Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 15 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.
For some reason, subconsciously, Irit Erenbaum did not want Ariella to go. “Tomorrow?” she asked with obvious skepticism. “Are you sure? It’s Wednesday! Wouldn’t it be better for you to wait until after Shabbos?”
“I would actually be interested to know how he spends Shabbos there,” Ariella said. Her father nodded along. “And I made up with Mrs. Abramov that I’ll spend Shabbos there as well. Everything in their house has the Badatz hechsher, she told me. She seems very happy to have me.”
“She sounds like a very nice lady—I agree with you on that.” Her mother smiled. “But it’s hard for me to think about you being there alone for Shabbos.”
“I won’t be alone, Ima,” Ariella said tersely. Irit didn’t know if she meant the fact that Osher would also be in the area, or that she would be in the home of her host family, or perhaps she was referring to the basic emunah peshutah of every Jew.
“That’s right—you’re never alone. But we will miss you here.”
“And I’ll miss you also,” Ariella said warmly. “But if I need to go anyway, then why push it off? What difference does it make if it’s this Shabbos or next Shabbos?”
“I hope you’ll be back by next Shabbos,” her mother said hastily. Ariella leaned back on the couch and remained silent.
“Alright.” Her mother sighed. “So b’ezras Hashem you’ll go tomorrow, and I hope you will be a good shaliach. Did you make a list of things you’ll need to pack?”
“Yes, and it will probably take me hours to do all the packing,” Ariella said lightly as she stood up. “So maybe it’s a good idea for me to go now, so I can get started on it.”
“You’re not going to wait for Shoshi and Lakey to get home? Oh…”
“What’s the matter?”
Irit got up and straightened the tablecloth. “Nothing really. They probably don’t want me to say why…but it’s important for them to see you before you leave.”
“So maybe tell them to come over to me later?”
Irit looked at her daughter. She had to remember that when all was said and done, Ariella was an adult, with her own life. She had her own home, and sometimes—although obviously she never meant to offend her parents—she couldn’t take the noise and busy-ness of their house. She needed quiet, and the privacy of her own four walls. Irit noticed that this was especially so when Ariella was exhausted.
“Go, sweetie.” Irit pulled one of the flowers out of the vase on the table; the blossom was beginning to rot. “Do you want Abba to take you to the station tomorrow?”
“We’ll see when I get up. If it’s early enough, before seven, I’ll call to see if he’s available to take me. If not, I’ll take a bus to the train station.” Ariella seemed to be in a hurry to escape, as if she’d just realized that there were so many hopes and anxieties pinned on this trip of hers, and she was afraid of the impending good wishes, goodbyes, and brachos.
“We’ll talk later.” Irit focused on cutting the blossom off the stem, trying to make the moment easier for her daughter. “It’s not like once upon a time, when we had to part from each other with a whole list of requests and instructions and good wishes, right? You have a phone, and you’ll make sure to bring your charger, of course.”
“Oh, thanks for reminding me about that. I’ll write it on my list the minute I get home.” As she made a move toward the door, Lakey and Shoshi walked in.
“Ariella, you’re leaving?” Lakey gasped. “Wait, we have something for you!”
Theatrically, the two sisters presented their gift: a silver camera on a black wrapped carton. Standing behind it was a black and purple camera case, with a few wires and cords bound by a purple satin ribbon.
“A camera! Oh my, you two really overdid it! It looks very expensive,” Ariella said, partly grateful, partly shocked. “You didn’t have to spend so much on me!”
“Yes, we did,” Shoshi informed her. “But I’ll admit that the gift is not only from us. I mean, it’s hardly from us. Anyway, look at the card—we wrote that.”
“I’m reading it now.” Leaning on the wall in the small hallway, Ariella opened the card and read out loud: “May you find your Osher, your happiness…”
We were in the inner room, in the middle of a Mishnayos shiur, when the door to the carpentry shop opened. Reb Elazar did not hear the door opening, apparently, because he continued to explain, “Eilu devarim b’Pesach dochin es ha’Shabbos.” He didn’t even realize at first that a few of the boys were exchanging glances. Then I stood up.
