Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 60 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.
Motza’ei Shabbos was short, as they always are in the summer. And as much as they tried to hurry, Chaiky only arrived in Bnei Brak at 10:30, while Rachel continued on with the two older children to Yokne’am.
Chaiky got out of the taxi that her father had paid for (“It’s out of the question for you to schlep Yisrael Meri on another bus; take a taxi!”), and climbed up the stairs to an old building, holding Yisrael Meir in her arms, and not knowing what to expect.
Racheli, the woman of the house, was a warm, energetic person who ushered her into the living room. Only one light was on, and there were two little girls seated on the couch, one at each side. Adi Milner, Noa’s friend, turned out to be a rather shy, pleasant ba’alas teshuvah. She couldn’t help much by way of information, because she simply had none. “I also hardly know Noa,” she said, a bit anxiously, “but she has a good heart—I know that much.” She handed Chaiky an opaque bag. “These are her things: the notebook, the computer, and the note on which I wrote down the code.” She hesitated for a fraction of a second. “And by the way, if you have any contact with her, tell her that I took it very much to heart that she didn’t call me to reassure me that she was fine. Doesn’t she care about how worried I was?”
Chaiky looked Adi up and down, taking in the creased forehead, the wondering eyes. “I think that as long as you are here, she cannot call you,” she said gently. “And I understood from her that she switched her cell phone a few times, so that no one should be able to track her down, and she didn’t have anyone’s number in her new phone. Maybe she tried to call your house, because it’s easy to get a number of a landline at a certain address. But if you weren’t there, because you were spending most of your time here…”
“And she won’t go back there, either,” Racheli said, with protective firmness. “Enough with life in a hole in Tel Aviv. She will rent that place out, and rent something for herself here, right, Mrs. Struk? What do you say? You tell her, because she doesn’t listen to me.”
Chaiky didn’t really know what to say, because she was clueless about what Racheli was referring to. And that was when she heard the whole story, in great detail. She received a drink, listened to a few more deliberations, and somehow found herself talking a bit about herself. She fed Yisrael Meir, and eventually parted amiably from the two unique women she felt gratified to have met.
She knew that if she didn’t want to miss the last bus to the north, she had to run. Yoel had told her to call him if necessary, but she would not drag him down from Haifa to Bnei Brak to be her personal taxi driver. That would be pushing it.
At that moment, the bus carrying Rachel and the children reached Yokne’am. The two-and-a-half-hour journey that began in Be’er Sheva ended a few meters from the house, and Rachel had to literally drag the sleepy children from the bus stop. As soon as they arrived home, they fell asleep, in their clothes, Dovi in his bed and Naomi on the couch. Rachel hoped Chaiky wouldn’t mind.
She turned to her own room and began to think about the interview she had scheduled at the high school in Haifa. It was a very Chareidi place, Chaiky had told her. They had inquired about her, and they knew who and what she was, and were willing to accept her if she made a good impression. Was there a chance she’d succeed in doing that?
Her own image was reflected back at her from the mirror on the closet door, which for some reason had remained open in her hasty effort to get ready to leave on Friday. She looked at it for a long moment and then smiled, bowed to herself, and closed the door with a chuckle.
Was someone knocking at the front door? Chaiky couldn’t have arrived so quickly. Rachel hurried over.
“Who is it?” she asked. If she would move in here permanently, she would ask Chaiky to make another peephole for her. Why had they placed the peephole so high up?
“Uh…Dina Struk. Chaiky’s mother-in-law.”
Rachel unlatched the bar, and Bubby Struk walked in, carrying some bags. “I’ll put this in the kitchen for Chaiky. It’s lunch for tomorrow, alright? Tell her that she doesn’t have to cook.”
“Okay.” Rachel hadn’t seen Dina Struk since that conversation when she’d murmured something about a possible family connection. Rachel wasn’t angry at Chaiky anymore, or at Elsa, and not even at the Welfare Department. But this Struk grandmother…if she’d already uttered what she’d uttered, why couldn’t she have finished her sentence, instead of cutting it off in the middle?
