Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 25 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 next afternoon, Ariella needed to get out again: she felt the walls of the small room closing in on her. She wondered if she should approach the Reiness home again, or if she should suffice for now with the next appointment she’d made with the therapist. The woman had made an excellent impression on her. But what kind of chinuch was Osher getting in her home? What was the learning level of her husband’s yeshivah? Ariella needed to observe the place from a closer vantage point and to figure out who the other students were. But how could she do that without Osher spotting her? How many hours could she spend wandering around the area to glean information about the place?
She walked out of her room and locked the door, not yet sure where she was headed.
“Are you going out now?” Miriam opened the door of her house, holding a large garbage bag.
“Yes, I decided to go out for a bit.”
“Not sure yet.” Ariella smiled.
“Do you want to come with me to the shuk?”
“The Arab market? In the Old City?”
“Yes.” Miriam smiled back. “I buy my vegetables there, and we ma’aser them at home. There’s no problem this year, you know, since it’s not shemittah.”
“And you aren’t afraid?”
“No. There’s no animosity there.” Miriam thought for a moment. “At least not any that you can see.”
“And your kids? Do you take them with you?”
“My neighbor Orit watches them for me; they’re there already. I watch her children when she goes to the shuk. So, do you want to come with me?”
“Yes, why not? It will be nice. Thanks.”
They set out, and Ariella was surprised to find that she was already familiar with the streets. It wasn’t the area of Sarah Reiness’s clinic, but they did walk toward the sea, and she knew she was getting closer to Osher. Then Miriam turned left, in the opposite direction of the Reinesses’ home, and Ariella felt a mix of relief and disappointment rising in her throat. They would not be passing by Osher’s yeshivah. Good. Too bad.
“So it’s you again,” a voice declared, and Ariella found herself facing the woman who had been nice to her yesterday, when she’d been scouting around. “Still looking for something?”
Miriam, who had walked a few steps ahead, stopped and waited, without looking back.
“Excuse me, I’m in a hurry,” Ariella said, motioning ahead. “My friend is waiting for me.”
“She’s not your friend,” the woman said in a quiet tone. “And you don’t enjoy being with her. You’re different than her.”
Ariella was too stunned to utter a word; she just continued ahead to Miriam. When she reached her, she could not help but turn around to look back. The woman was still standing near the gate of her well-tended home, smiling at her somewhat sorrowfully.
“Go and figure people out,” Ariella blurted.
Miriam either didn’t hear her or preferred to ignore the remark. She made no mention of the past few moments, when Ariella had hung back to speak with the stranger.
Indeed, she and Miriam were very different. Miriam was respectful, and not at all prying. That would seem to be just what Ariella needed. On the other hand…
“If we make another left here, we’ll get to the Acco Prison,” Miriam said. “Do you want to stop there to take a look?”
“Good, because I thought you were expecting me to take you on a walking tour of the area, and I really don’t have time for that now. So we’ll take the shorter route to the shuk.”
“No problem,” Ariella said, and then added, “But Miriam, if you don’t have time for something, don’t suggest it. What would you have done if I’d have said that I did want to go?”
Miriam smiled but didn’t answer.
“We’re getting to the shuk in a minute,” she said, a few moments later. “You see here, behind these houses, that ancient lighthouse? If we have time afterward, we can come back through the port, and we can see it from closer up. It’s beautiful. Wait, you saw it yesterday, didn’t you?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“But you went to this area yesterday.”
“I didn’t get here,” Ariella said tersely. “I was further over there, to the right.”
“In the new area? What are you looking for there? You asked so much about where the new wall finishes and where the old wall starts, that I was sure you were going to the old port area…”
“I didn’t get to do the route I was thinking of, in the end. I was mostly in the middle area, where the ancient wall begins.”
Miriam looked at her, puzzled, and then said, “Well, if that’s the case, we have to get our shopping done quickly, so we can go to the ancient port. You can’t have been in Acco for nearly four days and not have gone there yet!”
“But if you don’t have time, Miriam, we don’t have to. It’s okay; I can see the port and the lighthouse a different day.”
“You know what—let’s go to the shuk, and then we’ll see what you prefer: a colorful, long walk through the shuk, or a quick visit and then a guided tour of the ancient Acco port area.”
They reached the market. A babble of voices in Arabic, smells, running water on the cracked street stones, and cats darting everywhere were Ariella’s first impression. After looking a bit closer, she noticed the colorful stalls, the swaying umbrellas being offered for sale, and the pocketbooks and toys that were clearly made in China. She smiled to herself when a young Arab woman called to her from a jewelry stall, “Hey, lady, this jewelry is excellent: it’s gold-plated, doesn’t get black, and can go into water too!”
