From “The Lonely Tree”
When Tonia went down to throw out the trash one evening, she saw Rina standing on the other side of the street, whispering with Shai, one of the older neighborhood boys. She had just opened her mouth to shout “Rina has a boyfriend!” when Shai pointed at her. She tossed the garbage in the bin and skipped over to join them. “She”s too little,” Rina said. “My mother would kill me if we got caught.” “So we won”t get caught.” “Won”t get caught doing what?” Tonia asked. “Putting–” “Shut up, Shai.” Rina poked his arm. “I told you, she”s too young. They think I”m too young.” “She can go last; all she has to do is smooth them out. Even if they catch her, she won”t be carrying anything, so what”s the big deal?” “If who catches me?” Tonia asked loudly. “Shhh,” Rina hushed her. “You”re going to get us in trouble.” “If you don”t tell me, I”ll go tell that there”s something to tell.” “I told you, she”s a little brat,” Rina said. “You wouldn”t really tell, would you?” Shai said. “You don”t look like a shtinker to me.” “I”m not a shtinker, I was just saying that. You can ask Rina. I”ve never told on her for anything,” Tonia said. Not that she cared what Shai thought about her. The other young girls seemed to think he was good-looking with his wavy blond hair, but Tonia thought he was stuck-up and in love with himself. Rina conceded that she had never been a tattletale. “We”ve got to get somebody,” Shai said. “Elboim is sick, and the stuff is already waiting.” That evening Tonia went to work for the Haganah, the underground Jewish army, something she found very exciting. She was going to help Shai and Rina plaster the surrounding neighborhoods with the notices they put up in lieu of a newspaper. Once a week someone left a note underneath a rock outside Shai”s building. It told him where he would find a can, a brush, a list of locations, and a roll of posters. This time they had been hidden behind the garbage bin. “Any car on the street at night is most likely British,” Rina warned her. “So if you see headlights, duck into the nearest building. Go up two flights. If anyone comes in after you, turn around and pretend to be on your way down.” “What do they do to you if they catch you?” Tonia asked. “Nothing too terrible. Sometimes they hit the guys – you know, slap them – trying to make them tell who gave them the posters. That”s why Shai gets a note like that, so we won”t know where the posters came from. But I never heard of them hitting a girl. And they”re not going to hit someone like you, only eleven years old, so don”t worry.” “Is that all?” “Well, sometimes they drive kids far away and let them out of the car in the middle of nowhere.” “Together?” “Yeah.” “Okay. I can do that,” she said and hugged her sister. This was exciting. Once in a while Rina turned out to be all right. As soon as it grew dark, the three of them set out. Shai went first. He carried the brush and the can, in which he had mixed up a paste of flour and water. He stopped, slopped a large circle of paste on the telephone pole at the corner of Allenby and Pinsker, and ran off. Rina was close enough behind him to be able to see where he had put the paste, but far enough away to be able to flee in a different direction if she had to. She had the most dangerous job, carrying the roll of incriminating posters under her arm. She ran ahead, peeled one off the roll, slapped it onto the wet circle of paste, and then continued running. Tonia”s job was to follow behind Rina and smooth the paper out, making sure it stuck. She was supposed to look like an innocent passerby who had done nothing but stop to read it. When Tonia saw where Shai had slapped the paste for the next one, she got angry. She put her thumb and forefinger in either side of her mouth and let out a blast, imitating what Rina thought was her secret whistle. Shai ducked into a building, and Tonia did exactly what they had warned her not to do – she followed him. When she caught up with him, she began to scold. “You put it right on top of an Irgun poster,” she said, out of breath, referring to another underground Jewish organization that was more militant than the Haganah. “That”s what we”re supposed to do, stupid,” he said. “What”s the matter?” Rina came up behind them. “Your bratty little sister has to learn to do as she”s told.” “He covered up the Irgun poster,” she said, turning toward Rina. “That”s not right.” “You know what Abba says about them. They”re a bunch of criminals.” “Don”t you think they cover up our posters?” Shai sneered. “Well, it”s not right. Everyone in the whole world is ganging up on us. We should at least stick together.” “Look, stupid–” “Stop calling my sister stupid,” Rina shouted, and Tonia looked at her sister, surprised to have Rina stand up for her. “Put ours beside theirs,” Tonia said. “I bet a lot of people want to read both.” “And we don”t want them reading Irgun trash,” Shai said. “It”s supposed to be like a newspaper. People have a right to read whatever newspaper they want.” “Why do you care so much?” Rina asked her quietly. “Don”t you remember how sad Ima got when Hitler closed all the Jewish newspapers? She said that”s the real end of freedom. And I don”t know why Abba hates the Irgun so much. Don”t they bring boats full of Jews here?” “Yes, but–” “So how do you know it won”t be an Irgun boat that brings Ima”s family to Palestine?” Rina smiled and smoothed Tonia”s hair the way Ima often did, and Shai conceded. Tonia enjoyed the rest of that clandestine evening, her one disappointment being that no British soldiers turned up to chase after them.