Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 7 of a new online serial novel, The Black Sheep, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
The story of the black sheep was about a prince who had been sent into exile because of his misbehavior—so contrary to the rest of his refined and cultured family members—and thought he had been forgotten there forever. Because he was so unruly, he never bothered to read the letters from his father, the king. Osher’s preschool teacher had told the class the parable in kindergarten, and Osher had returned home fascinated by the story of the prince who was the black sheep of his family.
Reb Elazar and his son, Nechemia, who was home from yeshivah for Shabbos, listened to Osher’s account with interest.
“One boy asked the teacher if the mischievous prince would stand on the benches during circle time and jump onto the floor, ‘like Osher does.’ The kids all laughed, and the teacher told the boy that we don’t talk that way, but it didn’t help. And when my sister Ariella came to pick me up at the end of the day, I told her everything, and she went over to that boy and told him that when she was little, she also jumped off the chairs in her kindergarten class. But the girls didn’t make fun of her, because it’s not a nice thing to do.” Osher didn’t know that he was the first one of the boys to be doing this kind of “session” in the Reinesses’ private kitchen. The Friday night seudah was long over, and only he had gone up to help Reb Elazar and his son organize the refrigerator so that everything could fit back in.
“It’s a good thing you had an older, protective sister,” Reb Elazar remarked. “Nu, did the boys stop insulting you after that?”
“Yes, but only because a few days later I switched to the other class, so that boy didn’t have a chance to tease me anymore.”
“What was the other class like?” Nechemia asked.
“I went down to the lower class, to the three-year-olds. I was the oldest there, and it was nice.”
“It was nice?”
“Yes. The teacher there told all the boys that I’m her helper, and I played with everyone in the sand, and when we played with the toys, I told them stories.”
“Stories about the black-sheep prince?” Reb Elazar chuckled.
“Those, too. But I didn’t tell them that he was wild and bad. I just said that he didn’t read his father’s letters, so he didn’t know how much his family was waiting for him.”
“And without being bad and unruly, Osher, you also feel black and forgotten?”
“Not forgotten. I know my parents haven’t forgotten me.” Osher leaned against the wall and looked into Rabbi Reiness’s caring eyes. Nechemia had moved to the other side of the kitchen, where the hot plate with the cholent was, leaving his father to the privacy required for this heart-to-heart talk with his new student.
“I’m happy you know that.” Reb Elazar sat down on one of the chairs. “Do you want some cholent, by the way?” he asked.
“No, no. I don’t like cholent.” He gazed out of the window. “My family thinks about me all the time—I know they do. They were even able to send me a—” His eyes caught sight of the row of lemonade bottles on the dairy counter. “A bottle of lemonade, just like that.” His voice registered shock. “Exactly like that, Rebbi. How did that happen? Did my family send you a bottle of lemonade, too?!”
“Yours was exactly like this?” Rabbi Reiness asked.
“Yes,” Osher said. “I recognize the bottle. I thought it was something my sister had made herself. Now I see that it’s something store-bought, and that you also bought some. It’s good stuff. You can tell from the taste.”
“I agree,” Reb Elazar said. Nechemia observed the conversation taking place six feet away from him, though he didn’t understand a word of it.
Nechemia and I took a walk down to the beach on Motza’ei Shabbos. He didn’t have a lot of time until his bus to Jerusalem was scheduled to leave, but he told me that he needed ten minutes next to the sea whenever he came. “If my parents moved to the end of the world, at least I can enjoy it a bit,” he said.
I suggested that he could enjoy it a lot if he came to learn and work in his father’s carpentry shop. He laughed and said that maybe instead, I should come back with him to his yeshivah in Jerusalem. I told him that I didn’t even want to try going there, because I’d already given up on all standard yeshivos, and he stopped laughing. That was a shame, because he laughs just like his father; a pleasant laugh that’s not a drop scornful. He asked me why I was so despondent, and I decided that I didn’t really feel like spilling out my guts to someone who was twenty-and-a-half. Even though I really admire his father, he was really just a stranger to me.
