Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 62 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.
“Chaiky? Anna called me. Noa.” Mira’s voice sounded a bit strange, and Chaiky, who could not see her face through the phone, couldn’t quite place what she was hearing. Was it excitement? A complaint? Sometimes the two of those could sound quite similar.
“She called? What for?”
“To tell me that she’s living in Basel, Switzerland. She found a good job and is renting an apartment. She just wanted me to tell you again that she is very sorry and hopes everything works out.”
“Nice that she hopes that. I also hope the same thing.”
Mira smiled. “I almost said something similar myself, but in the end I just kept quiet. She said that she has neighbors across the hall from her who are frum, and they have told her she’s invited to them for all Shabbos meals. There’s a beautiful kehillah of ba’alei chessed in Basel; I’ve heard about it.”
“Maybe we should warn them,” Chaiky muttered.
“I’m not sure about that,” Mira replied quietly.
“Why? Would you be ready to invite her to be your regular Shabbos guest at this point?”
“Me?” Mira smiled and sighed at the same time. “I’ll have to deal with my past issues with her somehow; we’ll find a way b’ezras Hashem. But Noa sounds very sincere. She told me that she totally cut off ties with her grandfather, and paid a heavy price for it, and that she wants to start a new life now.”
They emerged from the assistant principal’s office just as the bell rang. Doors opened, and girls began to stream out. Chaiky glanced at Rachel, wearing a light blue shirt and navy skirt, even though she was not yet officially accepted as a student, and thought about how she looked just like one of the girls.
They made their way to the entrance of the building in silence, clearly aware of the girls observing them with curiosity. Some girls nodded politely at them.
“So?” Chaiky asked as they exited to the street, leaving behind the bustling high school with its noisy corridors and hordes of teenagers. “How would you rate your interview?”
Rachel laughed. “I don’t have to rate it; the principal does, and then she has to discuss what she thinks with the school board. What do you say? Do you think she was pleased?”
“I think she was very pleased. You made an excellent impression.”
“I hope so.” Rachel’s eyes were fixed on the storefront windows they were passing, but she did not seem to be looking at anything inside them. “Still, to accept a street kid that no one knows, who comes from who-knows-where…”
“Everyone knows who and what she is.” Chaiky smiled at Rachel. “You are big enough to know that there is no connection between the two parts of your sentence, right? You’re not a ‘street kid’; you’re coming from my house and nowhere else. But even if, let’s say, you are referring to the fact that you didn’t grow up with your biological family,” Chaiky spread her hands, “you’ve built yourself up beautifully, in the way Hashem wants.”
Rachel smiled at the compliment, but addressed the other part of the sentence. “Now I’m coming from your house, but what is going to be when your husband is released?”
“When that happens, I will be so thrilled, so don’t depress me with the thought that there is someone who is actually afraid that that day will come, okay? I can’t tell you right now what will be then, but I promise you that bli neder, we—the whole Struk family—will all make sure that it will be good for you.”
They continued walking together, Chaiky adapting her gait to Rachel’s. It was very subtle, but in the last year she’d acquired a lot of experience with adapting herself to situations that she wasn’t so comfortable with, and then actually feeling good about the way she’d handled them.
“If you’re afraid we’re going to miss the bus to Yokne’am, I can run,” Rachel offered. “My running might look very funny, but I can do it perfectly fine when I want to.”
“You can do lots of things very well when you want to.” Chaiky rummaged in her bag for her wallet as they walked. “And when I observe you, I am so impressed, just so you know. Look how far you’ve come since you were born. And being alone, no less.”
“I think I’m going to stop talking about my ‘being alone’ for the time being,” Rachel said. Her words took Chaiky by surprise. “First of all, I’m a real relative of your family, so I’m not exactly alone when I’m with you. And besides, it makes me get very angry at my parents, and what would be the point of that?”
“Should I tell you something?” Chaiky withdrew her hand from her bag without taking out the wallet. They were nearing the bus stop.
“That’s a funny question.”
“Why is it funny?”
“How can I know if I want you to tell me ‘something’ when I don’t know what it is? You know what? Tell me. You usually want the best for me, so it probably won’t be something annoying or insulting.”
“Insulting, for sure not. Annoying? Um…I’m not sure. The question is how mature you are and if you’ll be able to handle it. It has to do with a short conversation I had with your social worker.”
“I’m very mature!” Rachel said hotly. “And now I’m also very curious. So tell me already.”
“Let’s say that those distant relatives would not have left you in the hospital. Maybe you even would have been born healthy and happy, and they would have raised you. Imagine that scenario, okay?”
“Okay.” Rachel’s forehead was creased. “Go on.”
“Well…do you want to hear a few general details about your parents?”
“Of course!” Rachel fixed her with a piercing stare.
