Recap: Bayla brought the young doctor assistant to the shelter, and he had a brand new medicine that had cured the President’s son and he gave it to Mimi. The next morning, she was better.
When I woke in the morning, I smelled fall in the air. The window was slightly opened and a crisp breeze sifted in. Outside, trees wore autumn gowns of saffron, gold, scarlet, and orange that swayed in the soft whistling breeze.
I dressed and went into the living room to daven. Mimi was up, helping Benny and Fraidy to daven. Tante Aimee stepped into the room. “Bayla, I was looking for you. I wanted to ask you to do a mitzvah for me. Actually, you and Sophie. I’ll wait until you’re done.”
After I finished davening, Sophie joined us, and Tante Aimee came into the living room with a cup of tea in her hand. She sneezed twice and reached for her hanky. “I’ve got a nasty cold. So, girls, Tattie’s cousin Chanah called. She just lost her grandson who was in the RAF. His plane was shot down by the Germans. She lives alone and she’s elderly. She is left with his young daughter, her great-grandchild, and she needs comfort and some hands-on help. I had planned to go there to help her, but this cold is not something I want to share with her, and Tatty’s off on the home guard duty. You girls are great with children, and I feel it would be important for you to go there this Shabbos and bring her some nechamah.”
“Did I ever meet her?” Sophie asked.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“How old is her great-granddaughter?” I asked.
“Seven or eight. I’m not sure exactly. They live in East London. If you girls agree to go, I will ask Shimon Zev to escort you there by bus.”
Mimi joined us. “Do you want me to go also, Tante Aimee?”
“I think it best if you stay here with Benny and Fraidy. They’ve had enough disruption.”
Sophie and I went to our room to pack.
“I’ve never been to London before,” I said.
“I’ve been, but not for a few years. It’s probably a lot different now ’cause of the war.”
Tante Aimee gave us a big cooler filled with food for Cousin Chanah, and a bag with challahs.
“She’s very proper, so be sure to be very formal and polite.”
I wondered what that meant but I agreed. We walked to the bus stop and waited. Sophie still hobbled with one crutch but she was walking so much better.
A double-decker bus pulled up and we boarded. Sophie gave the pence to the driver and he handed us tickets.
There were only a few people on the bus. “Why is the bus so empty?” I whispered to Sophie.
“It’s the war, Missy,” an older gentleman seated in front turned to us. “Men all away fight’n and those Jerries may start sending bombs again.”
I shivered when he said that.
The bus drove towards London. I watched the countryside fly by.
“St. Paul’s Cathedral,” the driver called out.
“This is it.” Sophie stood. “Please wait, sir,” she called to the driver.
We scrambled off the bus, jostling the cooler and the bag of challahs. Sophie pulled out the paper with the address and the little map, Tante Aimee had drawn.
We strolled down the deserted street. It started drizzling. “It’s always raining here,” I complained.
“I know. I miss Paris,” Sophie said.
“We have to go to Shoreditch. It’s another mile, I think.
“We shouldn’t have gotten off here. This cooler is heavy.”
“Sorry, Bayla. I made a mistake.”
“It’s okay. Hashem is in charge. No worries. Are you okay walking so far?”
“It’s good for me. Do you want me to take turns with the cooler?”
She was hobbling with her crutch.
“I’m fine.” I blew my bangs out of my eyes. Rain began pouring faster and thicker.
It seemed like forever, but eventually we reached the address on Shoreditch and knocked.
Cousin Chanah opened to two soaking wet girls.
“Sorry, we’re all wet.”
“Come in. Come in, girls. You’ll take off your stockings and shoes. I’ll bring you slippers.”
She was an older woman but she was strong looking. She took the cooler from me.
“So kind of your mum.”
“It’s Sophie’s mother. I’m Bayla.”
A girl strode into the room. She had green eyes and a long, dark ponytail. She looked to be seven or eight years old. “Who are you? You’re all wet.”
Sophie stepped towards her. “I’m your cousin. I’m Sophie and this is my cousin Bayla Karmel.”
“Why did they come, Grandmama?”
“They came for Shabbos. Aliza, show them the guest room and you girls should take your hot shower now. I don’t want you catching cold on my account.”
