Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 56 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.
“It’s amazing!” Doron Nachman gripped the finished broom in two hands. “And there’s a certain style here…you didn’t just make lines with that tool, whatever you call it.”
“What did you think?”
“I don’t know; I didn’t realize how talented you are. How long have you been working on this? Since you bought it at the market?”
“Yeah. It’s been almost a week.” Osher took the broom and put it under the bed. One day he would meet up with Ariella and he’d give her the gift.
“I saw you working on pictures also. They are really, really nice.”
Osher muttered something, a bit impatiently.
“You know, when someone compliments you, it’s customary to say ‘thank you.’”
“Really? Okay, then. Thank you.” Osher rolled his eyes. “I’m going down to eat breakfast. Are you going to sleep?”
“Yes.” Doron grinned lopsidedly. “And I’m stopping to annoy you.”
Osher muttered something that sounded like, “That’s exactly what I was hoping for.” He left the room and almost collided on his way down the stairs with Reb Elazar, who was just on his way up.
“Osher!” Rabbi Reiness exclaimed. “What is this? Are you not eating today?”
“I just went upstairs to show the security guard something that I made. He asked me about it after Shacharis.”
“May I see it also?”
Osher bit his bottom lip. Rabbi Reiness waited patiently; he could almost see the wheels turning in the boy’s mind. “Fine,” Osher finally said, and went back into his room. Rabbi Reiness waited at the door, leaning on the jamb. From downstairs, the faint aroma of omelets wafted up, mixed with the sweet scent of hot cocoa.
“Here,” Osher said when he emerged. “This is what I made.”
“These designs?” Reb Elazar held the broom close to his eyes and lowered his glasses. “This is really special, Osher! The design on the stick reminds me of something…let me think what…” He was quiet for a moment. “Oh, of course, I remember now what it reminds me of. L’havdil, the atzei chaim of a sefer Torah! Wait, wait,” he said as they walked together down the stairs. “I have a friend in Haifa who has a small factory for atzei chaim and for wooden sefer Torah cases. I’ll take you there when I have a chance, b’ezras Hashem.”
“To Haifa?” Osher mulled over the idea. “And what are we going to do there?”
“We’ll see. Maybe we’ll buy some plain atzei chaim from my friend and you can design them.”
“Maybe he can show us exactly how to build these things,” Osher said quietly. “And we’ll tell Matari that he can prepare those for me and I’ll decorate them, and then the carpentry shop can sell those too. I really like this kind of work.”
“I don’t think we’re going to start producing atzei chaim,” the Rav said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “It wouldn’t be fair to my friend, as you can surely imagine.”
“You have friends everywhere,” Osher muttered, wriggling his shoulder away from the hand resting on it. “How did that happen to you?”
“It didn’t happen all at once. It’s years of work.”
“Yes, I once saw you in a picture with your friend, and I saw that you were laughing and enjoying his company. Ah, right. In the end I decided that it’s probably your father.” He blushed. “It was on the floor near the front closet.”
“A picture of my father? Could be.” They reached the courtyard. “Why did you decide that it is him?”
“Because you look just like him, but it’s a very old picture, and he’s with a friend.”
“Oh, I think I know which one you mean. He and his friend were standing next to a wall?”
“Zelig…” Reb Elazar murmured, and entered the carpentry shop. “Yes, Osher, you are right. It really is my father in that picture.”
“So it’s in your genes to have a lot of friends, huh? Because I think that in my family, only my sister Ariella is successful at that kind of thing. My parents are the quiet type.” He walked next to the Rav as they headed in the direction of the loud chatter coming from the inner room, where breakfast was being served. “No, I guess that’s not true, because my father does have a lot of friends, from shul and things like that.” He sighed deeply. “I guess it’s just me. Only I never had friends.”
“I think that most of the boys here already really like you, and you will continue to learn, b’ezras Hashem, how to really acquire friends,” Reb Elazar said firmly. “How are your other sisters, socially?”
Osher thought for a moment. “Don’t know,” he said with a measure of surprise. “I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it. So when will we go to your friend in Haifa? Tomorrow?”
“No, tomorrow you’re going to Zichron Yaakov.”
“Zichron Yaakov? So I didn’t finish with Dr. Kreisman yet?” Osher sounded whiny.
“You’re just starting. Gideon, do you have a minute?”
“Yes?” The tall boy who passed by at that moment stopped and raised his eyebrows in surprise.
“After breakfast, before we begin shiur, please take Osher to your apartment and show him the old wooden chest that we use to store documents. I want him to decorate the drawers.”
This was the first time that Osher was seeing the apartment down the alley. It was a large, two-floor apartment, in an old building.
“Rabbi Reiness probably means this chest,” Gideon said. His eyebrows were still raised. “We keep all our important documents here: ID cards, medical papers, and all that. Take one drawer for now.”
When shiur was over and the boys began milling into the carpentry shop to pick up with the projects they were working on, Osher brought in the rickety drawer.
“Oh, nice!” Yehuda Matari looked at the old drawer with interest. “Are you going to decorate that? Good. Our torch came out of retirement because of you.”
“Why don’t you use it?”
“First of all, I don’t think I have a special talent like you do in the field,” Matari remarked. “But the main reason is that burning is such an antique style today, that there really isn’t much to do with it.”
“So how do you make all these moldings, like the ones on bookcases?” Osher asked.
“That’s carving, maybe some etching, not burning.”
