Beneath the Surface – Chapter 24

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 24 of a new online serial novel, Beneath the Surface, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every Thursday or Friday. Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © 2011 by Israel Bookshop Publication

Menuchi’s perspective, continued:

The Sculpey clay was finished to the last crumb. We spent the first half of the lesson learning Orchos Tzaddikim, and then sculpted our figures during the second part. The girls had fantastic ideas and there were some really cute figures, but at the end we had a problem. We had to bake the figures and there was no place to do it. Did the Sculpey create a kashrus problem? In case it did, we didn’t want to use the dorm’s oven. We decided that we’d take care of it the next week. (Shragi would have to come up with a solution) and then we’d be able to play the game. I had to leave by then, in any case.

“Just a minute, Menuchi!”Sandycried. “Don’t go yet! We have to take pictures!” She was busy setting up her camera on the shelf.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Automatic photo setting!” the girls answered almost in unison. They were already posing in front of the camera, each holding her clay doll. “Sandy’s camera takes the best pictures like this.”

“But you don’t need it now. I’ll take the picture,” I suggested, walking over to the shelf.

“No way!” Sandy admonished me. “We want you in the picture, too!”

After two attempts to refuse, I realized that it was fruitless and stood beside them, smiling at the camera as it flashed. Finally, I was free to go. And I would also have a photo full of cheerful smiling faces. But what exactly was I going to do with it?

Perhaps I could give it to Simi to hang on the wall in her room.

***

Adina Baumel knocked on the door of Mrs. Deutschlander, the principal, once again.

“Yes, Adina,” Mrs. Deutschlander called out from inside the room. She had no doubt as to the identity of the knocker. The rhythm and power of the knock were familiar to her. “Nu?” she asked when Adina had entered the room.

“I don’t think it’s for me,” Adina answered. “I need to work with people, not with computers, even though it was my major.”

“Perhaps you should try it out anyway?” The principal paid no attention to the ringing phone. It was as though it was invisible. “That’s what’s available; first of all, because you majored in computers, and secondly, because in order to work with people here, you have to know how to speak Hebrew—fluently.”

Adina shrugged, looking for a moment like a six-year-old child. “Is there no normal job for which I don’t have to speak Hebrew?”

“The question is what you consider to be a ‘normal job.’”

“A job where I can speak with some other creatures besides the computer.”

The principal was thoughtful. “There are people in offices as well…” she said slowly.

Adina agreed. “Yes, but I barely have anything to do with them, especially since no one lets me have any contact with customers.”

“Of course, because you’re…”

“Because I don’t know Hebrew. Okay, I know. But that doesn’t help me!”

There was a cup of coffee on Mrs. Deutschlander’s desk. Adina didn’t need to touch it to know that it was stone cold.

“Should I prepare you another coffee, Mrs. Deutschlander?”

The principal smiled. “Thank you, Adina, but I’m afraid it won’t help. This is the third cup I’ve prepared this morning, and I forgot to drink them all. I’m sure that even if there is a fourth cup, something will come up that will keep me from to drinking it.”

She slid the cup to the side of the desk. “Come, let’s go back to the subject at hand, Adina. Why do you want to go work, anyway?”

“I have no problem with money, baruch Hashem. My parents are paying for whatever I need, but these are hours that everyone goes out and works, and I also have to find myself something to do. I can’t stay in an empty apartment for all that time every day.”

“The problem is that you don’t seem to be able to stay at one job for too long, either,” the principal pointed out gently. Adina smiled and fell silent.

“Perhaps we should find you some type of volunteer work,” Mrs. Deutschlander suddenly suggested, a slight crease on her forehead. “If the whole objective is for you to keep busy, I know of many places that would be happy to have your help.”

“Where, for example?”

“There’s Ezer Mizion, which has a wide range of activities, such as volunteering at hospitals or watching children if a family member is sick. They also have a gemach that lends medical equipment.  I’m sure that they always need another pair of hands there. Then there are recreation centers for special children, and—”

Adina lifted her gaze. “Working with children appeals to me. Perhaps we should pursue something like that.”

“Good. So let’s think what could be suitable for you. There are the recreation centers and there are also special education schools.”

Adina gazed at the narrow window; the winter sun’s rays had difficulty penetrating through it. Small rays suddenly lit up her eyes. “I’ll think about it,” she said and rose. “Thanks, Mrs. Deutschlander.”

***

“Will you stay today, Menucha?” Chasya probed. Menuchi noted to herself that even though this was the tenth time the question had been asked and answered negatively, Chasya’s concerned tone and kind expression remained unchanged.

She hesitated.

“If you’re not saying no the first second, that’s a sign that you can, right?” Daniella asked.

Menuchi smiled. Shragi had a wedding today of a close friend in Yerushalayim, and would be home late. “Okay,” she said. She preferred to spend supper with the girls to eating at home by herself. Interesting; a month ago, her preferences would have been the exact opposite.

