Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 5 of a new online serial novel, Outside the Bubble, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
“Immmaaaaaa! The tzedakah lady is here!”
Hinda leaned against the wall in the stairwell and waited. The little Ben-Baruch boy was raised well; he came back after twenty seconds with a ten-shekel coin in his hand. Hinda wrote a receipt, tore it off the pad, and handed it to him. “Thank you, and tizku l’mitzvos. Give this to Ima.”
At the door across the hall, she hesitated before knocking, but then decided to go ahead with it. A light knock, and then another one. As usual, they didn’t open for her. She went up another floor, skipping the door of the Russians and knocking at the Lanzitzkys.
“Ah…Mrs…Hinda!” Chaya Lanzitzky blushed and smiled. They’d always called their neighbor in shul “Mrs. Schorr.” That was what her chair in the ladies’ section said, too. What was her name now that she’d remarried? It was a good thing she remembered her first name. “Welcome! How are you? We haven’t seen you in a long time!”
“Yes, it’s been a while. I’m good, baruch Hashem.” Hinda smiled. “How are you doing? How are your twins?”
Chaya beamed. “Baruch Hashem, they’re growing and gaining weight nicely. Can I offer you a drink of water?”
“No, thanks. I’m fine.”
Chaya disappeared into her bedroom in search for her wallet. There was nothing in it besides ten agurot. What about her pocketbook? In the front pocket there was a fifty-shekel note, but tomorrow morning she’d be leaving the house and she’d need that for bus fare. In the front pocket there was half a shekel; that wasn’t nice. She went to the kitchen. On the shelf near the door there was another whole shekel, and in the drawer under the phone, another ten agurot. On the counter she made a real find: a two shekel coin.
She went back to the door, and stammered, “I-I’m really sorry, Hinda. This is all I have now.”
“Every donation is important.” Hinda had a repertoire of responses, based on the need, but they didn’t sound like recitations. And she always stated her remarks with a pleasant smile. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. Thanks very much, Chaya.”
“If I would have a tzedakah box from you,” Chaya said, “that would be great. You know how it is…sometimes, just when you want some money, you get stuck with nothing on you.”
“We thought about giving out tzedakah boxes,” Hinda said. “It’s possible we will do it at one point. For now…” She wrote a receipt for three shekel seventy and gave it to Chaya. “Thanks a lot, and tizki l’mitzvos!”
Collecting at the next building was less enjoyable for Hinda, and she tried very hard to have in mind that it was l’Shem Shamayim. On the first floor, the doors stayed closed, and she felt bad. On the next floor, as always, they shouted, “The schnorrer lady is here; how much should I give her?” and a dour-faced girl gave her a five-shekel coin, not softening even when Hinda blessed her with “brachah and siyata d’Shmaya in all that you do.” Only when the door closed did Hinda whisper the words, “Aand you should find a zivug hagun.” Then she climbed to the next floor.
There, Mrs. Azorovitz pulled out a twenty-shekel bill, and asked, as she always did, “Remind me what your organization is called and what it does?” And Hinda told her, as she always did, about Uncle Michoel, her late mother’s younger brother, who established a one-man organization in memory of his parents, her grandparents. The sums that they raised were not big, but there were families who received regular support through this money. The organization mainly distributed small monthly stipends, which were increased before the Yamim Tovim. She didn’t mention the distribution of grocery products that Michoel arranged in Nissan and Tishrei, because last time she’d told her about it, Mrs. Azorovitz had demanded to see pictures of that, and she didn’t have any. Michoel did not like photographing what he did. She always carried approbations from rabbanim, but Mrs. Azorovitz was hardly interested in those.
When Hinda descended the stairs, she felt a sense of relief, as always, but that disappeared when she saw who was waiting for her at the door to the building. “Yosef!” she said with a warm smile, although something hard and grainy settled in the pit of her stomach. “How are you? How did you know that I was here?”
“I was passing by and saw you go in to this building, so I waited here.”
“Did you finish work already? It’s still early, isn’t it?”
“I left early on purpose,” he said, falling into step beside her.
“Because…” He turned his face upward. “Because there’s someone there who annoys me.”
“He annoys you.”
“Yes. It’s the fourth time he’s come to the emergency room. He was there two weeks ago, too, and a month ago, and before that, I don’t remember exactly when. Every time he comes, it’s with a different excuse. He’s not even sick, and he likes to stare at me. So I told the doctor on call that I had something urgent to take care of, and I left.”
“Good,” she said. “It’s good that you left.”
“And don’t tell me I need to make an appointment with Dr. Brand.”
Hinda was quiet.
“Okay?” He raised his voice a bit.
“Please don’t shout in the street, Yosef.”
“Okay. But okay?”
“I won’t say it. You said it already anyway.”
He stopped at the entrance to the next building where she was headed. “Should I come up with you?”
“Do you want to?”
“Not really. I’ll wait for you here. The guy has gray hair, almost white. Reminds me a little of Uncle Michoel.”
