Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 22 of a new online serial novel, Night Flower, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
“Is everything alright, Noa?”
The girl continued to stand for a long moment, her back to Elka; only after a few more seconds did she turn around and blurt out,— “nNot exactlyreally.”
“Why? What happened?”
Noa spun on her heel and strode down the hall towards the library without a word. Elka followed. Noa switched on the lights and sat down at the desk, furiously pressing the computer’s power button.
“What’s going on, Noa?” Elka asked again. It had never yet happened that Noa had stormed past her, straight into the library, without even greeting her.
“What you did really hurt me,” Noa replied through gritted teeth, and then fell silent again.
“Me? I hurt you?”
“Listen, Noa,” Elka sat down on one of the upholstered chairs scattered around the library. “These games are not your style. Since when do I have to milk you for words? You know how much I appreciate you and how important you are to me, so I certainly didn’t intend to do anything to hurt you. Please,Perhaps speak to me clearly, and maybe we can work this out.?”
“How important I am to you, yes…” Noa’s eyes were suspiciously bright. “It’s really very interesting why I am quite so important to you.” She opened her bag and rummaged inside. “You know that I don’t ask much of you. And then I finally did ask you something, and you…” She stopped and swallowed. “You couldn’tcan’t help me? Was it so difficult? You didn’t even try to ask Chaiky!” hHer hands trembled as she groped around in her bag for a package of tissues.
“Don’t tell me you are crying, Noa!” Elka gasped.
“I’m not crying,” Noa sniffed from inside her large white handbag. “I’m just…whatever, it doesn’t matter. I thought you really had my best interests in mind.”
“Of course I do!” Elka cried warmly.
Noa sat up straight. “Yes,Please. wWe both know exactly why I am so important to you,” she snapped. “And why exactly you treat me so nicely. But forget it, we won’t talk about that. But Oone thing is clear to me, though— – you never really cared about me, myself, as a person!”
Elka knew that it was her job now to ask in surprise, ‘w“What are we not going to talk about now?’” and, “‘wWhat is it that we both know exactly?’” But instead, she just sat down quietly and fixed Noa with a wide-eyed gaze.
“Noa, I’m very surprised at you,” she said finally. “First of all, I’m sad that you think that about me. Haven’t you noticed how close I feel to you? And second…you – you…well, have you noticed that you are revealing things that you are not supposed to tell me? You’re betraying the trust of those who sent you!”
“I’m not betraying any trust,” Noa said, her voice hard hardly. . “I really let that slipblurted that out unintentionally, but it doesn’t make a difference., anyway. I’m sick and tired of spending my life being a pawn in the hands of people who are supposed be looking out for my best interests. It’s always been that way.”
“I think you are mistaken about that, Noa.”
The girl laughed bitterly. “Again, iIt makes no difference. You don’t need to worry. I regularly report that your community center is very successful, but that its director is having some personal trouble right now and she’s absent very often, and—but…”
“You didn’t say that!’ The compassionate look in Elka’s eyes was replaced in a flash with horror.
“You see?” Noa retorted hotly. “You see exactly how much you care about me? I tried for one minute to share with you an old and very painful feeling of mine, but you didn’t even notice. You immediately moved on— –to things that I did or did not tell the “Culture and Community Foundation.” She drummed a finger on the desk and sat silently for a few long moments.
“I like Chaiky,” she said finally. “She’s a young woman who really organized a lot of nice projects here… Believe me, I really wanted to get to know her better, and specifically now, when I was asked to move out of the room I rent, in two more weeks, I thought it would be nice to rent a room by her.” She looked into her bag for a long time and then said flatly, “But I know already. There is no one in the world who genuinely cares about me.”
Heavy rain colored the world a blurry graey, butand despite the dismal appearance, it still was a happy event. It was the end of Adar I, and finally there were a few really wet days.
Chaiky stood in front of the coats at Mrs. Stern’s sale and went through them one by one, looking for a coat that would be good for her. A few of the seams in the weekday coat her parents had bought hershe’d received from her parents when she got married had finally come apart last year, and the pockets, sleeves, and collar were completely worn.
One coat caught her eye, and she took it off the hanger.
“I really like the color brown,” a voice said in her ear. Chaiky turned around and discovered Chana Devorah, the art teacher at the cCenter. “Good eveningHello,” she added as she looked over the coat Chaiky was holding.