“I have to babysit now,” Helen, one of the few British girls in the group, said as they finished bentching. “It’s very close by here. Menuchi, do you mind coming with me for the first half an hour until the kids are asleep? I tremble at the thought of having to speak to them in Hebrew!”

“Will you pay her half your wages?” Karen joked. Everyone laughed.

“You won’t have to do anything, Menuchi. I’ll do it all. Just talk for me, okay?”

“Sounds like an even division of the work!” Chaya chimed in gaily. “Menuchi will talk—meaning she’ll send everyone to bed, find the pajamas, yell at whoever talks and gets out of bed, and threaten them with a punishment, and Helen with soothe and feed the baby and give her a pacifier. Oh, and I forgot. The stories are also Menuchi’s job.”

Menuchi chuckled. “No problem, Helen. I’ll be happy to come with you.” She rose to don her coat, not noticing the small smile that Helen and Adina exchanged.

“Good luck!” Adina whispered, as though to herself, when Helen passed her on the way to the door. “Thank you!”

***

“Do your husband’s parents live in Bnei Brak?” Helen asked when the two of them finally settled onto the couch with the bowl of Bisli their hostess had left for them.

“Yes, not far from here at all.”

“So that’s really nice!” Helen said seriously. “Do they have any daughters your age?”

“Not exactly,” Menuchi replied lightly, sticking her hand into the bowl and scooping out a few pieces. “One is two years younger than me and the other is nine.”

“Oh, you’ve told us about the younger one.”

Menuchi nodded in affirmation.

“Which school does she go to? Are there schools in Bnei Brak for special children?”

“Sure there are. Bnei Brak is big, and unfortunately, this is one of its needs.”

Menuchi wasn’t puzzled as to why Helen was inquiring about the school her sister-in-law attended. Perhaps Mrs. Deuatschlander would be surprised the next day when Adina would express an explicit desire to volunteer only over there. “There are closer places,” the principal would say. “And besides, we have to find out if they’re interested.”

“That’s where I want to go,” Adina would reply. “If they need a volunteer, it’s an excellent place for me.”

But Menuchi wasn’t wondering at all. It didn’t bother her that Helen was interested in this topic. She and Helen then moved on to talk about the European mentality and how it compared to the Israeli one.

“I had it a bit hard at first,” Helen conceded. “But baruch Hashem, I’ve gotten used to it quickly. I love it here! I’m always writing to my friends about how much they’re missing out by not coming here.”

“Is there room in the seminary for more girls?”

“I’m sure they’ll manage to handle it. They can always rent another apartment.” Helen paused. “Why, do you know of someone interested in coming here?”

“No…I was just asking…” Menuchi said, and then suddenly stopped. Diana, fromBelgium! She had completely forgotten about her! She hadn’t even told Shragi about her; the last exchange of letters had been before their wedding, and since then it had been quiet. Perhaps Diana would want to come toIsraeland study?

“Did you just remember that you do know someone suitable?” Helen laughed, brushing the crumbs off her hands.

“No, it was only a passing thought. The girl I know isn’t frum at all. She did express an interest in Yiddishkeit, but if she wants to study seriously, she has to go somewhere else, where they start from scratch.” In any case, she would write to Diana. True, it wasn’t really her turn to write, but nothing would happen if she’d write and just ask how Diana was doing.

***

The passenger lounge at theLondonairport terminal was very well heated. Diana removed her gloves and stuck them into her coat pocket. “Thanks a million, Joyce, for the hospitality and everything else.”

“Do you have your passport? Ticket?”

“Yes, everything’s here in my bag. And…Joyce?”

“Yes, dearie?”

“Let me tell my mother about these changes.”

“Will you send her a letter?”

“I haven’t decided yet. That might be the easier way, instead of a phone call, but Mother could be offended and I’m not interested in that happening. She’ll be upset enough as it is.”

Joyce chuckled. “As far as me spilling the beans, you can rest assured. I don’t see any reason for me to have to speak to your mother in the near future.”

Diana shifted her canvas knapsack to the other shoulder and picked up her handbag. “Thanks, Auntie. Take care and feel good!”

“When you finish finding yourself over there, you’re invited to come back to me, Dee,” Joyce smiled, her voice becoming a bit subdued. “In any case, take care of yourself and watch your possessions. Don’t space out, or someone might steal them.”

Diana smiled. “Thanks for worrying, Joyce. Be careful when you go home; make sure the car doesn’t skid, and don’t you slip on the steps. Warm the house well so you don’t catch a cold, and seal the windows. I think that—”

Joyce silenced her with a broad smile. “Don’t be impudent, Diana. True, you weren’t born in culturally advanced London, but I don’t think they talk like that to elderly aunts in Antwerp, either. Correct me if I’m wrong.”

