Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 6 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.
“How are you, Hinda?” Chana, standing beside her in the narrow aisle of the bus traveling to the Denia neighborhood, had a sorrowful tone when she spoke to her. Hinda didn’t know if she spoke this way to everyone she met, or only when she spoke to her. “I haven’t seen you since I heard you got married. I was so happy to hear. Baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem…”
“Thank you.” Hinda smiled pleasantly, but didn’t take the seat near the window. If Chana would stand here for two more seconds, it would be expected of her, and she’d have to do it, but there was a chance that Chana would advance further into the bus and wouldn’t sit down next to her, and Hinda preferred it that way. When she had to get to the Shmueli, Oren, Tawil, and Danziger families, she liked to use the time she had on the way to daven that her mission should go well. Sometimes it went well with these people; other times, less so.
Chana smiled back and continued further into the bus. Hinda rummaged in the snakeskin bag that Dov had bought her, remembering the pocketbooks she had carried over the years. She had never gone to her addresses with a torn or shabby bag, or with a plastic bag. She always made sure to be carrying a dignified pocketbook.
For those who like to talk regardless of what you do, it made no difference, of course. The types who clucked with pity also included the pocketbook in their clucking. So did the critical ones. She’d once heard someone, on her way to the kitchen to get a few shekels, saying to someone else, “I just hope they don’t use the tzedakah money that we give, out of the goodness of our hearts, on such an expensive bag.” But worse than that was the lady who once stood on line behind her at the supermarket, talking into her phone: “It’s horrible how people don’t know how to manage a budget. They don’t have a penny to their name, they have no bread at home, their electricity is getting cut off, and they collect tzedakah – I know that for a fact – but they will buy a nice pocketbook.”
Maybe she hadn’t been talking about her, Hinda, but on the assumption that she had been, who had told that woman that she had no bread at home?! And her electricity had never been cut off, baruch Hashem. The tzedakah she collected was for the Ohr Naftali and Leah organization, in memory of her grandparents, and besides for a small monthly salary that she received for her work there, she didn’t get anything from the organization. No, she did not get a percentage of what she collected.
Hinda glanced out the window, trying to banish the images of those self-righteous individuals. Throughout her life, she’d fought against bitterness. It was enough that life had not always smiled at her, but she was not ready to be bitter. Certainly not now, when things had changed so radically.
She took her antique leather Tehillim, which her children had bought her for her engagement, out of her bag. Looking out the window again, she noticed how the road was winding and on an incline. Somewhere there, down on the left side, was the Mediterranean Sea, almost blinding her with the shades of orange that colored the horizon. What a relaxing sunset; it radiated so much compassion and kindness from Above. And baruch Hashem, in her home, there were also beautiful, good things that she had to thank Him for.
Hinda leaned back and opened her Sefer Tehillim.
Two stops later, she closed the sefer, smoothed her skirt, which had gotten a bit dusty, and got off the bus at Mehudar Street. She walked up from the bus stop to the Shmueli home, a three-floor, single-family villa, and opened the wooden gate. She followed the shaded path, between the rows of trees that cast their shade on the stones below. Before she rang the bell—who would hear a knock on such an enormous door?—she took a deep breath and wiped her forehead with a tissue.
Mrs. Shmueli herself opened the door. “Rebbetzin Hinda!” she exclaimed, motioning her to come in. “You came just in time! Last week we finished the kitchen, and you must see how we put your advice into the plan. The architect was very excited about the idea!”
Hinda followed her in, and instead of the living room, where they usually went, she was led into the kitchen. It was as gleaming as it always had been, and Hinda complimented the woman’s good taste and cleaning skills. She also admired the faucets that they had specially imported from Madrid. Then they went out onto the huge balcony, where Mrs. Shmueli opened a small, low door in the wall that the balcony shared with the kitchen. “And here, this is where the opening is to the space under the counter, just like you suggested. We put my grandson’s riding toys here,” she said with a laugh. “You see how well it worked out? Not that I lack for cupboards, but all these things always just pile up in front of my eyes, and now they have a closed corner.”
Hinda nodded and thought about a few other corners in this house—countless numbers of them, actually—that could store the riding toys without the big production of hacking out a cavity in the porch/kitchen wall. But there was no doubt that Mrs. Shmueli, who had heard of the idea incidentally from Hinda when telling her about the kitchen she wanted to order, thoroughly enjoyed this spot in her new kitchen.
