Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 38 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.
Chapter Thirty Eight
Wearing dark slacks and a black wool sweater because of his court appearance made Shlomo look much better than he did in the green prison uniform. Chaiky looked at him as he took Yisrael Meir out of the carriage and hugged him, but she did not allow herself to cry. It was enough for her to see his lips trembling for her to know that she mustn’t break down now; she couldn’t show even the slightest crack in her veneer of strength. The ten days that she was here was supposed to help Shlomo be strong, not the opposite. “He’s cute, isn’t he?” she asked.
“What’s the question!”
“Look how he’s staring at you!”
Shlomo smiled at his son. Yisrael Meir gazed at his father for a long moment with a solemn face, and then returned a small, tremulous smile. Chaiky lowered her eyes for a moment and then raised them. Here was her husband, looking almost like he usually did. He wasn’t shackled, there were no jailers in sight, and he was cuddling his son. Shlomo gently laid the baby back in the carriage. What would happen if they’d try to just walk out now? Yes, they’d just walk down the corridor, go down the stairs—Shlomo would pick the carriage up and carry it down—and they would get to the first floor. Then they could just stroll to the door and exit the building…
This delusional thought had something airy, refreshing, to it, like a cool breeze, but Chaiky was afraid that this same breeze might topple her into the black pit that was lying in ambush by the wayside, that pit she was not allowed to fall into as long as she was here, in Russia.
“Everything looks so…you know, regular,” she said quietly to Shlomo. “It seems pretty free and open, not the way I expected a court to look. Were the previous two hearings also like this? Just one warden standing there, and that’s it? I don’t even see the Margulieses. We’re the only ones here, with Yisrael Meir.”
“Hashem arranged it in your honor.” Shlomo straightened up from the carriage. “The last two times, it wasn’t like this at all. I didn’t even have this sweater. I came with the green prison shirt. I didn’t want to wear the sweater they gave me in the prison office because I didn’t know what was with shaatnez.”
“And you didn’t freeze?”
“You see I didn’t,” he said with a smile. “After all, I’m a VIP with a private driver, and I didn’t have to be outside for more than two or three minutes. From the prison to the car, and from the car straight here, and that was it.”
“So what is this sweater?”
He fiddled with the zipper. “Margulies brought it to me last week. There are big tzaddikim in the world, let me tell you.”
All at once, their little island of tranquility was broken up. Three wardens passed by, and one stopped, pulled out a ring of keys from his pocket, and opened the big door. He barked something at Shlomo, who answered with one word.
Shlomo stood up and turned to Chaiky. “I need to wait inside until the hearing starts. Only my lawyers and the translator are allowed in with me. Okay? Will you manage?” He didn’t have time to hear her “yes, yes,” because the warden was too impatient to wait for her answer.
Chaiky sat down on the bench, which was fixed to the floor, and drew Yisrael Meir’s carriage close to her. It was a good thing the baby was here with her. True, if someone would hurl an anti-Semitic barb in her direction, he wouldn’t be able to stand up from the carriage to protect his mother, but his presence somewhat assuaged the unpleasant sense of loneliness she felt.
From the other end of the corridor, Shlomo’s two lawyers approached. Chaiky knew who they were, as Riva Margulies had pointed them out when they had entered the building. They were accompanied by another person, wearing a yarmulke; Chaiky figured that he was the translator. The three men spoke to Rabbi Margulies and then entered the door through which Shlomo had just disappeared.
Riva came to sit next to Chaiky. “Do you want something to drink?” she asked. “I brought a thermos of coffee. You probably didn’t have time to prepare something hot for yourself this morning.”
Chaiky was staying in a small guest suite in the Margulieses’ home, with a little kitchenette of her own. Already on the first day Riva had made it clear that Chaiky was invited for all the meals in their house, whenever she wanted, but the kitchenette was there to give her a bit of privacy and make things more comfortable for her. The accommodations really were very comfortable. And Riva was the model hostess, taking extremely good care of Chaiky. She was one of those rare breeds who remarkably always knew when talking was called for and when it was better to be silent.
