Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 59 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.
Rabbi Reiness, his students, and his nephews sat around the large table in the carpentry shop, which, each Friday, was miraculously transformed into a beautifully set Shabbos table. Four-year-old Arik sat quietly, subdued even. His twin, Daniel, had fallen asleep at the table, and only Gadi was singing Yedid Nefesh with everyone else, though at the top of his lungs.
“That’s not my father’s tune,” he told Osher when the song wound down. He had stuck to Osher like glue the whole Shabbos, as if he was his nephew. “But did you hear how nicely I sing? It’s because I have a great musical talent, I think.”
“Your brother Arik also does,” Osher said. “He was singing before he fell asleep. I heard him.”
“Arik? He’s up. Daniel fell asleep.”
“So Daniel, whatever, it doesn’t matter. They look exactly the same.”
“Sure it matters. My mother always says that even though they are identical twins, we need to remember that they are not one person.”
“Fine.” Osher wasn’t interested in treading on complicated territory. “So it’s Daniel, not Arik, who sings really nicely.”
“Besides, they only look alike, but their hand movements and the way they speak are not alike at all. And you know what’s funny, now that I’m thinking about it?”
“Since the beginning of Shabbos, whenever I talk to you, I’m noticing that you really remind me of someone, with the way you move your hands and the way you talk. You talk with the same tune!”
“Me?” Osher laughed. “I remind you of someone? Who?”
“Don’t know,” Gadi said, rubbing his cheek.
“I can’t figure out who you remind me of, but when you talk, I feel like I’m hearing someone else speak. I’m trying so hard to remember who it is, but I can’t.”
“It’s okay.” Osher was ready to pass on the privilege of knowing this crucial secret. He helped himself to another heaping spoon of the cucumber salad that the Bergs had brought with them. Something about the taste was familiar, and reminded him of home.
The bachurim began singing Mi Ha’ish; they knew that Rabbi Reiness loved old songs. Gadi joined them, and the conversation stopped for the time being. Osher wasn’t in the mood to sing. He stuck his plastic fork into the last cucumber slice on his plate, and stared at the little dill pieces that stuck to it.
“Do you like that?” Gadi asked when the song came to an end. “Those short green strings? And you like cucumbers?”
“They taste like…” Gadi grimaced.
“So why did you bring something that you don’t even like?” Shlomo, sitting on Gadi’s other side, interjected with a wink.
“Oh, only I don’t like cucumbers. Everyone else at home loves them.”
“Cucumbers are healthy,” Osher said distractedly. “And this salad is really good. And because there’s no raw onion in there, it’s even better.”
Gadi stared at him. “You also don’t like onions in your cucumber salad?” He fixed him with a long gaze. “That’s it! You look like her! I remembered! She also doesn’t like onions, and that’s why she doesn’t put it in!”
“Who?” Osher put down his fork.
“Ariella, of course. She made this salad before we came, because it’s not nice to come as a guest without bringing something.”
Osher eyes grew round and wide. “Ariella?!”
“Yes. She’s been watching us since my brother went to the hospital.”
“Erenbaum? No. Her last name is Rothman.”
“What do you mean she’s watching you? When your mother needs to go, Ariella comes?”
“No,” Gadi said with a laugh. “My mother doesn’t have to go anywhere, because she’s there the whole time! And Ariella is in our house the whole time.”
“She lives with you?”
“For how long?”
“Dunno, a long time. Since before Purim. A long time before Purim, I think.”
“Since a long time before Purim…” A bizarre thought suddenly struck Osher. “She made you a costume?”
“Why are you so upset?” Gadi asked.
“Because. Did she make you a costume?”
“No, I don’t like dressing up. But she made costumes for the younger kids.”
“Oh, I would have thought she’d dress you up like Daniel in the lion’s den; that’s the costume she made for me when I was in fifth grade. I asked her to. I would have thought you would like it too.”
