Written for the NFA Weekly Writing Challenge #8- Setting. Put one or more of the characters in a setting in which they have never been.
Tall columns and long stained-glass windows rise majestically against the backdrop of a bright blue Spring sky. Gray marble steps rise imposingly in front of me. The architecture is beautiful , but intimidating at the same time. I hesitate, and she follows suit, looking at me inquisitively.
"Ziva, I'm really not sure about this."
"Relax, McGee ," she says, grinning. "They will not check for circumcision at the door."
I gulp, my mind automatically going to a painful place. "I hadn't thought of that. I just, I mean, I've never… I'm not sure I belong here."
She touches my arm encouragingly. "This is a place of worship, McGee. All are welcome."
I hang my head, defeated, and allow her to lead me up the steps and into the large wooden double doors.
I blink a few times, letting my eyes adjust from the bright sunlight to the subdued lighting of the interior. When I can finally see, I'm amazed. The ceiling is high, and is joined to the walls by intricate crown molding. Balcony railings, beautifully carved from a dark-colored wood, line the room. The pews are also wooden, simple but also expertly carved and crafted. The stained glass windows, dull from the outside, are now alive with color. Gold chandeliers bathe the room in a soft glow. At the front of the room is a tall wooden arch with a set of doors beneath it. There is also a small pulpit, and a table covered by a cloth.
A….minister? Rabbi? I'm not sure what he is, but he nods and bids us welcome as we enter. He hands me a yamaka, and I hesitate. Do I put it on? Politely decline? I'm not Jewish; what if putting on their headgear is a mortal sin for gentiles?
I look at Ziva in panic. She nods, and I place the small hat on my head. I hear chuckles from the people around us. The rabbi does his best to cover a grin. Ziva smiles serenely and reaches up to turn the yamaka around. It was backwards.
I want to sink into the floor and disappear. It is painfully obvious that I don't belong here.
Ziva takes my hand and leads me to a seat. Thankfully, it's in the back. Maybe I can avoid any more attention until this is over.
She starts to walk away, and I feel the panic again. "Where are you going?" I hiss.
"I have to sit across the aisle," she replies. "Just stand up when everyone else stands up. And relax."
Easy for you to say.
Finally the lights dim and the service begins.
I don't understand the words that are said, or the songs that are sung during the next hour. My thoughts wander to the events of the last week. It was a bad one. Truth be told, we worked one of the toughest, most heat-breaking cases I have ever encountered in my three years as a field agent. I know the strain has been showing, on my face, and in the edge in my voice. They all see it. The case affected them as well, but they're better at covering up than I am. Or maybe I'm just weak and not cut out for this job at all. What if this isn't the worst case? What if the cases just keep getting more gruesome and senseless with each passing year? What will I be like by the time I'm Gibbs' age, with fifteen years of field work under my belt?
Why has she brought me here?
I begin to study the people around me. Their mouths move, their voices ring out, reciting the ancient prayers and singing the ancient songs. A man, not much older than I am, takes his son's hand as they recite together. An old woman, her face brown and wrinkled with age, prays softly as tears run down her sunken cheeks. Another woman, much younger, sits behind her. Her expression gradually changes from sorrow to joy as the service goes on.
I glance at Ziva. Her eyes are closed, her brows furrowed a bit. Her mouth is moving. I can't hear her words, but I can see the intensity in her face. These words, these traditions, they mean something to her, though I'm not sure exactly what it is. Is this what gets her through each week? Each day?
I don't understand the words, but I begin to understand the meaning behind them.
When it's over, Ziva meets me in the aisle. We walk outside in subdued silence. The sun has dipped low while we were inside. The last rays of light are fading fast.
I wait for her to speak, and she does the same for me. Finally, I break the silence.
"Well, that was… interesting. Do you attend services often?"
She gives a short, brittle laugh. "Not as often as I should. My mother would be ashamed of me."
"Can you tell me what they were saying? What was the service about?"
"It was mostly a recitation of the Kabbalat Shabbat, the acceptance of the Jewish Sabbath. It is made up of several psalms, and beautiful poem, Lekhah Dodi. 'Let's go, my friend, towards the bride, and receive the presence of Shabbat. Observe, and recall in a single word. We were made to hear by the unifying God. God is one, and God's name is One, in fame and splendor and song.'"
Her voice is steady and sweet as she recites the ancient words, but her eyes are far away. She looks out, across the street, not meeting my eye. I finally ask the question we both know is coming.
"Why did you take me there tonight, Ziva?"
She still doesn't look at me. She seems to be thinking about what to say. "The services…they remind me of the importance of tradition. Of reverence, and beauty, and belief in something bigger than yourself."
"I don't think I believe in God, Ziva." Her honesty has inspired me. Somehow, I know she won't be offended. "I mean, I'm not against the idea necessarily, but I always thought religion was for the weak. People who couldn't cope with life on their own."
"Perhaps," she says thoughtfully. "Or perhaps it takes more strength to believe in a higher power. To admit you can not always handle everything life has for you."
I don't want to admit that she has a point, and that maybe I've known that all along.
"It doesn't change anything. I mean, the case….that little girl…"
"No," she agrees. "Circumstances usually can not be changed. But people… people can be."
She takes my hand, and we walk in silence again for several blocks. Things feel unsettled, somehow.
"Ziva," I say, putting my hand on her arm to stop her. "Thank you."
"For what? She finally meets my eyes.
"For bringing me with you tonight. It was…well, it was an honor. I'm glad you shared it with me. And it's given me a lot to think about."
She grins again, mischievously this time. "You know, my father used to take me out for ice cream after Friday night services."
I smile, for the first time all week. "My treat."
"By the way," she says as we walk down the street, "you're still wearing the yamaka."