Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 8 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.
“If you don’t fix this command line, the computer will go into a loop mode and will repeat the function over and over. In essence, it will do it tens of thousands of times. But—” Mr. Kingston, the computer teacher, stopped when he heard rapid footsteps behind his back. He turned around to find Joe Diamond striding directly to Martin, who was staring at the screen, red-eyed.
“Martin!” Joe whispered, ignoring the presence of the teacher and the other students. “Martin, come here a minute!”
Martin’s red eyes stared at him. “What?”
Joe stood staring silently at him for a few seconds, until, with a sigh, Martin stood up from the upholstered chair, which was also suited for a good doze as he’d tried to take notes on the programming course. “What do you want?” he asked, after he had followed his roommate outside.
“The police came to the dorm. They’re looking for you,” Joe whispered “I was in the office filling out my forms for next year. But I didn’t hear anything, you hear? And I didn’t come to warn you. I just told the secretary that I left my passport in the room and had to get it.” He finished tossing out his message, and disappeared.
Martin looked left and right. There were just two sports courts between this building and the dorm. How long would it take the police to get to him? Two more minutes? Five?
He hurried to the flight of stairs and went down one floor. The back door of the building was wide open. He went out to the basketball court, feeling more exposed than he’d felt in a long time. He had no interest in meeting policemen now, and certainly not in the presence of the principal.
He catapulted over the side gate to the yard of the property next door. It was a museum of some type, if he remembered correctly. He’d been living in this German Colony neighborhood for ten months, but he still hadn’t had the time to check out even the neighboring building. He only thoroughly examined things that interested him.
He crossed the path to the open gate, and glanced outside. A small police car was parked there, and two uniformed officers emerged.
Martin turned his head and began to walk calmly to the other side of the street. It was kind of empty now—that was the problem. In a few seconds, he’d be out of the policemen’s field of vision. He just needed to find a place to stay until he’d decide that enough time had passed, and then he’d call Joe and ask what was doing.
Martin’s footsteps slowed as he turned up the next street, where his school building no longer loomed behind him like a bad dream. There was the house belonging to the old man who placed orders at the pizza store. The gate was open, and as he passed near it, he glanced inside. To his surprise, there was a figure standing by the door, bent over the lock.
Martin squinted and stepped onto the path. “Hey, Mr. Perl!” he called, closing the gate behind him.
The figure turned around. It was a solid-looking young man, a few years older than him. He stared at Martin for a moment. “What do you want?” he asked in Hebrew.
“Are you also looking for him?” Martin replied in Hebrew as he approached, glancing cautiously behind him. “Can I help you with something?”
“No,” the other man said dully. He pressed down on the knob, and the door opened.
“No what?” Martin asked. “You’re not looking for him, or you don’t need help with anything?”
“I am looking for him. I want to speak to him.” Martin groped for the right words in the language that was foreign to him. “I came to him once, and he didn’t open the door. Maybe it wasn’t a good time for him then.”
“It’s not a good time now, either.” The door closed behind the young man.
“Hey, come on, that’s not polite!” Martin went over to the door and pressed long and hard on the intercom bell. His jab was a vent for all of his exhaustion, the scolding from his teachers and principal, and the fear of the police. With all his gung-ho declarations about not being afraid to get caught, he wasn’t going to fall into the cops’ hands as long as he could still run away.
“Good morning. Who is it?”
“I’m the guy who brought your pizza once!” Martin bent toward the bell. “From Benny’s pizza store! I would like to speak to you, but the guy who just went in slammed the door in my f— ”
“Sorry,” the voice cut him off. “I can’t come to the door right now.”
“Fine…” Martin muttered angrily. “So because of that, your grandson—or whoever he is—closed the door on me like that? But—”
“I’m sorry. I can’t talk to you right now. If you don’t mind, try to come back in another week.”
Martin stared at the intercom and the bluish light. “Another week! That’s what you told me to do when I brought the pizza. Are you serious, mister?”
“Have a nice day.”
