Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 36 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.
It was ten thirty at night, the last night that remained until Noa would board the plane back to Israel, and she needed to utilize it.
“Stefana, can you answer a few questions for me?”
“Do you report to my grandfather about everything we talk about?”
“Only the important things,” Stefana replied.
“Which important things?”
“Well, the things that he wants to know.”
Noa looked at her. “How can you know what he wants to know?”
Stefana evenly met her gaze. “They explained it to me.”
Noa sighed and turned to the window. “And if I ask that he shouldn’t know something?”
Stefana shook her head. “But that’s exactly what he wants to know.”
“Oh.” Noa paced up and down the room. Honestly, it made perfect sense. There really was no reason why her servant of just ten days should suddenly shift her loyalties from Rosenberg to Noa. She would be risking her job. It had been foolish to think it was possible.
Noa would have to try and get that file on her own. What was Grandfather planning for her that was already filed away in the folder and that he didn’t want her to see? He wanted her to stay—fine. But what was the secrecy all about? What project would be next in line for her to participate in?
Tonight she would try to walk around the mansion a bit. The room she had been in earlier today with Grandfather was one flight above her, and she knew how to get there. The file had been brought from a room nearby. It could be locked, but she had to try.
“Aren’t you going to sleep, Stefana?” she asked. “I’m tired already. Please go out and let me get ready for bed. I need to wake up early tomorrow. Good night.”
The servant looked at her quizzically but left. Noa dashed to the door and stuck her head out. She could see Stefana turning the corner at the end of the corridor and disappearing from sight. Good. Operation Get File 706 was underway.
She waited until midnight, when, just like the previous nights when the clock had struck twelve, the entire building was shrouded in darkness. Only the eastern watchtower that she could see from her window was lit up, and shadows moved around inside it.
Noa went out to the empty, dark hallway. The only light came from a thin, crescent-shaped moon that shone through the windows on the hallway’s left side. There was an iron figure in armor placed right across the door of her room, waving a sword dotted with gemstones; it gazed at her vacantly as she hurried past it. She reached the glass door of the elevator, but after a moment’s deliberation, she continued walking. She didn’t want to make any noise, soft as it might be. She would find a staircase somewhere; there should be several in this vast complex.
She took a deep breath as she approached a pair of huge steel doors. Here, right beyond the doors, was Grandfather’s living quarters. Inside, there were round-the-clock guards; the question was whether they also patrolled outside the doors, in this corridor. But the doors were closed and there was no one in sight.
In the hope that she was guessing correctly and not making a mistake in her direction, Noa hurried to a little door tucked away beside the huge doors. It resembled an elephant calf standing next to its adult parents. She opened it, and was happy to discover herself in one of the many stairwells. Even in the dark, Noa could see the shining gold of the banister, and as she held on to it, she wondered why Grandfather needed gold-plated banisters if the dozens of denizens of this house used only the elevator.
The floor above her welcomed her with silence and was as empty as the one she had come from. Noa walked silently, looking in every direction, knowing that it could easily take her half an hour until she found the room where she had been sitting this morning with her grandfather.
She suddenly heard a cough, followed by approaching sounds. Noa hastily hugged the wall in one of the darker corners and tried to breathe quietly. The voices grew closer, and she cautiously groped her way along the wall, searching for a better hiding place.
“It’s fine, you can go back to bed,” one voice whispered. “It’s all clear here.”
“Sure. Let’s go down.”
And they continued on.
Noa stood silently until she saw by the light of the moon that the guards had disappeared in the direction of the stairwell. She continued walking, wondering what would have happened if they would have discovered her. She suddenly breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the huge tree growing in the middle of the intersection of the corridors in front of her. The door to the room was right behind that.
Indeed, this was where she had sat that day. And if that was the case… Noa turned to face the door across. This was where all the files were.
She gently pressed the doorknob. It gave way easily.
She stood in front of a cabinet with glass doors, containing hundreds of identical files, all the same color, size, and shape as the file that Grandfather had opened earlier that day. Her file. She had to find file 706, but she couldn’t see a single number on any of the files!
