Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 10 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.
Hinda placed the sketch of the Eisen family’s children’s room on the kitchen table, and went over to the third doorway in the hallway. She waited a moment, just to be sure, and when the screaming didn’t stop, she knocked lightly. “Penina?” she whispered.
The door opened a crack. Penina was holding her screaming baby, as she tried to smile, while wiping her shoulder from some spit-up.
“Do you want to give her to me so you can sleep a bit?” Hinda spoke in a low tone.
“I feel bad.” Penina glanced behind her. “I don’t want you to have to stay up because of her.”
“I’m not sleeping now—it’s alright. I’m still working.”
“Working?” Penina glanced at the clock on the hallway wall. The small hand was on the two.
“Yes, these are my hours,” Hinda said ruefully. “Just give me the things I’ll need for the next two hours, and go to sleep.”
“Maybe she’s hungry.” Penina sniffed.
“If she convinces me that she’s hungry, I’ll bring her right back to you. But I’m not sure she wants to eat so much, all day and night.”
Penina suppressed a smile. “Neither am I.”
“Great, so we agree on that. Give me her things, and we’ll manage.”
Penina stopped arguing. Two minutes later, Hinda was sitting at her kitchen table again, with the baby’s dark head resting on her shoulder. Her hand wasn’t free to hold the pencil, but her eyes studied the page, considering the expansion options for the Eisen kids’ room.
“She’s a cute baby,” Yosef remarked from the doorway. He walked into the kitchen and leaned on the fridge.
“Shhh…that’s right,” Hinda whispered. “What’s with your Ambien, Yosef? It will be hard for to get up for work tomorrow if you don’t sleep tonight.”
“I took one. But I still can’t fall asleep.”
She turned to him. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. That visit to the house in Yerushalayim…it’s bothering me.”
“Why? Because Michoel wasn’t home?”
“Yes. And everything was strange.”
“Look. Uncle Michoel is the type who disappears without any advance notice.” The baby’s eyes began to flutter, and Hinda lowered her voice even more. “So it’s not really so strange.”
“But usually, he comes back without advance notice, too.” Yosef was also blinking now, an unintentional imitation of the baby—or was it a sign that he was collecting his thoughts?
“So, it’s strange that he’s not back yet even after so long.”
“Two years ago, he was in Europe for more than six weeks,” Hinda remarked.
“Right, I know…” Yosef murmured. “But the boy…”
“It doesn’t matter. ’Kay, I’ll go to sleep now.”
“Do you want something hot to drink?” she asked, eyeing him for a moment. “Should I heat you some milk?”
He shook his head and silently walked to his room. Hinda noticed that when he passed the closed door in the hallway, he tried to walk more quietly.
She lowered her eyes to the page again and studied the sketch. There was no choice; if the Eisens didn’t want an entrance to the kids’ room from the bathroom, they would have to choose between a door from the kitchen or from another bedroom. That was up to them; only they could know what would work with their lifestyle. If it was up to her, the Hinda of the past nearly twenty years, she would not want an entrance from the kitchen.
At the time, she’d be with her kids all day long, trying to be herself, and a bit of her deceased husband too. Most of the time, it was one big performance: laughing, talking, listening, while inside, she burned with a desire to crawl under the table, curl herself up into a ball, and never come out. But all those feelings were stored somewhere deep inside, while on the outside, under the bright fluorescents in the house, she was her children’s mother, doing her best to cope alone with her brood of rambunctious and not particularly obedient children.
Only at night, when everyone was asleep, could she sit down in the kitchen with herself, trying to recharge for the next day. And she really would not have liked to suddenly see a head peeking out of one of the kids’ bedrooms that was off the kitchen, and have the child call to her, “Hey, Ima, you didn’t finish the story from yesterday!”
But Mrs. Eisen had a different life, and it was very possible that her kitchen was busy and bustling at night anyway, so a door connecting the kitchen and her kids’ room might not bother her at all.
She’d long taught herself to give others what they wanted, not what she would have wanted in their place.