Ariella also noticed other Jewish women who had come to shop, and realized that Miriam was busy filling bags with all kinds of vegetables. “The produce here is really kdai,” she was saying. “It’s great quality, fresh, and cheap.”
But Ariella was too distracted to start filling her bag with peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Instead, she bought some souvenirs: a colorful wooden flute for her mother, even though she had no idea if it played or not; an odd-shaped alarm clock for her father; and some cute porcelain dolls for her sisters. For herself, she chose a small stone lighthouse, with black and white stripes.
“Our lighthouse,” Miriam said with a smile when she saw Ariella’s choice. “I hope that the miniature one makes you want to see the original even more.”
From there, they set out for the old port, which was still very active and bustling, with a heavy odor of fish and salt. Then, further up, they reached the real lighthouse. “It really is beautiful,” Ariella remarked, tipping her head back to gaze upward.
“It was once active,” Miriam said, her voice uncharacteristically dreamy. “It used to light up shipping routes for all the ships that came to Israel… Once, Acco was a much more active city. But things have changed, and we try to live with it the way it is now.”
“To illuminate even without a lighthouse,” Ariella said with a chuckle.
They walked together along the wall, heading back home. “Nice place, isn’t it?” Miriam asked.
“The shuk? Very.” Ariella smiled. “Thanks for taking me.”
Miriam’s smile widened. “And what do you say about Acco in general?”
“It’s really a charming city,” Ariella replied honestly. “There’s a special quality of life here that doesn’t exist in the center of the country. Quiet, tranquility…”
“Yes, I like the quiet.”
“And with little kids, baruch Hashem, you probably don’t get much of that.”
“Sometimes, when they are sleeping, I do,” Miriam answered. “Not much, because besides the kitchen—you didn’t really see my whole apartment, right?—we only have a large hallway, where we eat our Shabbos meals, and another bedroom, divided into two, which we share with the kids.”
“Wow, that’s very crowded.”
“Right. So even when the kids are sleeping, I’m right near them. They get up every time I make a cup of coffee or speak on the phone…”
Ariella was quiet for a long moment, and then she looked at Miriam out of the corner of her eye. “And until I came, you had the second room, huh?”
“Yes. We bought the apartment like this, and we thought it would be a good source of income. But how many people come to rent a room in Acco? It was more profitable when I was able to work there in the evenings. It was a great set-up, because I could hear the children crying from the window if they would wake up, and I could go into them right away.”
“So it was probably very convenient for you to work from home like that,” Ariella said. Yes, she knew just how clearly voices could carry from window to window in that room.
“It really was. And it was definitely more worth it than renting the room out.”
She surely didn’t mean to be offensive. She was just saying the truth. Candidly.
And with candid people, you can respond the same way. “So, we made up five days, and I’m supposed to leave tomorrow evening, b’ezras Hashem.” And surely Miriam would say, “No, it’s not so urgent—you can stay a few more days…”
“Right. And you’re going back to Bnei Brak? Did you finish what you wanted to do in Acco?”
“I didn’t finish, but I’ll be okay, b’ezras Hashem.”
Miriam didn’t ask how. “You do look like the type who just manages things well.”
Ariella smiled thinly. “Thanks… So, tomorrow evening you can start working in the room again. After I leave.” It’s not nice to be cynical, she chided herself. Stop it!
“Right. Someone asked me to do a small layout job for them.” She fell silent for a moment. “I really hope it will work out and business picks up again. I’ve had some good times with the graphics design work.”
“That’s good.” Ariella looked left and right. They had passed the Reiness home a short distance back, and she hadn’t even noticed! “I hope you have lots of hatzlachah with it.”
I didn’t get a chance to look more at the picture, because a few seconds after Aharon left, the door opened and Reb Elazar came in. “Hi, Osher. How’s it going?”
I didn’t want to ask him about the picture that was under my pillow, because I didn’t think it was polite for me to have taken it to my room. Was it considered stealing? I hadn’t thought of that until just then.
When he would go back downstairs, I’d return the picture.
“Have you spoken to your parents, Osher? Did you let them know that you’re home from the hospital?”
“No. I have no patience to call.”
“So, do you want me to do it for you?”
I looked at him. The idea wasn’t a bad one, except that I was afraid it might lead to a steady connection between him and my parents, which I did not want. I didn’t want them to start calling him and asking how I was behaving, and what was doing, and whether or not I was improving, and that he should tell me to come back home.
