Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 11 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.
“And in your view, I should just sit here quietly and listen to insults from a stranger?” Martin stood up.
“Yes, I guess I am a stranger to you.” The anonymous driver smiled. “So it really isn’t so nice of me to say these things. But take into account that by you hearing what I have to say, even without knowing me, you won’t lose out. And if you don’t hear me out, and decide to leave now, well, then, you will learn exactly who I am, and you’ll lose out in a big way. You realize that there are worse things in life than hearing the exact definition of who you are, to your face.”
“The exact definition of who I am?!” Martin wanted to add a few angry words, but when he saw the other man smiling, he took a step back. “Who are you?” he asked, after a moment.
“My specific job description and title are not particularly of interest. Let’s just say I’m a type of detective who got orders to find you, and the minute that I do get to you—or even better, to your friends—then I am supposed to order our patrol car.”
Martin looked at him. “Who are you?” he repeated.
“And now you are supposed to call the police unit to arrest me?”
“Yes,” Yaron answered calmly. “But I’m not a hasty type of guy. I’m also not a person who does things without thinking, like a certain someone sitting on this bench next to me. I, in contrast to him, use the brains I have in my head.”
“Insults again?” Martin snapped.
“Insults?” Yaron’s lips curved upward. “I think that actually, I just gave you a big compliment, didn’t you notice? I would never emphasize the point of using brains, to a fool. I could only say that to those who I’m sure have that particular product in their possession.”
“Who told you what I have and what I don’t have? Where do you know me from?”
“Oh…” Yaron’s smile grew. “I know you as if you were my nephew, at least. I have perused your file in great detail, including all the grades you got in these past nine months.” He nodded in admiration. “And so, yes, I know that you have brains. Usage of those brains, though, is sometimes a bit weak. For example, if you run away, why do you keep going to familiar places? You’ve eaten in this restaurant three times in the last two months!”
“You’ve been following me? And here I thought that this is a democracy!”
“We do it only when it seems to us that someone is starting to get into a bit too much trouble, without realizing what he is getting himself into.”
Martin didn’t react.
“For example, getting caught up with radical right-wing elements.” Yaron took a rectangular screen out of his pocket and began scrolling casually. Martin was stunned to see the faces of Dan and his other friends staring back at him. Another moment, and he saw himself. “What do you need this all for? You have just a few more months to enjoy here; why are you trying to mess them up? Do you think that a file with the Israeli police is any more enjoyable than a file with the Canadian police?”
“You know that about me also?”
“Yes, including the fact that you never really got in trouble on your own fault, only because of others. And that’s what is probably going to happen to you now as well, without you even realizing it.” He grasped the boy’s hand, but Martin quickly pulled it back.
“Leave me alone,” he hissed.
“I did. But when will you understand, Martin, that you are being taken advantage of? That someone is exploiting you? I’m not talking about Dan and the others; this is their lives, their homes, their land, and let’s not get into the politics of it. But what do you need all of this for? Have you finished touring our entire beautiful land already, and all that you have left to see are the prisons? I’m ready to send you pictures of them, if you want to see them that much.”
“I’m a Jew, and I care about you,” Martin returned. “Even if you don’t care about yourself and your land.”
“Oh, so you’re doing all of this as a personal favor to me?”
“Not as a personal favor to you, but to everyone. Before you all get up one day and discover that the Palestinians are controlling Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”
Kornblit smiled briefly, but then his expression became impatient. “Don’t do favors for people who are not interested in them, okay? And most important, stop being such a coward and getting dragged into things, before you discover yourself sentenced to years in prison, or getting deported back to Canada. I understand that it wasn’t so easy for you there either, right?”
Martin bit his bottom lip till it hurt, but kept silent.
“As you may have realized by now, I’m more than just a policeman. And because, in any case, in two and a half months you are finishing your studies, bringing your affairs in this country to an end, we are willing to look away this time as well—and only this last time—from the serious things that have happened, and to move on.” He tapped a finger on Dan’s picture. “On condition that you commit not to step foot again into Yehuda and Shomron, and Gush Etzion, and not to be involved anymore with these friends. Is that clear?”
Martin sat in silence. His knuckles tapped out a response on the orange plastic bench.
“And you have no personal problem with Arabs. I just saw you acting with utmost tenderness and tolerance to that Arab child. So don’t become cannon fodder for other people, and don’t let them take advantage of your hotheadedness.” He smiled again. “And your trouble-makery nature.”
Martin finally opened his mouth. “You’re big at demagoguery, I can tell. But I demand that you stop insulting me.”
“I’ll try very hard, if you stop giving me reason to. Will you meet our conditions?”
“I can try, like you.”
