Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 6 of a new online serial novel, Divided Attention, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every Thursday or Friday. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © 2010 by Israel Bookshop Publications
Nava’s father tipped his silver becher once, and then twice, handed the smaller cups to Nava and her mother, and they drank from the Kiddush wine.
Nava straightened the velvet challah cover she had bought her parents more than seven years ago and joined them in the kitchen, waiting for her parents to finish washing their hands. Until she had given them the gift, they had covered the challos each week with the white lace cloth that her mother had purchased for their first Shabbos.
Nava remembered that Shabbos very well. She was seven years old, standing in awe as her mother, wearing a pristine white kerchief on her head, struck the match and touched it to the white wicks as she lit the Shabbos candles. The small flames began to dance merrily as Ima covered her eyes. Nava didn’t know then if her mother was crying, but she understood that this was a special moment.
And suddenly, the doorbell had rung. It was a harsh, grating noise, one that violated the tranquility of the moment. She saw Abba hurry to the door and preferred to stay behind in the dining room, watching Ima.
“Hey! Is Nava here?” It was Michelle, of course; who else?
“Yes, she’s home,” her father replied, sounding openly displeased. He walked back into the dining room.
Oh, no! For the first time, Nava noticed that he was wearing a white yarmulke. And Michelle was the one who had to see it! True, they would go to children’s programs at the local high school, and a nice guy with a black yarmulke told the boys that it was like the crown of a king, and he had some great stories about it. But she had been so happy then that she wasn’t a boy! Imagine having to walk with such a thing on her head in the street! To school! That was all she needed.
But Abba didn’t seem to think that there was anything to be ashamed of. He had opened the door with the shiny, white cap on his head, and wasn’t doing anything to hide it.
Then Michelle had entered the room, looking at Ima and the lit candles with huge eyes, but at least she hadn’t said anything about it. “Hi, Nava. You ready to come over? I want you to help me make the picture that Ziva asked for. Your pictures are the best!”
Yes, Nava knew that very well. And the only reason why Michelle hadn’t said anything about Abba or Ima, and was being so effusive with her flattery, was because she needed Nava’s help. But as soon as it was convenient for her, she would share her gossip about Nava’s parents. “Would you believe it? They’ve become religious!” Nava could almost hear Michelle exclaim.
“Nava can’t come now,” her father had said to Michelle in that same cold tone. “We are going to eat shortly.”
“Supper?” Michelle asked. It was winter then, as it was now, and it wasn’t even five o’clock yet.
“No, the Shabbos seudah,” Nava’s father replied.
“Fine,” Michelle said with a shrug. “So, Nava, tomorrow?”
Abba remained silent, leaving Nava to answer herself. She suddenly wished that he would keep talking for her.
“Tomorrow is also Shabbos…” she said meekly.
Michelle was quiet. Ima took her hands off her eyes and turned around to them. “Good Shabbos,” she said with a smile and raised a hand to adjust her new kerchief. “Good Shabbos to you, too, Michelle. If you want, Nava can come over tomorrow evening, after Shabbos is over, okay?”
“Okay…” Michelle shrugged again, as though she had a choice.
Afterwards Abba had gone to daven, and Nava had davened at home so she wouldn’t meet any of her classmates on the street. When Abba returned, he made Kiddush and they ate the seudah. Abba spoke about Shabbos and what a privilege it was to be able to observe it. When he spoke, it all sounded so simple and real. She loved Abba very much, and loved hearing that special voice he used when talking about Torah and mitzvos. But why did it sound so grating when Michelle was around?
As they were eating the napoleons Ima had made for dessert, they heard a roar outside; it was a loud motor, like a jeep. Yes, it was a jeep. Abba and Ima also identified it and exchanged a look with each other. Abba’s eyes remained fixed on the door, while Ima’s eyes were on Abba.
“It’s him,” Abba said quietly, and Nava heard the anger in his voice. “Why couldn’t he come three hours earlier?”
Ima just nodded and rose to open the door. Shimon was standing there, tall as ever, dressed in his green uniform and jangling his keys. The noise was irritating, and Nava was sure he was doing it on purpose.
“Good Shabbos, Shimon,” Abba said, his tone cold again, his pleasant Shabbos voice having disappeared without a trace.
“Ah, right, good Shabbos,” Nava’s big brother responded as he entered the house. He tossed his rucksack onto the leather couch, ignoring, as usual, the fact that his mother had repeatedly asked them not to use the couch as their dumping ground.
“I understand that you couldn’t get here any earlier,” Abba said quietly.
“What? Um… yeah, something like that.”
“So, how about joining us?” Ima suggested brightly. “I’ll just get another plate.”
