Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 51 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.
The woman who met Chaiky and Naomi at the library didn’t look much like Elka, although it was her. Her eyes were shifty, as if she was embarrassed to focus on Chaiky, or perhaps it wasn’t only embarrassment. Something was bothering Elka very much, and it was not only the awkwardness at unexpectedly meeting up with her dedicated employee in this library.
“I need to speak to you, Chaiky,” she said as she picked up a book from the floor. “I’ve been meaning to for two days, but it just didn’t happen yet. You see how busy I am here. Miri is trying to help me, but there are hours that I need her to be sitting at the entrance and doing other work, so I’m stuck in here.”
Chaiky looked around. “Where’s Noa?” she asked. Some of her lack of enthusiasm about coming here with Naomi had been because it would mean meeting up with Noa, but after Noami had begged so hard, and Rachel had promised to watch the baby for her, Chaiky remembered that her last encounter with Noa hadn’t been so bad. Noa had brought her a gift and had even taken down the information Chaiky had given her about the V’chai Achicha organization. She had used it, and had spent part of Pesach with Reva.
Chaiky had also almost met Noa at the airport in Russia, when Noa had been dressed very…differently. But Chaiky knew she mustn’t say a word about that to Elka. Elka was prejudiced.
“Where is Noa?” Elka echoed. “I want to know that, too. Very, very much. And the way things look, Chaiky, I owe you an apology.”
Chaiky glanced at Naomi, who was impatiently shifting her weight from one leg to the other. The most articulate response she was able to muster was, “Oh.”
“Yes, I gave Noa an important role here, and she didn’t deserve it.” Elka sighed. “And you didn’t, either.”
“Naomi, do you want to go choose a book?” Chaiky asked.
“No, I want you to choose one with me!” Naomi replied. “That’s why I wanted you to come with me, Ima. I wanted you to help me choose!”
“I won’t take you away from your daughter now, Chaiky, but we need to talk. I have no idea what Noa wanted to get from us here, but it is certainly not what I had thought I was getting out of having her here.”
Naomi lost her patience and walked toward the nearest bookcase. Chaiky, despite not wanting to ask, couldn’t resist. “What were you planning on getting out of her?” she asked.
“I thought she was a representative of the Foundation in charge of community centers. I heard, and it doesn’t matter how, that they wanted to give a grant to three places that really excelled, and they were going to check out all the community centers. I understood from that same source that someone named Noa was going to be sent to us by the Foundation, so you can understand how I felt when I suddenly noticed someone, who told me her name was Noa, spending time here.”
“She originally came to the library to do some kind of report on Jewish philosophy, didn’t she?”
“I’m afraid that that was also an excuse of some kind. She came here for something else, and I have no idea what it was.”
“It’s already twenty to one,” Adi said as she glanced at the black suitcase standing in the corner of the kitchen. “This outing took us a long time. When are your girls coming home?”
“From one fifteen to three fifteen, depending on the age.” Racheli formed the fish mixture into balls and placed them into the bubbling frying pan. “And my husband only gets home from kollel at seven in the evening. Do you want to open the suitcase? We really should use the time that Elisheva and Chana’le are sleeping and the others aren’t here yet.”
“Okay.” Adi stood up and looked at the bag, as if something was holding her back from pulling the zipper. She had no idea what waited inside it.
“A little den of lion cubs inside?” Racheli quipped lightly.
“Doesn’t look like it…” Adi smiled.
“Do you want me to help?”
Adi laughed. “No, it’s enough that you are now under atomic pressure with lunch, because you have almost no time to prepare it. I’ll open this suitcase. What could be inside it anyway?” Her fingers gripped the zipper. “Nothing interesting, I’m sure.
She was right. There was nothing interesting inside.
“Some clothes and other odds and ends,” Racheli noted as she glanced over her shoulder. The first patties were already resting on the paper towels, and the kitchen had a pleasant aroma as she wiped down the counter. “So, is that it?”
“More or less,” Adi said, as she felt around the empty cavity of the suitcase. “As far as I can see, there are no secret panels here. So what’s her story? Why was I supposed to take this?” She tossed all the stuff back into the valise; there was no need to put them in any order, as they hadn’t been orderly in the first place. “Oh, sure. Keeping things at the station costs money. It’s much easier to throw it all onto naïve Adi, who would surely run right away to take that on herself also.”
“Don’t speak about Adi like that,” Racheli protested. She turned away from the counter, leaning on it as she smiled at Adi, who was still standing next to the suitcase and glaring at it with revulsion. “I don’t know the lady who owns this bag, but I know Adi very well. She’s ready to do a lot for her friends, so it’s no wonder that I like it that she’s here.”
