Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 16 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.
Sarah put down her bag, yawning after a long day’s work. All she wanted now was a piece of chocolate and a listening ear. She found the chocolate easily; the listening ear, though, wasn’t as readily available. To be sure, the ear was there, and ostensibly was listening, but the monotonous and unfocused responses coming from her husband proved that he wasn’t really there. His repertoire of responses was comprised more or less of, “Yes,” “What?” “Right,” “Really?” and a token, “If that’s what you want,” thrown in for good measure.
“Elazar,” she said after a few minutes of talking, “you look tired. Maybe just bentch and go to sleep?”
“I didn’t wash,” he said distractedly. “I just ate a little bit of the squash and mushroom salad left from Shabbos.”
“That’s not enough. How exactly is that going to fill you up?”
“It’s fine, I’m not hungry.”
Sarah looked at the table. “I’ll cut up some fresh vegetables for you,” she offered.
“No, no, thanks.”
“A cup of coffee?”
“No. As it is, I don’t think I’ll be able to fall asleep.”
She leaned forward on her folded arms. “What happened?” she asked directly. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m afraid they’ve figured it out.” He raised his eyes. “The pressure to buy this place from us has intensified recently, and it makes no sense. We’ve been here for more than two years. We bought the house when it was an empty ruin. What happened suddenly?”
“They must have figured it out.” He poked at the few mushrooms that remained on his plate. “That’s the answer.”
“Who came today?”
“Another one. Says he’s an agent. They want to build some type of new apartment complex facing the sea. All the homeowners on our side of the street have already given them the okay, in principle, he says.”
“And he was angry when you refused?”
“Yes, very.” Elazar raised his eyes to the high window through which he could see the sky. “And last time it was a hotel, and before that…I don’t even remember. And that’s besides for the regular visits from the Arab on Fridays, and about two phone calls a week.”
She nodded slightly. Yes, she also got some of the calls. “And something seems suspicious to you.”
“Maybe it is all true,” he replied, unsure. “Maybe suddenly this area has become so attractive to developers. After all, there’s a port and a beach…”
“I don’t know; for some reason, this area doesn’t strike me as ideal for luxury developments. But you know what? Maybe check at the municipality. If someone is dreaming of building a hotel, or some high-rise buildings, or just doing a general upgrade for the neighborhood, there have to be approvals and permits somewhere, right?”
“You might be on to something.” He sighed. He suddenly looked old and tired. “Most of the boys are going home this Shabbos. I wonder what will happen tomorrow if the Arab comes to nudge me again and we won’t be here.”
“What will happen?”
“With him? I have no idea. But I’ll be able to breathe a little.”
“Do you want to go away for Shabbos?” She was so tired herself that it took time for her to grasp what he was saying.
“I’m not sure. What will be with Osher? He’s not going anywhere.”
“We’ll take him along. Who else is staying?”
“So we’ll take him along also.”
“But where will we go?” Reb Elazar asked, and he began to laugh.
“To Bassi,” Sarah replied. “She’s invited me a hundred times already. In honor of the hundred and first time, we’ll accept her invitation.”
Ariella found herself swept along with the stream of people emerging from the train into the sooty station. Queasy and tired, she was rather dazed from her marathon of a day—but she was already very close to her destination, and that alone made her feel much better. What difference did it make now what time she had planned to get up and leave the house, and how exactly she’d wanted to go? The main thing was that it was behind her now. She was in Acco.
Now she needed to get to the Abramov home, to the room she was renting from them, and to start thinking about how to find Osher without him finding her. Where was the note on which Ima had written down the bus information for her?
She found the note in the clear plastic pocket in her wallet. Ariella made sure her beige pocketbook was strapped over her shoulder, along with her small matching duffel bag, and walked out of the station. The bus stop on David Remez Street was empty, aside for an elderly Arab man sitting on the bench, deeply asleep. She stood a distance from him and peered down the street.
The sidewalk was empty too, she noticed. When did people go to sleep in Acco? At seven in the evening? She hoped that if so, the Arabs were the ones who hurried to bed first.
