Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 34 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.
“You were great, Stefana.” The compliment was the only sentence Noa uttered from the moment they left the home of their hosts, the Margolises, until they reached Noa’s room in the huge complex.
“Thank you, Madam.” Stefana smiled. “I’ll go get some supper and—” Before she could finish the sentence, there was a faint ringing from her palm. She left the room for a minute but was back in no time. “Mr. Rosenberg wants to see you, Madam.”
“He’s going on his evening walk now. Be downstairs in five minutes. At Door C.”
“I knew that would come,” Noa said mildly. She put her coat back on, dropped her overnight bag in the corner of the room, and turned to Stefana. “Just take me to him, please, because I really don’t remember what Door C is.”
“One of the back doors. Come.”
Noa stopped. “That tone actually makes me feel like I’m in prison,” she said. “I’m really very confused about the way you act both as my personal servant and as my jailer. Can you invite me to come with you in a more pleasant tone?”
Stefana fixed her with a long stare. “Would you like to come downstairs with me, Madam?” she asked, after the silence.
“Yes. And thank you for your politeness.” Noa smiled and walked out of the room. “You managed quite easily.”
Door C was surprising: small, made of unpolished slats of wood—or at least that’s the way it looked—it opened to a path that wound through a pretty flower garden. Chiseled rocks in various sizes were arranged alongside the path and between the beds of flowers. Noa went down the brown stairs that led to the path, and only after a few minutes did she realize that the place was as warm as it was inside and that her coat was superfluous. She looked up at the glistening sky above, and then realized that a transparent thick sheet of plastic—the kind used in hothouses—separated her from the dark expanse.
“These flowerbeds are full all winter.” Her grandfather suddenly appeared behind her, with two hulking figures lurking behind him. He walked down the stairs and motioned with his hand to the picturesque scene. “There is nothing like these flowers and the façade of my old house to give me the nostalgia I so need. This is exactly what the house that I grew up in seventy-five years ago looked like: with those stairs, the door, and this little garden.”
“It must not be from real wood,” Noa remarked.
“The door? You are sharp-eyed. Yes, that is right. It’s made of steel, of course, but the outside is a perfect copy of the door of my childhood home. I asked that this entire corner be designed based on my memories, including the well.”
Noa looked toward the round stone wall a bit of a distance away, with a bucket and rope hanging over it. They didn’t move, and she wondered if it wasn’t just a three-dimensional photo of exceptional quality. “You had a well in your yard, Grandfather?”
“Not quite in the yard, but very close. We lived in the house closest to the well.” He chuckled. “It was so deep that I could hardly see the water. I spent a lot of time there; I liked to help the Jewish water carrier. His name was…” He closed his eyes. “Mot-tel.” They drew closer to the well. It was real. Noa touched the metal bucket, which moved it a bit, surprisingly easily, and then peeked inside. It made her feel dizzy.
“The water isn’t frozen,” she noted. “You can see it; it’s quite close to the top. And the well that you had when you were a child probably didn’t have little light bulbs embedded in the walls like this one.”
“And they also probably didn’t pay two-and-a-half million dollars to dig that well, like this one.” He chuckled again. “Because of the heat here, the water isn’t frozen, but it is colder than ice. When I grew up a bit, we moved to a different village that was built right on the banks of the Volga, and we drew our water from there.” He went back to the path, and Noa followed him. “But there, the water carrier wasn’t a Jew; he was a pure German. Our entire village was built by Germans who, like my father, were Communists who had moved from Germany in order to live under Stalin’s rule, because they admired him so much.”
“When did you move, before World War Two?”
“Yes. During the war itself, Stalin suspected these Germans of collaborating with Germany, their hometown, and so he sent them to Siberia. I was a three-year-old baby and was sent to an orphanage in Moscow. When my parents returned from Siberia, they took me back. I was already eight by then.”
“What do you remember from that time?” They emerged from the small, homey garden into a much larger one, which was even more colorful and verdant than the first, but also built like a huge hothouse.
“That they would constantly teach us one thing: that there must not be rich people in the world, because look how the capitalists take all the money for themselves, leaving all the others, like us, hungry and miserable.” He laughed out loud. “So I left there with one clear understanding: be as rich as you can, be strong, and extract money from other people instead of letting them get it out of you.” He laughed again.
“But how did we get to this? Oh, yes, from the orphanage, from the war, and my village, the well…the Jewish water carrier. Yes. I remember him. He was actually nice. So, how was their matzah?”