Diana smiled. She put the handbag back down on the gleaming tiled floor and rubbed her red fingers. Suddenly, she had an urge to go back out into the gray fog and drive home with Joyce to the big, warm house. But she didn’t do that, of course; she just proffered her hand for a firm handshake, and, for the umpteenth time that day, picked up the blue handbag again.

***

Adina Baumel didn’t despair this time, either.

“I’ll try once more, and if I can’t do it, you can speak to your computer technician,” she said in English to the secretary, who was trying desperately to follow the stream of words.

Shoshana, the elderly secretary, murmured something in critique of computers. Adina smiled at her and went back to the keyboard. “Like it or not, you’re facing a computer again!” the keys seemed to leer at her.

“So what!” she snapped to the F8 key, tapping it angrily. She’d come here half an hour ago, after Mrs. Deutchlander had spoken to the principal of Givol, the school catering to children with various disabilities, and had heard from him, “Why not? There’s always what to do. Let her go to the office when she gets here.”

So Adina had come in to the office, but found herself once again facing a computer screen. Not that anyone had forced her, but when Shoshana had said, with a stressed- out expression, that she would get to her right away but had a serious problem with the computer that had to be dealt with first, Adina couldn’t just stand idly at the door.

“I know a lot about computers,” she heard herself saying, wondering how she had just said that. Know about computers? Was that all? What would Mrs. Freund, her teacher in Miami, say if she heard that?

“Why are you leaving in the middle of your program?!” Mrs. Freund had demanded to know. She couldn’t believe it. “Such a loss! First finish your degree, and then you’ll go!”

But Adina hadn’t wanted to do that. A good friend of hers had gone to Israel, and her enthusiastic letters and long phone calls were enough to persuade Adina to leave Miami for two years.

“These are your most productive years!” her friend had cried. “If you finish your degree, you’ll get busy looking for work, and then you’ll be busy meeting the demands. Then you won’t let yourself come anymore!”

“So if you want to go, then why not?” her mother had said indulgently. “Whatever you think is good for you, Adina’le, we agree with. Right, Itche?”

“Love makes you deviate from common sense,” her father had said in his deep, resonant voice. “You don’t even think about what Adina says, Clara; you just agree to it right away. Why should she leave her studies in the middle of the program?” But it wasn’t too hard to sway him either. Adina was his one and only daughter, after all.

“I can always come back and study, Daddy,” she explained.

“Well, if you think it’s worthwhile, then go,” he replied. Whenever Adina asked for something, the scenario repeated itself. Her mother nodded with a smile, her father objected with one or two sentences, Adina offered a few words of explanation, and her father’s nod soon joined her mother’s.

It was their good fortune that Adina had always been a good girl. She didn’t exploit the fact that she was an only girl born after six sons, and her requests were never more out-of-the-ordinary than those of her classmates.

But this was the first time that Mrs. Baumel tossed and turned in bed at night after granting permission to one of Adina’s requests. She couldn’t fall asleep. After all, Israel was so far away…

“Call a lot, mamma’le,” she said as she enveloped her daughter in a bear hug at the airport. No, not the airport in Miami; of course not. They had flown with her to Kennedy Airport in New York. “Don’t work too hard. And make sure you sleep enough.”

“Enjoy and relax,” her father had said, taking out his wallet.

“Thanks, Daddy, but you gave me enough already.”

“Not enough,” Itche asserted and handed his daughter a hard envelope. “This is your credit card.  I decided that sending you money every few months would just get complicated. When you call that you’ve arrived, I’ll give you the PIN number.”

“Itche, people can see!” Mrs. Baumel said sharply. “A young girl traveling herself with a credit card…it can be downright dangerous!”

Adina took the envelope with a smile that hid a sigh. She had decided to scrimp and save as much as she could. Her parents were not rich, and even “well-off” was stretching it a bit. Her father worked hard for every dollar he earned, but somehow, whenever it came to her needs, the money flowed freely.

“In your inside jacket pocket!” her mother ordered, casting nervous glances all around. “Nu, Adina’le, put it in there already! And be careful.” Then her parents hugged her emotionally all over again, as though they hadn’t already hugged and warned her about everything just a few minutes earlier, and two hours ago, and the day before that, and the week before that.

Now, in the large offices of Givol, Adina forced herself to shake off the memories. Once again, that annoying window popped up on the screen, with its maddening Hebrew message.

“Excuse me, what does this say?” she asked.

Shoshana bent over the screen. “It doesn’t want to print,” she said with a sigh.

“So it’s a problem with the connection to the printer. Not the computer.”

“What???” Shoshana was flummoxed.

Adina had no idea how one said “connection” in Hebrew. “You should call a technician,” she said tersely. “I can’t help you with that.”

The secretary sighed again and began flipping through a fat Rolodex. Adina wondered if she remembered who she was and what she had come here for. “Did the principal tell you where I should go?” she asked carefully.

Shoshana was deep in conversation with the technician, so Adina took a chair and sat down in the corner of the room, waiting expectantly.


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