Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
A deep, heavy stillness hovered over the house. Bentzy was sleeping soundly, perhaps because he sensed that he was home alone with his father. Yaffa had gone to school, as she had the past few mornings, and Elchanan had suggested that if he was staying home this morning anyway, Bentzy could stay with him.
Elchanan had taken some Tylenol early in the morning and was now feeling so much better that he vacillated whether it hadn’t been foolish of him to miss a day of work. He went into the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea for himself. Opening the cupboard to take out the teabags, his gaze immediately fell upon the open package of Bamba standing behind the box of teabags. Now that the topic had been analyzed from all sides and resolved, the Bamba wasn’t quite so threatening anymore, and he took it out along with the tea. Yaffa wouldn’t be going to the Emmanuels’ house anymore, and that was that. All he needed was for his mother to find out what her daughter-in-law was dabbling in for a living.
Yaffa had halfheartedly agreed with him at first, and then became more convinced. She apologized for not telling him anything, but he was still so shocked about the whole thing that he almost forgot to be insulted. Yaffa also pointed out that now that she was working in the school, the job in Maaleh Adumim had really become superfluous and she could easily give it up.
For his part, Elchanan had promised that when the week of work at the school was over, he would help her find another job, something more normal than cleaning houses for twenty shekel an hour. Perhaps telemarketing or something like that; there were lots of positions available in that field. Or would telemarketing be too difficult for Yaffa? Speaking over and over again to strange people, half of whom were liable to get angry and scream at her before slamming down the phone?
He had to think of something suitable. Until today, he hadn’t known how much she wanted to go out to work. When her sister had suggested the job at the school, Yaffa had been happy, but he hadn’t realized that it was something she deemed so vital. When they’d spoken about it in the past, she’d seemed to envision her future as a stay-at-home mother. Not that he minded having Yaffa go to work, but why did she suddenly run to call a number from a sign posted in the street? What had happened recently that had changed things so drastically? Something about the whole story was strange, and Elchanan was having a hard time digesting it all.
Before Yaffa had left that morning, she’d asked him to call the Emmanuels for her, and had left a phone number. She didn’t want to inform them herself of her resignation.
“But do you understand why I think such a job isn’t for you?” Elchanan had asked again.
“Yes, of course,” Yaffa had said. “And I’ll actually be happy not to feel like this thirteen-year-old girl is a better balabusta than me.” And with that esoteric remark, she’d smiled, said goodbye, and left for her job.
Well, Elchanan thought, I might as well get over calling this family from Maaleh Adumim now. Yaffa was supposed to go on Sunday. The family had better start getting used to the idea that it was time to find a new cleaning lady. Not his wife, thank you very much.
The tea was finished, and Elchanan felt his fever rising again. On second thought, his bed was probably the ideal place for him now. He plucked the piece of paper with the number Yaffa had written for the Emmanuels off the refrigerator and walked toward the bedroom. On the way, he changed his mind and stopped for a minute on their enclosed-porch-cum-dining-room. If he was going to bury himself in bed for at least two hours, it would probably be a good idea to learn his amud yomi now. The Brandweins were making a wedding in Bnei Brak that night, and if he felt up to it, he would be able to leave with the van from yeshivah right after Maariv.
Elchanan put his Gemara on the night table next to his bed and picked up the phone, glancing at the little note. The phone rang many times until someone finally picked up.
“Hello?” said a girl’s voice.
“Is this the Emmanuel residence?” Elchanan asked politely.
“Yes,” the girl replied.
“Is Mrs. Emmanuel home?”
“No, but I can take a message.” Shuli uncapped her pen. Ugh, it was leaking again! Baruch must have been playing with it again, and he’d really finished it this time.
“Okay. Please tell her that Yaffa won’t be able to come anymore.”
“What???” Shuli dropped the pen with a clatter, causing a dark blue stain to form on the embroidered tablecloth.
“Yaffa can’t come anymore.”
“Impossible!” Shuli exclaimed. “I’d like to speak to her immediately!” But Elchanan had already hung up and didn’t hear what she said, nor did he hear the phone being slammed down in Maaleh Adumim.
Eight hours later, Shuli’s mother arrived home to find her lying on the couch, her face pale. “Shulamis?” she asked, putting her purse down on the small table in the front hall. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m better off dead than alive, Ima,” her daughter replied dismally and went back to gazing at the tiny, twinkling lights in the ceiling.