“Don’t disturb your Shabbos meal, Ima. I’m really not hungry,” Shimon said as he sat down on the couch. Then he smiled at Nava. “What’s up, Nava’na? How’s school?”
“Very good,” Nava replied, her heart pounding as she glanced at her father. She didn’t want to smile at Shimon if he got Abba so mad…
Now, Nava shook off the memories and hurried to wash her hands and return to the dining room. Abba lifted the velvet challah cover, and Nava remembered how she had bought it after she and her parents had spent Shabbos with another family and had admired their beautiful challah cover. That very Sunday she had gone out and chosen this challah cover for her parents, so they could use it instead of the old, holey, lace one. She had just learned the reason why the challos were covered—so that they wouldn’t be “embarrassed” to see Kiddush being made before Hamotzi, even though the blessing of Hamotzi is usually supposed to come before the blessing of Hagafen. But if the challos peeked out from the holes in between the lace, they would anyway see that Abba was making Kiddush before Hamotzi, so, at least in Nava’s mind, it made no difference whether they were covered with the lace or with nothing at all!
Abba and Ima had been very happy with her gift. Abba had said that she’d made him so happy. She felt—for the first time of what would be many more times—that she had to be an especially good girl. For herself and for Shimon.
The patch of wall next to Rafi’s chair in class was gray. At the beginning of the year, it had been a pristine white, but since then, it had been decorated with countless scribbles. This was not the only improvised easel in the classroom. All the kids who sat next to the wall felt a need to leave their personal impressions on it, and the walls were a colorful display of sketches of teachers, scrawled messages, and some indecipherable creations whose identities were known only to the artists themselves.
The wall next to Rafi was full of small, exact squares filled in with different colors, framing an unfinished drawing. Although at this stage it was still unidentifiable, it was obvious that whoever the subject was, Rafi did not like the person at all.
Rafi burst into the classroom, threw his knapsack down, climbed onto his chair, and gazed out at the nearly empty yard. At the far end of it, some kids were practicing soccer moves under the supervision of their teacher.
Rafi didn’t even turn his head.
“Zimmer, did you notice that we are in the middle of a lesson?”
Rafi slowly sat down. His eyes fell on the drawing that he had been working on for the past few days. The right hand—the only one he had drawn so far—was stretched out to the side, and for the first time he noticed a folded piece of paper that someone had taped into the hand. He pulled it off the wall, ignoring the flakes of paint that stuck to the Scotch tape.
He opened the paper and stared at the two lines scrawled in red pen. He could just assume that this was another stupid note from a kid in his class, but it was possible that it was a very important message. The only question was how he was going to find out.
Rafi rose and walked out of the room, forgetting, as usual, to check what Mrs. Davidi thought about it, and strolled down the hall. He folded the note into a tiny square and squished it into his palm. He reached the door at the end of the hall and twisted the knob, but it refused to give.
Shucks; of all the people to meet him in the hallway, it was the principal.
“A polite boy knocks before trying to open a door; do you know that?”
The brown curls danced forward as Rafi nodded his head.
“Perhaps if you’d knock on the door, it would open,” the principal advised, looking with undisguised revulsion at Rafi’s curls. “And when are you going to get a haircut already? If you would at least comb your hair in the morning…!”
Rafi didn’t respond. One hand remained on the knob, but with the second—the one holding the note—he tried to knock on the door.
“You can come to my room, if you want,” the principal said in a flat attempt at humor, noticing whose door this was. “I can also give you some advice. What happened? Fighting with your friends? Didn’t do your homework? Not getting along with the teacher?” His tone was blatantly mocking.
The boy kept knocking.
“Well,” the principal said, turning to go, “have it your way, if that’s what you want. Good luck.”
Rafi spent five minutes pacing up and down in front of the door. Then he resorted to peeling the pink paint from the wall. He started near the door frame, where a small spot of paint had long ago fallen off, and slowly progressed, inch by inch, until he’d formed a cement-colored stripe against the pink backdrop of the rest of the wall.
“Rafi Zimmer, are you waiting for me?”
Rafi looked up, saw who had just arrived, and nodded his head. He stared at the now open door and the light that had been switched on in the small office.
Rina entered the room, rubbed her hands together, and put her bag down on the chair. “It’s freezing outside,” she said, pulling open the curtains. “But at least the sun is shining. I’m happy you came to talk to me, Rafi.” In the week since she’d met him on the street, she had called him once. He had come, but it was hard to say that he had really cooperated. He had sat stiffly in the chair, drew what she’d asked on the papers she gave him, and barely answered any of her questions. Now, though, he had come on his own initiative.
“I didn’t come to talk to you,” Rafi said, approaching her desk.
She smiled and sat down, but he remained standing. “Tell me what this says!” he said, and placed the open note on her desk.