Judging by the Number 2 bus that pulled up at that moment, it did not seem to be the case. The bus was only half full, but that half seemed to be overwhelming the entire vehicle with loud, brash Arabic. Ariella deliberated where to sit, and suddenly discovered a young frum woman, head covered in a dark kerchief, sitting close to the back of the bus. The seat beside her was empty, and Ariella hurried toward it.
“Hello,” she said to the woman.
“Hi,” the woman replied pleasantly.
“Can you tell me where Moshe Sharett Street is? I need to get off there. I was told—” she glanced at the clear pocket in her wallet—“that it’s about a ten-minute ride, but I’m afraid I won’t know when to get off.”
“Perfect. I’m getting off there as well,” the woman noted. “I’m a teacher at the Birchas Yisrael school, and we have PTA tonight. Wait, you’re not the mother of a student, right? You don’t look familiar.”
“No.” Ariella felt a bit foolish. “I’m…I am supposed to be staying with someone who lives on that street.” She spent the next seven minutes of the ride in silence, staring out the window. If Nosson would have lived, could she have been the mother now of an elementary-school student? No, her oldest child could have been at most four or five at this point.
Apparently, the Abramov family didn’t have daughters at the Birchas Yisrael school either, because the mother would now have been at PTA instead of waiting for her strange guest to arrive. Or perhaps she wasn’t home, and had left Ariella a note and a key at the neighbor? Without noticing it, Ariella furrowed her eyebrows. No, she had no desire to meet a locked door with a note and a key.
But there was no note on the Abramov door. Mrs. Abramov herself—a surprisingly young and pleasant woman—welcomed her. “Daughters in school here? Oh, no, my oldest is two,” she said with a laugh. “I’m only twenty-five.”
“I’m about the same age: almost twenty-five,” Ariella said. “Nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you too! Can I offer you a drink?”
Ariella didn’t really want one, but she felt that it wouldn’t be polite to refuse. The house was dark and quiet, and the only light on was in the kitchen. There were piles of vegetable peels on the counter, and the aroma of soup filled the house. Somehow, her hostess’s eyes were radiating a call for friendship. Ariella smiled. “Yes, thanks,” she said. “I’m very thirsty after the long trip. But I don’t want to disturb your preparations for Shabbos. I know Thursday night is not exactly an ideal time to host.”
“It’s fine. Which train did you take?”
“I don’t know. I planned to leave the house at seven this morning, and somehow, it became four in the afternoon…” She laughed and reached for the bottle of cold water her hostess had taken out for her. “I missed one train by a few minutes, and it took more than half an hour for the next train to come…it was that kind of day.”
“But once you were on the train, was the rest of the trip smooth?” Mrs. Abramov brought out a packaged cake and took a knife to slice it, but Ariella motioned for her to stop.
“No thanks, Mrs. Abramov. I’m really not hungry.”
“I’m not ‘Mrs.’! My name is Miriam.” Her hand paused. She slid the knife into the package of the cake and handed them both to Ariella. She then grasped the handle of Ariella’s duffel bag. “Come, I’ll show you to your room.”
She led her to the stairwell, and there, right near the front door of the apartment, was another door, without a nameplate. “It’s actually part of our apartment,” Miriam said as she opened the door. “We separated it when I was working as a graphic artist, and my husband’s rav said it would be better for us not to have a computer in the house. So we separated this room, my workroom.”
She walked in, and Ariella followed. There was a low bed near the wall, a small table, a chair, and a computer, covered, near the window.
“You don’t need the space now?” Ariella asked.
“Nah, it didn’t go so well with the graphics, so I don’t really need a workroom anymore,” Miriam said. She turned her back on Ariella to pull open the curtain. “This room is empty most days.”
Ariella had the feeling that she shouldn’t probe any deeper into Miriam’s work. Somehow, it sounded like a sensitive topic. She quickly changed the subject. “Do you know a family named Reiness?”
