Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 48 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 approached the desk and peered at the bag through the glass. Yes, that was Noa’s suitcase. And in case there remained any doubt, there was a fluorescent yellow swath of tape with Noa’s identifying details written on it.
“Excuse me?” she said, raising her voice, because no one seemed to be in the room.
“Yes?” An older woman stood up from behind the pile of suitcases and bags.
“Can you tell me when this suitcase was put here?”
“I can’t give you details like that,” the woman replied, clearly impatient. “We don’t just give information out to other people.”
“But the suitcase belongs to my friend who disappeared,” Adi almost pleaded. “Just tell me if it was dropped off in the last few minutes or a long time ago.”
The woman stared at her. “Neither,” she said, after a moment. “She was here about an hour and a half ago.”
“She was alone?”
“You see why I don’t like answering people?” the woman asked, and went back to her little stool in the corner of the room. “A minute ago you said I should just tell you when that suitcase was dropped off, and suddenly you have more questions.”
“Because I saw that you are nice and that you realize that I’m very upset, so I tried to get a bit more information from you.” Adi took a step back and gripped the handle of the carriage, but didn’t leave.
The woman sat down and picked up a rag that was lying on the floor next to her. She dusted off a small shelf and put two medium-sized boxes on it. Suddenly she raised her head and snapped, “She was alone. Does that make you feel better?”
“Not exactly.” Adi took a deep breath.
“Why, is she lost?”
“Yes. And I’m worried about her.”
“Did you go to the police?”
“She claims that it’s not necessary.”
“Oh, so you have contact with this friend?”
“She’s not answering her phone anymore. But when we last spoke, she said that she didn’t think it was necessary to call the police. I really don’t know what to do.”
The woman suddenly stood up from the stool and came over to the counter. She pulled over a thick black loose-leaf that was sitting at the edge of the desk, and leafed through the forms. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Oh. Because she wrote that besides for her, I can give her things to you, as well. If you want to take her stuff, be my guest.”
Adi looked the big suitcase up and down. Did it contain a hint that would shed light on Noa’s whereabouts? She stared at it as she considered the option of taking it home, and then rejected it. First of all, she could not possibly schlep it along with Chana’le’s carriage. Second, if the people searching for Noa were still hanging around on her street, it would be very foolish to let them see her coming home with Noa’s suitcase. She’d gotten way too involved in this story as it was; she wasn’t looking for more trouble.
“I’ll think about what to do. Thank you,” she said to the woman, and turned to leave.
Why had Noa written her name down as the other claimant? She had passed the baggage-check counter only incidentally; Noa had no way of knowing that that would happen! Apparently Noa had planned to contact Adi if it became necessary, and to ask her to go and get the suitcase.
Meaning, Noa had seemingly planned to go very far away, maybe even to leave the country.
Adi took another deep breath. Somehow, she wasn’t sure that Noa’s original plans were very relevant right now, based on that panicky phone call she had received. Now it appeared that Noa hadn’t lied; that she really had been here at the station. She must have discovered that someone was closing in on her.
So should Adi be worried?
Without actually deciding to do so, Adi found herself calling Racheli in Bnei Brak. No one answered at first, so she decided to recite a perek of Tehillim while the phone continued to ring. She said the words very slowly, the way she had learned it from Racheli’s young daughter when she’d last been there for Shabbos.
“Mikol avonosav. Racheli?”
“No, it’s Tzira, but I’ll get my mother for you. When are you going to come again to our house, Adi? I miss Chana’le!”
Fine, so it was Tzira. Adi had given up trying to differentiate between the identical voices of Racheli Korman and her seven daughters. She waited patiently until she heard Racheli’s warm and gentle voice come on the line.
The 161 bus line from Bnei Brak pulled up at its final stop, and the handful of passengers got off. How good it was to see Racheli among them! Adi stood up from the bench and approached the curb.
“Racheli!” she said with a tired smile. “You are such a tzaddeikes for coming—I have no words. I felt so lost, and I didn’t know what to do. Really, I have no words…”
“If you have no words, then why are you talking?” Racheli laughed. “And of course I came—what’s the question? How is Chana’le? She’s not hungry?” She bent over the carriage, which had come from her gemach, and gazed at the baby worriedly.
“She just ate a short time ago,” Adi said, and suddenly burst out crying. “I don’t really want to go home with her huge suitcase, even if she trusted me and was sure that I would do it for her. I’m sure that those who are following her are still on my block. Maybe that is why she wanted me to take the bag, so that it should catch their attention and they would be busy with it instead of chasing her. But I don’t have to stand for all this stuff!”