Martin sat and chewed on some baked chicken in a small restaurant in the Jewish Quarter, as various ideas tumbled around in his mind.
Perhaps he’d try to get to one of the settlements—Efrat, or somewhere similar, and he’d get a job so he could start paying for his own life. He was most likely done with the “Youth for Israel” project. He didn’t think it was particularly for Israel. It was more like for the pockets of the directors. If it really would be for Israel and its residents, then the directors would take the participants to real places: to see the Gaza-enveloped regions that repeatedly came under bombardment; the advancing construction in the territories; and the places where Jewish blood was spilled because of Arab terrorists.
But they only took them to places that they felt comfortable being seen in: to the government compound and the courts; the kibbutz up north whose name he didn’t even recall, and another one in the south; the beach in Tel Aviv; Rosh Hanikra….
Martin took a bottle of Coke from the fridge and went to the register to hand over his last fifty-shekel bill. He left the restaurant, and walked distractedly, slipping between an enthusiastic tour group and two Arab youths who were pushing a cart full of broken slats. He needed to call Dan before he went to Efrat. He had no interest in getting there just to fall right into the hands of law enforcement authorities who were perhaps preparing an ambush for him.
A metal door with a sign that said “Jacobs Family” caught his attention, and he walked over and knocked.
“Yes?” An elderly, hunched man opened the door.
“Can I please use your phone?” Martin asked. “I’ll pay.”
“Are you a tourist?”
“No. I study in Jerusalem.”
“In yeshivah?” The man studied Martin’s bare head.
“No,” Martin replied.
“Okay…sure, you could use my phone,” Mr. Jacobs said. “Wait a minute—I’ll bring it to you.”
He closed the door, and Martin leaned on the wall, his fingers touching the old mezuzah affixed to the doorpost. If Dan would say that he could come without being worried, he’d check when the last bus was leaving to Efrat tonight. And if there wasn’t one, he’d hitch. And if Dan told him to wait until things settled, then…he didn’t know what he’d do. Going back to the dorm was a dismal option.
The door opened again, and the elderly man handed him an old-fashioned cordless handset. Martin dialed the number and waited for someone to answer.
A man with a heavy American accent picked up on the first ring. “Hello?”
“Hi, can I speak to Dan?” Martin chose to speak English.
“He’s not home.” The voice became tense.
“Not home? What, he was arrested?”
“Who is this?”
“A friend? Are you Martin, by any chance?”
“Okay. So in the event that you’re just a friend, you should know that Dan is currently in administrative detention. And if you are Martin, know that you should keep as far away from Yehuda and Shomron as you can.” The call was cut off.
Martin looked angrily at the heavy black receiver, wondering if Dan’s father’s recommendation was meant to help warn him, or if his whole goal was simply to keep friends like him away from his Dan.
“Your son was the one who organized the whole thing,” Martin said to the silent phone, ignoring the presence of the homeowner, who surely did not understand what was going on, and certainly not in English. “I just joined him on the sidelines. Don’t blame me, please.” He handed the phone back to Mr. Jacobs. “Thanks for letting me make this call. How much do I owe you?”
“A nice boy like you? Nothing.” The man smiled. “In trouble with something?”
“Yes. I understand that Dan was arrested, and that you’re also embroiled in the issue.” He had switched to a polished British English, causing Martin’s jaw to drop. “Do you need help?”
“No thanks.” That was all he needed! Without another word, he hurried off.
Ten o’clock that night found him still wandering among the alleyways. He leaned tiredly against one of the walls on the seam-line between the Jewish and Muslim quarters. Dan’s father had advised him not to get near Efrat or other such places, but he didn’t know if it was advisable for him to go to his dormitory either. It probably wasn’t a good idea. So where could he go now?
A sudden, sharp scream very close by made him leap from his place. The sound came from behind him. Martin turned around carefully. A little boy was lying on the sidewalk, rubbing his eyes. He apparently had just woken up from a deep sleep. When he saw Martin staring at him, his wailing rose.
“What’s wrong? What’s your name?” Martin asked, bending over to the boy. The child seemed to be suffering from a severe eye infection. He was blinking rapidly, and rubbing his eyes. Finally, after writhing for a few moments, he sat up.