“Osher?” the Rav asked. “Did you want to say something?”
“I want to see who came into the carpentry shop,” I said.
He thought for a moment, but didn’t say anything and continued teaching. Reb Elazar doesn’t usually comment when I get up or move around or leave in the middle of a shiur. He claims that the whole shiur is not mandatory for us; whoever wants to can come in to learn. I usually join. And sometimes I leave.
I walked out of the room, into the shop. Suddenly, I saw the differences between the two rooms. The room where we were learning is the oldest room in the whole building. It doesn’t look like it’s ever been renovated, or even painted. By comparison, the shop looks like a wedding hall—and so does the house upstairs.
I wanted to see the differences again, so I went back into the shiur room. I noticed how the doorway is rounded, like in the olden times, and how the walls are really old. You could see the plaster on the walls. I could also see long cracks snaking up to the ceiling. I looked up and saw how the ceiling is adorned with all kinds of interesting geometric designs.
“Osher?” Reb Elazar looked at me. “So, did someone come in?”
“Uh, I don’t know. I just wanted to see how ancient this room is,” I replied, and stepped out again. I skirted all the planks ready to be cut and walked to the front of the room. Yes, the door was a bit open, and I thought I saw a shadow behind the bookcase that the Blum family had ordered.
“Hello, be careful over there!” I said. “My friend worked very hard on that bookcase. It’s not so stable when it’s not attached to the wall, so please, be careful not to knock it over.”
“Why don’t you just attach it to the wall?” said the shadow who had emerged from behind the bookcase. I looked at him. He wore a tiny kippah and carried a black case. My first thought was that I hoped he wasn’t someone from the government coming to check how things were run here. Who knows? Now, because of what I said about the bookcase, they might say it’s a dangerous place…
“These bookcases don’t usually fall,” I said. “We make them very, very sturdy. But you know, things can happen in all kinds of places.”
“That’s right,” the man said, looking at me. “The question is, what happens here.”
“Here? Wonderful things happen here.” I sat down on the swivel chair that belonged to Shlomo Matari, our professional carpenter, and pointed all around. “Look what beautiful and professional work we do. But we’re closed now. We’re not taking orders.”
“We are not taking orders?” someone else said from behind me. “Since when do you take orders from anyone, Osher?” It was Dovid, who had recently become Shlomo’s assistant, sort of. He walked around my chair and approached the stranger. I couldn’t help but gawk at his enormous height, and for the first time I wondered how old he was.
“Hello there,” he said to the man. “We’re closed for the day. You can come back tomorrow from ten in the morning, and we’ll be happy to serve you.”
“Who said I came for the carpentry shop?” the man asked impatiently.
“Then what do you want?” Dovid asked.
“I have a personal matter that I want to discuss with the rabbi,” he said. “When is he finishing the shiur?”
I stood up and walked back into the other room. The door to our kitchen was on the right side of the room; it was much newer than the door to our shiur room, which was made from a few ancient, swollen pieces of wood that never managed to fit neatly into the door frame. That’s why the room was always open. I stood there and stuck a finger into the hole where the doorknob used to be, thinking how strange it was to leave a door here.
“Osher?” the Rav asked. I saw that he was standing next to me; the shiur must have come to an end.
“Why don’t you change the door, Rebbi?”
“We really should change this one; you’re right.” Reb Elazar smiled broadly, but I saw that his eyes were not on me; they were searching out the visitor.
He didn’t need to search for long; as soon as the man realized that the lesson was over, he came hurrying over from the other side of the shop. I looked again at the slats of wood that we called a “door.” Could that be changed? What about the rest of the room?
I walked inside. Most of the others had followed the Rav out. Some boys walked into the kitchen; others went down to the water or elsewhere. The room was virtually empty. Effy Green sat in the corner drinking peach-flavored seltzer. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, though he didn’t say a word when I walked around the room, examining the walls and the corner.
I focused on one crack behind the Rav’s shtender, and tried to listen to the voices from the shop. I couldn’t quite hear the words, but it was easy to discern the man’s raised voice and the Rav’s soothing tone.