“I imagine that very soon, you’ll also tell me not to leave you anything near the door, right? Just like you told me when—”
“I ask that you not leave anything at the door.”
Martin gaped at the door, squinting, and then began to bang on it with one fist, and then two.
“I ask that you not leave anything at the door,” was the answer.
Suddenly, the door opened. It looked like the older young man had been standing and waiting behind it the whole time. “Hey!” His eyes were a bit glazed, like he also hadn’t slept much in the last few nights. “Leave that door alone, and get away from here, you hear?”
“I want to speak to Mr. Perl,” Martin said, fixing him with a stare. “Is he your grandfather? I looked for him a few days ago already.” Was he hearing a siren drawing closer, or were the sounds coming from inside his anxious mind?
The young man laughed. “That’s impossible,” he declared, and tried to close the door. But Martin, with something that his grandmother called “Posner guts—not from our side,” stuck his foot in the threshold between the heavy door and the jamb.
“But I want to!” he insisted. “Let me in!”
“I’m going to call the police in another minute.” The other man’s speech suddenly became a bit choppy. His tone rose, and his eyes drilled into Martin. “You want me to call the police, huh?”
“Hey, why are you shouting? You didn’t take your pills today?” Martin had taken a liking to the Hebrew phrase he’d learned recently.
But it looked like the phrase was having the opposite effect on the young man. He opened the door again, took a step forward, grabbed Martin’s arm, and led him to the stairs. “You’re looking to annoy me, huh?” he growled. Martin tried to pull his hand free, and as he did, he missed the step in front of him. At the last second, he grabbed the railing, and instead of tumbling down into the yard, he stumbled heavily, and twisted his leg.
“Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean for you to fall.” The young man stood at the top of the stairs and looked at him with dark eyes. “But what does this have to do with my medications? They are no one’s business! Do you guys get it?”
“Who is ‘you guys’?” Marin squeaked. He tried to get up, but his twisted leg throbbed painfully, and he remained sitting on the ground as he cradled it. “I’m alone here.”
“I happen to think that you’re working for the guy from the emergency room in Rambam. Get out of here, and fast!”
“Working for someone in Rambam? I don’t work for anyone!” Martin turned around. There was no police vehicle in sight. “Come on, really now, I just wanted to talk to your grandfather!”
“My grandfather? Sure, sure, go tell your own grandfather about it. I think you came to follow me.”
“But I came to see your grandfather, really!” Martin rubbed his leg, studying it carefully. Had it begun to swell?
“Liar…” the boy hissed. With one leap, he was standing next to Martin. He stretched out his hand, and pulled him into a standing position. “Liar. I don’t have a grandfather. Now get out of here, and I don’t want to see you following me again, you hear?! I want to see you gone! This minute!”
“I’m outta here,” Martin said. He limped down the path, glancing back at the figure standing with his arms folded, glaring in his direction. “But the welcome here was very not nice, and you should tell that to Mr. Perl—I don’t care what he is to you! He repeated himself like a broken record, and you threw me down the stairs. Is this how you people treat guests?”
“Go, I said!” came the growl in response.
“I’m going!” Martin shouted as he reached the gate.
“And don’t follow me anymore!”
Martin stopped when he reached the sidewalk and looked ahead to the intersection. The streets appeared quiet, flooded with late-morning sunshine. He had no interest in going back to the dorm.
Hey! His cell phone was in his room! How would he call Joe to find out if the area was clear of the police? That half-deserted house could have been an ideal place for him to spend the time. Why had that crazy guy ruined his plans? It was clear to Martin that had he been able to get inside to meet the nice old man, everything would be better.
Who was to say that this young man hadn’t taken control of Mr. Perl, telling him how to respond to guests over the intercom?
He looked back. The guy was still standing near the front door. He scowled when he saw Martin stop. “Go!” he screamed, taking a step toward him. “How many times do I have to tell you that I don’t want you following me?! Can’t you get the message already?!”
Follow him! Martin hurried off, his mind awhirl. The guy had just given him a really good idea.
