Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 14 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.
He had no idea when the bus from Modiin left to Yerushalayim, but Martin didn’t ask. He still wasn’t sure he wanted to go back. The bus had dropped him off near the right building and then drove off, and Martin looked up at the structure towering above him. “Sixteenth floor,” Rudy had told him the last time they’d met. Then he’d laughed. “But check first if I’m home.”
Well, Martin hadn’t checked, and he had no idea if Rudy was home. But if he wouldn’t be there, Martin wouldn’t wait; he would go straight to Efrat. Let the Israelis try to find him. As if the security forces were bored. Amidst all the super-important stuff they had to do in order to restore tranquility to this land, they had extra time to look for information about an innocent youth, whose only crime was that he was a bit too patriotic for them? Fools.
He stepped out of the elevator into the new, modern stairwell, and waited a moment. There was utter silence, as if it was not a building with sixty apartment units. Well, perhaps some were still empty; it was a new complex.
Rudy opened the door, narrowing his eyes for a moment. “Martin!” he exclaimed, as he put out his hand. “I remembered, right? I just forgot your last name.”
“Posner,” Martin said as he was led inside. “Are you under surveillance, Rudy?”
“What do you think this is, Iran?”
“Apparently.” Martin nearly spit the word out. “I just didn’t know to what extent.”
“Why? What did you do already?”
“Remember you gave me Dan’s phone number? You said you’re a family friend of his parents, and that we’d surely find some common ground.”
“Right.” A small baby crawled out from under a nearby table.
“Well, Dan has been arrested.”
“Really?” Did the young man blink for a split second more than usual? Martin wasn’t sure. “What happened?”
“What happened is that we went together to do something—it doesn’t matter what—and there were cameras around.” He paused. “Apparently. Anyway, they arrested him. Then they met me on the street and gave me very strict warnings…but they won’t let me stay here.”
Rudy didn’t answer. He stood in the spacious living room and thought for a moment. Then he pointed to a white leather armchair. “Sit,” he said, before disappearing through the doorway. A few moments later, he came back with a bottle of soda and a cup. “Take a drink,” he said, “and tell me what you mean that they won’t let you stay here.”
“Exactly that!” Martin was too riled up to take a drink. “The program doesn’t want me even if my grades will be perfect, which they will be. The Israelis won’t extend my visa, because they apparently prefer Eritrean migrants to someone who wants the best thing for their country.”
“In short, you’re messed up on a few fronts.” Rudy drummed his fingers on the wooden coffee table. The baby lay on his back nearby, kicking at the table leg. “I can help you with the program managers, because one of the big guys there is my uncle.”
“No. One of the major donors. And you’re lucky that he’s got rather right-wing views, so he’ll be fine to apply pressure to keep you there. But that will only take care of your problem with the ‘Youth for Israel’ program. It won’t help if the Israelis have gotten sick of you, right? I don’t have ties with the Shin-Bet yet.”
“Now I’m sorry I got you into all of this.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Martin opened the soda bottle and smiled at the baby. “The fact that you are ready to help me is a big thing.”
“And what about Chaim?”
“Your counselor at the program. Aside for your right-wing activities, which probably annoy him a lot, do you two get along?”
“More or less.”
“So start trying to ingratiate yourself to him,” Rudy advised, as he picked up his son. “When the Interior Ministry wants to approve student visas for the students at your place, they ask him.”
“In any case, you’ll be happy to hear that they already released Dan.”
Martin raised his eyes to Rudy. “So you know more than you let on.”
“I know. But I myself am not involved in any of the foolishness of the youth.”
“And the foolishness of the adults?”
Rudy chuckled. “I’m one hundred percent well-behaved and law-abiding on all fronts, Martin.” His hand rested firmly and confidently on Martin’s shoulder. “Try to be the same.”
“To be one hundred percent well-behaved and law-abiding? They kind of made me lose my interest in being like that, to tell you the truth.” He winked at the baby resting in his father’s arms and smiled. “And that’s what I came to you for.”
“I’m not the address for hasty actions,” Rudy chastised. “I’m talking to you now about how to maximize your chances of being able to stay here, and you want to lose it all, almost purposely?”
“Do you think there’s a chance they’ll let me stay here another year, even if I’ll be one hundred percent well-behaved?” Martin voice was expressionless. “And even if that happens, I don’t think that I can continue sitting like a baby in a crib who doesn’t know how to raise his leg and climb over the bars. There are no recording devices here, right?”
Rudy laughed. “No.”
“Anyway, because we both know that there’s probably almost no chance of me being allowed to stay, I have no reason to waste a month or two of my life in an effort to play goody-goody. You understand?”