“Is he screaming at him?” I asked Effy.
He glanced at me with half a smile, the kind of smile that I hate, and asked, “The wall at the shtender?”
“What?” I was thrown off-guard. Then I realized what he meant, and bristled. “No! That man, at Reb Elazar!”
“How should I know?” Effy shrugged as he placidly screwed the cap on the seltzer bottle. “They’re over there and I’m here. Like you.”
I ran my finger over the crack. There was a little hole at the point where the crack came to an end. I stuck my finger inside, which generated a little landslide of plaster and sand.
“You’re looking for a treasure,” Effy said as he stood up.
“A treasure?!” I almost swallowed my tongue. “No, I don’t think there’s any treasure here.” But even before I finished the sentence, I began to think how nice it would be to discover a small treasure. Not that it would be mine if I would find it, because it was Reb Elazar’s house, but perhaps, as a token of appreciation, he would give me a small percentage…
Even before I finished that thought, another thought jumped in to tell me that if there really was a treasure here, then the Rav certainly knew about it; that was probably why he didn’t want to sell his house. And he definitely wouldn’t need me to make a big deal about it.
“Anyway, even if there was, he wouldn’t want me to publicize it or anything,” I said.
“Who?” Effy, who was already standing at the doorway, glared at me, but I didn’t answer him. The voices of the Rav and his visitor were very close now, and I quickly straightened up and moved away from the wall.
But they didn’t come in. Instead, I went out to them.
“It’s too bad that we aren’t able to reach an agreement,” the man said. I hadn’t liked the looks of him from the first minute, but he looked even less pleasant now than before.
“I think we’ve come to a very clear agreement,” Reb Elazar said. “I’m not interested in selling the building. What more do I have to say than that?”
“But Mister, why don’t you understand that you can’t ruin the whole project? It’s the entire row on this alley, and it makes no sense that because of this worthless building, the whole development should be held up! You know, we come, we speak nicely, we are offering a sum of money that is far beyond what this property is really worth…why are you being so stubborn?!”
“I’m sorry.” Reb Elazar kept smiling. “But for now, I haven’t changed my mind.”
“It doesn’t work that way!” The man’s forehead was red and dotted with beads of sweat. “It makes no sense that because of the whims of one person, an entire project—which we’ve invested millions into—should be held up! I hope you understand that.”
“I’m trying to understand, but something is very unclear to me.”
“What’s not clear to you?” The guy was very aggressive, and quite off-putting. The other boys standing and listening didn’t like his tone, either; I could see that. They exchanged glances.
“How can any developer invest millions into a project, if the land in question is actually not even available to him?!”
I got sick of listening to this conversion. It was becoming more and more puzzling to me. I passed them by on my way out and saw Dovid standing with his arms folded, his eyes shooting daggers at the man’s back. “I don’t like this guy,” he muttered to me.
“I don’t either,” I said. I picked up one of the files lying on the bench. It had a green, smooth handle and was cool to the touch. I looked at the remnant of the plank on the table, and without thinking what I was doing, etched a picture of a box into it. I don’t know how to draw well—I was never good at that—but it was clear to anyone who looked at it that I was drawing a box. Inside I wrote: Treasure. My handwriting happens to be really nice.
Suddenly, someone walked by me. “I told you that’s what you’re looking for!” he said with a laugh.
I didn’t turn around to Effy, nor did I answer him. I finished the letters, and then continued listening to the voices of Reb Elazar and the man arguing with him.
“It’s a shame; you’re really wasting your time. Like I keep telling you, my answer is no.” I had never heard the Rav sounding so sharp before.
“I’ll be back,” the irate visitor said. “I’ll be back, and you’ll see that you won’t be able to refuse us so easily. Even if the house is yours, Mr. Reiness, you can’t change everyone’s plans regarding an entire alley!”
He stomped out the door. A few of the boys made moves as though to follow him, but I could tell they were not so sure of themselves. I also think the Rav told them quietly to stay inside.
The man was gone, but he left a very unpleasant atmosphere behind. And it hung in the air for the rest of the evening.