Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 38 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.
Ella didn’t respond. She was gripping a suitcase in one hand, and fumbling with the long strap of her handbag with the other.
“Ella?” Sarah drew closer. “Is everything alright? You look…well, not good. What happened?”
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know.”
“What does that mean, you don’t know?” Sarah put a hand on her shoulder. “You came here like this, looking so frightened and confused… What happened? What scared you? Did you fall? Did you get hurt?”
“N-no, baruch Hashem.” Sarah noticed that Ella’s eyes were fixed on some point up the stairs. Sarah turned around to see what she was looking at; it seemed she was staring at their second floor.
“So what happened?”
“She…she’s an Arab,” Ella croaked. “I saw her in the street. And not just an Arab…she’s half a witch or something, I don’t even know what.”
“Aliza.” Ella took a deep breath. “Aliza. And it’s not her real name.”
“Who is Aliza?”
“The lady I was boarding with.”
“So, she’s an Arab…and half a witch? What do you mean?”
“She lights candles and then waits for their light to do things for me…” Ella trembled. “I wasn’t afraid at first. But this evening I saw her, and I suddenly realized everything…”
“Poor girl…what a trauma!”
“That’s right,” Ariella said. And then she burst into tears.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sarah saw Elazar in the yard. She moved aside to let him pass to the car, and motioned “one minute.” This emergency was no less pressing than Bassi’s children’s emergency.
“I was walking in this area this evening, and I suddenly saw her with a group of Arab women. They were acting strange, chanting stuff in Arabic, and she was holding a candle in her hand… I ran to pack my things, because I felt like I couldn’t stay with her anymore once I knew about all this—we’d already had a very strange encounter a couple days earlier.” She paused to breathe, realizing that she sounded hysterical and incoherent. “Something about candles and strange words… At that time I thought to myself that she just had some weird beliefs and was a little delusional. But then, after what I saw today, I decided to leave. Then—” she almost choked.
Sarah looked at Elazar, who was leaning on the car, chatting on his phone. “Come,” she said to Ella and led her to the car. “Let’s get in. I have a bottle of water and some cups. We’ll switch on the heat, you’ll drink something, and you’ll tell me all about it.”
Ariella sat down in the back seat, with Sarah beside her. She slowly sipped from the water, trying to calm down so she could act a bit more like herself. Actually, not like herself, but like Ella Rothman. Ella and Ariella Erenbaum had a lot in common, but there were some differences. Ella was calmer, more decisive, and sure of what she was and what she was not. Ariella had a lot less of those qualities. Ariella felt pressured by things that Ella could resolve with the wave of a hand.
Sarah knew Ella, but now she was going to get to know Ariella in all her glory.
“When I finished packing,” Ariella continued tremulously, “the phone rang, and the caller began to leave a strange voice message, so I decided to pick up. It was the real owner of the house, who is Jewish, and she told me that Aliza, the tenant—she called her Aziza—is actually an Arab. She was trying to reach her because Aziza hasn’t paid her rent in a few months.”
“Acco is full of Arabs,” Sarah said gently. “And I didn’t get the impression until today that you’re particularly afraid of them. They’re considered alright, from a security viewpoint.”
“Yes, I know.” Ariella looked outside. From her place in the car, she could not see Osher’s window. “But I didn’t want to live with her.”
“Well, yes, that’s understandable.”
“I was about to leave when she suddenly came home. I told her I had to leave urgently. And I left. I got to the train station…”
“You wanted to go home?”
“Wanted? No, I didn’t want to, but I didn’t have any other options. I saw that I had more than two hours until the next train to Tel Aviv, so I sat down to wait. I had waited hardly twenty minutes when suddenly, there she was!”
“Yes. She sat down next to me, and only then did I notice her. I had been reading until then.”
“Oh, my is right.” Ariella smiled for the first time, faintly. “She chuckled and said to me, ‘Thought of running away? But you can’t anymore. Even if you go to America, you’ll always come back to me in the end.’”
“Oh, my!” Sarah repeated. “My poor girl, you must have been so scared!”
“I was.” Ariella burst into tears again. “Then she took out this ugly necklace, something that I had made with her, and that I had purposely left in her house.” She stopped crying. “And she said to me, ‘You left this by me, and you thought you could get away from me. But this will always tie you to me, forever. No matter how much you try to get rid of this necklace, it will always come back to you.’”
“No!” Sarah said forcefully. “Nonsense! There is no such thing! Jews don’t believe in that kind of drivel!”