“I don’t like to dress up at all…” Gadi shrugged. “But Ariella did suggest that costume. She worked very hard to make sure all the kids were happy. I think she was up half the night for it. But how do you know her?”
The plastic tablecloth jerked as Osher pushed the bench back and stood up. Plates and forks flew to the floor, but Osher’s eyes were fixed on Gadi.
“Nice,” he spat. “Sweet, good Ariella. So polite. So nice that she did all this work for you. She likes to watch kids, huh? Little kids. She came all the way up North to watch them.”
“Who?” Gadi asked, very confused.
“We’re not so little, but kids our age can’t live alone.” Gadi tried to explain the obvious.
“Kids our age! Oh! Sure!”
Uncharacteristically, Gadi did not know what to say. What kind of reply could he give to the raging Osher? He didn’t even know what had triggered this outburst. Why did dear, kind Ariella annoy Uncle Elazar’s talmid so much?
Osher wanted to say something more but fell quiet because of the calls for mayim acharonim. He didn’t say another word to Gadi, even after bentching and Maariv.
After Havdalah, when Rabbi Reiness began to sing Hamavdil, Gadi didn’t join in. He purposefully made his way over to Osher, who was standing among the boys near the table. “Osher,” he said, “Osher, you don’t—”
“Don’t tell me anything,” Osher growled, and turned to go. He ran across the yard and dashed up the stairs to his room. He picked up his oversized backpack and began throwing his things inside. Doron Nachman wasn’t in the room, but within a few moments, Osher heard footsteps coming up the stairs, into the house, and then toward his room.
“I know that they put you in my room to keep an eye on me. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t ask me any questions now about what happened, okay?” Osher nearly spit the words into his pajamas. “Because I don’t plan to provide any explanations, so it would be better for you to just be quiet.”
“But I really want to know what happened,” Reb Elazar’s voice replied. “So maybe tell me without me having to ask, and I’ll listen quietly?”
Osher turned around and glanced at the Rav. Then he went back to his bag and the mess inside. “I know I have to behave,” he said, after a moment. His voice was trembling with fury and frustration at once. “But I can’t. I’ve had enough!”
“Enough of what? Oops, sorry, we made up that I’m listening quietly.”
Osher continued hurling objects into his backpack, and when he finished, he tugged the zipper closed. “I’ll tell you what.” His voice was low, and his back was to the Rav. “Dr. Kreisman told me that when something or someone is bothering me, I should state how I feel. So here it is: I feel like I’m being followed and that I’m not trusted. Ever since I was a little kid, I haven’t been trusted. You put Doron Nachman here, and my parents sent my sister Ariella up North to keep an eye on me.” He took a deep breath. “And if no one trusts me, I’m going. Just like I left Da’as Torah before I came here. I thought that here, I was being treated like an adult, that I was trusted, but I guess I made a mistake. And it’s come time, once again, to find a different place.”
“I understand your frustration,” Rabbi Reiness said thoughtfully. “It is very painful to think that you are so not trusted. But you’re mistaken on both counts.”
“Which ones?” He raised his bag.
“Your sister did not come here to keep an eye on you. She came here to check us out.”
Osher raised one eyebrow and then let it drop.
“Simple. Your parents were very worried when you disappeared, and they wanted to be assured that you were in a normal place, a place where people come to progress, and not, chas v’shalom, to regress. Do you understand? They weren’t following you; they were after me!” He chuckled. “And I understand them, by the way. In their place, I would do the same thing.
“After that, totally by coincidence, when my wife’s nephew was injured, and the family needed help, my wife suggested to your sister to go live there on the yishuv with the children so she could help take care of them. You know exactly what a remote little hole-in-the-wall that place is, right?”
Osher didn’t reply. He leaned on the wall, lips pressed together, gripping his backpack tightly.
“And what you said about Doron Nachman is nonsense. You are in this room because right now you are the youngest student we have, and you know that I prefer to host the younger students in my house, and not in the dorm apartment. Doron lives here because he came to be our security guard, in the carpentry shop area.”