This coffee was also just the right thing at the right time. It was true; the morning had been so tense and rushed that Chaiky hadn’t had a chance to do much before they’d left for the court. She gratefully accepted the paper cup from Riva’s hand, made a deliberate brachah, and took a sip of the steaming brew.
“Your brachos are special; I hope you don’t mind my saying so,” Riva noted after a moment. “Hearing you makes me envy the way you make a brachah.”
Chaiky smiled thinly. “I need to tell that to Rachel.” She knew that Riva didn’t know what she was talking about, but she felt that next to this woman, she didn’t always need to make herself understandable; she didn’t always have to be clear. She didn’t always have to be the strong, practical, managing Chaiky.
“Rachel.” Riva echoed the word in a tone that left the sentence open, as if to say, If you want—you can leave it at that and not explain; and if you want—I’ll be happy if you fill me in.
“A sweet girl who’s living with me right now. She comes from a religious background, but in recent years, she’s become much more frum.” She crumpled the cup, glancing at the door on her left that kept opening and closing every few seconds. “As soon as Shlomo was arrested, I decided on my own to work on reinforcing my belief in the message of ‘shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro,’ but Rachel also has a big part in…all kinds of things.” Chaiky was aware that again, she was being vague.
A person wearing a gray suit approached them, carrying a black file under his arm. The judge? The prosecutor? Would she have to stay out here for the entire proceedings? In that case, why had she come here this morning in the first place?
“Are we not going to be allowed in at all?” she asked apprehensively.
“I’ll ask my husband,” Riva said. She stood up and walked down the hall, returning a minute later. “The hearing hasn’t begun yet,” she explained. “But when it starts, we can go in. Try to make sure the baby is sleeping, because if he cries they’ll send you out right away.”
Elka was very excited to see Noa again. She had turned up at the community center with no advance notice. “It’s wonderful to have you back, Noa! I see you’re wearing something new; did you do a lot of shopping while you were away?”
“Yes, but I actually bought this here. Yesterday.” The apartment, remarkably, was still hers for now. The bank account was also still active and not limited. So Noa had taken advantage of the opportunity and hurried to buy herself a few new clothes. She’d also thrown out all those things she’d bought in Russia. Something about them repelled her. Maybe it was the fact that Stefana had accompanied her on the shopping trip; despite Stefana’s silence, something about her must have adhered to the clothes. Maybe it was also because she hadn’t been wearing those styles for months, and had bought them only to please the man who thought that she was still one of his employees. Now he would have to work hard to get her to have any desire to satisfy his wishes. He probably didn’t know that she was much smarter than he thought or knew.
She had bought herself three skirts and four tops, one of them exactly the same as Miri the secretary was wearing. Noa was very pleased with her purchases.
Elka also seemed to be. “You may not have noticed, but you’re dressed even better now than before you left,” she complimented Noa. “Has your grandfather gotten any closer to Yiddishkeit? Did something about Pesach there have more of an influence on you?”
“Oh, not at all,” Noa said with a chuckle. “No connection.”
There was a connection, of course, a strong reactionary connection, but she didn’t want to talk about it, and certainly not with Elka. “I spent the Seder night with a nice family. I got to them through the Jewish organizations that Chaiky told me about.”
“Wonderful! And how was it?”
“It was good. So, what’s been going on over here?”
“Well, we’re back at work full force, and we’re starting to think about our summer day camp and maybe a few clubs and things like that that we can offer.”
“Clubs? That should probably be a good source of revenue, no?”
“Maybe in secular places it’s like that. Here, though, we can’t charge too much; we need to make sure it’s affordable for large families.”
“So think about it and let me know which clubs you think might go over well. I’m talking about things that will involve five sessions, maximum six, okay?”
