Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 16 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.
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Maybe he’d really had a concussion of sorts; his thoughts usually streamed at a much quicker pace.
Martin lay on the bed, listening to the regular hustle and bustle of an emergency room, and pondered his options. He would probably be released in the morning, or sometime the next day; if there would be minor complications, it might take another couple of days. The question was what the word “released” meant for him. If they were planning to charge him with murder, or attempted murder, then release from the hospital would only be a pit stop on the way to being arrested, and from there to prison.
Martin turned to the other side, keeping his eyes closed. His temples were pounding, and he tried to relax a bit so his pulse would slow down. He didn’t have a lot of experience with false accusations in Israel, but the impression that he had made on the Israelis, along with this accident, were unlikely to earn him an easy acquittal. There was little chance he could persuade a police detective that the accident was the natural result of driver exhaustion. Perhaps it was very negligent, but it had nothing to do with him.
The sounds around him quieted for a few moments—or maybe it only seemed like that because of his pounding head? He heard footsteps approaching the bed.
“Martin? Can I speak to you now?” Someone was speaking English.
“Yes,” he murmured, without opening his eyes.
“I’m Dr. Avinoam Kupperman. How do you feel?”
“My head is hurting.” He hoped they were not going to discharge him right then and there. He didn’t have a plan yet!
“I can imagine. You went through quite a traumatic experience tonight.”
“Yes…and my hands hurt, too. And I can’t think.” The policeman muttered something from the side. Was he trying to say that in his opinion, Martin had brought this whole thing upon himself?
“You can’t think? What does that mean?”
“I …usually think very quickly. Now I…can’t focus.”
“That makes sense,” the doctor said “It’s both because of the blow you sustained, and because of the emotional trauma. Although you did get off very easily.”
“The x-rays show that your skull is completely closed. There isn’t even a crack. But we believe that it sustained a very strong blow—you have an external bruise. For now, you’ll stay here in the emergency room, and we’ll see how you feel. In the morning, we’ll decide if you’re going to go home or be admitted for observation for twenty-four hours or something. Okay?”
“Okay.” Martin opened his eyes into two narrow slits.
“Good. If the light bothers you, we can dim it even more. You are his companion, right?” The doctor turned to the policeman, who was sitting in his chair, looking thoroughly bored.
“Is there no family around? You didn’t inform anyone?”
“He has none in Israel.” The policeman sounded apologetic.
None at all, even in the rest of the world, Martin wanted to say. My last relative died this morning.
“Okay, so aside for observation, please make sure that he drinks a lot tonight, alright?”
“I made him coffee,” the policeman said, as if apologizing for his unpleasant presence.
“Coffee is not fluids. Make him tea, or give him cold water, hot water, whatever he prefers, okay?”
“And he should rest as much as possible. It’s important.”
Martin wanted to ask about the Arab who had been injured, but he preferred not to talk too much. For his part, he was an innocent youth who had come to the emergency room after an accident that had occurred through no fault of his. He was an innocent teen who had been in the car with a tired driver, and found himself wrapped around a light-pole. He was not at fault! He was not guilty! He had even tried to save the others!
The doctor left the cubicle, and the policeman also stood up and left. Maybe he was complying with the doctor’s orders to make him tea (ugh!), or maybe he was following the doctor to hear some more about the condition of…his charge? The suspect? What was his legal status as of this moment?
He had to escape.
All at once—finally—Martin felt his brain clear of the fog that had been clouding his thoughts. The powerful thudding in his temples disappeared, and his thoughts came together into one coherent, warning sentence:
I have to get out of here.
The quicker the better.
He was about to sit up, when he realized: I can’t be hasty. He shouldn’t be in a hurry to appear too healthy. First of all, he was here until the morning, as far as they were concerned. That meant he had at least two hours to prepare what he was going to do, both until the escape and after he fled. If he wanted this to work, he had to be smart about it.
There were his clothes, in the bag on the nightstand. He would sit up slowly and try to look around in the most unfocused away possible. Even if the policeman came back suddenly, he would get the impression of an injured, disoriented boy.
Here was his shirt, shoes, and pants. His wallet was in the pocket. Good, now he knew that he had cash on him. That would help him move faster.
Martin carefully opened the wallet. Wait—where was his passport? Did they take that as well?
He quickly pushed the items back into the bag when he heard voices approaching. The curtain was pulled aside, and the policeman stepped back in. “Good to see you sitting up,” he remarked. “How do you feel?”
Martin passed a hand over his forehead. “Dunno,” he said. “I’m not comfortable lying down.”
“It’s important for you to rest.”
