Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 55 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.
Doron Nachman hurried along the promenade in pursuit of the boy’s retreating back. “Osher, wait up a minute!”
The youth stopped next to an old, partially demolished structure made of light-colored bricks, and gazed at it as though there was nothing in the world that was more interesting.
“Where are you going, Osher?”
“Can you take me with you?”
Osher turned his head and looked at him. A hint of a smile made his lips curve for a moment, but he forced them to revert to their previous scowl. “It’s not worth it for you.”
“I actually think it’s very worth it for me. I just got up from a long, deep nap, and I think that a little walk will get my blood moving again. I don’t like to be sleepy.”
“You actually look very alert to me. Did Rabbi Reiness send you to follow me?”
“No, I told him. I mean, I asked him if I should call you back, and he first said no, but when you went too far, I asked him again.” Without repeating his suggestion, he fell into step with Osher, who had starting walking again. “You are getting a personal bodyguard,” he grinned, “and it’s free!”
“Aren’t you supposed to be guarding Rabbi Reiness’s house right now?”
“Don’t worry about it. There are times where it is less urgent to guard the house.”
“Why is it less urgent now?”
“Because during the hours when the carpentry shop is open, the boys are around constantly. We don’t think it is a dangerous time.”
“So that’s why you’re up at night and you sleep during the day?”
“And I noticed that sometimes you daven with us, but not always.”
“Right. I purposely don’t set a fixed schedule for myself. I don’t want anyone who might be watching us to figure out exactly when I’m around and when not.”
“Oh.” Osher turned into a small alley that led to the market. “So where did you daven today?”
“In Kollel Tiferes Yaakov.”
“And you really think that the guy who tried to set that fire will come again?”
“We’re almost sure he will.” Doron’s eyes were dark. “They only have two months and a bit.”
Osher stopped in front of a cluster of straw brooms standing at the entrance to a tiny store. “And what’s going to be on Purim, in three more days? And Pesach?”
“I’m staying here, with the Rav. What about you?”
“Dunno.” Suddenly, he was assailed by the wistful memories of cheerful Bnei Brak Purims. How he wanted that… On second thought, no. Not at all. He wouldn’t have anyone to send mishloach manos to, and hearing the Megillah here was a thousand times better than hearing it in their neighborhood shul. There, people would cluck their tongues when they saw him, and would exchange opinions about “what’s going on with the Erenbaum boy.” “You know, I think I’ll also stay here.”
“It will be nice to have you here,” Doron Nachman said.
A young Arab stepped out of the store to set merchandise outside in plastic display baskets. “Do you want something?” he asked.
“Just looking,” Doron said.
“How much does this cost?” Osher inquired, closely examining one of the straw brooms.
“Thirty shekel,” the seller said, rubbing his hands together.
“I’ll take one.”
Doron Nachman looked at him in surprise. “This is what you came to the market for?”
“No. I left because everyone was annoying me. But now that I’m here, I would like one of these brooms. ”
“You decided to make a scarecrow?”
“No.” Osher missed the barb of the joke. “Why a scarecrow?”
“To scare away the people harassing the Rav, maybe.”
“No, I want it as a gift for my sister.” Osher grasped one of the light brown sticks.
“A broom! As a gift?!”
“It’s decorative, sort of. She likes things like that.” He rummaged in his pocket for the money.
“Very decorative, for sure,” Doron agreed. “But if you ever want to buy me a gift, consult with me first, okay?”
But when he entered the carpentry shop two hours later for Minchah, his voice was very different when he exclaimed, “Wow!” Osher was bent over a large workspace and, completely ignoring the ribbing from some of the other boys, he continued to carve into the long broom handle. The top part of it was spotted with small markings, kind of like a snakeskin, and on the bottom part there were… Doron strained his eyes. Little lighthouses, in an attempt to copy the ancient lighthouse of Acco.
“It’s beautiful!” Doron marveled.
Osher never raised his eyes from his etching.
Ariella’s spare minutes were few and far in between. She had discovered how busy and demanding the life of a homemaker was and, on the other hand, how it filled her with a headiness that she had never before felt after scrubbing a burned pot or sweeping the floor in her own home. She mused at how the constant rush of tasks that left her without a minute to breathe could fill her with such simple satisfaction, yet without any pressure. She decided that the reason for this was probably the fact that here, she was not committed to anyone, and not pressured from anything. The setting was lovely and pastoral, the children were wonderful, and dealing with it all was challenging, but the minute she’d decide she’d had enough, she could take the few possessions she had brought with her, say goodbye and good luck, and move onto the next station in her life—or the previous one.
