Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 26 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.
Five days had passed since her arrival in Acco, and she still hadn’t learned much about Osher’s place. There really was no good reason for her to go back to Bnei Brak just yet. Especially since she was actually enjoying it here.
But where could she stay?
The wind picked up, and Ariella tightened her scarf around her. She leaned on the low wall, not right across from the Reiness home, but a few dozen yards down the block, and let herself revel in the feeling of the wind pressing at her back.
“You again?” a voice asked from the side. Ariella turned around, slightly shaken, and saw the same woman she’d met up with the day before, staring at her curiously. This was their third encounter.
Ariella stared back steadily, and they locked gazes for a few long seconds. “Yes, it’s me,” Ariella said finally. “This is no one’s private property, right?”
“Not at all.” The woman’s tone was friendly. “But you keep on coming by. Did you lose something?”
“So maybe you are the one who is lost?”
Ariella pasted a wide smile on her face. “No, baruch Hashem.”
“Baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem,” the woman agreed. “So, what do you keep looking for in this area? A place to stay, maybe?”
Ariella’s mouth opened wide for a second. “You might have something there…” she said cautiously. “I guess you can tell that I like this area.”
“And you want to live here. Like, to buy a house?”
Ariella chuckled. “No, I’m just a guest in Acco.”
“How long do you plan on sticking around here?”
“Um…about a week, maybe two.”
“I rent out rooms, you know.” The woman leaned on the wall next to Ariella as if the two had the most natural relationship with each other. “If you want to stay with me, that’s fine. What’s your name?”
“Aliza. Do you want to see my house from the inside? You’ve seen the outside already.”
Ariella hesitated for a moment.
“There’s no one else there. Just me. My husband died more than ten years ago.”
“Mine, about four years ago.”
Aliza was actually stunned into silence. “So you’re also….”
“A widow,” Ariella finished off for her.
“Yes, yes.” Aliza sighed. “I don’t like that word.”
“Who does?” Ariella murmured. She felt strangely detached from herself, as if this conversation were taking place in a different place, at a very different time, between two people she did not know at all. She’d never spoken to anyone like this.
And she couldn’t stop. “Do you have children?” she asked in a low voice.
“No,” the woman said.
The wind swallowed up her words. Still, Aliza heard them. “You’re young. You can still have,” she declared.
Ariella couldn’t find words to formulate an answer. She also couldn’t figure out how old this woman was. Forty? Fifty? More? Less?
“Hashem should help us all,” she said finally, in a near whisper.
“Of course, of course He’ll help.” Aliza had very sharp ears. “You’ll see—you’ll get re-married and have children. It will be good.”
“Amen, amen,” Ariella said fervently.
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, Bnei Brak. That’s nice. I’m from here, Acco; I was born here. So, do you want to come inside to see my house?”
“Yes, I’ll come.” If she needed to leave Miriam’s place by tomorrow evening, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to find somewhere to move to already tonight. Especially since Aliza lived so close to the Reiness home.
I could not fall asleep the next night. Maybe it was because I’d slept so much over the last two days. I was drained from the whole fox story, and couldn’t figure out how Shlomo seemed so refreshed. He went downstairs and then came back up numerous times throughout the day, hardly spending any time in bed. But at night, we traded places: he slept deeply, and I could not fall asleep.
Again I stood at the window and looked out. It was maybe 3:00 a.m., and the moon was large and clear, reflecting in the water. From far, I saw an overturned boat and a small fire burning next to it. Someone must have gotten bored and decided to roast some fish. But the whole area just opposite the Reiness home was completely empty.
I sat down on my bed again and took out the old photo from under my pillow. I needed to put it back into the cabinet, and now was the time, when everyone was asleep. I’m not a thief, and I never meant to take something that was not mine.
I looked at it again. Reb Elazar smiled up at me, and I wasn’t really able to decide if the wall I was seeing belonged to this house or not. It didn’t really look like it; the stones seemed different. Maybe I should go downstairs to check them out better.
Suddenly I noticed small, handwritten letters on the bottom of the picture. I brought the photo closer to my eyes and saw that it said, Acco, 5687. I usually get confused by dates, but something here didn’t make any sense. When was that exactly? We were now in 5775, so how old was Reb Elazar in the picture? But 5687 was…ugh, I couldn’t figure it out.
I looked for a pen on my night table to write down the year, and Shlomo moved. “Osher, enough already,” he mumbled, and I couldn’t tell if he was more asleep than awake. I quietly sat down on the bed and stuck the picture back under my pillow. So how could I figure this out without a pen?
- So ten years later was 5697? I bent one finger. Ten years after that was…5707. I folded another finger down. Then came 5717. I folded another finger.
