Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 18 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.
One thing managed to beautify even this dirty patch of yard outside her window: the sunrise.
Ariella woke up at four-thirty in the morning, and because she’d gone to bed relatively early, she couldn’t fall back asleep. She rose, washed her hands, got dressed, and stood near the window. A slow, dark rain dripped down, and Ariella thought that when the sand near her window turned into mud, the whole scene would be even less attractive.
But at that point, she still could not see much of anything. It was all so dark, and she was able to hear the raindrops more than actually see them.
Suddenly, something cleared up, and despite the cold, she opened the shutter slats and stuck her head outside. A patch of black sky appeared, and Ariella fixed her eyes on it, ignoring the drops that rinsed the window bars clean from the dust and continued straight onto her cheeks. The sky was still dark, but something at the very edge, somewhere near the next building, began to lighten a bit. Gradually, the color of the sky became lighter and lighter. The raindrops glistened in the reddish glow, and a wet ray of light bounced off the freshly washed stones of the wall, giving the garden a different look, as if it wasn’t filled with overflowing garbage cans, and there wasn’t a cat trying to hide in the shadow of the open cover of one of them.
“I don’t know what to tell you…I just don’t think so.”
She jumped. The voice seemed to be coming from right under her window. Who was standing there and talking?
“But…I told her already that she could!”
“It’s really too bad…I should have known about this. It’s one thing if you want to rent the room out—that I can understand, even though personally, I think you should continue looking for graphic jobs. They bring in more money than a rental every half a year does. But even if we are renting it out for now, just until you have work, why did you invite her for the meals? You know that by the time Shabbos comes, I am exhausted, and all I want is just my family and my peace and quiet—that’s it. No extra people, no guests. You know that I don’t even like going away to your parents or mine for Shabbos!”
Ariella recoiled as if she’d been stung, and her hand groped for the handle of the shutters.
“So what do you want me to do? What should I tell her now?”
“Now? You can’t tell her anything now. You invited her already. But please, for next week…”
“She won’t be here anymore next week. We made up for a week, just until next Thursday.”
“Maybe I won’t stay for this Shabbos either,” Ariella whispered to herself, behind the closed window. She would never have dreamed that the windows were so close to each other. So what should she do now? Knock on Miriam’s door and tell her that in the end she preferred to eat by herself? She didn’t want to continue renting the room either, if she wasn’t wanted. So what were her options? Could she find a new place?
She sat down and forced herself to analyze the situation in a cool frame of mind. Shabbos would be upon them in less than ten hours. There wasn’t enough time to find a room elsewhere… But food—she could manage with that. What would Miriam say? Would she be offended if she heard that Ariella had suddenly changed her plans? Would she realize that Ariella had heard the exchange through the window?
She’d need to find a way to do this tactfully.
An hour later, she locked the door and quickly passed by the other door. She didn’t ask Miriam for guidance getting around the city. Her natural sense of direction would hopefully be enough, at least until she’d figure out exactly what to tell her hostess.
First, she found a cute little grocery owned by a frum person. She bought grape juice, challah rolls, three dips, fish in a jar, and a package of “chicken schnitzel with vegetables,” wondering how much chicken was there and how much of the “vegetables” could actually count as real vegetables. Next to the register, she added two packages of dark chocolate, and then paid for it all.
From the grocery, she boarded the first local bus that came to the bus stop. It made no difference where it took her. For now, she needed to become somewhat familiar with Acco.
The bus was almost empty, and Ariella sat down with her bags near the back door, peering out the window. She wanted very much to get to know the city, so that she could figure out how to start looking for Osher. The bus was definitely providing what she needed; she quickly realized that it was a long, circuitous route that picked up and dropped off passengers at every bus stop, and went into almost every street. The driver, it seemed, had all the time in the world. Excellent. She also had nowhere to hurry to right now. Go back to her quarters? She wanted to push off the conversation with Miriam for as long as possible.
On the other hand… Ariella sighed. She had to tell her hostess that she’d changed her plans. It wasn’t fair to have Miriam continue cooking and preparing for her, if Ariella already knew now that she would be canceling.
The bus entered a very narrow street, with stores lining both sides. Ariella took out her phone, but didn’t dial yet. Right near one of the stores—it looked like a house-ware shop—she noticed a few boys wearing yarmulkes. They appeared to be in their teens and were wearing black pants and white shirts. Ariella studied the boys. One of them, the one with his back to the road, reminded her of Osher. She bit her lip, wondering if she should press the buzzer and get off at the next stop. But then the boy turned around, and she realized that it was not Osher after all.
She looked at her phone again, trying to find Miriam’s number. But she was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn’t even realize that she’d passed the name “Miriam Abramov” in her Contacts list at least three times without seeing it. What if that boy had been Osher? Would the right step have been to get off the bus and into his range of vision? No way! She didn’t want him to know that she was in town, at least not before she found out what exactly he was up to, and could decide what to do at that point…
She smiled ironically to herself. White shirts, black pants…she could not be sure at all that those were the kind of clothes Osher was wearing this morning. She had a lot of faith in Osher, but to delude herself with foolish dreams was a mistake that wouldn’t get her anywhere.
Ariella stuck her hand out and rang the buzzer. She’d toured the city on the bus enough. Now she needed to walk around a little, especially as the bus was filling up, and she would not be able to speak to Miriam this way in any case.
She got off and walked into a quiet, well-tended side street. But before she’d had a chance to look for Miriam’s number again—seriously this time—her hostess beat her to it.
“Hi, Miriam, good morning. How are you?”
“Baruch Hashem, fine. I hope I didn’t wake you. I knocked gently but didn’t get any response.”
