Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 61 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.
Osher was awakened by a thump.
He opened his eyes and found himself on hard ground. He must have tried to turn over in his sleep and had fallen off the bench. He stood up, blinking at the slowly rising sun, and sat back down on the bench.
Oh, he was in Zichron Yaakov; he’d almost forgotten. His huge backpack was under the bench; no one had touched it. The paths of the Ramat Hanadiv gardens spread out before him, awakening to a new day.
She had already searched every alley in the market, knowing that there could be at least fifty other places that she could not see. She wandered around in the port, gazed out at the sea, and even paid to get into the prison museum in Acco. She moved from room to room, from one mattress of rags to another, and from one metallic figurine of British soldiers to another. She could still feel in her heart some of those orange, scented candles, with their distorted look, which caused her to turn around fearfully every so often. But Aziza was never behind her, not even once. The anxiety with which Ariella had fled from Acco three months earlier slowly dissipated. It was replaced by a new fear, the worry about Osher. He could do something foolhardy. He certainly was liable to. But what kind of foolhardy thing would it be this time?
She walked out of the museum and began to walk toward the Reinesses’ home. She had no reason to go inside, especially as Sarah wasn’t there now.
A police car, its lights off, was standing there. The police had already arrived; good. The gate was open, and she noticed a few youths talking animatedly with a policeman. She could not see Rabbi Reiness himself.
She herself had nothing new to tell the police. She hadn’t been there when Osher had decided to flee, and she had no idea how he’d chosen to inform them that he was leaving. It was safe to assume that if the police or Rabbi Reiness thought she could contribute any information regarding Osher’s whereabouts, they would call her.
Meanwhile, she’d keep her distance; she’d stand on the beach and wait for any developments.
The sand was soft and warm, and she kicked at it with the toes of her shoes. Scattered shards of glass littered the beach, partially swallowed by sand. She stared at them as she thought about Osher. Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a broken wooden board; it was black and swollen from the seawater. The grains of sand that stuck to it almost completely concealed the words that someone had once etched into it, but they had not succeeded completely. Ariella didn’t know why she picked up the piece of wood and blew on it to get rid of the sand. The letters slowly became clearer:
The black sheep.
Was this a riddle that Osher had left behind? Did he really expect everyone to dance to his tune?
She took a deep breath. She needed to show this to the police, didn’t she? It wasn’t certain that Osher had written it, of course, but it also did not seem likely to her that there was another person in the world who would have written these particular words and placed it in this specific place.
Osher, you spoiled boy, when will you grow up?
Aside for a bar of chocolate I’d found, I had no food in my backpack. And I was tired and weak after the long trek yesterday, from the train station at the bottom to here, the heights of the town.
I stood up to find a sink where I could wash my hands. I needed to daven, and then afterward I’d go find Dr. Kreisman’s house, to ask him what he would advise me to do now. He would probably say that I should “initiate a conversation” with Rabbi Reiness, or with Ariella, or with my parents. The adults in my life were always in favor of conversations, but I was sick of them already. I mean, how much could there be to talk about? Especially since no one really cared about what I said or what I asked for, anyway. No one took my desires or feelings into account, so why was Dr. Kreisman constantly telling me to be more considerate of others, to see what they wanted, and what was important for them to hear?
Ridiculous, that’s what it was.
After davening, I decided to visit the Nadiv Park. It had been years since I’d last been there—on a school trip when I was in seventh grade—and the more hours that passed, the better. I didn’t want to land on someone’s doorstep at eight in the morning, and certainly not if that someone was the person who was trying to teach me how to communicate better with people.
The park was beautiful. I wandered among the flowers, and discovered that I didn’t remember most of them from my cheder trip. I think I was busy fighting with a friend on that trip; I even remembered what it was about. As I walked, I thought about Ariella and about the imaginary gardens she’d told me about. Maybe she should have come with me back then, instead of my classmates who I could never get along with. Ariella wouldn’t have fought with me, and she certainly wouldn’t have insulted me like that boy did, when he announced to everyone that he was sure I wouldn’t get accepted into any normal yeshivah.