“Now I do. So I shouldn’t talk to my uncle?”
“You should. Please.” Martin sighed. “I want to try even the tiny chance that exists, but aside for that, tell Dan that I miss him. His number hasn’t been available since he was arrested.”
“Come and tell him yourself. There’s a party tomorrow night for Dan and two others who were released. They invited me, too. Do you want to come? It’s in Yerushalayim, in case you’re not allowed to go to Efrat. Let’s play their game.”
“And there’s no risk of there being someone there who’s going to rat to anyone who wants to hear that I was in touch with Dan? Based on what he told me, the Shin-Bet is on the backs of all his friends.”
“That’s true, but no one will be there besides the boys’ relatives.”
“I’m also a relative, Martin.” Rudy smiled. “I’m Dan’s second cousin. But you’re not really making sense, you know. One minute you’re ready to do anything and everything, because nothing will help anyway. And the next minute you’re super-cautious, suspicious that every person you meet is a potential traitor. You need to make up your mind!”
Martin sighed. “Someone once told me I’m a coward.” The image of his childhood friend Brian’s big, childish eyes rose in Martin’s mind. “But I think that’s not true. I’m realistic, that’s all. And that’s why I want to maintain my ties with Dan right now. But in the meantime, I don’t want to do anything against the law. So, tell me, where’s the party?”
“In the Mamilla area. I’ll pick you up tomorrow from the dorm, and I’ll drop you back off there also. But don’t bring a phone with you, of course, to prevent being tracked. Learn any important phone numbers by heart.”
“I always do that. I don’t trust phones, since they took mine away from me every time I was detained.”
The party at Dan’s grandparents’ house featured mostly English, just the way Martin liked it. The Israeli boys showed their impressive prowess with the language, although their accents were horrendous. Martin, for his part, felt almost at home.
“Shall we get a move on?” It was 11:45 p.m. when Rudy emerged from one of the rooms, yawning widely. “I had a terrible day at work, guys, and I feel like it’s got to end soon. Who wants me to take them to the Central Bus Station?”
“Me!” three voices chorused.
“And me to my dorm,” Martin said.
“Right. We’ll take the roundabout route in your honor. After all, I did promise you door-to-door service today.”
Dan waved from the couch, and put the glass he was holding down on the table. “I’m sleeping over here tonight,” he said, with a very broad grin. “It’s better for all of you not to be seen in public with me anyway, right?”
“Sure,” one boy said. He was swaying very slightly, and Martin, who went downstairs behind him, found himself watching his steps.
“My car is here, guys.” Rudy walked ahead of them quickly. “And I still have to drive out to Modiin tonight, don’t forget.”
“We’re not forgetting,” Martin remarked.
They squashed into his small Mustang, the three Israelis in the back, and Martin in the passenger seat.
“So, Martin, you’re continuing with computers, right?” Rudy murmured, carefully navigating the car out of the parking space and onto the road.
“Do you like it?”
“What are you doing now?”
“Working on a security program for Discount Bank.”
“Nice.” Rudy paused. “Do you have a team director from the bank, or are you a separate group?”
“I see my studies really fascinate you.” Martin gazed at the dark road, which was only dimly illuminated by the streetlights.
“As a program developer, anything like this interests me.” Rudy yawned widely. “But what interests me most right now is not to fall asleep.”
“If you want, I can tell you more interesting stories.”
“Great,” Rudy replied. “I’m listening.”
Behind them, the three youths were discussing the new checkpoints that the military police had put up three kilometers from the turnoff to their town; they aired their views about who exactly those checkpoints were serving. Their assessments grew wilder from minute to minute, and Martin snickered to himself. Caught up in the boys’ conversation, he forgot to keep talking to Rudy to try keeping him awake, like he’d promised.
“So where are you taking us first?” someone asked from the back. “What’s this road?”
Rudy didn’t answer. His face was focused on the road ahead.
“To the German Colony,” Martin replied in his place. “Now we are passing the Bell Park. This is…hey!! Rudy!! Be careful!! HEY!!” He turned away from the window and gaped in horror at Rudy, whose eyes were closed. At the last second, Martin tried to reach out and grab the steering wheel, but the car careened wildly toward the sidewalk, where it jumped the curb and then barreled at a frightening speed toward two pedestrians.
“NO!!!” Martin howled. He yanked the steering wheel in the other direction. The car swerved sharply to the left and crashed into the safety fence.
Martin was forcefully hurled forward.
“No! Oh no!!” he suddenly heard Rudy’s voice scream, and then all the streetlights went out at once.
Or was it only his mind that was sinking into the dark abyss?