“Oh,” she said hastily. “Good thing you reminded me about Michoel. I haven’t called him in a long time, because the last few times I tried, he didn’t pick up. I want to ask him what is with the tzedakah boxes he planned to give out. Remind me again when we get home, okay?”
Yosef accompanied her with the loyalty of a shadow to each building, and she decided that she’d push off her trip to the Denia neighborhood until tomorrow.
When they arrived home, he reminded her, with that same faithfulness, to call Uncle Michoel.
But again, after a few rings, she was informed that her call was being transferred to the voicemail. She could not stand leaving messages, and so she almost hung up. But suddenly she heard that the recording did not say, “I’m sorry, but I cannot take your call right now. Please leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.” Instead it said, “Hinda?”
“Uncle Michoel, are you home already? Baruch Hashem! Great! How are you? I was beginning to worry!”
“I’m not home right now. But I’d be happy if you would drop in over the next few days, you or Yosef’ke.”
“Drop in to you? Okay, just tell me when would be a good time for you, and I’ll check with Dov…” She suddenly realized that he hadn’t finished his sentence, so she fell silent. “…And I’d love if you can do it. The key is on the windowsill behind the left side window — you know which one.”
“I’m sorry, Uncle Michoel, I didn’t realize you were talking, and didn’t hear exactly. What did you ask me to do?”
“So kol tuv, and regards to everyone.”
Driven by his curiosity, Martin dropped in at the pizza store on Emek Refaim, and waited for a lull. A pair of French tourists finished their order loudly, and made room for him on the line.
“Oh, it’s you!” Benny recognized him from earlier that day. “Nu, what’s doing?” he asked, turning on the faucet so he could wash his hands.
“Did Perl come during the day to get his pizza?”
“Not at all. Why, he didn’t open the door?” Benny stopped in the middle of scrubbing his hands with soap.
“No. And he got annoyed when I nearly left the pizza on his doorstep.”
“That’s too much already. I’m done with him,” Benny muttered. “If I could filter my calls to the landline phone I would do it, but I can’t. Oh, well. He’s an interesting guy, a bit different, but now I really can’t figure out what is with him.”
“He’s of average height, with a short gray beard, right? Pleasant guy?” Martin wanted to make sure he’d gotten the right person.
“I think that his beard is mostly white, not gray anymore, but whatever. And yes, he’s super-nice.”
“So what’s his story?”
“No clue. Why, he wasn’t nice to you?”
“Not really. And he was strange, too. Wouldn’t let me speak!”
“Go figure what people are going through,” Benny concluded. “We haven’t solved the mystery, to sum it up.”
“Maybe he’s suffering from dementia that’s altering his behavior. Maybe someone is holding him hostage.”
“In his house?”
“Things like that happen, you know.”
“I think you read a lot of mysteries and suspense novels.” Benny laughed, and moved on to his next customer. Martin waved and walked out.
He had little interest in going back to the dorm. The dressing down he’d gotten this evening from the principal about his “many hours of absence, and failure to maximize his potential” had been enough for him. The time had come for them to realize that even if he had come to Israel on his good grades and the protektzia of Rabbi Eisenthal, he wasn’t all that interested in wasting his time on “Israel studies” and the history of the Ottoman Empire. When they were sent to work on the moshavim, that was a bit more interesting, and learning tours… those were even better. It just was a shame they didn’t take them to Yehuda and Shomron; they were missing beautiful parts of the land. It also wasn’t fair of the directors of the program to be so one-sided in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
So he was taking tours on his own.
And learning things himself.
And if the program directors didn’t like it, that was their problem. He was using this year that he’d been given, as he pleased. When he’d need to leave at the end of the year, he’d see what he could do. In any case, he wasn’t so sure that it was good for him to go back to Greater Sudbury, Canada.
He found himself across from the old corner house, without even intending to get there. The house was dark, and the only dim light glowed behind the curtain on the right-side window on the first floor.
Martin stared at the house. After a few long moments, he decided he would do himself a favor if he’d go back to his room to make up some of last night’s lost sleep.
Suddenly, a light went on upstairs on the arched balcony. It was nice to see its dome-shaped openings illuminated against the backdrop of the dark sky. Martin tensed, expecting to see the man with the short white beard stepping onto the porch and looking down. But the porch remained silent.
Something smelled like a mystery, and tickled at Martin’s drive for action. He walked into the yard, went up the stairs, and knocked at the door.
His knocks did not yield anything; perhaps the man didn’t hear well. Martin pressed the doorbell, and after a few seconds, heard the familiar voice come through the intercom.
“Good evening, who is it?”
“And what brings you to knock at my door this late at night?”
The boy was confounded for a moment. “I didn’t think it was so late,” he admitted. “It’s only 8:15; that’s not—”
“Yes, yes, for me it is late, and I’m going to bed already. If you want, come back next week, but earlier. Goodnight.”