“I like utilizing things,” she said, leading Hinda back inside. “It’s a special pleasure not to leave any voids or empty spaces. And if we’re talking about using things, you should know that my old kitchen cabinets are in the storage room. I didn’t have the heart to throw them out. They’re only six years old, and great quality. Maybe you know someone, one of the families you support, who would want a new kitchen? I threw out the sinks, but I kept the faucets, for example. It was the latest that Hamat had to offer seven years ago, and how much did I use them already? It was a shame.”
As she spoke, she led Hinda to the living room, their official meeting place. On the way she threw a word to the cleaning lady, who appeared after a moment with a bottle of cold water and two cups.
“Here you go,” Mrs. Shmueli said, filling the two cups with water.
“Thank you,” Hinda said.
Mrs. Shmueli left the room, as she always did at this point. Hinda made a brachah and drank, thinking about the kitchen sitting idly beneath her feet. It was a wonderful idea to give the old-but-still-new kitchen to a family who could use it, but she had no idea who the needy families were. She’d have to speak to Michoel about it.
“I’m sure the director of our organization would be happy to contact you about taking your old kitchen,” she said when Mrs. Shmueli returned with her wallet, pulling out three bills of 200 shekels each. “I’ll tell him about it.”
If he would answer his phone and listen to you, a strange voice inside her said. And at once she remembered his message.
She should drop in.
She or Yosef.
Uncle Michoel hadn’t answered her questions; it was as though he hadn’t heard her. He had been in a big hurry, and had ended the call abruptly. What was it all about?
Maybe she really should go over there, to make sure everything was alright, and that he was feeling okay.
Martin had three restful nights before he went out on the next operation, in a different location. This time, it included setting an olive grove aflame, but the fire was discovered by the owner of the orchard, and was put out before it could spread much.
“Too bad,” groaned Binyamin, one of the other boys who had come along, as he examined the bleeding scratch on his leg. This time, the way back had been nowhere near as smooth as their last tag mechir excursion. The four of them had tripped on a thin cord that was stretched between two trees at the eastern exit of the village. They’d tumbled and fallen, and it was a miracle they hadn’t broken any arms or legs. With effort, they’d continued on, and when they’d been quite a distance away, on the slope of the hill, they’d turned and noticed the figures that had appeared between the orchard’s trees, and the thick smoke spreading instead of flames. They’d realized then that they had failed.
“These Arabs.” They sat in Binyamin’s room, grumbling and trying to assess the damage. Martin studied the cloth handkerchief that had been pressed to his head until then. “Ugh, they couldn’t let us burn their olives without disturbing us?”
“They probably know that the spoiled people in Tel Aviv would struggle without their preserved olives,” Binyamin said derisively. “In Europe and America they can put an economic boycott on Israeli products without any problem, but we continue to buy shoes from Shechem, olives from Al Arish, and chairs from Jericho.”
“Chairs from where?” Amir asked. He was a quiet, tall boy who hadn’t exchanged a word with Martin so far.
“My family ordered a table and six chairs from a large carpentry shop in Jerusalem. The salesman promised that it was coming straight off the boat from Italy. But when my parents left the store, they saw a Ford Transit van pull up with the different parts of wood, ready to be assembled. No Ashdod Port, no Italy; it was all straight from our cousins in Jericho.”
Martin moved his head from one side to the other, not quite following the rapid-fire Hebrew.
“In any case, there’s nothing for us to do now,” Binyamin concluded. “At least we tried. Martin, you’ll sleep over by me tonight, right? You have no way to get back to Jerusalem. It’s already very late.”
“Is it okay with you?”
“Sure, but they might come to arrest me. Take that into account.”
“Maybe,” Binyamin said calmly. “And you, too, of course. If the owners of the orchards discovered the fire so fast, I suspect they have cameras. It will be very easy for the GSS to discover us. They will be less interested in Amir and Avichai, because they will see in the cameras that you and I made most of the trouble, and they just stood guard on the side.”
“Isn’t that called being an accessory to the crime?” Martin asked.
“Maybe it is, but they will be much more focused on catching us.”
“Well, let them try,” Martin said, equally as calmly. “It won’t be their first time arresting me. But the other times were for much simpler things. Demonstrations, stuff like that… How much can they give for such a thing, if it’s the first time?”
“And if we didn’t do any damage, ultimately.” Binyamin was thoughtful. “Maybe a few months, in the worst case,” he concluded. “Depends which lawyer will be arranged for you.”
The quiet boy opened his mouth again. “If you’re talking as if your arrest is a foregone conclusion already, that means it’s time for me and Avichai to skedaddle, and to deal with our cuts in a calmer setting. We’ll be in touch, okay?”