“What’s your name?” Martin repeated. The street was empty, and he imagined for a moment that he saw a shadowy figure lurking at the far end of the block. He just hoped he wouldn’t be accused of doing anything to the boy.
The child said something that sounded like “Ahmed” or “Mahmed”; Martin decided that the first option was probably more correct. If so, the boy belonged to the far end of the street.
“And what are you doing here, Ahmed?” he asked, hoping that the boy could understand his Canadian-accented Hebrew.
“Ahmed went out to look for father,” the boy said, pointing to himself. “Father goes far yesterday. Ahmed out to look for him. Ahmed tired, lay here.”
“And Ahmed suddenly woke up,” Martin continued, suddenly feeling a wave of …no, it was not sympathy, but dirty little children who sleep in the street because their father went far away would always, but always, capture his attention.
“Where is Ahmed’s house?” he asked, trying to estimate the child’s age. Five. Maybe six. But not more.
“There.” The boy pointed in the direction that Martin expected him to point in.
“Who is home?”
“Can you walk there by yourself?”
The boy nodded and stood up, and Martin wondered again how old he was. How old had he, Martin, been when he’d fled from Grandma’s house because of Johann? A little older. “How old are you?” he asked the child.
The boy counted his fingers and then held them up. Six. So he’d been right. “Come, I’ll walk you part of the way,” Martin said. Ahmed nodded, looking a bit abashed, and started walking briskly. Martin walked beside him until the next fork in the alley. He glanced ahead, and then decided that it wouldn’t be wise for him to continue on.
“I hope you find your father,” he said. He pulled out the bottle of orange soda from his pocket and handed it to the boy. “Here, take this. And go quickly to your house. I hope your mother is not worried about you.”
“Worried?” The Hebrew word was not familiar for the child, and he glanced at the bottle and at Martin intermittently, as if trying to figure out the connection between the two.
“It doesn’t matter. Just take it.”
The boy giggled, took the soda, and without another word, ran into the darkness. Martin sighed and turned on his heel. Very nice. Another quarter of an hour had passed. What now? Where was he to go?
He slipped into the open parking lot on Har Tzion. A few religious people passed him, perhaps heading for the bus stop. He sat down at the stop, his legs splayed out in front of him. A white car honked in the distance, in a row of cars. He raised his gaze, and then lowered it. Dan and the work in the settlements were off the table for now. What should be his next step?
The white car honked again, and slowly forged a path until it reached the bus stop.
“Martin?” A head popped out of the window, and the boy recoiled and stood up.
“Sorry,” the stranger said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” His eyes were light and warm, and he stuck a firm hand out of the car window. The boy gazed at it for a long moment and then shook it.
“I’d like to speak to you for a few minutes,” the man said in English.
Martin was quiet. He was partially bent over toward the window of the car, and he studied the man who knew his name. “Where are your blue and red lights?”
The man laughed. “Lights? Why would I need those?”
Martin studied him again. “And if I don’t want to talk to you?” he asked.
“That’s absolutely your prerogative,” the man replied. “But you’ll be the main one to lose out. Because, as you can understand, I did not come out on this nocturnal drive for my personal pleasure.”
“Why not? There are people who like traveling at night, alone with themselves.”
The man chuckled again. “Perhaps you do. I’m not the type.”
“Maybe it’s your job.”
“Nice aim, but not accurate. This conversation is not part of my job; it’s completely to benefit you.” He looked at Martin again. “Do you want us to sit at this bus stop? It’s quiet there now.”
He got out of the car and locked it, and they both sat down. Martin raised his right leg and folded it over his left, still silent.
“I saw that you helped that little boy,” the man said. “You also gave him a drink. Very nice of you.”
Martin was still silent.
“Why did you help him?”
“Because I felt bad for him.”
“I don’t get it. Please explain to me: Are you from the right or from the left?”
Martin knitted his eyebrows and retreated into his silence again.
“I’ll tell you what you are. You’re just a troublemaker.”