“Look, they are not at all Torah observant. The father is a very sick man. The mother had an emotional breakdown a few years ago, and she’s been hospitalized most of the time since then. Their two sons were sent to foster families. What would have happened to you had you grown up there?”
Rachel was quiet.
“Who knows how you would have turned out had you been raised in such a home? You would likely not have become such a special girl, such a sensitive girl, with so many important values. Your life is not easy the way it is now, that is definitely true, but what does a person know about what is good for him in the long run?” She sat down on the bench at the bus stop, while Rachel leaned against the wall there, still quiet.
For a few long minutes, she continued to remain silent.
Chaiky began to get nervous that perhaps what she’d said was a bit too lofty, or too demanding, or just too much for Rachel, who, after all, was just a young teenager.
But then Rachel finally spoke. “Should I tell you something?”
Chaiky breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes, sure.”
“Let’s say that your husband would have gone to Russia but wouldn’t have taken diamonds from anyone. And he would have returned home safely. And the family would have been reunited without even knowing what you had all been saved from. And let’s say Noa wouldn’t have come to the community center, and you never would have met her, and you probably wouldn’t have invited me to come to you, and I wouldn’t be stuck by you until now—”
“Don’t say stuck,” Chaiky protested, but Rachel raised a hand to silence her.
“So what do you think would have happened then? You would have been happy that your husband was back, obviously, but you would have stayed so cold and emotionless, like that first time I met you in the hospital. But…it’s like you just told me: what does a person know about what is good for him in the long run?”
At that second, the bus pulled up. Chaiky was so thrown off by Rachel’s words that, after following Rachel blindly onto the bus, she began to walk down the aisle without even stopping to pay the driver; she only realized her mistake a few seconds later, and quickly turned around to pay.
Somehow, she found herself seated somewhere near the back of the bus. Someone was sitting next to her, but Chaiky didn’t bother to check if it was Rachel or someone else. She breathed deeply. Her heart felt like it was being pinched by sharp tongs; the insult was searing. It was the same heart that had heard similar sentiments from Noa on Friday, but still it was having trouble absorbing what had been said.
Had she really been cold and emotionless to Rachel the first time they’d met? She? She had wanted to make a kiddush Hashem…she’d encouraged her kids to be on their best behavior around Rachel…she had tried so hard to give her a good feeling…and this was what Rachel remembered about her? That she’d been a cold and irritable person?
“Are you insulted, Chaiky?” the person beside her asked. “Look, I didn’t mean that you were so cold, but…you weren’t as nice as you are today. You understand?”
Chaiky opened her eyes and nodded. Then she shook her head from side to side. “You’re right,” she said, with effort. “A person does not know what is good for him. There are lots of things that I didn’t used to be.”
“And that now you are,” Rachel said.
But it’s only a show! Chaiky wanted to scream. It’s all a show for you!
But she didn’t say that. Because she knew it wasn’t quite true. No, it wasn’t all a show.
“So do you forgive me?” Rachel looked at her. “And maybe, in exchange, I’ll try to forgive my parents…”
“Rachel, you’re the best.” Chaiky’s voice found its way back, and the tongs squeezing her heart released their grip. “All you did was put me in my place for a minute; you didn’t do anything bad, and there’s nothing you need to ask my forgiveness for. But if you can forgive your parents, that would be wonderful—for you.”
“And who will you forgive, if you don’t have to forgive me?” Rachel played with her ponytail. “Because I wanted to give you my forgiveness of my parents in exchange for something. If you don’t have what to give me in exchange, it’s not fair.”
“I have to forgive myself for mistakenly sending Noa the email that my husband was going to Russia. And I also have to…” Chaiky looked out the window. “I have to forgive…her, Noa. And you might be surprised to hear it, but I’m ready to forgive her for everything, if I see in the end that she really did save my husband. But it will be hard for me to forgive what she said to me in our last conversation.”
“What did she say?” Rachel pressed.
“Forget it; it’s nonsense. Something similar to what you just told me…something about me being like a doll without emotions.”
“But it’s not true anymore!” Rachel exclaimed. “Don’t you realize that it’s not true now? Look at how you treat your children! Look at how you treat me, and how you take care of everything else in your life! And even if sometimes you do get a bit annoyed or something, or you don’t daven with enough kavanah—that’s the way it is. We all have times that we fall. And I…” She rubbed her neck. “I don’t know exactly what you were like before, Chaiky—only those first few encounters that I had with you back then—but today…today you’re totally thriving.”
Then she concluded triumphantly, “Just like the flower in the pot that you bought me. Actually, maybe it’s more like the night jasmine, the nyctanthes, which flowers specifically at night.”
“Thanks,” Chaiky said heavily. Rachel was cute, and her comparisons were nice, even if they didn’t make her feel any better.
But surprisingly enough, she discovered that the unpleasantness that had been weighing on her heart since Friday was suddenly dissipating, until slowly, it disappeared completely.