“Please, leave those melodramatic sentences from your books where they belong,” Mrs. Emmanuel reproached as she came over to have a closer look at her daughter. “Do you have fever?”
“No.” Shuli sighed.
“So what are all these theatrics about? I thought you’d grown up a bit lately! I told you what your teacher told me after I called her to say thank you for your report card.” Shuli moved her head slightly to indicate that she was listening. “If you don’t get an excellent grade in behavior next year, you won’t be accepted to any of the good high schools in Yerushalayim. Don’t you understand?”
“I don’t care about high school.” Shuli shrugged petulantly. “I don’t have a single normal friend anyway, and the one person who agreed to be my friend has just upped and disappeared.”
“I’ve already told you to stop using sentences from your books,” Mrs. Emmanuel snapped. “Who exactly has disappeared?”
“Yaffa. I don’t even know her last name, but she was the reason that I wasn’t bored three different times. She doesn’t clean all that nicely, but she’s a sweet friend, and so gentle.” Shuli turned her face away from the decorative wall. “I think she had a very good influence on me. And besides, she’s also a secretary at a big high school in Yerushalayim, Ima. She just told me about it yesterday.”
“Lady, are you from the school??!!”
For a minute, Yaffa wanted to say that she wasn’t, but then she nodded her head in affirmation. The sweaty truck driver opened the door, and Yaffa stepped back onto the sidewalk. “Tell them inside that I’m honking out here for more than ten minutes already, and if the girls don’t bring the things out now, I’m leaving!”
Yaffa nodded and hurried into the building. Most of the supplies and equipment for the Overnight were being taken to the campus today, and she had been hearing about it for two days straight. She’d better tell them that the driver was very edgy and wasn’t willing to wait anymore. Whom should she tell?
The office was chaotic, as always, and the principal’s door was closed, also almost as always. Dozens of girls buzzed around her, and Yaffa didn’t know whom to approach.
Chana, the tall secretary with the sunken cheeks, was standing behind a desk and shooting commands. Yaffa tried wending her way toward the desk. She was reminded of the description of jungles she’d once read about, where denizens forged a path between thick shrubs using a sharp knife. But there were no thick shrubs here, and she was empty-handed. She didn’t even have a pocketbook; her bus card was in her pocket. And everything around her was such a mess. Oh, boy. Whom could she speak to?
“Yaffa!” Malka suddenly appeared. “Do me a favor. Go and find Mrs. Braun. Tell her to hurry the girls up to get the stuff outside.”
Wonderful; the problem was solved. They were aware of the red-faced, impatient driver and his truck waiting outside, but now a new problem had just cropped up.
Who was Mrs. Braun?
None of the girls looked friendly enough for her to share her ignorance with. Who was Mrs. Braun? A student advisor? A teacher? Go figure which one she was and where she would be now…
Slowly Yaffa worked her way back to the door of the office. Mrs. Braun certainly wasn’t there; otherwise Morah Mann would not have had to tell her to go and find her. So where was she?
Yaffa was about to leave the room when the phone rang. Chana the secretary picked it up impatiently. Immediately, an angry buzz came through the line, so loud that Yaffa could hear it from where she was standing.
“Yes. I’m sorry. One minute. Where is Yael Braun?” Chana called into the crowd. “It’s the driver again. Does she know he is waiting? When is she going to get the girls’ stuff out to him?”
She went back to the phone. “What? You’ve already told a young lady to have everyone bring their stuff out to you? Which young lady?” Her eyes scanned the cadre of girls until they rested on Yaffa, standing right outside the office door. Yaffa wanted to say that that was exactly what she’d wanted to do, but there had been no one to tell the message to and she didn’t know who this Mrs. Braun was, but it all made no difference to the secretary. She turned away from Yaffa as though she was air and picked out two girls from the crowd. “Schorr and Cooper, run and call Morah Braun and tell her to take the stuff down right now, but immediately!”
“I already asked Yaffa Levinsky to call her,” Malka Mann said, looking at the secretary, whose cheekbones seemed to draw closer together.
“Nu,” Chana replied with an icy smile. “When there are young girls around, there’s no need to make her run up three flights of stairs.”
Somehow, despite the respectful words, Yaffa did not like her tone of her voice.
Shmuel Emmanuel’s tired brain was having trouble absorbing the babble of sentences his wife was hurling his way. Suddenly, she stopped.