After a few minutes I had nine fingers bent. Ninety years! Or rather, in two years it would be ninety years; now it was eighty-eight years. Reb Elazar seemed to be about seventeen or eighteen in the picture. So today that would make him…105?! 106?!
Out of the corner of my eye I glanced at Shlomo, and then took the photo out again to look at the two friends.
I didn’t know who the person was, but it certainly could not be Reb Elazar—although he looked so much like him… In the picture he was laughing, like someone who’d heard a funny joke and just could not stop laughing.
Acco, 1927 (5687)
They stood together side by side, and Binyamin laughed like someone who’d heard a really funny joke. Suddenly he stopped laughing. “You’re not serious,” he said, his voice laced with alarm.
“I’m actually very serious,” Zelig said casually, or at least he was trying to sound that way.
“It’s not a mistake?”
“What mistake, that they are looking for me? Sure, they have no right to do what they’re doing, because they are not the ones in charge of this country. But they will find out very quickly that it’s a mistake.”
“It’s not you.”
Zelig playfully bowed toward his friend. “Nice to meet you, Binyamin Reiness. I’m Zelig Shikovitzer, age nineteen, your friend and neighbor who is two whole years older than you.”
“Do you mean to say that I have no right to give you mussar because of the age difference between us?”
“Well, something like that.”
“And yet you expect help from your ‘little’ friend.”
Zelig smiled. “There are some things that only little people can do.”
But Binyamin, who was usually the more smiley of the two, was very serious right now. “I…I don’t know…” he said.
“What don’t you know? If you want to help me when I need the help?”
“If I can be of help to you…”
“Oh, you’ll be able to. Sometimes you give the impression of being hesitant, but at the right moments you know how to do the right thing. I’ll never forget how you pulled me to a boat last summer just before I fell into the water.” His eyes began to burn with an unfamiliar fire. “Binyamin, don’t you think that now is the right time to do the right thing? If we don’t take our fate into our hands, what will be with us?”
“Shhh…quiet,” Binyamin hushed him. “When we came to Eretz Yisrael seven years ago, it was pretty calm with the Arabs. You know exactly why they started to hate us.”
“Bah!” Zelig scoffed. “They always hated us, and always will. Nothing will change that. Like how it is in Russia.”
“Right,” Binyamin agreed. “But still, we shouldn’t instigate the Arabs for no reason. When they were not irritated, at least they didn’t show their hatred to us, and we lived together just fine. The fact that they feel like we are about to take over the land is riling them up. We are not allowed to instigate the nations of the world, Zelig! We’re in galus!”
“And we want to get out of galus!” Zelig was almost shouting. “Not to sit with our hands folded!”
Binyamin studied his friend. “Really, now, didn’t you learn in cheder the right way to help bring Mashiach?”
“Enough with this silly argument, okay? Let’s go inside.” Zelig pointed to the lot behind them. “You still haven’t said hello to my father since you came back. And you know he likes you.” Zelig did not turn his head to see if Binyamin was following him. He skirted the high wall and only stopped when he reached the long, steaming metal shack. Binyamin followed him with a bowed head.
“Hey, Zelig!” Mahmoud’s voice rose above the neighs of the six horses, which stood chomping at their hay. “Hey, hey, and who’s with you? Binyamin? How are ya, Binyamin?”
“Baruch Hashem, doing well,” the seventeen-year-old murmured.
“So, you came from Tel Aviv?”
“Chevron, eh? For summer vacation. So nice, so nice. Zelig, your father is waiting for you with lunch. He prepared this yellow soup for you—some kind of Polish dish, I’m sure.” Mahmoud smiled and clapped the nineteen-year-old on the back. “And I’m sure there will also be some for Binyamin. Go, go.”
The two youths nodded their heads with polite smiles and turned right. At the other end of the yard stood a long, aluminum, dim structure. Above the opening torn into the front wall was a wooden sign with letters artfully etched into it: Horse and Wagon House. Under that, it said in smaller letters: The best care for your horses and all your wagon needs. Under that, in even smaller letters, was a long sentence in Arabic saying the same thing.
The two boys could smell the soup even from outside the house, but a moment before Zelig’s father’s smiling face appeared at the door to his home, Zelig turned to his friend and grasped his shoulder.
“Just one thing, Binyamin,” he said, and his eyes narrowed. “Not a word to my father of anything we spoke about today, okay?”
“If life is important to you.”
“Your father’s life is very important to me. I would never want to cause him a heart attack.”
“So we understand each other, right?”
“Actually, I don’t think you’re understanding at all…” Binyamin began.
But he was cut off with Mr. Shikovitzer’s jovial, “Hello there!”