Shani didn't even think twice. She grabbed the handle of Moishie's stroller and pushed him into the nearest store. It turned out to be a sheitelmacher. About a dozen women were inside already. A few were getting their sheitels set, but the rest were hiding. Two or three, including Shani, positioned themselves so that they could see through the cracks in the opaque gray curtains over the doors and windows.
About a half dozen young boys, with beards in various stages of growth, marched down the now-deserted street that had been a hive of activity only a few minutes earlier. All the boys wore fedoras, dark suits, and white button-down shirts. Shani could see their tzitzis flapping in the breeze. Behind her, one woman was grumbling. "It's not fair! We still had 45 minutes left! Why couldn't they have waited?" A few other women were rolling their eyes. Shani sighed. Another woman spoke up. "I'm going to miss my bus, and they're so crowded this time of day..."
"I have to pick up my Devory from playgroup..."
"I still have to pick up a few things for supper..."
"Can't they leave us alone..."
As the women complained, Shani looked at the boys. One, whose beard hadn't even begun to grow, looked to be about the age of her Shmulie. However, she knew from experience that, despite his youthful look, he was probably the most dangerous one.
The boys confronted an elderly woman sitting at the bus stop. She had been too old or too tired to move out of their way. They stood in her face and yelled at her, but Shani couldn't hear what. Slowly, she got to her feet and turned around. One of the boys reached in his tefillin bag and pulled out a folding ruler. They held it up, nodded, and walked on. The old woman sat down again, but not before Shani saw the tear in her eye.
Just when everyone thought they would move on, a girl came out of a bookstore basement. As if on cue, the boys rushed at her. Although Shani couldn't hear anything, she could see the anger in their faces as they surrounded her, screaming right at her.
"Thugs." Shani looked right at the speaker. It was a middle-aged lady wearing a bright scarf around her neck. All over the scarf were printed turquoise and magenta flowers. The scarf stood out even more over her requisite black suit.
"Sha," Shani whispered. "They'll hear you."
"Who cares?" the lady responded. "On some level, you have to agree that they shouldn't be doing this. They shouldn't go around tormenting people."
Another woman spoke up. "My husband says that they're all vilde chayas. They can't get by in yeshiva, they can't get a job, so they hang out together and make trouble."
"Poor girl..." the lady with the scarf responded. By now, the boys were in a tight ring around the young girl from the bookstore, and she was on her knees, crying. Of course the boys weren't going to beat her up. They would never touch a strange girl. It rarely went beyond screams and taunts. However, some of them were capable of real cruelty. Most of the women in the area had heard stories of boys throwing bleach, garbage and even rocks at girls and women they considered immodestly dressed. The ring broke up, and the boys sauntered away. Before they rounded the corner, the youngest boy, the one about Shmulie's age, pulled a sharp rock out of his pocket and hurled it as hard as he could at the still-prostrate girl's head.
To be continued...