Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 56 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
“Where is Ima?” Miri closed the door of her parents’ house behind her, and smiled as her younger brothers fell upon their nephew. “You don’t even look at me, so I want Ima.”
“Ima’s on the phone with her millionaire,” Chani said, calmly rescuing the baby from her younger brothers’ hands.
“She has a new friend from England,” Esti explained. “She calls here like twice a day. Don’t ask. They realized that they both went to school in Zichron Meir as girls, but that this Blumi was a grade older than Ima. But they still share childhood memories of Bnei Brak, of school and all kinds of ancient contests they had back then, and that type of thing. As if Ima is bored and needs a new way to fill her time.”
“Twice a day?” The description amused Miri.
“About. Okay, maybe there are days when it’s only once. But trust me, they speak often enough!”
“What does she call Ima about? She’s the one from the silver yad, right?”
“Yes. They are sponsoring the seudah for the hachnassas sefer Torah, and pekelach for the kids. She calls Ima to ask her about every little thing—first course, dessert, what to put in the pekelach, what kind of torches they will distribute to the kids, and what kind of van they should rent for the parade.”
“Van?” Miri opened the fridge, looking for something cold to drink.
“Yes, a van with lights! And a crown!” Yitzy bounced around her, and Bentzy and Shloimy started dancing around the table.
“Shmully also wants to dance!” Uncle Yitzy suggested.
“He will watch you from here,” Miri said, smiling at her son who was still being firmly held by his responsible aunt. “Nu, sing some hachnassas sefer Torah songs so he should get familiar with them already!” Under the cover of the singing-cum-shrieking, as the little ones began dancing boisterously in front of Shmully, she leaned over to Chani and asked, “Is this millionaire lady connected somehow to the millionaire man from Australia? Or this apartment? Or both?”
“Of course not!” Chani looked at her in surprise. “Only the yad was from her. I mean, it is hers. She didn’t even mean to give it to us. And Binyamin told me that he wrote an apology letter, and Ima and Abba faxed it over to her.”
Miri nodded, her expression inscrutable. She hadn’t yet met Binyamin since she’d revealed his secret to Ima. She had no idea what he was feeling toward her.
“Because he was supposed to take care of it for her, but instead he lost it.” Eleven-year-old Esti played with the knob of the corner cabinet. “Not that I really understand what exactly happened…although I guess it’s not my business anyway. But she’s not connected to any of the other new things. This house is from the U’shemartem auction, and the millionaire is from Australia.”
“Right,” Chani said. “And this Blumi is from England. So I can’t see how any of these things would be connected.”
“So how much time do they spend talking to each other?” Miri asked. “How much longer will this phone call take?”
“No way to know. Sometimes forty-five minutes.” Esti was very encouraging.
“But sometimes it only takes ten minutes.” Chani smiled at her nephew. “So basically, it’s an average of twenty-seven-and-a-half minutes.” She glanced at the clock. “Now it’s about twenty-two minutes since she called. I checked. So you have a good chance that in about five minutes, Ima will be all yours.”
“Are you not sleeping, Ulush?” Janek looked at the clock. “That’s a shame, because Suri finally fell asleep… What are you doing there?”
“To Gustav and Edo?”
“Who else do I have to write to, if not them?” She folded the two pages and slid them into the envelopes she had prepared.
“What did you write in your letters?”
“I told them a bit about America, the streets, the people…”
“I hope you didn’t describe too much.” The edges of his eyes twitched. “It would be a shame if you were to tempt them to come to America and we won’t be able to help them realize that dream.”
“I don’t think my descriptions would want to make anyone come here.” Her lips attempted a smile. “On the other hand, I didn’t make us sound too pitiful—don’t worry.”
“Worry? I’m not worried.” He fingered the edge of his blanket. “And if I am worried about someone, it’s you. When things calm down there, would you want to travel to Eretz Yisrael to see how they are doing?”
“Very much,” she said. “But I know how vague ‘when things calm down’ really is.”
“Because the situation there really is not clear,” Janek said simply. “I’m sorry, Ulush. I also love Gustav and Edo. I also put myself at risk for them and forged a bond with them. But once they are no longer in danger, I don’t think it would be wise on our part to do all kinds of things just because we miss them. True, the war is over, but the Arabs are still very unsettled.”
“I’m not doing all kinds of things,” she replied. “I just wrote letters, and I gave each one the other’s address. At least they should be together. Who do they have in Israel besides one another?”
