Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 46 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.
Adi’s parents were not happy, to put it mildly, about the change that had come over their daughter and son-in-law. The change hadn’t yet become firm by the time Adi’s husband passed away, but if they hoped that because he was the leader, without his influence Adi would go back to her “normal” ways, they were mistaken. It infuriated them so much that the ties between them and Adi became very chilly. Adi would call only once a week, before Shabbos.
But this morning, she called. “Ima,” she said, “can Abba come and install a new door for me today? He’ll be paid, of course.”
“A door?” her mother asked. “What happened? Your old door was broken into?”
“Oh, you poor thing. Where were you? Out shopping or something?”
“No.” A chill slithered up Adi’s spine. “I was home.”
Her father heard the conversation. At first he asked if among all the rabbis and rebbetzins and new friends from Bnei Brak, there were no other door installers who could do the work for her. But then his compassion kicked in, and he promised to come over that evening. He happened to have an excellent door in the store just now, which someone had ordered and then cancelled at the last minute.
“I’ll install it by you today. So that you shouldn’t need to come and sleep over at our house tonight, G-d forbid,” he couldn’t help but add. Adi remained silent.
He arrived, and Adi served him some Coke. When he said, “Oh, so the religious people have money for Coke,” she felt like a liar. She hadn’t bought it.
“Have you had guests recently?” he asked. “Because to the best of my recollection, you don’t like Coke. Or has your taste changed since you became religious?”
“I did have a guest,” Adi replied. “She left this morning.” And I have to find her, because I know she’s planning to do something bad—although I don’t know exactly what…
Elsa Krautholder locked the door of the ward’s playroom at exactly seven o’clock, and then tossed the sponge ball into the nearby trash bin. The one-year-old who had played with it a few minutes earlier had taken a bite out of it. She began walking back to her seat at the nurse’s station, and already from afar, she could see three-year-old Sarit dancing with her uneven gait around her chair.
“Who is feeding her today?” Elsa asked as she took her seat, stroking the child’s cheek. “For the last time…”
“She ate already,” said Achvah as she typed vigorously. “And don’t worry so much, Elsa. The foster family will only be coming to take her tomorrow at eleven. You’ll have enough time to give her five breakfasts if you want, before she leaves.”
Elsa looked at Sarit. “I hope that things will go better for you than they did for Rachel, child.”
“Rachel Struk?” Achvah asked. She was only working in this department for two years. “Are you talking about her?”
“How is it that she isn’t yet settled with a family? Why wasn’t she taken at age three, like most of the other kids with disabilities here?”
“Because at age three, she still needed one more heart surgery, two back surgeries, and an eye operation. Between one hospitalization and another, she was in some home-based daycare facility. It wasn’t possible to place her somewhere permanent at that point.”
“When she was seven, we sent her to a foster family; half a year later she needed another minor surgery on her back, which required three months of hospitalization, in addition to the rehabilitation that followed. The foster family couldn’t deal with all of that, so she was sent to another family… but she ran away and came back here. Only when she was about ten did she agree to stay in an institution in Tel Aviv, but during vacations she didn’t want to go anywhere except to me.”
“Is she still there?”
“No, since then she moved into a middle school with a dorm—but then she left there, too. Right now she’s with a family in Yokne’am.” Elsa sighed and smiled at the same time. “But I hope that now it’s good for her, and—how should I say it?—that she’s finally found a place where she is happy.” She stood up to make her evening rounds among the rooms.
As always, the falling night infused her with a sense of tranquility and calm. It was the end of another very full day, and she could retire to her room at the end of her shift with a full heart. Fuzzily she remembered that she hadn’t been home for three days already, but these things had happened to her in the past. It was okay; the walls were not afraid to remain alone.
At nine o’clock she began sorting the files for the shift change, but she had only gotten to the third file when she was unexpectedly interrupted. “Rachel?” She raised her eyebrows at the sight of the girl standing there.
“Yes,” Rachel replied tonelessly.
“Rachel, what are you doing here at this hour?”
“What’s the matter?” Rachel came behind the desk and sat down on the chair next to Elsa’s. “There are still buses running.”
“But you only went back to Yokne’am this morning.” Elsa tilted her head. “You know that I like it when you’re here, but what happened?”
“What happened? Let’s say I decided to come and wish Sarit good luck one more time.”
Elsa shook her head and rifled through the fourth file. “She’s sleeping already. Don’t go into her now.”
“Okay, then I won’t.”
Elsa looked at her. “What happened, Rachel?” she asked.
“Then are you going back to Yokne’am still tonight, or are you planning to go back in the morning?”
“I’m not sure I’m ever going back.” Rachel played with the box of disposable gloves standing on the counter.
Elsa stifled a groan. Again, that familiar crisis. “So don’t,” she said, before turning her attention to the fifth file. “Just tell me what you are planning as your next stop. A day-care facility, two foster families, an institution, a dormitory, Yokne’am…what’s next?”
“Dunno. What I do know is that I don’t want anything to do with people who know how much I am dying to get some details about my family, and they know something—and still they won’t tell it to me.”
“They know something?” Elsa put all the files aside.
“Who told you?”