“Oh, I’m not in my room anymore. I went out for a bit,” Ariella replied lightly.
“Really? Wow, you’re an early bird! It’s only nine-fifteen!”
Ariella smiled. “I guess so…”
“I was also pretty good this morning,” Miriam continued. “I like to get up early on Friday to cook. So I’ve actually gotten a few things done that might interest you.”
“Yes?” Ariella didn’t know how to react. She was afraid of Miriam’s accomplishments on the cooking front, and was annoyed with herself for not having knocked on her hostess’s door before she’d left.
“The first friend I spoke to knows Sarah Reiness very well!”
“Really?” Ariella was taken aback. She hadn’t realized that that was what Miriam had been referring to.
“Yes, she took her daughter to Mrs. Reiness’s clinic, after an orthodontist recommended that she go for speech therapy to help maintain the work he’d done on the girl’s mouth.”
“Hmm…” Ariella tried to keep her thoughts focused. She would listen to what Miriam had to say, and then she’d figure out how to tell her that she would be declining her Shabbos invitation. Or rather, canceling on her.
“She’s an excellent therapist, Chareidi, and very successful. A really lovely woman.”
“Great, I’m so happy to hear that. Thank you for finding this out, Miriam!” And before Miriam could say anything else, Ariella resolved to just say her piece and get it over with. “As for the cooking you mentioned before, I hope you didn’t get too much done yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“I hope you didn’t start cooking yet.”
“I actually didn’t, besides for the soup that I made last night. Why?” Her hostess’s voice was laced with surprise.
“Because I’m really sorry, and maybe we’ll have another opportunity, but I’m afraid that I won’t be able to eat the meals with you this Shabbos. I prefer to eat them by myself. Because…”
But before she managed to formulate some kind of coherent excuse, Miriam rushed in and said, “It’s alright, Ariella. Don’t worry about it. Maybe it’ll work out another time…”
Ariella grinned, barely able to contain her sigh of relief.
“There is still no eiruv here,” Aryeh warned Shlomo and Osher as they were about to leave the house after the Friday night meal. “So if you have anything in your pockets, take it out. You can only carry in our yard.”
Osher checked his pockets. “Nothing here,” he said. After a second, his eyebrows rose in surprise, and his fingers pulled a long object out of his pocket. “Hey, what’s this? Oh, it’s Gadi’s.” He handed it to the boy’s father, who looked at the clear plastic tube filled with an unidentifiable mixture.
“What is this?” Aryeh asked.
“No idea. In the middle of the meal, Gadi asked me to watch it for him.”
“Gadi?” Aryeh called to his son. The boy dashed out of one of the bedrooms, clad in pajamas and barefoot.
“What is this that you asked Osher to keep for you?” his father asked.
“That? Oh, you can throw it out…” Gadi wrinkled his nose.
“What is it?”
“It’s the container from the old thermometer that broke. Ima told me she doesn’t need it. I wanted to put some food in it for Shlomo.”
Shlomo, who was standing at the door and waiting for Osher, turned around to look at the boy and at the tube.
“I think that if Shlomo was still hungry, Ima would agree to serve him larger portions than this,” Aryeh said with a smile. “What’s in here?”
“Some grape juice and challah, and the imitation fish, and corn soup, and Ima’s kneidlach. Osher, I gave it to you to keep for him, but my mother doesn’t let me give it in the end.”
“To keep it for whom?” the sixteen-year-old asked. “You didn’t tell me anything, Gadi.”
“For Shlomo; the food is for him. My mother said she doesn’t let me give him food, because she really doesn’t want him to be so happy here that he’ll want to stay for longer.”
“Enough with the nonsense, Gadi!” Aryeh felt that he had to step in and cut this conversation short. “Ima said no such thing. You know she loves having guests!”
“But not guests like this,” the boy said, clearly sad. “Just before Shabbos she told me that.” He shook his head in a very adult-like manner. “I don’t know why, but she said she doesn’t want me to get close to Shlomo anymore, and that it would be better if he moved away from our area as quickly as possible.”
Aryeh patted Shomo’s shoulder reassuringly. “I’m going this minute to find out what this is about, because this conversation is getting stranger with each second. It’s not possible that my wife would—”
The boy with the longish hair shrugged, an I-couldn’t-care-less expression on his face.
“Yes, ask her, Abba, please!” Gadi cried. “And tell her that I’m begging you to let him stay here! He’s not dangerous! Please, Abba!”
Shlomo’s face was getting redder by the minute; by now it was nearing the purple range.
Gadi’s father suddenly stopped in his tracks and turned around. “Oh!” he said. “Are you talking about the fox that was wandering around here, Gadi?”
“Of course! Who else would I be talking about?”
“Oy, Gadi! Don’t you know that Uncle Elazar’s talmid, our guest here, is also named Shlomo?!”
“Oh, right. I forgot.” Gadi flashed a smile at the guest. “I think it’s a great name for a fox. You’re not angry, Shlomo, are you?”
“No,” the boy said.
“You couldn’t find a better name?” Aryeh wondered aloud.
“Nope. I spoke to Osher about names before Shabbos, and even he couldn’t think of anything better.”
“Hmm. We might have to consider a name change anyway,” Aryeh said. “And like Ima told you, we don’t want you to give that fox food, which will make him want to stay. Besides, it’s assur to feed wild animals on Shabbos—did you know that, Gadi?”
“So what will be with him?!”
“He’ll manage. Just like Hashem took care of him and all the other creations of his kind before we came to live here, He’ll continue to do so now. Goodnight, Gadi,” Aryeh said cheerfully. “To bed, please, now!”