“Shulamis!” she admonished. “How many times do I have to ask you to stop peeking in here?” She turned angrily back to her husband. “And in less than half a year, we have to register her for high school; do you know that?”
“Nu, so she’s a good girl.” Shmuel flipped through his order pad.
“You can see she’s our only daughter.” His wife sighed. “Do you think it’s so simple to be accepted from Maaleh Adumim to a high school in Yerushalayim? I told you what her teacher said to me about her.”
“Yes, I remember.” He languidly closed the pad and rested his hands on the table. “So what do you want us to do? Get her to become in the next half a year what we couldn’t get her to become for the past thirteen years? Sometimes she acts like a big baby. To waste a hundred shekel simply because she’s too lazy to handle the cleaning herself! It’s a good thing that cleaning woman can’t come anymore, and it’s lucky that you discovered the arrangement when you did, before even more money could be wasted.”
“No, it’s not good at all that that cleaning woman can’t come anymore,” his wife retorted. “And that’s what I’m trying to tell you. Do you even hear me, Shmuel?”
“Yes.” He pushed the pad away. “Why isn’t it good?”
“She has connections.” Dina Emmanuel lowered her voice. “She’s a secretary in a high school in Yerushalayim, a top school. If she recommends Shuli, it will surely help.”
Shmuel wrinkled his forehead. “A secretary who cleans houses also? That’s impossible,” he declared. “If she has such an important position, why does she need this kind of job?”
“She just started working in the school. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t need Shuli’s money anymore.”
“So she really has no reason to continue here,” her husband pointed out logically. “And besides, I don’t believe in the whole idea. My daughter has to learn how to do what she’s asked without slacking off. Believe me, I would confiscate the money she has left, but on principle, I won’t take back a gift that I gave.”
Dina was quiet. Shmuel was right, but the story about Shuli’s new friend captivated her so much that she had a hard time letting go of the idea. “So maybe we can maintain contact between them in other ways,” she said finally. “Let her give Shuli private lessons.”
“Shuli doesn’t need private lessons,” Shmuel said. His migraine had finally passed that morning, but he suspected it was on its way back. He could already feel the familiar hammering in the back of his head. “She’s a good student. It’s a waste of money. I would give her some private lessons in behavior, though; that would be worth the investment.”
On his way to the sink, he suddenly stopped. “But you know what? When I came home yesterday evening, it was the first time she shut off the stereo without me having to ask her ten times. Maybe that cleaning woman really was having a good influence on her. We have to make sure the two keep on being friends somehow.”
“So, should I offer for the woman to continue working here?”
“She won’t agree. She didn’t stop for no reason, right? Simply ask her to be Shuli’s friend.”
“What makes you think she’d agree to come just for that?”
He harrumphed under his breath, but didn’t say anything.
“On the other hand, maybe she will agree… It can’t hurt to ask, can it?”
Shmuel harrumphed again. “Try,” he said finally. “But if you ask me, chances are slim.”
It was a day before the Overnight. The girls weren’t allowed to come to school anymore before the trip. “They need a bit of space before they spend three days straight together,” Mrs. Kotzker had said decisively, but with her ubiquitous smile.
Now she directed that smile at Yaffa, along with a familiar request. “Yaffa, can I get a cup of coffee for my Malky, please? She hasn’t quite woken up this morning yet.”
Yaffa pushed the last binder into the shelf and walked out to get the drink. She already knew by heart how each of the three organizers of the Overnight—the principal, Malka Mann, and Yael Braun—liked their coffees. Yael wasn’t around right then, so she had just two cups to prepare.
Immediately after Yaffa left, Malka took out the binder and moved it to the right shelf.
Her mother followed her jerky movements. “To you, it’s obvious, Malky. To her, it’s not,” she said. “Anyone who is not familiar with the way the office runs doesn’t see a difference between all the binders and where they belong.”
“She’s sweet,” Malka replied noncommittally. “Maybe not always so efficient, but all in all, she’s fine.”
“Her sister gave me the payment yesterday. It’s enough to employ her until the end of the summer vacation,” her mother whispered. “As for after that, we’ll see. Perhaps we’ll take her at the beginning of the school year, too, depending on how busy it is around here.”
“Did I give you the last few checks that the girls brought, Ima? I barely remember my name anymore, let alone anything more than that.”
“Yes, they’re here, and I want to deposit them at the bank today. It isn’t good for them to just sit here.”