“So why does he always ask me tons of questions? And he follows me, and talks to me and…”
“Because he’s interested in you,” Rabbi Reiness said simply. “He likes you, that’s all.”
Osher took a deep breath. “I’m leaving,” he said. “Because even if you’re right, I know one thing: I asked them not to come after me, and Ariella came. I wanted them to let me turn over a new leaf, and they didn’t let me. They ruined everything for me.”
“Really, Osher?” Rabbi Reiness looked at him. “You didn’t manage to turn over a new leaf? You really think that the fact that she is five miles away from Acco ruined something for you?”
Osher didn’t even hear the words. “Yes,” he insisted. “And I told them that I’ll leave. I told them. So I’m leaving. Goodbye.” He took three steps forward and then turned his head back. “And if I’m supposed to be polite, I’ll tell you that overall, it was fine here, so thanks for everything.” And he went down the stairs, his big pack slung over his right shoulder.
At that moment, Rabbi Reiness deeply regretted that they had not activated the electronic lock on the gate after Shabbos, because with a turn of the knob, Osher released the lock on the inside and stepped out into the street.
“Osher! Hey, Osher!” It was Yosef running after him. “What’s going on? Where are you going?”
Osher marched on, lips pressed together. “Where’s the station?” he asked after a moment. Too bad he didn’t remember the exact way to get to the station, and he had to ask this Yosef.
“Where’s the station? The train station?”
“Oh, you’re very close to it. Make a left, then go straight to the intersection, and you’ll see it. I’ll walk you some of the way; I’m headed in that direction. What happened? I never saw you with this big backpack before. Are you leaving for good?”
“Because. I’m finished here.”
Yosef walked half a pace behind him. “You’re finished? You’re finished with my friend?”
“Yes. I don’t want to talk to him anymore.”
“Maybe I can work things out between the two of you, huh? Tell me what happened.”
“Nothing happened. He’ll probably run now and send everyone to search for me, but they’ll eventually forget about me. Bli neder, I won’t be back in Acco again.”
“And my word is my word, even if they will all run to search for me.”
“You think he’ll send everyone to search for you? You’re that important to him?”
Osher sighed. “I would want to say no, but that would be a lie. Yes, I’m important to him.”
“So, just a second,” Yosef said. “I have an idea for you.”
Osher didn’t stop.
“Why are you in such a hurry? Come, I’ll take you in my car to the train station, and we’ll talk on the way. I don’t think you understood him so well, my friend. He’s a good man, and I’m sure he didn’t mean for you to leave this way, and—”
“I know he’s a good man!” Osher turned around. “But it’s not good for me there anymore, okay?”
Yosef tsk-tsked. “Why are you being so stubborn? I’ll explain to you how to handle him, and you’ll see how good it will be for you to go back.”
“He’s not the problem,” Osher hissed. “I’m the problem. And lots of people have tried to explain to me how to behave, but no one really thinks I can get it.”
“I think you can,” Yosef said, looking right and left. “Listen, Osher, you’re losing out by not listening to what I have to tell you. The station is far away, and I’ll get you there in a minute. On the way, you’ll hear some words of wisdom, as a bonus.”
“Before you said that the station is very close by.”
“Close, far, it doesn’t matter.”
“It matters to me,” Osher said tersely, and he picked up his pace, until he was jogging. There was the intersection, and the train station. He pulled his wallet out of the front pocket of the backpack, and thought to himself that if Dr. Kreisman would be standing here now, or Rabbi Reiness, they would not have been pleased with the way he had spoken to Yosef. True, the man was unbelievably annoying, and a real busybody, but still… He stopped and turned his head back. “Um…thanks for showing me the way.”
Yosef stood a few feet away, playing with his phone. He raised his head to look at Osher, but his expression was inscrutable. Osher forced himself to smile weakly, and then he turned around and crossed the street.