Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 17 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.
Martin didn’t ask the taxi driver if he was available; he just sat himself in the back seat. “Please drive,” he said. “As fast as you can. My head is exploding.”
The driver glanced at him through the mirror. “It really looks like it is,” he said, making no move to turn on the ignition. “But if that’s what you are feeling, you should go into that building behind you, not take a drive with me.”
“Thanks. I’m coming from there.”
“What’s your story?” Based on his accent he seemed to be an Arab, but Martin wasn’t sure.
“Here? For every little painkiller, you need a thousand doctors and a thousand forms,” Martin whined. “In my house, the bottle is open in the medicine chest, and I can take six at a time, if I want.”
“Yo, American, that’s suicide!” the driver said with irritation. “You don’t take pills as you please!”
“It’s even more suicidal to lie in a hospital ward and suffer,” Martin muttered, suppressing a sigh of relief when he saw the driver’s hand finally reach for the ignition.
“Which department are you coming from, surgery?”
“What difference does it make? Now I’m not in any department; I’m on the way home.”
“Just tell me where to.”
“Mamilla,” Martin said. No, wait, one of the first places they would look for him was at Dan’s grandparents’ house. “No, actually, Rechavia.” Why Rechavia? Because. That was the neighborhood that had popped into his mind.
“What’s the matter? You don’t know where you live?”
“Of course I do, but this headache it driving me out of my mind.”
“You actually speak Hebrew pretty well, American. It makes sense that you live in Rechavia. What happened to your head? Got into a fight with your friends?”
“Eh, better you shouldn’t ask.”
The driver emitted a short laugh and sped up, heading for the hospital entrance. Martin leaned back in the seat with a sigh, glancing at the opposite lane where the security guards were checking every car entering hospital premises.
It was really good that he was leaving now.
Arabic music filled the car, followed by some talking. He just hoped they weren’t reporting on the accident. Who knew if there wasn’t some Arab organization working for the wretched people living under occupation, who would make sure to report on the radio that the suspect in what seemed to be an intentional car-ramming had absconded from the hospital. The driver might decide to take justice in his own hands.
“What are they saying?” he asked weakly from the back seat, gesturing to the radio.
The driver laughed. “It’s a Koran lecture,” he said. “Why, do you want to learn about it?”
“Do I look to you like someone who wants to learn anything?”
“Dunno. Maybe your things.”
“I don’t want to learn anything, for sure not when my head is exploding like this.” He didn’t even realize how true his words were. This trip was getting worse by the minute. Perhaps he really had sustained a concussion, and his condition was growing steadily worse. He was going to throw up. Or faint.
“Stop,” he muttered weakly. “I don’t feel good.”
“But you want to go home, don’t you? Or should we go back to the hospital? Why do you want me to stop here? It’s the middle of the road—nowhere.”
“My grandmother lives there.” He pointed to nowhere, out the window. If he wasn’t mistaken, it was the direction of the ocean. Beyond that, far, far away, his grandmother had been buried.
And it had only been that morning!
“There?” Again the driver glanced at him through the mirror.
“Yes,” Martin said. He tried to look ahead at the road. Was this an Arab neighborhood?
The driver continued another few hundred feet and stopped on the road that sloped upward toward a cluster of buildings. The architecture was Jewish-looking.
“Thanks.” Martin pulled out a twenty-shekel note and stuck it into the driver’s hand, not waiting to hear if it was too much or too little. He stepped out of the car and crossed the street. Even if they would pin down this particular driver as having transported him, all he’d be able to say was that this was where he’d let Martin off. Which meant he needed to get away from here, fast.
He had no idea where he was. He walked along the other side of the street, staying in the shadows cast by the bushes and trees that grew wildly in the empty area to his left. He heard the sound of an engine and froze, pressing a bit further into the dry brush. His eyes followed the civilian car that kept driving toward the horizon, which was turning red by now.
At this rate, morning would soon dawn, and he had to be far away from here by then.
He continued walking, stopping suddenly across from a bus stop that seemed to grow out of the ground, part on the sidewalk and part swallowed up by the wild undergrowth behind it. A bus! That was an idea! There was a certain risk, because an injured youth boarding the first bus of the day was something the driver would easily remember. But walking here was no less dangerous.
But first, he would sit down.
His legs stumbled toward the bare wooden bench, and he nearly fell. At the last second, he slumped onto the bench and leaned on the metal wall behind him. He couldn’t sit here for long; he could get caught.
He would wait a bit. He had no idea which bus lines stopped here, where they went, or— most importantly—when. He would board the first bus that came, and put some distance between himself and this place.