Gustav really had no one. Edo, on the other hand, had a few new friends that he had made in the orphanage. But that was not the only reason why Gustav set out on his trip. The paper from Edo’s mother, which had been lost, galvanized him to find his friend. The time had long come for him to do this already.
He left the orphanage in Jerusalem early one morning, without telling anyone. He arrived in Bnei Brak late that afternoon. He walked slowly through the streets, trying to find the address that Ulush had sent him, without asking anyone.
He stood in front of the white building and squinted. Jerusalem was nicer. Perhaps Edo would want to come with him? No, he would probably want to go to his uncles and grow up there, with them. What about the fact that the paper, with his uncles’ names on it, had disappeared? It didn’t matter. It would be enough for the group that searched for people’s relatives to announce that a child by the name of Yosef Ludmir, from Petrezhelka Street in Bratislava, was looking for his uncles. There was no one who had relatives from Europe who didn’t listen out to hear if they had been saved.
“Edo?” The man with the short gray beard thought for a minute. “We don’t have a boy by that name here. Maybe he has a new name, a Jewish name?”
“I don’t know,” Gustav said desperately. “In Europe we called him Edo. Maybe I can go from room to room to look for him? Even though it’s been more than a year since we were together, I will certainly recognize him. For sure.”
“The children aren’t here right now; they went to pick fruits in the orchard,” the man said gently. “Maybe you’d like to go to the dining room in the meantime? I’ll ask the cook for a bowl of soup for you. They’ll be back soon for supper.”
It was tempting, and he was very hungry. “Alright,” Gustav said quietly. “Thank you.”
The soup arrived a few minutes later, fresh and steaming. It didn’t have as many vegetables as the soup in the Jerusalem orphanage had, but it was still very tasty. He wondered what kind of food Edo usually got here; he knew it was nothing compared to what he would get when he would meet his relatives.
He suddenly heard voices from outside, coming into the large dining room. Gustav leaped to his feet, abandoning his spoon. None of the boys had entered yet, but Edo had suddenly become a very real thing, instead of something that belonged to his memories of the war and the postwar period, beginning from that night when he had asked Theodore to please take the little boy in, because his mother was crying so much…
Gustav listened closely to the noise of the children outside. There was a cacophony of voices, running footsteps, friendly calls…but there was no Edo among any of the names he heard. Maybe Edo really wasn’t here, and Ulush had just mixed up the address?
Okay, it was called Batei Avot, but who said there wasn’t another place with a similar name?
He retreated to the wall.
Suddenly he saw Edo.
It was him: short and smiling, running with two big oranges in his hands, hurrying along with the other children to…what was there in the corner? A box? Yes. They were all putting the fruits they had picked into the box.
Gustav held his breath, studying Edo, who stood for a long moment peering into the box. Then Edo joined the other children as they jostled to wash their hands and raucously took their places at the tables. None of them noticed the empty side table and the lone boy standing next to it. Edo didn’t notice either. He sat down next to another boy, picked up the plate that was there, studied it in the light, and then put it back down on the table.
Did he really not see him?
With his lips pressed together, Gustav slowly walked along the length of the wall until he reached the door. Then he turned on his heel, slipped out of the room, and disappeared.
A few moments later, the man with the beard came to inquire if the soup had been good and if he wanted more—and also if he had found his Edo. But Gustav was no longer there. He was running breathlessly, trying to dodge the light raindrops as best he could; he didn’t look back. He ran and ran until he got to the bus stop. Only then did he stop. He could not help but think of that day in Bratislava when he had fled in the rain, too.
Then it had been strong rain, a storm, really; now it was just a light drizzle. And then he had been running from Theodore. Now he was running from Edo.
Why meet him anyway? He couldn’t even tell him who his uncles were. Wouldn’t it be better to come back here later, when he could tell Edo everything? About his mother, who had cried that night in the wind, and about the paper she had given him, and most importantly—who his relatives were, and that he didn’t need to be in an institution because he had a home. He had family.
Maybe he would look for Edo’s uncles himself, through the office that helped people search for relatives. When they would find the uncles and know who they were, Edo would be happy to get all the details. He would not need to come here himself; they would go to him.
Maybe he would come just to tell Edo that he was the one who had given over all the information, and maybe not. Perhaps he wouldn’t want to meet him then either.