“HelloGood evening to you, too,” Chaiky replied as she examined the coat. The pockets looked big and strong. The seamwork looked like it was good quality. The collar was high and warm.
“How is Naomi doing?” Chana Devorah asked.
“Great, baruch Hashem.”
“I saw that she came to the Ccenter last Wednesday.”
“Excuse me for saying this, Mrs. Struk, but perhaps it’s a good idea to put her back into the art club. You know that after trauma, art therapy can be a very good outlet. Especially because Naomi is a girl with a low frustration threshold, as we saw last year.”
Chaiky raised her eyes from the coat to Chana Devorah. “And you learned art therapy?” she asked sharply. Suddenly she noticed the coat Chana Devora was wearing; – it was very similar to the one she was holding in her hand.
“It was written in the resume that I sent you three years ago, Mrs. Struk,” Chana Devorah said, clearly miffed. “I learned therapy in seminary as well, not just art.”
“Yes, I recall,” Chaiky said and roughly returned the coat to its place. “Thank you, but Naomi doesn’t need any therapy.” Her cell phone rang. It was an unfamiliar number. She didn’t usually like to answer those, but now, any call would be better than this conversation.
“Good eveningHello, is this Mrs. Struk?”
“This is Elsa Krautholder, from the pediatric department at Rambam.”
“Yes, I remember you.”
“I hope that I’m not disturbing you, but this is something I must clarify. You gave this number to Rachel Struk?”
“And you told her she is welcome to call you whenever she wants?”
“Yes.” Sort of. Before Rachel had leftthey parted last night, and Rachel’sher eyes held such a pleading look, that Chaiky had cast about for something to fill the void. and said, ‘“We’ll be in touch, okay, Rachel?” she’d said.’
Those eyes had lit up at once. “Sure!” Rachel had happily replied. and said, ‘sure, gladly. “Could I have your cell number?’”
And she’d given it to her. Perhaps she had also told Rachel that she could call her? Apparently she’d said something along those linesof the sort.
“Very Nnice of you. So listen, tomorrow I have a two- day seminar in Jerusalem, and Rachel doesn’t want to stay in the hospital herself, nor does she want to go back to herthe dormitory. She claims that you spoke about her being able to boardlive withby you. Is that also true?”
“Uhhmm…I don’t really know yet if it will work out for herto to actually boardlive with us…,” Rachel’s face flashed into her mind, nodding vigorously. “But she can come to us for two days, that’s for sure.”
“Excellent. That’s so kind of you. And don’t hesitate to ask her for help. She knows how to be very helpful when she wants to be.”
“Yes,” Chaiky said with a smile as she went back to perusing the coats. “I noticed.” She hadn’t yet found out if there was a familial connection between Rachel and Shlomo’s family existed. Was it possible that they were sisters-in- law? It was very, very hard to believe it about her mother-in-law, but…
“Mrs. Struk?” Chana Devorah was still standing there behind her. “Excuse me for overhearing your conversation, but you were talking loud.… It’s so nice of you to invite Noaher for two days, but I heard her talking to Elka and she was literally crying about how lonely she is and that no one in the world cares about here…Why are you refusing to let her come live with you for a bit longer?”
Another one on Noa’s side? “Chana Devorah,” Chaiky pulled out a blue coat she hadn’t noticed earlier, and turned around. Another one on Noa’s side? “Chana Devorah. If you are so worried about Noaher, why don’t you you refuse to have her live with you?”
“Because…” It was clear that the younger woman was groping for the right words. It was good to know that she sometimes actually thought before choosing her words, because it usually looked like she didn’t dedicate any spare time to thinking when she had something to say, and used those words readily available on her lips.. “Because it’s not appropriate. My husband…”
“It’s not appropriate for me, either,,” Chaiky said firmly, ignoreding Chana Devorah’sthe last word. “And incidentally, Chana Devorah, I was not talking on the phone about Noa;, I was speaking about someone else. I wouldn’t invite Noa to live by mein my home for even two days.”
Shlomo was not allowed to go out to the prison yard with everyone else. Instead, he would go out once every three days, escorted by a warden. He waded through the puddles of melting snow, sat on one of the benches outside, and inhaled the silent, frozen air. Then, aAfter twenty minutes, he’d return returned to his room.