So I just shrugged, and we sat down on the sand in silence.
I don’t know what happened in the end, but suddenly I did start to talk. I dug in the sand with one hand, and described how I had been a little, rambunctious boy, and when I grew older I got less wild on the outside, but that didn’t help me concentrate more inside. I talked a lot, and he sat quietly and listened. Once, Ariella had told me that I talk too much about myself, and that I “forget to finish.” I don’t know what she means by that, because I don’t usually tell people about myself. But I guess when I do find the right person, I spill out everything I have kept bottled inside me for a long, long time.
It didn’t look to me like Nechemia was very bothered by my long stories. Maybe it really didn’t bother him, or maybe he was annoyed by it, but having received his father’s chinuch, he just didn’t show his annoyance to me. Whatever it was, he stood up from the sand and said that he wanted to be my friend because he liked me, but he had no choice right now and had to run home to get his suitcase and hurry to the bus stop.
We made up that next time he comes home from yeshivah, we’ll talk again. Not that I’m sure I’ll be able to. I can’t talk on demand. And I also don’t know how I’ll feel about him then, especially since it might be in only another month or two. I don’t know if I will be here in another month or two; I might leave this week.
After Nechemia left, I went into the carpentry shop, which was open. Only Dovid was there, sawing at something. He ignored me, just as he’d been ignoring me since that time when I spoke to him in a way that he didn’t like, as Reb Elazar put it.
So I ignored him, too. I took a plank; I don’t even know what for. It was just an old, broken plank standing on the side. I used the short saw and cut off the two broken ends, turning the plank into an even rectangle. Then I picked up a pencil that I’d spotted on the floor and began to sketch on the plank. I didn’t sketch anything in particular—just some slanted lines here and there, and some other scribbles.
Suddenly, Dovid was standing next to me. He looked at my board and asked, “What are you doing?”
I didn’t answer him, because I didn’t know myself what I was doing. I just continued sketching, until there was no more room left to sketch on the plank.
“You’re not answering me, or what?” Dovid’s voice was hard.
“What do you want me to tell you? I don’t know what I’m doing,” I said. Then I held the plank at a distance so I could get a better look at what I’d done.
“You know the saying, ‘If you have nothing to do, then don’t do it here’?”
“And do you know the saying, ‘Chacham einav b’rosho’?”
He looked at me strangely. “What’s the connection?”
“There is no connection. Just like what you said has no connection.”
“What I said makes sense,” he snapped. “I said that if you came here to waste time and annoy me with your philosophies—”
“I didn’t come for that,” I answered calmly. “And the one who started philosophizing here about all kinds of strange sayings was not me,” I reminded him, and continued gazing at the sketches on my plank.
Dovid moved away in a huff to continue whatever he had been doing before. After a moment, I approached the table where he stood, wondering if I could do something with my plank. “Is there something I can use to carve the wood with?” I asked. “I mean, if I want to make these drawings into carvings.”
“Oh, you’re suddenly interested in carpentry?” He stared at me for a long moment, as though he hadn’t yet decided if I was normal or not.
“Not carpentry. Just this plank.”
He stood there for a few long seconds and then left the table. I thought he was leaving the shop. But then I saw him rummaging around in one of the messier shelves on the right side of the room. He came back with a strange-looking tool. “You plug this into an outlet,” he said, “and hold it by the handle. Just be careful, because the metal tip spins and gets very hot, and if you don’t watch your fingers you could get a serious burn. And that would not be fun, let me tell you.”
Maybe he was waiting for me to tell him thank you for the tool and the warnings, but I was already immersed in my work and I forgot to thank him. If this was carpentry, then maybe I really did like it.
Only at about one-thirty at night, when I was ready to go up to my room, did I remember Dovid. But by now the carpentry shop was empty. So I put my smooth plank, whose sketches and scribbles had now been transformed into the words “The Black-Sheep Prince,” on the side. Then I took another old, broken piece of wood and carved the words, “Thank you” into it.