute kitty,” she said.
“She’s my kot,” Benny said.
“He doesn’t understand how hard it is to keep a pet now, but I don’t know how I will separate him from her,” I said.
Tante Aimee’s eyebrows shot up. “Of course, we won’t separate him from the cat. He’s had enough separations in his young life.”
I was so happy that she agreed he could keep the cat.
Just then, Feter Dan hurried into the house. “We have to prepare for a blackout. Quick, we must put up blackout curtains.”
We helped him hang blackout curtains over all the windows. Tante Aimee filled in the gaps with brown paper. We peeked outside and the streetlights were extinguished, one by one, until the street was totally dark.
“They’re telling people not to let any light escape from their houses to give the German pilot a target.”
I shivered when I thought of the enemy as a real person out to kill us.
“I’ll read you the instructions I got at shul. First, put out all lights that are in rooms not blacked out. Don’t use any matches or lights. Pedestrians should seek shelter quickly. If a siren goes off and you’re on the street, stay near buildings. Avoid running and stay away from the curb. Again, no flashlights or matches. And cross at intersections to avoid getting hit. Motorists need to park at the curb, put out all lights, and seek shelter.”
Mimi had stopped playing the flute when Feter Dan walked in with the curtains.
Mimi’s eyes were wide. “Are they expecting bombing?” she whispered to me.
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.