“I mean this…” Osher hurried to the desk in the corner of the room and picked up a colorful catalog that was from a different carpentry firm. He flipped through it, and then turned back a page. “Here, these moldings, on this baby crib, that’s not wood-burning?”
Matari narrowed his eyes and looked at the photo. “No,” he said finally. “It’s very fine etching, and underneath, it’s painted dark blue, so it looks burned but it’s not.”
“I’ll try to make this design,” Osher said decisively. “I like it.” And he went to take the torch from the shelf.
For the next half an hour, the design flowed from his fingers, and beautiful curves appeared on the front of the old drawer. But at the last minute it was all ruined, when an ugly line exceeded the boundary and messed up the pattern a bit. Osher plunked the drawer down with a frustrated thump. And then the drawer fell apart.
The waves were being rebellious; again and again, they carried the scratched wooden rectangle back to the beach.
“I don’t want it!” Osher hollered, his voice carrying in the wind. “I–don’t–want–to–see–it!”
No one was standing behind him. He took a deep breath, trying to restore his equilibrium. But how could he calm down when everything he did got ruined? No one understood him. Who at the carpentry shop had even noticed how much he had worked on the design, how intricate it was?
They built big things there, serious stuff. The minute he wasn’t able to do what they did—then whatever he was doing wasn’t worth much to them. They didn’t even look at the corner where he had been sitting for half an hour, patiently burning the wood. Every few minutes, Matari commented, “Very nice, very nice,” but he didn’t even look at the moldings that were taking shape. His “very nice” was said in a tone of “it’s a good thing you’ve found yourself something productive to do.”
If Reb Elazar would have been around, he might have taken a closer look and complimented him. But he hadn’t been there, and even if he had been—Osher felt his breath grow short again—his compliments would have been out of pity, in an effort to help the poor boy named Osher.
Again, the piece of the drawer landed on the wet sand, but Osher didn’t even deign it with another look. “Enough,” he said, exhausted. “Enough. I don’t need it.”
“Are you talking to a piece of wood?” Someone addressed him from behind. Was it that Yosef again?
“Why are you asking me who I’m talking to?” Osher sat down on the sand. “If it’s not to you, then what difference does it make?”
The man, who had been standing a few paces away, approached. Again, the waves drew up onto the beach, and the piece of wood floated onto the foam. But Osher was not happy that the waves were carrying it back to sea; he knew that in a minute, they would cast his failed work at his feet yet again.
“What is this? Can I see it?” Yosef bent down and picked up the front of the broken drawer a moment before the sea carried it out again.
“Don’t bother,” Osher said. “I already know it won’t work. Something about the direction of the wind today, I guess.”
“What won’t work?” Yosef asked, studying the design with interest.
“Throwing this thing into the water.”
“You want to throw this into the water?” The man looked at him, wide-eyed.
“Yes, I want to throw it into the water.”
“Because it came out awful.” Osher’s fingers dug in the wet sand, and he pulled out a salt-eaten seashell.
“It’s awful? This? Tell me, is something wrong with you?”
“Nothing is wrong with me.”
“If you want to throw this to the sea, then obviously something is wrong with you. It’s amazing, this thing! You, what’s your name? Osher?”
“Yes.” Osher did not remember if he had ever identified himself by name to the man. Perhaps he had.
“Listen, Osher, I know a bit about these things. This is really beautiful, this design. You made it?”
“And you don’t want it?”
“No.” Osher stood up.
“Can I take it? I’ll pay you, of course.”
Osher barked out a laugh. “No,” he said.
“You don’t agree to sell it to me?”
“I mean no, you can’t be serious.”
“Not serious? Why not? I’ve very serious! This is fantastic! My friend, your rabbi, wasn’t happy? He told you to throw it away?”
“He didn’t even see it,” Osher said wearily.
“If he would see this, I’m sure he’d be impressed!”
Osher turned away.
“Hey, one minute!”
Osher turned his head back. The man handed him a bill of NIS 200. “This is the payment, alright? And make more designs like this for me; I’ll buy them from you, okay?”
Osher looked at him in disbelief. “You really want it?”
“Yes! Do I look like I’m joking?”
“So come to the carpentry shop. I have two design samples that I made there. But…you know what? They’re not as nice as this.” He looked at the design, and his face clouded. “This isn’t nice enough either. Are you sure you want to buy it?” He looked at the man, who was nodding with a serious expression, and then lowered his eyes to examine his handiwork. He turned the drawer over and looked at it from all sides, trying to find a crack or something. Maybe the drawer had to do with a secret of the Rav, and this man—like in books—wanted to get hold of it?
Maybe inside it was the Rav’s father’s will?
But the wooden slab was just that: a wooden slab. Broken and dried out at the edges, full of scratches, and the original design in the center was almost invisible because of the dirt and fingerprints from decades of use. There was nothing inside it, and it couldn’t even be used as a drawer anymore.
Osher handed Yosef the wooden board, took the proffered money, and held it up to the sun. “If tomorrow or the next day I’m in the mood, I’m make you something. So come to the carpentry shop and check what I’m up to.”
“I don’t feel comfortable going in there,” the man said with a laugh. “As long as I haven’t had time to come and meet my friend, I prefer not to come for other stuff. You surely understand that. We need to be polite.”
“I actually don’t understand those things so much— at least that’s what everyone tells me—but okay.” Osher put the money in his pocket. “So I’ll come here tomorrow afternoon. No, not tomorrow. I’m going somewhere with the Rav then.”
“Just you?” Yosef narrowed his eyes as he continued to focus on the design. “Or is it a trip for everyone?”