The kippah can’t stop the November sleet from piercing Evie’s scalp. It squeezes through the crochet gaps, leaving a speckled pattern upon her chestnut, plaited hair. She would have blended into the woody trees if not for the new covering. Upon the first sight of yellow around the corner, Evie’s hands fly up to the kippah. Perhaps she hoped to pull it off, but she doesn’t. Her patterned hair would have warranted stares anyway. She brushes a couple of frozen chunks from her nose and yields to the preying doors, the silver threaded star on the crown of her head glaring loudly. Settled in her normal seat, she leans her head against the window and watches the sleet drip down across the kippah’s reflection.
Evie likes to think that the kippah was woven in Israel. Not the Israel of the rocket sirens on the news or the angry voices of people in the grocery store, but the one of pomegranate trees and overflowing honey, of fresh-fried falafel and rosemary bushes. With the kippah resting on her head and her eyes closed, she can see a young Sarah or Leah resting upon golden hills, threading it with nimble, care-filled fingers.
In moments like these, a piece of dust always seems to drift in front of her and taunt her, reminding of the kippah’s neglect-stained history. Evie picked it out at the gift shop of the Holocaust museum. She was little then, and her parents hid her eyes on the way to the children’s room. When she reunited with them at the gift shop, she could see the red puffs that still outlined her mother’s eyes. This may have been why when Evie clung to her leg with the kippah in hand, she brought it straight to the cash register without uttering a word.
It lived in the Shabbat drawer: a small compartment in the dining-room dresser that housed the family’s collection of kippahs. Many were lettered with bar mitzvah dates, and some had the distinct gloss of the temple’s collection, but only one had any trace of pink or purple on it. When Evie got tired of her kippah, she would do a fashion show for her parents and try on the entire contents of the drawer. She always found that the temple ones slid off her head and the bar mitzvah caps clashed with her Shabbat dress. The small kippah from the Holocaust museum was the only one meant for a young girl like Evie and the only one she ever wore.
For a couple of years following the day at the museum, when Dad began singing Bim Bam and Mom brought the matches to the dining room table, Evie rushed to the drawer to pull out the kippah. It acquired tiny remnants of those well-loved Friday nights: a pea-sized purple stain from splashed grape juice, a red blotch from her favorite curry, and a couple of drips of candle wax. Dad loved to rub the kippah so it made her hair bunch into knots. Evie would forget for a moment the value of a brush and let her wild strands layer over the kippah’s rim like pins on a tiara. She was the Shabbat Bride and King David mixed together with Mom’s brisket marinade.
Her parents never understood why Evie stopped wearing it. With a shrug pasted on her eight-year-old shoulders, she sat at Shabbat dinner with the white of her scalp shining brightly. It was all her parents could see, glinting between the challah and Kiddush cup. When the air conditioner began to rattle, one of the flames gave three deep breaths and trailed off into the dimmed chandelier. They all watched the smoke fade into oblivion, dissipating the ethereal vision of a kippah-crowned Evie. Mom eventually moved the kippah to the Hanukkah box in the basement, hoping Evie would try it on at least once a year, but it never escaped the broken dreidels of the bottom left corner. Evie buried all those Shabbat memories deep in her heart too, letting them yellow and fade. It was easier that way.
Evie smells dusty Hanukkah as she sits on the bus. That and the old bubblegum plastered under her seat. The incoming headlights and sparse street lamps make tree silhouettes grow and shrink on the window. She watches them, rather than scanning the expressions of every kid that saunters down the aisle. Her heart jerks at every whisper and she has to remind herself to relax her taunt stringy limbs. There’s still a whole school day to be lived, after all, and she needs to be standing at the end of it.
Collin’s voice is like Southern Drawl without the southern, with an overtone of “I swallowed my cat”. It makes goosebumps sprout up on anyone’s arms. But normally they are the inward cringing, throw up miming kind, not the soul-shaking bumps that make Evie shiver at his approaching voice. She waits expectantly for his banter to grow softer again as he plows his way to the circus in the back.
Eser, tesha, shmone. She silently practices counting down from ten to one in Hebrew. Her Hebrew school teacher assigned for them to learn how to count to ten, but Evie can already do that in her sleep. So she’s been practicing going from ten to one, which is much harder. No memorization that way. She does it when she’s bored in class or trying to distract herself. Shevah, shesh. Collin’s voice crawls into her ear and scratches around. Chamesh. The bus starts rolling and she feels her side of the seat tighten and bounce upward. She lets her eyes slide sideways and absorbs the unwelcome image of Collin sitting next to her. Dread ripples up through her body, settling right under her kippah. His shaggy light brown hair faces her as he turns toward the seat across the aisle. There are two boys sitting there, huddled around a phone emitting loud banging noises. Collin seems preoccupied, but Evie can’t help but debate stashing the kippah away- just to be safe. Her hair is probably dry by now and maybe she can wear it another day.
She huddles close to the window instead. Evie’s already invisible to boys like Collin, so if she takes up no room then maybe he won’t notice she’s there. Hamesh, she remembers she was on. Ar... arb..., she tries to continue, but the numbers have already slipped from her mind.
“Hey, you! Where’d my money go?” Collin shouts, his peanut-butter breath clouding Evie’s hair. She ignores him and keeps her eyes fixed on the window. “Ten dollars! You stole it!” Their section of the bus is quiet now, watching the fury unfurl on Collin’s face. Some might feel bad for Evie, but she bets they’re all hoping for conflict. A fight on their bus will make them the most sought after people in the school. She won’t give them that satisfaction. Evie remains silent.
“Settle down back there,” Jim-the-bus-driver interjects over his fuzzy radio “do you want me to call Pam?” Pam is in charge of behavioral discipline at school, and the threat is enough to make any kid sink into their seat. Collin isn’t dying to be forced into writing his fourth apology letter this year, so he transforms his angry face to one of masked, stoic hatred.
“Filthy, money-hungry, Jew,” he murmurs. “Who do you think you are? George Soros?” Evie can barely surface from her shock before the seats around her erupt in laughter. The sound is deafening, ricocheting between the scalding tips of her ears.
“That’s more like it,” Jim-the-bus-driver projects in his deadpan voice. Only the window can see the water pooling in Evie’s eyes. The other kids move on to boy-stories and hair braiding. Collin plucks the phone from the boys across the aisle and begins shooting erratically at the opposing army. By the time the bus screeches to a halt outside the school, the sleet has stopped and Evie has dried out from the erratic heater. Her eyes have dried too. Yet, she finds herself hugging her torso as she steps onto the cement. With chattering teeth and a numb pulse in her sleet-soaked veins, Evie trudges into school, chin so low that her kippah breaks through the entryway before her.
“Good morning,” The principal addresses her with cherry cough syrup cheerfulness. Evie can only coax herself into giving a feeble nob back before setting off to Mr. Bushey’s classroom. The first bell hasn’t even rung and her legs wobble underneath her.
(to be continued)