Aliya Daze - Part 20
Shira fingered the strap on her bag as she waited outside the Feldman house for someone to answer the door. She knocked again. She was nervous, not the jittery nervous before a play that vanished as soon as she got onstage, but a queasy nervous that made her feel seasick even though she wasn’t moving. Shalhevet had warned her that Sheryl might not be so interested in having a tutor, although it sounded like their dikduk session had gone okay.
As she raised her hand to knock again, the door opened. The woman behind the door looked tired. “Hi, I’m Shira. I’m here to study with Sheryl.” The woman smiled weakly. It seemed like an effort for her to smile. “Sure, come in.” She stepped back to let Shira in, and closed the door behind her. Shira blinked as her eyes adjusted to the dim light inside. All the lights were off in the living room. “I’m just lying down. Sheryl should be in her room.” Without waiting for an answer or explaining how to get to her daughter’s room, the woman turned and walked away. Shira stared after her uncertainly. After a minute, she heard a door close.
“Get a grip,” Shira told herself sternly. “You’ll just have to check all the rooms until you find her.” She headed down the hall, feeling weird and out of place. Sorely tempted to just turn around and leave, she somehow kept on walking.
The hallway turned left after the kitchen and the bathroom. Shira’s awkwardness deepened as she passed the many pictures on the walls of a smiling chayal in uniform. Sheryl’s brother, she thought. In the quiet dark house, Shira felt like she was in a shrine. She found herself walking quietly, almost holding her breath. Again Shira was tempted to just turn around and leave. Again she pressed on.
There were four doors and they were all closed. Behind one of them, Shira knew, Sheryl’s mother was resting and she wasn’t keen to barge in on her unexpectedly. She also didn’t know who else, if anyone, was in the quiet house. Shira studied the doors wishing she had asked Shalhevet to come with her this first time, just to break the ice.
The last door had a picture of some sort of rock band. Smiling slightly as she imagined the look on her own mother’s face if she tried to bring something like that into her own house, Shira knocked on the postered door, confident that even if it wasn’t Sheryl’s room, it definitely wasn’t the mother’s either.
Once again, there was no answer to her knock, and Shira knocked again, wondering whether to try another door if nobody answered or to open the door and peek in. After three knocks she decided to peek in. She opened the door gently. “What?!” the girl on the bed demanded, rolling over to face her. She seemed surprised to see Shira. Sitting up quickly, she asked “Who are you?” “I’m Shira. You’re Sheryl, yeah?” The girl nodded guardedly. It seemed like she had added a few more earrings since Shira had seen her last. “I’m a friend of Shalhevet. I came to study math with you.” “What? Oh, yeah. I don’t know why you bothered though. I’m going to fail anyway. You might as well go home.” Sheryl laughed, a harsh bitter laugh, and rolled back over on the bed, without waiting to see Shira’s reaction.
“Well,” Shira paused. This had certainly not been the welcome she had been expecting. “I’m here, is it okay if I come in?” “Whatever.” Sheryl replied. It sounded like she didn’t care either way. Who is doing who a favor here, Shira thought, with a momentary flash of anger. She came into the room, wondering whether or not to shut the door. She decided to leave it open.
She crossed the room and sat down at the desk chair. The room was a mess. Piles of clothes competed with dirty dishes and junk food wrappers on the floor. Even the desk was piled with clothes. The room looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in ages. By the bed, a few photos of a younger unpierced Sheryl and the same smiling chayal were stuck onto the wall. “Can I clear some room on the desk?” Shira asked. “What?” Sheryl asked, raising her head off the bed, where she had been lying with her face in her arms. “Yeah, whatever. Just chuck it onto the floor.”
Shira shifted some stuff gently to the floor. She would have to remember to tell Batshevi about this room. There was an actual spider web in the corner above the desk. Batshevi was always complaining that Shira was such a slob, but after seeing Sheryl’s room, Shira felt Batshevi didn’t really have much to complain about. “So, let’s get started.” Shira said brightly, trying to inject more confidence into her voice than she was really feeling.