“Yes? What, for example, has she done for you?”
“Well, now she is leaving that bag and coming to help me—and she can choose either to peel potatoes or flip these patties.”
“I’d better work with the potatoes. I’m not good with hot oil,” Adi said. “Let’s just open this front pocket here, the small one. I’m sure there are just some more clothes in it, but…”
But her hand touched some hard objects, which did not feel at all like the soft fabrics of clothing.
“A laptop computer,” she said as she pulled it out.
“A phone book, the old-fashioned kind.” She examined the small leather rectangle.
“And…a purple notebook.”
“This definitely looks more significant,” Racheli said. “Open the notebook; maybe she wrote something inside to explain herself? Or perhaps there’s a hint as to where she could be right now?”
A thin wail.
“That’s my Chana’le.” Adi turned to the door, her eyes still lingering on the notebook on the table.
“It’s my Chana’le,” Racheli objected. “Sit down and take a look at these things. I know how to take care of babies also.”
“But what’s going to be with the potatoes?”
“I changed my mind,” Racheli said cheerfully. “There’s no time to cook or bake them anyway. It’s too late. They’ll eat orzo today.”
The call, in fact, came from Irena Yadovsky; it was not her grandfather. Noa was fuming, but Irena actually listened to her quietly for a few moments, and then cut off the conversation and promised that her grandfather would call her back in a few seconds. A lot more than a few seconds passed before he called, and during that time Noa paced up and down the street, taking in all the differences that the passing time had made on it.
Grandfather was very angry and adamant, as expected. Maybe even a bit less than expected. “I don’t want to hear a word from you before you carry out my instructions. And even after that, you will need to work very hard to gain my trust again. But before anything, do it.”
“I’ll do it,” Noa said, with a confidence that was purely external. “But before that, Grandfather, I want you to hear why I haven’t done it until now.”
“I will listen to that, maybe, after you complete my instructions,” he repeated loudly.
“But it might be too late by then.”
“Too late for you, perhaps. You will likely have to pay for all these games, but first you have to do yours. We will speak later.”
“Fine, Grandfather,” Noa said submissively. “But after it all happens, remember that I tried to prevent it.”
Noa paced back and forth across from the Brodsky home, trying not to walk on the cracks on the sidewalk, like she’d done when she was a girl. Years had passed since that time, and she had stepped on so many cracks in the interim, but here she was again. Trying to improvise something and knowing that Grandfather wouldn’t believe her. He was so sly himself that he was probably familiar with every trick in the book. Even those that were an attempt to rectify, quickly, before something bad happened, something that she would never be able to forgive herself for.
“I don’t believe anything you try to tell me,” he said finally, breaking the silence. “You have a Jewish head, just like your mother did.”
“My mother was Jewish?”
“What was her maiden name?”
“I don’t know. We were actually very happy, when you were born, that you looked so much like my son, your father. We were sure that you had inherited all the genes from us, but apparently we were mistaken. It’s impossible to ignore this Jewish blood. It’s contagious.” Suddenly, Grandfather sounded in no hurry to end the conversation.
“Grandfather,” she said, ignoring his last remark. “Do you know why I am holding everything up?”
“No, and I don’t care.”
“Won’t you give me a chance to explain?”
“No, because like I said, I don’t believe a word you say.”
“No.” She expected him to hang up the phone, but he continued this back and forth with her, as if amused by her repeated requests and his repeated refusals. Maybe that meant that there was a breach, a crack she could manage to get into?
“If the material would have been sent, Grandfather,” she began without any prefaces, “it would have all been—”
He cut her off. “I said I don’t want to hear about it!”
“Who told you to refuse to listen to me? Irena? Of course, because she’s afraid of what I have to say now, because it’s not what she thinks I’m going to say.”
“You’re getting yourself in even bigger trouble, Anna,” he said calmly, and suddenly sounded very pleased. “She has nothing to be afraid of; she does whatever I tell her to do. Now please hang up and go nicely with my people.”
Noa raised her gaze at once, but she didn’t see anyone. Was that Mira Brodsky peeking out from the door of the building? No, it just seemed like she was.
“Was it nice to speak to Grandpa?” someone asked sweetly behind her. Maybe it was the woman from the bus stop in Tel Aviv. Noa didn’t turn around to look. “So nice that you spoke to him so much, you well-raised child. It helped us find you. Now, such a good girl like you will surely come with us without making any problems.”