“Could be.” Martin spoke in a weak, flat voice. “I can’t anymore.”
“Do you want to get up? I’ll ask the doctor.”
“’Kay.” The boy lay down again, and the policeman put the cup of tea he had brought onto the nightstand.
“It’s really hot now. Wait a minute before drinking it,” he said.
“Thanks,” Martin murmured. “Did you ask the doctor if I can get up?”
“How could I have I asked? I just told you I’m going to ask.”
“Oh, right.” Martin’s eyes flitted around. “’Kay.”
But when the policeman came back, Martin was standing near the bed, gripping the iron railing tightly. In one hand, he held the cup of tea, which was wobbling wildly, while a dark puddle slowly spread on the floor to his left.
“Hey, why did you get up?”
“I can’t lie down anymore. My back hurts.” His fingers gripped the metal bar. Then he let go of the Styrofoam cup, and the tea sloshed onto the bed. “I’m about to fall.”
“Sit!” The policeman pushed Martin into the chair that he had been sitting in. “Sit, Martin, and don’t play games!”
Martin sat down heavily. Games. What was his companion referring to—games with getting up, or the show he was putting on now? It wasn’t entirely a show. His head really was a bit fuzzy, and his back ached from the prolonged lying down on a hard hospital bed. “I’m not playing games,” he said quietly.
“Yes, yes, sure.” The policeman’s smile was hard to interpret. “But still, you should take care of yourself.”
Martin looked at the smile, and something uneasy began slithering up from his feet to his head, stinging at his bandaged forehead. “You’re right,” he said, groaning as he leaned forward.
“Go back to the bed,” the policeman suggested. “I’ll go make you a fresh tea, instead of the one you just disposed of.” He left the cubicle, and then peeked back in after a moment. “And I would suggest that you don’t try that again—not even in twenty minutes.” His voice was quiet, and significant. “You see that it’s not working.”
Martin didn’t respond.
But a minute after the policeman disappeared, leaving a crack between the curtain and the metal pole, he grabbed his bag of clothes, took a deep breath, and leaped out to the other side of the ward. This policeman was too right, and understood too much. If Martin would try to get up in twenty minutes, it really would not work.
He was better off doing it now.
Two minutes later, he left the emergency room, dressed and looking ordinary. Only his bandaged forehead was a souvenir of what he’d been through. No one could see the hospital pajamas he’d left on under his clothes.
“Daven for me, Yaakov,” Reb Yeruchem Goldberg, the administrator of the Kletzkin Yeshivah in Netivot, said as he peeked out from his inner office. “I’m going to make the annual phone call to Michoel Perl.”
“Hashem should help!” his secretary, Yaakov, called back. “How many years are you working on this?”
“Eight, I think. We met him at Shmuel Schorr’s tenth yahrtzeit, right?”
“Yes, something like that.” Yaakov looked for a moment at the black-and-white class photos hanging on the office walls. There he was, the fourth from the right in the front row. And there was Shmuel, in the row above that. Lots had happened since .
“Although I first met Mr. Perl on Har Hamenchuos.”
“And your businesses sense did not deceive you then, as usual,” Yaakov said with a laugh.
“Shhh…we don’t involve the word ‘business’ with Torah learning,” Reb Yeruchem chided him. “The Rosh Yeshivah wouldn’t tolerate anyone speaking like that. In any case, daven for me, okay?”
“Sure,” Yaakov said easily. “Besides for that time when he literally demanded that you get Shmuel’s son into yeshivah, the telephone calls with him always go smoothly, don’t they?”
“Well, some of them never went anywhere. At first he used to explain to me that his organization is only for widows and orphans and families in distress, but then, a couple of years ago—I guess thanks to me—he added to his official name the words ‘and Torah learners.’ He’s an honest guy, Mr. Perl.”
“But once he has those words added in, why should he make problems? I mean, why shouldn’t he give the yeshivah a nice donation?”
“I don’t know…it’s just not part of his regular donations. But I’m stuck with this shortfall in the middle of the summer, and all the direct-deposit donations we just received have already been spent on expenses and the salaries we owe from two months ago, so here I am, reaching out to him once again. It happens once a year, almost like clockwork.”
“So it is regular.”
“For us it is; for him it’s not.” He picked up the phone. “I’m imagining his sigh already, but it’ll be okay.”
“Yes, he’s just doing his job, as the manager of a tzedakah organization. And you, Reb Yeruchem, are doing your job as the administrator of a yeshivah that needs food, electricity, and salaries paid.”
“Exactly.” Reb Yeruchem smiled, and punched in the number.