Well, he had been wrong, because I actually did get accepted to a pretty good yeshivah.
Or maybe he had been right, because they threw me out after five weeks.
I finished my tour and left the gardens, returning to the field and to my bench there. I sat down and ate the entire bar of chocolate, square after square. Then I headed back down into the city.
The walk was exhausting. My mother always told me that “the body needs to recharge in order to work properly.” The energy that the chocolate had given me might have filled the batteries that I’d wasted at night climbing up the hill, but now I needed another recharge. And I had nothing.
That’s how I arrived at Mattisyahu Kreisman’s house: tired, weary, and starving. It was very different from how I’d planned to arrive. I had thought to show up looking indifferent, assertive, and to say something like, “I’m done with Acco. Do you have anything else to suggest for me?’
In reality, I knocked at the door and realized that my hands were shaking. I was desperately hungry and thirsty. And when Dr. Kreisman opened the door and said in surprise, “Osher!” I just nodded, without saying a word. He quickly ushered me inside and went to get me a drink.
I drank the chocolate milk slowly and looked at how he sat down in a chair opposite me, waiting. I put the empty cup down on the glass coffee table in the middle of his living room and folded my arms. “I need help,” I said. I noticed that my voice was also shaking, along with my hands. I hated that. But I had no control over it. “I need help. I ran away from Acco.”
“You ran away?” He raised one eyebrow, and then the other.
“Yes. I don’t want to learn there anymore.”
Silence hung in the room, and for the first time I realized that I actually did not know anything about this person. His house was always empty, always quiet, as if he didn’t have family. Actually, the room where we had our sessions had framed pictures of children on the shelves and on the wall. Maybe those were his grandchildren? But it seemed like he lived alone.
That could be good for me.
“Maybe you could be my rabbi,” I suggested. I think I became redder as I spoke. “I can live here, with you, instead of in Acco.”
He smiled thinly. “I’m not able to be your rabbi, Osher,” he said calmly. “I’m not a rabbi, and I’m not Chareidi enough for you. What I can happily teach you—and what I do try to teach you in our sessions—only affects one area of life. A very important area, but only one. For everything else, please, continue with Rabbi Reiness. He’s so much better than me. Believe me, you won’t find anyone else like him.”
“I know!” I raised my voice. “I know it! He helps me a lot. And I’m usually happy there. I…” I looked at the table. “I like him a lot. But after Ariella—she’s my sister—came there…I just can’t do it anymore, that’s all.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘I can’t do it anymore’ because of someone else,” Dr. Kreisman said to me. “Only you, Osher, are responsible for your decisions. Something might be hard for you because of what someone else did, but your abilities—including your ability to make the right decisions—are yours, and yours only.”
“Hashem gave me my abilities.”
“So He can also make Ariella take them away from me.”
“Osher, He sent her to you so you should deal with it, and only you can choose how you will do that. So, you chose to run away?”
“Yes,” I answered, a bit defiantly.
“What’s so bad about her coming to you in Acco, anyway?” Dr. Kreisman asked. He looked around at his empty house. “I’d be very happy if my sister came to visit me, but I don’t have a sister.”
I almost began to feel bad for him, but just then I remembered that he certainly had one son, the one Reb Elazar had helped; that was how the two of them had gotten to know each other, to begin with. “Well,” I said, “it might make you happy, but it doesn’t make me happy at all.”
He was quiet for a long moment. “How did you get here?” he finally asked.
“On the train.”
“On the train? When?”
“Last night. Motza’ei Shabbos.”
“So where were you all night?”
I looked out the huge window in his living room. The curtain that covered part of it swayed a bit in the wind. “I slept up on the hill, near the Nadiv Park. I hiked up there from the train station.”
“That’s some hike! So, how did you call Rabbi Reiness to tell him you got here?”
“I didn’t tell him,” I said. “You think I want my sister to come here, too?”
Hey! I’d forgotten the broom I’d made for her under my bed in Acco!