“Maybe Chana will agree to do the deposit on her way home,” Malka suggested. “She lives right near the bank.”
“So, she doesn’t deserve to be punished for that,” Adina Kotzker said. She raised her eyes as Yaffa walked back in. “Thank you, Yaffa. Oh, for me, as well? That was so thoughtful of you.” She looked at her daughter, who had turned around to take the little tray from Yaffa.
Opening the top drawer of her desk, Mrs. Kotzker took out a brown envelope. “So regarding what we spoke about earlier, Yaffa, yes? There are twenty-three checks here, and the account number is on the envelope.”
“Which bank?” Yaffa asked quietly.
“First International. On Amos Street. Do you know where that is?”
Yaffa nodded slowly. “Okay, I’ll go now,” she said, still in a very quiet voice.
“Excellent.” Adina closed the drawer and picked up the hot cup in front of her. “Have a good day, Yaffa, and thanks a lot.”
Yaffa walked out into the main office, and then into the corridor, holding the envelope in her hand. Chaya was right; a pocketbook was important. Perhaps she was betraying the principal’s trust by carrying the envelope in her hand? And did the principal realize whom she was sending to the bank? Someone who absolutely hated banks. The last time Yaffa had been in a bank was a week and a half after her wedding, when she’d had to open an account there. And then, she’d been with Elchanan. The time before that had been when she was around five years old and had gone to the bank with her father. He’d told her to sit and wait while he spoke with one of the bankers there, but it had taken him much longer than planned. Yaffa didn’t remember much about that long-ago afternoon, other than the worried group of women who had surrounded her, asking what her name was and why she was crying. And then Abba had finally come back, and he’d felt very bad that she’d been afraid.
And now she had to go to the bank. Herself. She hoped the principal—and even more so, Malka Mann—hadn’t noticed how panicked she was by the very idea. She? Make a trip to the bank? Alone? Which desk was she supposed to go to?
No bus arrived, and she had no time to think. A taxi driving by slowly stopped for her. “Where to?” the driver asked.
Yaffa usually checked to see if the driver was an Arab or not; today she didn’t even look at the driver’s face. She just got in and slammed the door. “Geulah. First International Bank. Or rather, the Dvir bookstore,” she said hurriedly. She hoped the bank wouldn’t close in the meantime!
“I don’t know where that is. Direct me.”
“Geulah, Geulah,” Yaffa murmured gazing at the envelope in her hand. She had only a bus card in her pocket; this driver would have to wait for his payment until she found Elchanan in the store. And what if Dvir had sent him on an errand? She couldn’t even think about that possibility.
Two women remained behind in the small office in the school. “Ima!” Malka looked at her mother in surprise.
But the older woman just smiled tranquilly. “You think I just took a big risk with more than seven thousand shekel, don’t you?” she asked.
“Not really a risk, but…” Malka sounded desperate. “Ima, it’s twenty-three checks, and more than three hundred shekel each, depending on if the girls got a discount or not. And she…looked so spaced out, Ima.”
“When you say ‘Ima’ three times in one minute, I know you’re really stressed out, but I’m telling you that nothing is at risk,” Mrs. Kotzker said. She made a brachah on the coffee that Yaffa had prepared for her and took a long sip. “Spaced out or not, she won’t lose a single one. I see in her—”
Just then, Yael Braun entered the room. “No coffee for me?” she asked, assuming an injured air. “Where’s Yaffa Levinsky? I have to speak to her about it.”
“Yes, her coffee is excellent,” Malka remarked. “But she went to the bank. Should I make you one?”
“No, I’ll manage without coffee. I’ve been drinking too much of it anyway recently. So, what did I bother you in the middle of?”
“We were talking about Yaffa, who went to the bank,” Malka explained. “My mother is trying to reassure me that there’s no problem with sending that young kid to the bank with a few thousand shekel.”
“When you were a ‘young kid’ like that, Malky,” Yael added her own reassurance, “I don’t think you would have had a problem going to the bank even with millions.”
“Right, except that I didn’t have any.” They both laughed.
Malka’s mother looked at them. “In any case, Malky, it will all be fine, b’ezras Hashem. Yaffa’s a dear and very reliable, and I really like her refined character.” She pushed her coffee aside. “Now, Yael, let’s go over the details of your arrival at the camp tomorrow. I’ll be there the next day, im yirtzeh Hashem.”