“What do you want to tell them?” I sat down on my bed. The picture was under my pillow, and I was afraid he’d move it to sit there, so I lifted the cover and made room for him on the other side. “You can sit, Rebbi.”
He smiled at me. “Thanks, Osher,” he said as he sat down. “I want to tell them that you were released, and that the fox was caught and is in quarantine as they wait for the results of its tests, to see if you need to continue the treatment for rabies or not. Alright? Do you let me tell them that?” I saw from his smile that he wasn’t really serious about asking for my permission, and that if I was not going to call my parents—he would.
“And that’s it? Only that?”
“Just that. Okay, look, if your father asks me, ‘How is he doing in general?’ you don’t expect me to remain silent, do you?”
“So what will you say?”
He smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “Do you not trust me, Osher?”
“I don’t trust anyone,” I said, and immediately realized that this was chutzpah. “Well, I do trust you, but…” I scratched the edge of my blanket with a fingernail. “But I don’t want you to talk to them too much.”
“I’ll speak to them about whatever is necessary, but nothing more than that, okay?”
“Okay. Will you speak to them here, near me?”
“Deal.” He patted me on the shoulder again, took out his phone, and asked me for the number. I gave him my father’s cell number, not the house phone. I was afraid that Shoshi or Lakey would pick up at home; I certainly didn’t want that.
“Hello, Rabbi Erenbaum? This is Elazar Reiness, from Acco.” He paused as my father said something.
“I just wanted to reassure you and tell you that Osher has been released from the hospital, and that baruch Hashem everything’s fine with him. Yes…yes…” He stopped in order to answer Abba’s questions—I couldn’t hear them exactly. “Yes, they caught the fox and tested it, and now they’re waiting for the results. If it turns out that the fox doesn’t have rabies, then Osher won’t have to continue with the preventive treatment. The Health Department will be in touch with us.”
My father continued speaking, and Reb Elazar’s face grew a bit more serious. “Yes,” he replied. “It really was an unfortunate story, and it didn’t happen here. It was on a yishuv where we went for Shabbos. I completely understand you, Rabbi Erenbaum, and b’ezras Hashem, things like that will not happen again, as much as it depends on us, of course.” My father had apparently asked him how it was possible for a fox to have bitten me and where exactly we were when it happened.
“Alright then, so he’ll be in touch with you, b’ezras Hashem… Yes, he’s a very sweet boy. We are really enjoying him, baruch Hashem. Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh…no, no.” I didn’t know what my father was asking, exactly; at that point, I’d stopped trying to guess.
“Alright, take care,” Reb Elazar concluded. “Lots of nachas.” His eyes smiled at me as he slipped the phone back into his pocket. “Nu, Osher? Do I pass inspection?”
“Mine? Yes,” I said, though I didn’t know what Abba thought of him. What does Abba think of a strange man, after his son disappears and moves into this man’s house, very far from home?
Honestly, until now, I’d never really contemplated what Abba and Ima thought of my leaving home. They were aware that I was in Acco; that much I knew. And parents always worry about their kids; that I also knew. But suddenly, I began to think of all kinds of other details that hadn’t entered my mind in a long while. I wondered how things were at home, now that I wasn’t jumping around there all evening. Did any of my siblings take over tasting Ima’s cookies fresh out of the oven—which had always been my “job”? Did Abba miss talking to me?
I wondered if any of them really missed me.
“No,” I said aloud.
“Maybe yes?” Reb Elazar replied.
“What yes?” I asked.
“What no?” he shot back with a grin.
“They don’t miss me.”
“So that’s exactly what I’m saying: maybe yes, they do.”
“How did you know to say the opposite of what I said? Are you so sure that whatever I’m thinking is wrong?” I asked him.
He glanced at me for a minute, and there was a glint of surprise in his eyes. “You’re very witty, Osher, and it’s cute. And no, I’m not at all sure that whatever you think is not right. Notice that I didn’t say ‘yes’; I suggested, ‘maybe yes.’ Because I wanted to tell you that with these kinds of things, it’s never worth it for us to be so sure about whatever we think. It’s always wise to leave our minds open to additional ideas.”
He stood up. “Will you come down for supper?” he asked with a wink. “It’s not healthy to eat too much nosh, Osher, and for someone who has a bit of ADHD, it’s even worse.”
“And for someone who has a lot of ADHD, it makes no difference anymore.”
He smiled at me again. I think I’d surprised him a few times today with my comments. He walked to the door. “Still, if you don’t come downstairs to eat, we’ll send you up a tray of food, alright? I’m asking you not to stuff yourself with junk.”
I smiled in return. The minute he disappeared, I took out a strawberry cream-filled chocolate from my bag. But then I put it right back.