I t’s almost nine o’clock now, the time Shimmy told me to meet him. I look up and down the street. Nothing looks out of the ordinary. My parents always say shaliach mitzvah lo nizok, a person observing a mitzvah is protected from harm. I’m pretty sure that helping Zalman qualifies as a mitzvah. So should I go downstairs or not?

Abba and Ima have been in their room talking for over an hour. It must be something serious. I can’t just knock on the door and interrupt them. Will it be alright to just go out and talk to Shimmy for a few minutes right across the street? I’ll probably be back before they even realize I left.

On the way out I check my sister’s room. Little Yael is snuggled in her blankets, hugging the new doll Ima bought her this afternoon. I pause to watch her for a few moments. How sweet she looks, cheeks flushed with sleep and dark curls tumbling across the pillow. She was not home when I came back from cheder so I didn’t have any time to play with her today. I close her door gently, promising myself to find time tomorrow.

Down in the lobby I stand by the door without leaving the building. I see Shimmy on the other side of the street. His hands are thrust into the pockets of his jeans and his shoulders are hunched. He’s leaning on the lamppost, not at all self-conscious that every passerby will wonder what he’s doing there.

I used to be so scared of Shimon Gutman that I would pay any price just to keep out of his sight. Now here I am preparing to meet him in the park alone and in the dark! How did this happen? Something changed; I don’t feel the same way. He’s different, too. In the past I thought he enjoyed hurting me. Maybe he did. But now when I think of him I feel sorry for him, kind of like how I feel toward Zalman. As if it’s not really his fault that he’s mean.

I shake my head to clear it. No, Shimmy and Zalman are not the same at all. Hashem made Zalman the way he is. It really is not his fault that he’s slow and doesn’t understand things. But Shimmy is smart. When Chaim and I were learning mishnayos with Shimmy, he caught on right away and could recite them perfectly after only hearing them once. Obviously Hashem gave Shimmy a good head. I don’t understand why he doesn’t use it for better things.

I push open the door and feel the cold air greet me. Shimmy hears my footsteps approaching and stands up straight in anticipation.

“You came,” he states.

“Did you think I wouldn’t?” I ask, even though I almost didn’t. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 704)