Rina gave him a wide-eyed stare, but then quickly turned to the note. “It says,” she said slowly, “‘Rafi, come today to our storage room at six. Waiting for you, Ronny.’” She gave him back the note.
“Ah,” he said and stuffed the note into his pocket. “Okay.”
“Who’s Ronny?” she asked casually, trying not to sound like she was prying. She had learned that he really didn’t like personal questions.
“He’s my friend. An older friend.” There was a definite note of pride in his voice.
“Not from your class?”
And without another word—not of thanks or of anything else—he walked back out into the hall.
“You guys realize that I thought about it the first second,” Ronny said in a low voice, looking at the boys around him. “He’s got personality, he won’t be scared, and he also looks like the type to keep his mouth shut.”
“Well, he’s gonna be terrified to open his mouth,” one of the boys said. The group in the bomb shelter was much smaller than the previous time, consisting only of Ronny and four others on whom he knew he could rely.
“I hope he’s gonna come,” Ronny said, glancing impatiently at the partially open door. “What time is it?”
“Five to six,” three of the boys replied in unison.
The fourth snickered. “D’you remember how the grammar teach said that maybe you’re supposed to say, ‘five of six’ instead of ‘five to six’? Do you guys also learn all this boring stuff, Ronny?”
“Not me,” he replied and folded his arms. “And I don’t even go to grammar class.”
“You’re so lucky that you get to go to that school,” said the boy on Ronny’s left, with unconcealed envy. “I wish my father would let me go there, but he said I won’t learn nothing and it’s a waste of his money.”
“Yeah, it’s really good there,” Ronny agreed, crossing his legs. “I learn math and science. You know how much my parents pay a month? More than your mother and father make together!”
The first speaker didn’t have anything to respond, or didn’t want to respond, or perhaps had no time to respond, because at that second, the door creaked open. Everyone looked up to see Rafi straddling the bottom step. His left sandal was wrapped in packing tape.
“Hey, Rafi!” Ronny said, trying to sound friendly. It looked like things were going to work out really well with this kid. And if they didn’t, he had other methods of having things work out.
Rafi didn’t respond, but stepped down the last step that separated him from the room, still holding the doorknob. Ronny burst out laughing. “Whatsamatter, Rafi? Ya didn’t look scared at all last time. Don’t tell me you’re a ‘fraidy cat!”
“I’m not!” Rafi said hotly.
“Okay, okay, I was just kidding. Alright, come on in. Wait, close the door.”
Rafi closed the door and stared at the big key on the inside of the lock. Without thinking twice, he locked the door and thrust the key into his pocket. At least now, they wouldn’t be able to lock him in again.
The whole group guffawed.
“Nice. You’re a smart kid,” Ronny said. “I hope you’re gonna let us out later.”
The four youths continued to howl at their leader’s humor.
Rafi sat down on the empty chair and folded his arms. Avi wasn’t there, he noticed.
“Listen, does anyone know I called you here?”
“No.” Well, Rina had read the note, but she didn’t know where this room was or even who Ronny was.
“Great. I have a few instructions for you. Remember what we made up last time?”
Rafi swallowed and nodded.
“Good. You’ve got a good memory. I go to a high school about twenty minutes from here by car. Near us is a school that really gets on our nerves.” He fell silent for a minute and glanced at Rafi, whose face remained expressionless. “It’s a religious school. They’ve been there a few years already, but this year, they expanded and brought in a bunch of new kids. It makes us nuts to hear them all the time.” He wrinkled his nose. “They pray out loud and learn out loud. We’re sick and tired of seeing them and hearing them there all day.” Rafi was giving a lot of attention to his nails. Ronny smiled sweetly. “So, you understand? We’ve decided to, um, spice things up for them a little. Ya know, some unexpected surprises. All kindsa things. And I think that you’re perfect for it.”
“To do what I tell you. I’ll take you there. There’s a tree that gets right to a little broken window on the second floor. There are no bars. Avi told me you’re a great climber, right? So you go in and go down to the first floor, to the office there. There’s a plain door; not a big deal. I’ll give you a skeleton key that’s good for all such doors.” Ronny turned to the rest of his audience. “He’s gonna do a great job for us, right, guys?”
A babble of voices confirmed, complimented, and cheered Rafi on. They surrounded him, and he gazed at each one in turn. He saw their nods and Ronny’s smiling face, and decided that here, with these big boys, life might actually get interesting. He could go with them to all sorts of places and do fun things. Oh, boy, would they see how perfect he was for this job!
But he had to be careful around Ronny. His smiles were too big.
“So, what do you want me to do there?”
“Nothing major. Mess up the room a little, spill stuff out of the closets, spray some graffiti on the walls…”
“Spray graffiti on the walls?”