Sheryl raised her head off her arms again and studied Shira, taking in everything from her long wavy brown hair to her black pleated skirt and printed tights. She smirked. “Listen, it’s nice that you came, but there’s really no point. So if there’s something else you need to be doing, like… your hair or something, maybe you should just go take care of that instead.”
Sheryl’s words hit Shira sharply. It was one thing to say that she should not have bothered coming, and quite another thing to attack Shira herself. What was she doing here anyway? She didn’t need to stay here and be insulted like this. Should she just leave? Whatever had happened to Sheryl didn’t give her the right to treat people like this, certainly not people going out of their way to help her. About to stand up, Shira’s gaze fell again on the picture of the smiling chayal. That could be Josh in a few years, she realized. She remained sitting.
Taking a deep breath and smiling, Shira said instead. “Thanks, but I did my hair before I came and it looks pretty good now, so why don’t we just get started.” Sheryl stared at her. Her look was coolly appraising. Shira forced herself to look back into those cold disdainful eyes, made herself keep smiling. After an intense minute, Sheryl got up off the bed. “I don’t even know where my math book is, okay?” She looked around the room, kicking at a few books on the floor.
“I’ll wait.” Shira said simply. “Why don’t you look for it?” She crossed her legs and swung her top foot lightly. Sheryl rolled her eyes. “You’re unreal, you know that?!” “Yeah, thanks, I know that already.” Shira replied. She was starting to enjoy herself. She had grown up with Josh after all, and was used to dealing with his snide remarks. She certainly was not about to let Sheryl get to her.
Shira glanced quickly at her watch, careful not to let Sheryl see in case it inspired another crack. Twenty minutes had passed already. The thought gave her confidence. Her hour was almost over and she was not sure whether or not she would be returning.
“Yeah, I got it.” Sheryl finally replied, “But I don’t know where we are up to or anything.” “Of course not.” Shira replied. “I’m sure you’ve got much better things to do than listen in math.” Sheryl smiled. It made her look much less jaded. If she removed a few piercing and that horrible lip ring, she could be pretty, Shira realized. What would make a person do that to themself?
Then she thought of the sad woman who had answered the door and the quiet dark hallway just outside Sheryl’s room. It must get pretty oppressive, Shira thought, remembering the slow, heavy way Sheryl’s mom had moved. It could make a person desperate. Shira made a mental note to give her own mom a hug when she got home, and tell her how much she appreciated her. Her own home was cheerful and noisy. There was always the smell of something cooking in the kitchen. Shira wondered if Sheryl’s mom cooked. Somehow she doubted it.
“I guess we’re about here,” Sheryl said breaking the silence finally. Shira took the book Sheryl held out to her, and saw with some relief that she actually knew how to do those examples. “Right,” she said, reaching into her bag for some paper and pens. “The best thing would be for you to bring another chair.” To her relief, Sheryl actually left the room, returning a minute later with a chair. She sat down next to Shira. Shira flipped back a few pages to the beginning of the chapter, where a bold sentence was highlighted in a grey box. “This is the rule you need to learn to solve those problems. Why don’t you read it?”
As Sheryl leaned in to read the rule, Shira relaxed, feeling the tension drain out of her. She could do this. She felt proud of herself, that here she was, not just having fun, but actually doing something real for a change. Sheryl looked up and caught her smiling. “What?” she demanded, suddenly guarded again. “Nothing,” Shira replied. “I’m just thinking about how surprised everyone will be when you ace your next exam.” “You think pretty highly of yourself. You really think you’re that good of a tutor?” Sheryl smirked. “Yeah, I do.” Shira replied.
Tzippora Price, M.Sc. is a marital & family therapist, who works in private practice in Ramat Beit Shemesh. She can be contacted at 052-763-5181.
Author’s note: This story is a work of fiction. Although the characters experience real challenges and grapple with real issues, the characters themselves are creations of the author’s imagination.
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