But Noa was completely distracted; it was like Elka was talking to the wall—though she didn’t seem to notice it at all.
They parted after less than an hour, with Noa apologizing for her tiredness and the jetlag. She went out into the heavy air. The evening was warm and oppressive, and as she walked, she thought about the community center that Elka was trying valiantly to maintain, and how different it was from all the others she was familiar with. And she was familiar with quite a few, to be sure.
The bus arrived pretty quickly, and Noa boarded. Apparently, the financial constraints of this place, along with Elka’s blessed naiveté, meant that the story that she had skillfully woven had been better accepted than she’d planned. Who would have thought she’d be stuck in this hole for so many months? She’d thought it would be a short, simple story that would be over very quickly.
But it hadn’t been over so quickly. Fortunately, she’d prepared for this eventuality as well.
Forty minutes later, she got off the bus in Haifa and went home. She entered the quiet stairwell and turned to the door of her apartment. She pressed the combination numbers and waited for the click that told her the door was open.
But she heard nothing.
Noa gazed at the locked door and then turned to the one next to it. Incidentally, she’d discovered before her trip that the landlords of her little unit lived right next door. She knocked at the door and waited.
“Yes?” The woman who opened the door did not look very friendly.
“Hi, I’m sorry to bother you, but I wanted to ask: is it possible that there’s something wrong with the combination lock?”
“There’s a problem—but not with the lock. There’s a problem with your payments.”
“What do you mean?”
“The rent did not come into our account yesterday like it usually does. And being that no one answered the calls to all the numbers on the contract, we changed the code tonight.”
Noa stared at her. “And my things are supposed to remain inside?” she asked calmly.
“When my husband comes home, you can go in for a few minutes and collect your stuff.” The women looked at her suspiciously. “He was the one who went in and dealt with the combination, so he’s the only one who can open the door for you.” She was about to close the door but suddenly, she looked at Noa again. “There’s another option, of course: if you pay us the rent tonight, everything will be fine.”
“In any case, I have to wait for your husband, right?”
“Right.” The woman’s smile was anything but friendly. “But if that’s what you decide, then I’ll contact him right now.”
“How much is the rent each month?”
“You don’t know much, do you? Four thousand three hundred shekels.”
Noa nodded. “And when is your husband supposed to get here?” She would absolutely not be paying such an amount each month.
“In about an hour.”
“Then I’ll wait.”
Now, the first phone call on her list.
“This is Noa. Can you inform him that he will get nothing by acting like this?”
“You don’t expect us to convey such a message, do you?”
“Allow me not to answer that foolish question. And allow me to wonder about what you have decided to do.”
Noa took a deep breath. “I understand,” she said, and ended the call before the man on the other end could launch into a tirade about how for family you do everything and how she had to cooperate. Indeed, she knew very well what one does for family—you use them, squeeze them until there’s nothing more you can get out of them, and then you toss them away.
The fact was that, look—she had tickled everyone’s patience just a tiny bit too much, and here she was being thrown out of her house. And it was eminently possible that this was just the start.
Grandfather would not forgive her for not completing the mission she had worked so much for in Yokne’am. He was certain that from the moment the message “I’ve planted the stuff” had been sent, it was only a matter of time until a search would be carried out at the Struks’ and they would find the material on their computer. But he had been mistaken. She was not as naïve as Elka, and would not rely on the benevolence of the people around her. True, she’d planted the letters, and if the Russian C.K.P. people would open them, they would discover a long, rambling correspondence between Shlomo Struk and Abraham Rosenberg and a few others, where they set dates for visits, the quantity of diamonds involved, prices, sources for the diamonds, everything.
But they would not be able to open a single thing before she would approve it all with a few simple keystrokes. The linchpin was in her hands.
It was not for naught that she’d been hired as the director of the programming team at the community administration’s main office.
And to think that she’d left a month after she’d begun because of her family’s caprices.