Noa didn’t let the sharp swerve in the conversation addle her. “Actually, quite tasty.”
“And what was going on there?”
“Nothing special. A holiday.”
“What did you have to do there for so long?”
“They invited me for the whole first part of the holiday.” She smiled a bit, wryly. “So that I shouldn’t travel and desecrate the holiday. I couldn’t leave in the middle.”
“Yes, but why did you need this whole business?” His steps became quicker. “I don’t like it that you are friendly with Jews. I disapprove of it, you hear? I prefer that you stay away from them. We needed your services there, you did an excellent job, you finished, and now the time has come to leave. What’s this story that you want to stay on in Yokne’am? And why did you want to go and celebrate their holiday with them while you are here?”
“A friend from work gave me their number, and because I have to continue playing my game, I felt obligated to go. Maybe when I go back she will ask me questions. Maybe she’ll be in contact with the organization here in Russia.”
“When you go back?” He stopped next to a sprinkler faucet, quickly spun the knob, and turned his head to watch the fountains of water spurt out of the ground six feet away. “Are you not accepting my offer?”
“I might,” Noa said. The water sprinkled very close to her. “But I need to go back. The second part of the holiday finishes in Israel in another week, and I want to be at work as usual.”
“Why? What do you have to do there?”
“I have to finish off nicely, say goodbye, pack up my things…I can’t just disappear like that.”
He snorted derisively. “To say goodbye? To whom? Are you afraid of someone there? Of someone who might not understand what is happening with the budget for which you were sent to them?”
She laughed. “I’m not afraid of anyone. But for my own good, I want to close up matters. It’s already happened to me too many times that I’ve moved on without wrapping up my affairs, and it wasn’t good for me. Let me go, Grandfather, and it is very likely that I will come back.”
The upper doors of the closets in the boys’ room, where they kept the Pesach dishes, were closed and locked, and b’ezras Hashem wouldn’t be opened for another year. Yehudis Pesserman headed into the kitchen to see if there was a banana left to eat before she moved on to the next task—before Riki would be back with the little ones from the park.
She had managed to peel just one side of the too-ripe banana when there was a knock at the door. She rose, pondering where to hide the banana that the kids would certainly want for themselves, but quickly realized that the knock was not a familiar one.
In the doorway was the girl who lived with the Struks, holding a cup. “Excuse me, is the Rav home?” she asked, blinking rapidly.
“Yes.” Yehudis’s voice did not conceal her surprise.
“Because…people came to search the house, and we’re afraid to be there ourselves…”
In a flash, Yehudis noticed the door open across the hall and shadows moving around inside.
“I’ll call him,” she said hastily. “We’ll be over in a minute. Run to be with Chaiky in the meantime.”
Within a few minutes, Yehudis and her husband were at the Struks’. A uniformed man standing in the kitchen doorway was overseeing three people, who were walking around the house. He turned to the Pessermans with a scowl. “What are you looking for?” he snarled.
“We came to be with the residents here,” Rabbi Pesserman said. “And may I know what you are looking for in this house?”
“Something that we need.”
“Can I see the search warrant?”
“We showed it to the lady of the house. And if you want to check it and be with them, they are in that room. Now move it, and don’t hang around underfoot.”
Rabbi Pesserman and his wife approached the room. There, on Rachel’s messy bed, clutching her children, sat Chaiky. She didn’t look particularly alarmed, but still, her eyes filled with tears when she saw her neighbor. “Thank you, Yehudis,” she said quietly.
“There’s nothing to thank me for. Did they really show you a warrant?”
“Who signed it?”
“A court here in Israel.”
Yehudis came to sit next to her neighbor. Rabbi Pesserman remained in the doorway, observing the men traipsing around the house, with a crease in his forehead. Rachel stood near the bed, still holding the cup with which she had run to the neighbors, and Naomi and Dovi sat and swung their legs without saying a word.
“Hey!” Naomi suddenly exclaimed. “The hot cocoa you made for me, Rachel! You’re still holding it!”
“You probably don’t want it anymore; it’s totally cold. After they leave I’ll make you a new one.”
Suddenly the searchers approached the room. “There’s a computer here,” one of them said in English. They entered, heading straight for the corner of the room where the keyboard, screen, and processor were piled, just as Chaiky had left them while she’d been preparing for Pesach. Rabbi Pesserman moved aside, and Rachel tried to beat a hasty retreat.
“Oy!” she gasped in alarm as the cup of cold cocoa she was holding spilled right onto the overturned computer, splashing brown drops every which way.