“Of course you don’t,” Racheli replied soothingly. “And I don’t think you have to take the suitcase at all, not before we find out what exactly is going on with this friend of yours. That’s first of all. In any case, you’re not going back there now. You are coming home with me, to Bnei Brak. I told you more than once that that area is not for you, with all the Sudanese and other types who hang around over there. And that’s all the more so the case now!”
“I should…come to you?” Adi took a deep breath.
“Of course. My girls got excited as soon as they heard it was you on the phone. Let’s go, Adi. A day or two in Bnei Brak, a good night’s sleep in my guest room, and everything will look different.”
“And what will be with Noa in the meantime?”
“Let’s go catch the 161 bus—it’s leaving in seven minutes—and on the way you’ll tell me all about Noa—who she is, how and where you got to know her, what her personality is like, and how much of a connection the two of you share. Then we’ll decide how much you have to do for her.”
“I need to do a lot for her,” Adi said quietly, as the bus tried to wend its way through the traffic-congested street. “She might not be the greatest of friends…am I allowed to say that? It isn’t…how do you call it…lashon hara?”
“It’s for a to’eles, a constructive purpose,” Racheli replied. “I am hearing this in order to see how to help you, not because your friend’s personality—and I don’t even know her—interests me.”
“Don’t think that she’s bad, because she’s really not. She just did not have an easy life. She never had a normal family, and from a very young age she had to fend for herself. That’s why she’s the kind of person who worries almost exclusively about herself, without thinking much about others.” She looked at Chana’le nestled in her arms.
“We were friends in high school, and then we worked together in an institution for girls. In both situations she went above and beyond for me. She helped me tons with my schoolwork, and I was only hired for the job at the institution because of her. You have to understand, it wasn’t like we were equals. She was definitely more brilliant and more talented than me. I was always behind her, but she did all that she could to bring me up.” The bus wasn’t moving. “She has a very good heart, but she just has to remember that there are other people in the world. When she remembers, she’s wonderful, but when she’s busy with herself, everyone else becomes…like air.”
“And that’s what happened over the past few years. Since we parted, she never contacted me. Not for my wedding, even though I sent her an invitation; not after the accident; and not when Chana’le was born. Nothing. And suddenly, one day out of the blue, she appeared. She asked to sleep over for one night, and was very nice while she was at my house, but the entire time she was also very focused on her goals. She treated me like it was clear that the friendship between us still existed and that I would jump to obey her every request.”
“And did you?”
Adi smiled. “I have hakaras hatov to her,” she said after a moment’s thought, “especially since on the phone she sounded so desperate… And now, this strange story, with her suitcase being left there… Why did she write on the form that they could give it to me? What for? And why isn’t she answering her phone? Maybe I should just contact the police and that’s it.”
“Hakaras hatov is a wonderful middah,” Racheli said, looking at the folded carriage lying near their seat. “But—hey, is that her?” she wondered as Adi’s phone rang.
“No, it’s not her number.” Adi answered the call. “Hello? What?” She paled. “No, I do not know where she is,” she said, white-faced. “No, no, I really don’t know! A—” She gripped the phone so tightly that Racheli had to work hard to pry it from her fingers.
“Hello?” she said in a strident tone. “Who is this?”
“I am in the middle of speaking to Adi Milner,” a woman replied with a heavy Russian accent. “Please don’t disturb.”
“Now you are in the middle of speaking to me, madam, not Adi. What do you want from her?”
“She is supposed to know where Anna Rose is now, where she went. Do you know? Who are you?”
“Adi is not supposed to know where Anna is,” Racheli said firmly. “They have no contact, even if this Anna was her guest for one night. And I demand that you stop harassing her, or I will call the police and file a complaint for harassment. Is that clear?”
A dial tone was her reply.
“We got two things out of this conversation,” Racheli noted as she returned the phone to Adi. “First of all, it sounds like the mysterious pursuers of your friend don’t know where she is, and besides that, hopefully they will now be afraid to bother you again.”
Adi smiled weakly. “So maybe I can go home now,” she said.
“Don’t even say that,” Racheli warned her. “Don’t insult me like that, running away from my house. Especially since yesterday, we got back that newer carriage, the cream colored one, and I want to give it to you instead of this one.”
“And especially since I need a bit more of your advice,” Adi said, passing a hand over her forehead. “Like what to do with this strange code that she gave me.”
Recap of Chapter 48
Adi calls her mentor Racheli and asks for her help. She explains her relationship with Noa and tells her about the recent events. Racheli invites Adi to stay at her home for a few days.
Adi receives a call from Noa’s aunt, demanding to know where “Anna Rose” went.