“Reiness? No, I don’t,” Miriam said. “I can try to find out about them, though. Are they not listed in the phone book?”
“They’re listed in Haifa, but they moved here. Their phone number is the same.”
“So call them and ask for an exact address.” Miriam put an electric kettle on the table, along with a package of hot cups.
“No, I can’t do that. Like my mother told you on the phone, I came here for something specific…family-related, and it’s a bit sensitive and needs to be dealt with cautiously.”
“I respect that,” Miriam said, a trace of a smile in her eyes. “So like I said, I can ask people I know if any of them are familiar with a Reiness family here in the city.”
“Thank you—that would be a big help,” Ariella said. When Miriam turned to leave the room, she added, “Tell them that she’s a speech therapist. Maybe that will help jog someone’s memory.”
“Do you know which healthcare system she works for?”
Ariella tried to remember. “I don’t know. I’m not sure she belongs to a specific healthcare system; she might be private, and then clients who come to her get refunded by whichever plan they belong to.”
“I’ll check for you. In the meantime, do you need anything else? Another blanket, or—”
“No, everything’s great.” Ariella lowered her eyes to the thick, fluffy quilt on the bed. “Really, Miriam, you set me up beautifully here. Thanks so much.”
“I’m happy to hear that. Okay, so have a good night, and if you need anything, feel free to knock or call me on the phone. And taste the cake!”
Ariella waited a minute until she heard the other door close. Then she locked her own door and walked over to the window. She imagined that the view from this first-floor window would not be very expansive or impressive. But she was very disappointed to see that it was even less than that: a pair of large, overflowing trash cans and a thorny bush were all she could make out through the bars on the window. The entrance to the building was so well-tended and aesthetic; it was a shame that all she could see from this side window was the back part of the building.
She sat down on the wooden chair and slowly opened the cake. She had brought along food and a small electric burner from home. The Abramovs’ fee did not include meals, except for Shabbos seudos. But it wouldn’t be very comfortable to cook here when all she had was a small sink and a tiny piece of countertop adjacent to it. Not that she was such a major cook, but she couldn’t imagine even preparing the most basic meals here.
As she was finishing her second slice of cake, her mother called.
“Hi, Ima,” Ariella said. “I’m sorry I didn’t call after our last phone call when I was on the train.”
“It’s all right. I imagine it took time to get there and then settle yourself in. Are you at the Abramovs’ yet?”
“Yes, I’m here in my room.”
“Nu? You don’t sound very excited. Is the bed uncomfortable or something?”
“No, not at all. I’m baruch Hashem very happy with the arrangements,” Ariella said slowly. “Mrs. Abramov is very sweet, the area seems fine and not at all scary, and the building is new and clean. Oh, and the room here is actually quite comfortable and pretty.”
“Do you have a good view from the window? The girls said they want gorgeous pictures!”
“That’s a bit less…you know, it’s the first-floor and all that. But it’s fine. I have to go out anyway. Tell the girls that I’m sure the camera will come into very good use, and I’ll have beautiful things to show you from this trip.”
“Amen…” Irit Erenbaum murmured. Ariella realized that she was reading deeper into her words, “beautiful things.” Were her parents expecting her to return home with Osher?
When she hung up with her mother, she heated water in the kettle, drank a weak coffee, and let the heat spread through her muscles. Her plans regarding Osher were rather murky, as of now. She wanted to find him, to find out what kind of place he was in, and based on that she’d decide how to go forward. If this “yeshivah” seemed to be a good place, or at least not a harmful one—she wouldn’t intervene. But if, chalilah, it turned out to be a bad place, she’d have to speak to Ima and Abba and decide what to do.
The warmth that had helped her relax just a moment earlier dissipated at once, and she felt the challenge thrumming through her veins, filling her with a strong urge to move, to do, to go out. But then her logical side kicked in: it didn’t make sense to go exploring now, in the dark, for the first time. She’d get up early tomorrow, and she’d have the whole Friday to get to know Acco. The city in which there was a mysterious something or someone that had pulled Osher to it.