The townhouse was compact but cozy. There were photos on the wall of soldiers in the air force. I assumed they were her grandsons. There was a baby grand piano and there were scenes of a London garden on the wall.
We followed Aliza up two flights of winding stairs to an attic room. I loved the room with its round window overlooking London.
“How old are you?” I asked, trying to think of what to talk to her about.
“My birthday was August and I’m eight. How old are you?”
I was going to say it’s impertinent to ask adults their age, but I remembered that she was an orphan and I tried to be gentle with her. “I’m 17 and Sophie is 16.”
“I like your gold hair,” she said to me as she touched my hair.
“My mama had gold hair. She died.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“My daddy died, too.”
“You have your grandmama,” I said.
“The shower is over there.” She pointed to a small bathroom in the hallway.
“Thanks for helping us.” Sophie knelt down so she was on the same level as Aliza. “You are a really good hostess.”
Aliza smiled and left the room.
“I feel so bad for her,” I whispered.
We showered and dressed and then we went downstairs to help Cousin Chanah get ready for Shabbos. She was wearing a forest green velvet housedress and a gray sheitel. Aliza was dressed in long, dark, green smocked dress.
“Thank you so much for coming. I’m warming up all the delicious food that your mother sent.”
I glanced at a photo near the candelabra.
“That’s my grandson Daniel. He was killed last week.” There was a catch in her throat. Sophie strode over and hugged Cousin Chanah. I wanted to, but I felt too shy. I admired Sophie’s bravery.
A black cat padded into the room. “Henry, you’ve come for Shabbos dinner,” Cousin Chanah said.
Aliza lifted the cat. “Come on, Henry. I’ll give you your dinner.”
We lit candles and I prayed that Cousin Chanah should be comforted and that our families should be reunited soon.
We helped Cousin Chanah serve the meal. “Aliza, come help serve,” Cousin Chanah said.
Aliza ignored her and continued playing with a set of paper dolls in the living room.
“Put that away and come help right now. Cousin Chanah’s voice rose.
“You’re not my mother.”
I was shocked at how Aliza answered her great-grandmother.
I went over to her and whispered in her ear. “You have to be respectful of your great-grandmother.”
“I don’t have to. You’re not my mother.” She kept putting paper dresses on her paper dolls.
Cousin Chanah announced Kiddush, but Aliza stayed with her dolls.
“Sophie went over and invited her to join us, but she shook her head.
We drank wine and then we washed. The whole meal progressed without Aliza joining us.
We spoke about our families, and Cousin Chanah spoke about her grandson who was killed, and I could see it helped her to speak about him. She leaned close to us and whispered, “It’s very hard for her.” She nodded towards Aliza. “Her mother was ill last year and died suddenly. It’s been hard.”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
We spoke about the parshah and we sang z’miros.
That night, Sophie and I stayed up late talking. “How can we help Aliza? She’s so sad and I feel so helpless. I don’t know how to help her. Mimi would know what to do.” “Bayla, you underestimate yourself. Mimi is amazing but so are you.”
I threw a pillow at her. Stop, you’ll make my head swell.
“We’re staying at least through Wednesday. Hopefully, she’ll get used to us and then maybe we can help her,” Sophie said.
The next day, after davening, I approached Aliza. She was playing with the paper dolls. “Good Shabbos, Aliza,” I said.
She was busy with her dolls and ignored me.
“I hope today you’ll come to the table with us. I like your Shabbos dress.”
She didn’t answer.
I went into the kitchen to help Cousin Chanah. She was talking with Sophie. “Yes, I have twin grandsons. They’re Daniel’s younger brothers. They’re both in the RAF.”
“I will daven for their safety,” Sophie said.
“Bayla, good Shabbos. I hope you slept well. You girls are such a help. I wanted to tell you something out of earshot of Aliza.” She handed me a big bowl to take to the table. “I can’t take proper care of her. You see she defies me. It’s not working well and I’m just too old to deal with all this. I spoke to your mother, Sophie, and she agreed you girls will take her back with you. I am sure your family will be just what she needs.”
Sophie took a breath. I could see her feelings on her face. Aliza was difficult. How were we going to deal with her moodiness?
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), 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). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.