C haim has a dentist appointment this afternoon so I walk home alone. The message from Shimmy has me worried. Does this “trouble” he refers to have anything to do with what happened the other night, when I found Zalman walking down the center of the street?

I cut between the buildings and walk by the apartment building where the Zaltz family lives. I don’t see anything special on the street, just kids coming home from cheder and girls picking up their younger siblings from kindergarten like any other day.

Zalman’s family lives on the ground floor. I pass the gate to their yard and note that it is swinging freely on its hinges. When he was little, his parents always locked it. We kids in the neighborhood would often look through the slats of the fence, enviously eying all the neat play equipment inside. Sometimes we laughed, amused to see a big boy romping on the grass like a toddler. We were too little to understand that it wasn’t really funny.

When I think about Zalman I feel sad for him, but the truth is Zalman almost always seems happy. I think he attends a special education school in another neighborhood. I wonder if Zalman misses having friends nearby and going to cheder like the other children. I wonder why he’s different from other kids his age.

My thoughts turn to Yael. Will she need to be kept locked in a yard like Zalman was? Even though I can see that my foster sister is intelligent, she’s very different from other little girls her age. Of course she’s special to us because she’s ours (at least for now), but I’m afraid other children will probably laugh at her strange behavior.

I’m so busy thinking that I run into a low tree branch stretching over the sidewalk. It’s not the first time I do something like this; I often get lost in my thoughts, especially when I’m walking alone. I untangle my yarmulke from the twigs that caught it and look around as I put it back on my head. I sure hope no one noticed what just happened. No, there’s no one around.

From the corner of my eye I see a white industrial van stopped at an empty crosswalk. I think it’s strange, but then my thoughts go back to Shimmy. Dare I meet him in the park at nine tonight? Should I ask my parents what to do? Or tell Chaim?

The sun goes behind a cloud and suddenly I feel how chilly the day has become. This reminds me that winter is coming soon. The sky is blue, but along the horizon there are leaden gray clouds spreading out under the white ones.

I am startled by the metallic sound of a heavy van door sliding open right beside me. At the same instant that I turn towards the street I feel strong arms catch hold of me from behind, propelling me to the open door where other arms reach out and pull me inside.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 701)