“Enough with this silly game!” Nikolai Rosenberg looked through the fake flames in his electric hearth. “Just finish the story now, before she suddenly pulls out some key from somewhere and gets to her file. Send Stefana to get her.”
Grandfather’s voice held not a trace of the warmth that had been there the past ten days. “Who taught you to open cabinets in a house that is not your own?” he asked angrily. “Not that you would have been able to; they are locked. But you definitely succeeded in annoying me.” He was pacing in front of her, his hands folded behind his back. Noa stood in the doorway of the room, chastened as a five-year-old child, with the short-statured Stefana peeking out from behind her.
“It began with changing your name, which I discovered just a year ago, proving to me that you are trying to disconnect, and it concluded with—”
“But you didn’t expect, Grandfather, that I would appear there with the name ‘Rosenberg,’ did you? It would have made them all on the alert.”
“—and it concluded with this extremely rude nosing about this evening.”
“I apologize, Grandfather,” she said sincerely. “I was very curious to see what was in there.”
“Too bad that a girl your age doesn’t know how to control her curiosity. We will part with this, because I don’t want to see you tomorrow. Remain in your room until it is time for you to leave for the airport. In Israel, close as many circles as you wish, or however you want to call it, and then we’ll talk again.”
Wow, he was really mad!
“Fine,” she replied cautiously. “Good night. And thank you for the hospitality.” She turned and left the room. Stefana followed on her heels.
Without saying a word, Noa got ready for bed, slid between the covers, and lay there for a long time, gazing at the gold-flecked ceiling.
The next morning, Noa continued to maintain her silence with Stefana, saying not a word to her. At one o’clock, Stefana informed her that, “The car is waiting downstairs,” and Noa quickly went down with her things. As she walked, she looked around and bid farewell to Grandfather’s palatial home.
She wondered if he understood that it would now take her a long time, a very long time, to close the circles in Israel before she returned here.
Just before they parted, Rachel handed a bag to Chaiky. “I went to the bookstore and found something that should be good for you,” she said, suddenly a bit bashful. “You told me that you aren’t so excited about the flight, so I wanted you to have something to distract yourself with. I hope you’ll like it. If not, I’m sure you can exchange it when you get home.”
Chaiky thanked her warmly, touched by the gesture, and hoped that Rachel had already picked up on enough nuances to know the kind of book to buy for her. That’s why she didn’t open the bag on the spot, despite Rachel’s expectant look. She had no energy to discover some inane book and then have to start explaining why she preferred not to read it.
Now, five minutes after takeoff, she opened the bag, and was pleasantly surprised. Rachel had hit it on the spt. Once upon a time, before Shlomo had left and she had liked to read, this was one of the publishers she had trusted for quality books. She wondered if her taste had changed since then, and if she would even be able to concentrate at all. She shifted in her seat, trying to find a more comfortable position, and then opened the book to the first page.
Twenty minutes of reading was enough to show her that hobbies don’t die easily; they just go into sleep mode for a time, and this book had awakened her hobby from its sleepy state. But the other thing she discovered, after another ten minutes of reading, was that she could not stand the heroine of the story. How could there be someone in the world who was so superbly talented, a whiz of a housekeeper, a devoted wife and mother, and a star employee, and who was also just that perfect balance of sweet and pleasant to be around? How was it possible?
Not everything was good in her life, of course. She had problems, this heroine. She had trouble overcoming various challenges, but they were purely external, and she overcame them in the most ideal way possible. All of her choices, with all of the vacillations that preceded them, were those that would lead her directly to Gan Eden. Everything was wonderful.
Chaiky wondered if there really were people like this. Maybe there were those unique individuals here and there, but it was quite annoying to read about them. If someone would have written a book about her… Chaiky closed her eyes tightly and then opened them. Actually, if someone would have written a book about her, then her whole life until half a year ago would have been no less wonderful than the life of this heroine. Maybe she wasn’t quite as talented, but aside from that, everything fit: She ran her household very capably, she was a devoted mother who also baked for every party and event, and at work she was considered a star employee. No one disputed her pleasant demeanor.
But then Shlomo left.
And Noa came, taking the Center by a storm.
And her world turned over.