“Are you sure?” Ella was doing the talking, but they were Ariella’s words, as if she was standing in the wings and cueing Ella what to say.
“One hundred percent. Listen to me, Ella, sweetie. Acco is full of strange types. I don’t know if this Aziza is just an eccentric woman trying to frighten you, or if she belongs to a real cult or something. But she doesn’t have any real power. It’s not real, do you understand?”
“But there are forces of impurity in the world…” Ariella said, her lips trembling.
Sarah’s voice was hard. “There are, but your holiness, your kedushah, as a Jewish woman, is a million times stronger—and that would be putting it mildly. In general, Ella, most of the strange birds here are just charlatans.”
Ariella was quiet. “I have the necklace,” she said, after a long pause.
“Did it really find its way back to you, by itself?” Sarah asked, with a twinkle in her eyes.
“I haven’t tried to get rid of it again to check. She finished talking and left it on the bench near me, and walked away. But she didn’t leave through the front entrance that leads to the street; she went toward the back entrance, to the platforms, where I was also supposed to go to board my train. She stood near the doorway and kept looking at me.” Ariella gazed out the window at the black sea, with large eyes. “I stood up and knew that I was going back to the street, and running to the only place that I really know here—to you. And don’t ask why I took the necklace with me, because I have no idea. I just picked it up and stuck it into my bag.”
“Probably so that you can check and see that it’s all really nonsense,” Sarah said. “Give it to me.”
Ariella opened the zipper of her handbag and pulled out the green stones on the string.
“Now come,” Sarah said, opening the car door.
“To throw it into the sea.”
“No,” Ariella whispered.
“Yes.” Sarah spoke gently but firmly. “Look, Ella, dear, this Aziza may have taken a short course in psychology, and may have learned that anyone who would hear a promise about a necklace always finding its way back to them, would be afraid to throw it away because of the simple fear of discovering that it might return. Here, she was right—you’re afraid. But you’re not going to let her call the shots, are you?” She smiled.
“And the candles, and everything else?” Ariella asked, but she followed Sarah out of the car.
“It’s all to draw money from tourists. If you were an innocent non-Jewish tourist, you’d fall into her net, and continue paying her so that she could ‘spread her light to you’ and all the rest of that garbage. But you’re above all these things, far above.”
They went down to the deserted beach. Ariella was shaking. “Here you go,” Sarah said, handing her the necklace. “You are hereby honored with throwing it into the water.”
“Shouldn’t I tear it first?” Ariella stared at the necklace as if at any moment, each stone would open a mouth full of sharp teeth.
“You could, if it makes you feel better.”
Ariella stuck her hand out and took the necklace. She grasped both ends of it and pulled, hard. Within a second, the thin metal cord tore, and the green stones fell onto the sand at their feet.
Sarah bent down and picked up one stone. “Here!” She tossed it into the water. Then she picked up the next stone, and the next one. “Let’s go, help me!” she said, after the fifth stone. “It’s not nice to let a woman who is…it doesn’t matter how old, bend down so many times!”
Ariella smiled and bent down toward the sand. They picked up the stones and hurled them into the water, one after another, until there wasn’t a green stone left on the sand. Then Ariella also tossed the torn cord into the sea.
“Do you want us to take you to Bnei Brak?” Sarah, ever practical, asked as they walked back to the sidewalk. “Wait, you said before that you don’t really want to go home.”
“That’s right,” Ariella murmured. “But maybe it’s what I have to do.”
“Maybe,” Sarah agreed. “Still, I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be seen in the train station for the next few weeks.”
“So what should I do?”
“Wait, I’ll ask my husband what to do.”
“I don’t want to ruin your plans.” Ariella suddenly looked around, as though she’d just woken up from a nightmare. “You were planning to go someplace now, weren’t you? And it wasn’t on a round trip to Bnei Brak.”
“Wait, let me ask my husband,” Sarah repeated. She switched on the small light on the ceiling of the car. Ella still looked a bit too tense, and hunched over. Undoubtedly, the young woman had experienced a trauma, and it would take her time to recover. But what should they do with her now, at eleven at night? She and Elazar couldn’t leave Ella alone to find a solution.
Sarah got out of the car, and Ariella quickly twisted around to the back window. No. There was no one at the end of the street. She took a deep breath, and with a swift motion, she pulled open the zipper of her handbag.
The necklace—unsurprisingly enough—was not there.