A little voice reminded him that he could find this all out easily. There was a sign outside the bus listing the bus lines, and a map and schedule on the inner wall of the shelter. But in order to read these signs, he would have to get up, and Martin just wasn’t up to that. Little colorful circles were still whirling around in his head, sometimes colliding with one another, and sometimes dancing away from each other. The nausea rolled over him in waves, and then receded. He leaned back and closed his eyes. He knew that if he would try to get up, he’d fall.
What would be when the bus came?
Hinda clipped her Shabbos robe to the laundry line with the last two clothespins and closed the porch window.
“Are you done already?” a voice asked. It was Penina, standing at the door to the bathroom. “I wanted to offer my help.”
“Your help?” Hinda laughed, and put the empty basket down. “What you need to do, Penina, is rest. And only rest.”
“I can’t.” Penina followed her into the hallway. “At night when she’s screeching, I’m desperate for sleep. I haven’t slept in more than twenty hours. But now that she’s calm, I can’t fall asleep. I have a thousand thoughts flying around in my head.”
“A thousand thoughts?” Hinda smiled. She pulled up the shades in the hallway, and sunlight flooded the old floor tiles, dotting them with circles of light.
“Well, thoughts are a good thing,” Hinda remarked. She pushed away thoughts of Leah Weitzen’s apartment and the stack of papers waiting in her bag. She had made it clear from the start that this project would take her more time than usual, and only after Leah had agreed not to pressure her about it had she taken on the job.
“Thoughts are a good thing? Not always.” Penina lowered her gaze.
“The bad ones can be drowned in, let’s say, a cup of coffee?” She walked into the kitchen, with Penina behind her, rubbing her eyes. “Hmm…but maybe that’s not so good for the baby.”
“And afterward, I might not be able to fall asleep.”
“How about herbal tea? Or something cold?”
“No thanks. I haven’t even finished the strawberry banana juice that Abba brought me to the room.”
“No, really, I don’t want a drink.”
“Should I defrost a few pieces of yeast cake for you?”
“Thanks, that’s a nice idea.” Penina said the words, but there was no longing in her tone for any type of cake.
Hinda opened the freezer, and then peeked through the narrow crack formed by the open door, studying Penina’s face. Eventually she pulled out a plastic bag.
“But cake is not enough, because you can’t drown anything in cake,” she said with a smile. “It’s too solid. What’s going to be with all those difficult thoughts?”
“That’s the cake with the runny chocolate, isn’t it? When it defrosts, it will be perfect for anything.” Penina was playing along.
Hinda chuckled and reached for a plate. She sawed four slices off the frozen block and put it on the table. She opened the refrigerator again and took out the flavored water that Dov had bought for his son-in-law, who came almost every evening.
Penina followed her motions, somewhat glassy-eyed. “You are not at all like my mother,” she said suddenly.
“Really? That makes sense.” Calm as ever, Hinda put the bottle and some cups on the table and sat down. “Each person is a special-edition product; we each have our own production line. No two people are the same.”
“But it’s not only that you’re not the same; you’re so different. I…” She played with the cake on her plate, whispered a Mezonos, and gnawed on a few crumbs, before raising a pair of tired eyes to Hinda. “My sisters and I sometimes talk about how our father went in such a different direction—you know, when he married you.”
Hinda nodded, looking attentive. There was no doubt that this was Penina’s exhaustion talking, letting her speak candidly and say things she might later regret. Should she, Hinda, stop Penina gently, to preclude the self-blame she would surely feel later on?
Or should she gently divert the conversation?
“There are all kinds of directions in life,” she said, keeping her voice pleasant. “And people look for all kinds of directions for themselves. Deep inside, we are far more open and broad-minded than we realize, Penina. We can contain so many variations of so many thoughts and feelings inside of us. You yourself mentioned the thousand thoughts whirling about through your head now.”
“Right,” Penina murmured. “Like the thought of how terrifying it is to be a mother… Sometimes I’m so happy about it. I mean, of course; which woman doesn’t want to be a mother?! But then there are moments, like now, for example, when I can almost die from the fear of it…”
“It’s a big responsibility,” Hinda agreed. “The responsibilities of motherhood is serious, but it usually only becomes frightening when the mother is tired.”
“I really am tired.” Penina swallowed a yawn and stared at the slices of cake that were mostly untouched. “And now I think I might fall asleep if I lie down. You probably have work, no?”
“I have nothing pressing to do right now, and I’m happy to talk to you. But I’ll be very happy if you manage to fall asleep. I do believe that a good night’s sleep is something you could really use right now.”
Penina stood up. “Is it inborn, the way you speak?”
“What?” For a second, Hinda thought it was the tiredness kicking in again, making Penina say funny things.
“The way you speak to people, that they feel like you care about them, even if they are virtual strangers…” “But I really do care about you, Penina.” Hinda chose not to answer the question. “And you’re not a stranger, virtual or otherwise.”