“When did you get back?” Dina asked, wiping the table with a damp dishrag.
“About twenty minutes ago. Maybe less. I don’t think Chaiky likes it when other people clean her table.”
“And when is she supposed to get here from Bnei Brak?” Dina had finished cleaning the table anyway, and now she rinsed and squeezed out the blue cloth. “Do you know what is going on there? Were you in contact with her yet?”
“No. I don’t have a cell phone, and she told me that she wouldn’t call the house in case I fell asleep; she doesn’t want to wake me up. I think she made up with her brother that he would come to get her, or he offered to do it, or something like that.”
“He’s a good brother,” Dina Struk said approvingly. “A good brother.”
“Yes.” Rachel folded her arms. “Even though Chaiky is a bit embarrassed by him, I think she knows how to see the good in other people and not only their dirty spots.” She looked away from Dina, who was scrubbing a little spot at the end of the counter that she’d noticed before putting down the dishrag.
“And good for Chaiky that she knows who her brother is. She was born into a normal family, with parents and a brother… Well, that’s life. There are those who Hashem decreed should not know everything they want to know.”
“That’s right.” Dina looked at her. “There are some who cannot know. Apparently it’s better for them that way.”
“Yes, but it’s too bad that there are people who think that Hashem needs their help in making sure those others don’t know.”
“Rachel, dear.” Dina selected the chair near the counter, the one that had been there since Chaiky’s conversation with Noa on Friday. “You know something? I came to continue that conversation we had on the day that Chaiky landed, but even now, I won’t be able to give you the whole picture.”
Rachel gazed at her through narrowed eyes that did not contain much trust. “What?”
“That’s one of the reasons I came now, even though it’s very late. I didn’t only come to bring Chaiky food, and certainly not to clean. Chaiky’s house is clean; don’t worry. I see that very clearly.” Her eyes smiled. “I thought a lot about you over Shabbos, and I wanted to meet you, alone, and to tell you that I made some inquiries.”
“You inquired about my family?” Rachel leaned forward.
“Yes. Should I tell you what I discovered? Even if it is only a partial story and you’ll be left in suspense?”
“Why would you leave me in suspense?”
“Because I’m not sure I can say everything. But there is one thing I decided to trust my instincts about and share with you. Without asking any social workers.”
The girl was silent for a long moment. “Nu?” she asked, pulling up a chair for herself.
“We are relatives. Pretty distant relatives, but related.”
Rachel gaped at her. “Related,” she echoed. “Do you know my mother?”
“And my father?”
“Um…I’ve seen him once or twice in my life.”
“Is he alive?”
“Yes, and that is the last question that I will answer, because it’s enough that I’m telling you this much without approval from anyone, not even Chaiky… So what do you say? Are you happy to be a relative of ours?”
“It scares me that someone knows my parents,” Rachel said numbly, and stood up. She pushed the chair back with a loud scrape and left the room. Dina was tempted to say, “Shhhhhh!” but squelched the urge at the last second. She heard the porch door slamming, and then opening again after a moment.
Rachel returned to the kitchen. “It probably wants to drink,” she said, and Dina did not know if she was talking to herself or to her.
“No, the plant Chaiky bought me.” She filled the washing cup with water, but suddenly she leaped from her place and inadvertently spilled a third of the water onto the counter, and another third splashed onto the floor.
“Chaiky!” she exclaimed, and dashed to the door.
“Gut voch!” Chaiky said, holding Yisrael Meir. She smiled fleetingly at both women, and immediately reached into her bag and pulled out another bag, wrapped with multiple layers of clear packing tape. She opened it with one hand and pulled out a purple notebook.
“I didn’t want to take it out on the bus,” she said. “Oh, here’s the note. TK125#224611. What do you say about this code? Maybe I’ll try it with gematria?” She was quiet for a few seconds, as they both stared at her, perplexed. “Nothing,” she said, after a moment. “So maybe…”
“Maybe gematria ketanah,” Dina Struk suggested. “You know that the number four can also be in place of forty or in place of four hundred.”
“And maybe you should give me Yisrael Meir,” Rachel suggested.