Hinda had always loved the smell of long-frying onions, caramelized until they were almost burnt, and Penina apparently shared that love. “What a delicious smell!” she said as she inhaled deeply. “What’s in the pot?”
Dov grinned, apparently pleased by his daughter’s naturalness. Hinda, though, was still a bit ill at ease. “It’s nothing,” she said, taking off the cover. “I’m just boiling water so that it will be easier for me to clean this pot. The whole first round of onions that I fried for the chopped liver got burnt, and stuck to the bottom.”
“Oh,” Penina said. “You know, it’s nice to hear that you also sometimes burn onions. I thought things like that only happen to people my age.”
Hinda smiled pleasantly, not telling her that she had no recollection of the last time something had burned in her kitchen. “Yes,” she said. “It could happen to anyone.” Especially to someone whose mentally ill son had called from Yerushalayim, as she was cooking four things at once, sounding more confused than she’d heard him sound in a long time.
“He isn’t here! There’s nothing here! But his voice talks out of the intercom, and the light in the kitchen suddenly goes on by itself. I’m leaving, Ima. I can’t be here without you. And the guy from the emergency room sent some American to follow me, but I caught him.”
“Wait a second, Yosef,” she had said as she stuck a toothpick into her torte cake to test if it was done. “If you’ve gone all the way there, it’s a shame to come right back just because of a few unpleasant moments. Come on, let’s try to get something out of your visit. Tell me, what do you see?”
“I see nothing. I’m standing near the door, and I see that the house is empty.”
“And what about upstairs?”
“Don’t know.” His voice sounded like it was trembling. “I don’t know anything, Ima. I’m leaving.”
“Alright,” she’d said in resignation. “Then go.”
“You don’t want me to go? You want me to stay and check around for him?”
“I want you to do what works for you.” That was when she’d left the kitchen, leaving the onions on the flame.
“But I don’t know what works for me. You know that I have schizophrenia. What do you want from me?!” His desperate tone burst out of the phone and into the room, and Hinda was glad that Dov had gone to Bnei Brak to pick up Penina, and wasn’t home.
“That has nothing to do with it, Yosef.” She sat down on an armchair. “I’m asking you now, not the schizophrenia: what do you want to do? Do you feel like you can be brave and try to see what is going on in the house?”
“No,” he said. “Actually, maybe yes.”
“First of all, where are you now? Inside the house?”
“Yes, I took the key from the window and went inside. The minute I came in, someone came after me and rang the bell. I heard Uncle Michoel answering him on the intercom. He answered him, Ima, but the inside intercom is here, in its regular place near the kitchen door, and no one was standing there—but it talked anyway!”
“I think he installed another connection in his bedroom upstairs. He might be resting and speaking from there.”
“Maybe,” Yosef said. “I’m not going upstairs to check.”
“Alright. What’s doing in the kitchen?”
“It looks empty. The rest of the house is also dark and seems empty, but the air conditioner is on, Ima. It kicked in when I came inside.”
Hinda was quiet for a minute. “Call him,” she suggested. “Raise your voice and yell his name.”
“Will you stay on the line?”
Yosef was quiet for a moment. Then he raised his tremulous voice. “Uncle Michoel!” he called. “Uncle Michoel! It’s me, Yosef! I came because you asked my mother to!” He waited a few moments, and then turned back to the phone. “He’s not answering me. Okay, I’m going now, Ima. I don’t know what he meant that we should do for him. If he wants, he can call you again and tell you clearly.”
“He didn’t call me—I called him. Yosef, can you wait a minute? I want to call him now.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’m waiting.”
But Michoel did not answer his phone.
By this time, the onions had been completed scorched. Yosef had left Michoel’s house, and Hinda had been left to sit where she was for a few long moments, deep in thought. Only Dov’s cheerful phone call, informing her that they’d be home in twenty minutes—he, Penina, her husband Zevi, and the baby—had galvanized her to get back to the kitchen. She was feeling exhausted, confused, and worried, but she did put on the smile that she knew how to paste to her face irrespective of what she was feeling inside.