Silence hung between them for an interminable moment. In the end, the other man rose. “The truth is that it’s needless to force you to give me an answer right now. You’ll answer us with actions, or lack thereof. Go back to your dorm, Martin Posner, and remember that this was your last chance.” He offered his hand for a shake. “How does it go? Your actions may bring you closer; your actions may distance you.”
Yaron’s hand remained hanging in the air for a long second, and then his smile turned into a chuckle, and he patted the stiff shoulder facing him. “You really are a stubborn one,” he remarked. “And stubbornness can take you to good places as well. Good luck.”
“What a gorgeous baby!” Shira, the photographer, gushed, as was to be expected, and Hinda opened the shutters to bring in some sunlight to the living room. “And the sea!” she exclaimed. “What a stunning view! I have to find a way to combine them; it’s going to be a fantastic shot!”
Shira lined the wicker basket with a material that looked like cotton wool, and Hinda cautiously touched it to make sure it wasn’t too itchy.
Shira caught her in the act. “Don’t worry—it’s fine,” she said. “What do you think, Savta, that I’d use something that is uncomfortable for the baby? Chalilah! Great, she fell asleep. Now we can start.”
Penina, the young mother, smiled, a smile that reflected a combination of motherly pride and exhaustion. She adjusted her newborn’s headband, and recoiled when she saw the baby grimace as if she was about to wail, but calmed down when the baby’s face relaxed.
“Wonderful, amazing!” Shira complimented the two-week-old, moving her tiny hand into position. “Keep on sleeping, sweetie… By the way, what’s her name?”
“Batsheva.” Hinda heard Penina’s tone grow quieter, and decided that this would be a good time for her to disappear into the kitchen. Yes, she’d go get some refreshments, so she wouldn’t be around when Shira would ask the typical questions. She didn’t want Penina to be bothered by her presence.
She walked into the kitchen, and heard Shira ask, “Named after Rebbetzin Kanievsky, huh?” The flash of the camera clicked as Hinda opened the fridge. She couldn’t hear Penina’s response, and just hoped that she felt comfortable to answer and share whatever she wanted.
There was a pitcher of lemonade in the fridge; she’d already squeezed three bottles worth of lemon juice after she discovered that Penina liked the drink. She prepared a plate of cinnamon cookies, a bowl with a few caramel toffees, and two glasses. Good, the tray looked very presentable.
Hinda placed it on the kitchen table and sat down on a chair, waiting. How much time should it take for Penina to relate that the baby was named after her mother, aleha hashalom, and that Mrs. Vilensky, who was walking around the house here, was her father’s second wife, and that they had gotten married just two months ago? Goodness, it wasn’t even enough time for her to have really earned the title of “stepmother!”
She picked up her Tehillim Mechulak that was in the bentcher holder hanging on the wall, and when she finished saying some passages, she stood up with the tray and went back to the dining room.
“You have the sweetest granddaughter!” Shira exclaimed to her right away. Hinda did not know if she was ignoring what Penina had just told her, or if the conversation had only played out in her mind, and Penina had chosen not to share anything personal with the photographer. The baby was sleeping snuggled up on a thin, pink cotton blanket; there was a pink and green wreath on her head. Flash. Flash. And another one.
“Have a drink,” Penina offered.
“Soon. I don’t know how many minutes of grace she’ll give me before she wakes up, so I need to get these pictures shot first.” Shira laughed and energetically continued wrapping, rolling, placing, and changing pompom hats. Then she took out a long strand of pearls, which actually looked real, and placed them on the baby.
“What a pretty necklace!” Penina leaned over her Batsheva and giggled at the sight of a two-week-old baby adorned with pearls.
Something about the rice pearls caught Hinda’s attention, and she approached. “It’s a beautiful necklace,” she complimented the photographer. “I haven’t seen rice pearls in a long time. Do they still sell them today?”
“I don’t know.” Shira was busy with the camera. “I don’t think rice pearls are very ‘in’ anymore, but it’s a necklace from my mother, zichronah l’vrachah. It’s the only thing she left me. I like to commemorate her in my photos, whenever possible.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Penina remarked, “It looks adorable on the baby.”
Shira smiled. “I think so too. And I’m glad you don’t mind my using this specific prop. I don’t usually talk about it, because I don’t know if mothers will appreciate me putting a piece of jewelry on their baby, if the piece belonged to a woman who passed away. It might make them uneasy. But something about your mother—” she smiled and turned to Hinda— “made me want to tell you. Tell me, are you a psychologist or a social worker or something? You have a very calm, cool, and collected tone of voice, and when you give compliments, even simple ones, you say them in such a nice way. It’s…it’s really special.”