“Chaiky’s mother-in-law, the one I thought was my mother. And if she knows details about my family and is hiding them from me, and Chaiky is backing her up…well, then, I have nothing to do there. I told you already.”
“Really?” Elsa looked at her, and carefully straightened her glasses.
Rachel didn’t have a chance to answer before Elsa’s phone rang.
“It’s probably Chaiky Struk, worried about you,” Elsa said as she answered the phone. “Hello? Yes, yes, she’s here.” She covered the mouthpiece with her hand and murmured to Rachel, “Didn’t I tell you?”
Chaiky, who was washing the few dishes that had remained in the sink, breathed a sigh of relief. “So she got there? Good.” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Elsa. She was very offended when we tried to explain to her that for her own benefit, it was not a good idea for her to hear details about some anonymous family that we don’t even know is for sure hers.”
“And if they even want to know her,” Elsa said simply. “Yes, she knows that. What do you think, Mrs. Struk, that I don’t have access to her family details? She knows very well that I do. I never actually went to check them out, and it is very possible that the information we have in the hospital is already outdated, but she knows that if I wanted to, I could find her family without too much effort.”
“So?” Chaiky put the silverware away.
“But she knows my opinion on the subject, and she doesn’t try to pressure me about it.” She smiled at Rachel, who was sitting curled up on the chair. “I understand that it’s hard for her to know that you know something that she is very, very curious about.”
“I don’t know anything. It is my mother-in-law who may or may not know something.”
“I understand. So she suddenly found a little crack that she is trying to force open right now. But don’t be fazed by her performances, Mrs. Struk. And you, Rachel, stop making such faces. You know that we all want only the best for you.”
The receptionist who went up to announce that the rooms would be cleaned at about one in the afternoon remained standing in the doorway of the room for a long moment after Noa thought she’d already gone. It was rather awkward to discover her there, standing silently and gazing at her through the crack that remained between the door and the doorpost.
“You scared me there,” Noa said, opening the door wide. “Do you need something from me?”
“No,” the other woman said and passed a hand over her forehead. “Because I don’t really want to ruin the surprise for them. I don’t know, I’m not usually the type that blabs to people about things, but here…I don’t know what to tell you.”
Noa sized her up with interest. “A surprise,” she echoed. “There’s someone who wants to make me a surprise?”
“Forget it,” the receptionist said and turned toward the elevator. “I shouldn’t have said anything. It’ll just ruin our hotel’s reputation, and then I’ll get in trouble.”
“I won’t tell anyone anything,” Noa said, following the woman. Her senses were fully alerted that something was up. “And I enjoyed it here very much. Why would I try to ruin the hotel’s name? I wouldn’t do such a thing.”
“Not you, but your relatives wanted it to be a secret, so if they know that I told you beforehand…”
“No one will know that you told me; I’m not saying anything.”
The receptionist looked at Noa. “They just said on the phone that they wanted to make you a party or something. But because I did not tell them for sure that someone by your name is here, because I’m not allowed to give such information over the phone, they started to ask me all types of complicated questions.”
“So, in the end they know that I’m here?” Noa smiled broadly.
“Not for sure,” the receptionist replied. “So if you want a birthday party, give them some more details about where you are, but don’t tell them why you’re telling them, okay? So they won’t figure out that I told you about that phone call.”
“Sure, sure,” Noa said and returned to her room. With a few rapid strokes, she collected her possessions that were scattered around the room and stuffed them into her open suitcase. She tried to hurry; time was running out. She couldn’t know what her devoted relatives already knew.
She ordered a taxi, and ten minutes later she was already paying her bill to the surprised receptionist.
“Oh, so you’re leaving already?” the receptionist asked.
“Yes. I just don’t like surprise parties,” Noa said, with the same friendly smile she’d flashed before. Then she strode out of the hotel.
The taxi took her to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, where she learned that the bus to Be’er Sheva was leaving in another hour and a half. Good. She’d have time to take care of things, so she wouldn’t have to get there looking like an eccentric hobo.
It took her time to find the place where she could check in her baggage, but she finally found it. It was a small counter with a door at the side. After lots of questions, and filling out a form with her details and a form stating her responsibility for payment, the door opened and her large suitcase was taken inside and marked with a wide piece of fluorescent tape with her name on it.
Now she had just a small tote bag, which was much lighter and made her look less like a vagabond. Noa went to find the right platform, and on the way passed a large mirror. Hmmm… She should probably take care of the clothing department. After being educated for half a year by Elka and the visitors to the Chareidi community center in Yokne’am, Noa knew enough to realize that if she was going to present herself as enthusiastic about her rediscovery of who she was, she had to be wearing a slightly more suitable shirt. She actually had other tops, which she’d bought just this week, in Haifa, but they were in her big suitcase.
Near the bus stop was a huge clothing bazaar. Noa wondered if she’d find what she was looking for there. She stood for a moment at the entrance and peeked inside.
“Excuse me, did you notice that you’re blocking the entrance?”
Noa made way for the woman who had come in behind her. The woman passed her and then turned back to Noa. “Remember me?”
Noa glanced at her fleetingly. “No.”
“I’m almost offended. I’m the one who was with you on your flight from Russia. Glad to meet you again; I’ve been waiting impatiently to do so.”