Not that she planned to do that just yet. Bassi really needed her, and she herself was happy. But the feeling that there was a dimension of volunteerism to the whole thing, and a lack of permanence, made it that much easier for her.
She found herself with an unexpected reprieve one evening, after she’d returned from the yishuv’s electrical gemach run by Hadassah Turk. The small bulb in the hallway had burned out earlier in the evening, and the children didn’t like the dark. Those who were really afraid bedded down in the living room, and she went out to the Turks to get a new bulb.
Ariella entered the house with a cheerful, “Hi, everyone!”—but she fell silent when she saw that the blankets in the living room were still, covering children who were sleeping deeply, including Gadi. Undoubtedly, the kids’ rambunctious games—where the Jewish prince conquered the pirates and discovered that they were his brothers, also princes, who had been abducted in their childhood, and he brought them back to the palace and their heritage—had left them exhausted.
Ariella put the box with the light bulb down on the shelf in the hallway and went back outside. She sat down on a large decorative stone that Bassi had put in the yard, and which the children had painted in bright colors. But in the dark, she couldn’t see the colors. Everything around her now was painted in dark shades of blue-black, deep brown, and dark green. She breathed slowly. Ahh…just a few moments of silence in the pure, natural setting. Silence without requests of, “Ariella, can I have…?” or “Tell him to stop!” or even a knock at the door from the kind neighbor who wanted to send a kugel for Bassy and, “Take off half for yourselves first.”
She felt a vague sense of moroseness spreading through her in the darkness, demanding her attention. Now she was here, feeling happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. But b’ezras Hashem Yisrael Meir Berg would get well and return home, along with his parents. And then what? She would leave, of course, and the children would be left with hardly a fuzzy childhood memory of “when I was little and my brother was in the hospital for a long time, a nice woman by the name of Ariella came and watched us. She was great, and I remember some fun stuff we did with her.”
And that would be it.
Suddenly, the painted rock wasn’t so comfortable, and Ariella shifted, trying to find a better position. If these were the thoughts she was generating during the few free minutes when she was supposed to be relaxing, she’d be better off going inside to change the bulb. Apparently she’d been feeling good these past few days only because she’d been on a non-stop hamster wheel, and the moments of idle solitude did not contribute to her peace of mind—just like the long hours that she’d chosen to spend with herself in recent years hadn’t brought her much joy or tranquility.
So she had two options: she could keep herself busy all her life, and avoid every moment of needless thinking, or she could teach herself to think differently.
For example, instead of thinking how, in a few years, the Berg children wouldn’t even remember her name, she should think about what would have happened if she would not have been here with them. Because although she would leave one day, and it was safe to assume that this entire time period would become a distant memory for the children—and for the younger children not even that—if she would not have been here, and the children would instead have been divided up among other homes, without stability, this whole period could have been horrific for them. No one remembers all the sandwiches that are prepared for them with dedication when they are little, but if no one is there to prepare any sandwiches at all—that’s when scars run deep.
Ariella plucked a long stalk from the ground near the rock, wrapped it around her finger, and finally smiled, feeling uplifted. She thought about how many bottles of formula she’d made, and how many plates she’d filled with tasty and nutritious food, how many sinks of dishes she’d washed and dried. She thought about the Purim costumes that she had stayed up until four a.m. last night making, and the countless pairs of socks that had been collected from the floor, washed, dried, paired, and then placed in the proper drawers. The amazing thing was that she found more fulfillment in the clean socks than in the sparkly costumes waiting patiently on the chairs for Purim to come!
Perhaps she could also think about how it wasn’t random that Hashem had placed her—small, weak, not very successful Ariella—here, in the middle of the Galilee forest, and taught her to find beauty in a folded and clean piece of laundry. And in the smiles of satiated children. And in their angelic placidity when they were sleeping.
And it certainly wasn’t random that He’d given her this wonderful evening tonight, with a slight breeze, a crescent-shaped moon, and multitudes of stars, and helped her think the right thoughts that finally brought a smile to her lips.