Today, something surprising happened. A moment after he and the warden sat down on the bench, made from fragments of wet wood, – another prisoner suddenly appeared, escorted by his own warden. Another privileged character, perhaps in the merit of the huge sums of money the prison had beenwas given for this, or due to some other reason.
The prisoner, it appeared, did not want wish to sit near Shlomo, but the wardens, who wanted to exchange a few words with each other, didn’t listen to his complaints. The man’sHis warden led him straight to Shlomo’sover the bench. Shlomo moved a bit, and the prisoner landed next to him with a groan, muttering furiously and glaring at Shlomo malevolently. He ran his finger over his pale orange mustache, and every few seconds, he spit onto the concrete floor at his feet. Shlomo looked the other way, where there was a pile of metal boxes that Shlomo found to be more palatable scenery, and focused on it.
After two long minutes, the other man raised his voice:. “Stashek!”
The warden turned his head lazily.
“Take me away from here!” Shlomo knew enough Russian to understand the gist of what the manhe was saying.
“Soon,” the warden replied, and continued chatting with his colleague.
The prisoner waited a few moments and then called out again. – “Stashek!”
“Can’t you keep quiet for a bitfew minutes?”
“So at least give me newspapers for my feet, like you promised!”
“Okay, here.” The warden took out a stack of newspapers from under his heavy coat and tossed them towards the prisoner. The latter took off his right boot, peeled off a few old, torn, old newspapers, and began to wrap his foot with the newspapers he had just received. “Chhhhhh….” Hhe said suddenly, and then fired off a long sentence in Russian at Shlomo.
Shlomo, whose feetlegs were wrapped n three pairs of thick woolen socks, and were still trembling with cold, stared at him.
“I don’t understand,” he said quietly.
“English?” the other prisoner asked.
“Yes,” Shlomo replied. “A bit.”
“Eh, I was just talking about that Rosenberg, that brute. He’s a Zhid like you, huh?”
Shlomo spotted on a page of one of the newspaper pages that the man had just peeled off. his foot Aa large photo of a familiar-lookingsmiling face smiled up atthat was familiar to him from there. Abvraham Rosenberg, the Jew with the big heart, who had gotten him into such big trouble without even realizing it. Did he know about hisShlomo’s incarceration? Had he heard that the diamonds he had donated had been were caught? He must have heard about it. It was also possible that he, too, had already been arrested as wel for itl.
He could not betray Rosenberg as the man who had given him the diamonds to take out of Russia. He couldn’t get another Jew in trouble,. and hHe justonly wished he could consult with a rRav on the subject,. Bbut he had no such option. His lawyers claimed that even his meetings with them were recorded.
Shlomo looked up to the sky and was silent.
“Why aren’t you answering me?” his bench-mate asked.
“I have nothing to answer.”
“Why, you don’t know this Zhid? Look at this article in the paper about him! The luxury he lives in! Like the TsarCzar! And he thinks that we don’t know that all his wealth wasis stolen from us. Tfu!”
Shlomo wondered if the information about the connection between him and Rosenberg was already news throughout the prison, or if it was only coincidental that the man had noticed Rosenberg’s picture and had verbally attacked the first Jew that he encountered. If so, it seemed that life here, which was already so difficult, would only be getting rougher. The Russians didn’t especially like wealthy Jews. They didn’t seem to like any Jews.
“What does it say about him in this article?” he asked cautiously.
“It just describes his house, his bodyguards, his car, and the list of his assets. Believe me, even a thousandth of what he has wouldn’t hurt me. I was born without money, and I’ll die that way as well.” He sighed and then issued a string of words in Russian that hardly sounded like a blessing, before beginning to deal with his other foot. He pulled it out of histhe boot, peeled the old pages of newspaper off of it, tossed itthem away, and wrapped the footit with fresh newspaper. Then hes and then turned back to Shlomo. “All Zhids are friends, huh?”
“All Zhids are friends,” Shlomo affirmed carefully.
The man stared at him for a moment, spit again at a distance, and then stood up. “Stashek!” he roared furiously. “Get me away from here already! Otherwise I’m going myself!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming.,” Tthe warden walked towards them, as did Shlomo’s warden, who decided at that moment that his prisoner’s time was also up also. Only once Shlomo entered his room, feeling, as like he always did after going outside, how stifling it was indoors, did a disturbing thought prick his mind.
How had that destitute prisoner learned to speak such good English?