Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 25 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.
Hinda took a few steps back, as she parted from the Kosel, and then turned right. A group of girls was walking ahead of her. One of the girls was holding a bottle of spring water. She didn’t have a pocketbook. Hinda looked at the light blue top and wondered how loudly she should call out, “Mali!” In the end she decided not to say anything at all, and to just continue walking.
Someone said something, and Mali laughed. Another girl asked a question, and Mali answered. She had a pleasant voice, and despite the tingle of irritation that rose inside Hinda when she heard that oh-so-familiar voice, she was also filled with warm, maternal emotions that she could not clearly define.
She looked at her own pocketbook and her black shoes, with the zippers on them. Mali wouldn’t like them. She wouldn’t want to meet her like this, with her friends. So Hinda just continued walking.
She’d never had an interest in shaming Mali, or causing her distress, even though Mali was sure that she did. Or at least that’s what she said. Hinda wondered if her daughter had said something to Michoel. There had been one time, when Mali had been about thirteen, that Michoel had showed up at their door. It was early evening, and Hinda had been about to leave for a neighborhood gathering featuring Rebbetzin Werner, but Michoel asked if she could review the organization’s ledgers.
“Are you in a hurry, or can you do it now?”
“Sorry, I have a meeting to go to now.”
“And you’re going with that tichel?”
“Um, yeah. Why not?”
“Well…it’s an old one, isn’t it?”
“No. It’s actually new,” Hinda had replied, bewildered as to the turn of this conversation. “I bought it just last month.”
“Ah,” he’d said, looking surprised. Then he’d raised his voice. “Mali! Mali, come here a minute!”
When her young daughter had peered into the room, Michoel had turned on her. “Mali, what exactly did you want? Your mother’s tichel is new. What’s wrong about that?”
Mali’s face had turned beet red, and she’d disappeared from view. Chani had hurried after her—maybe to offer consolation, or to rebuke her; it didn’t make much of a difference to Hinda. “What’s the story with my tichel, Michoel?” she’d asked tiredly.
“It’s not good for children to be ashamed of their parents,” he’d answered.
“Hmm…you might be right.”
“Not might. For sure!” He’d become passionate. “I remember to this day how, as a young boy, I could not stand when my father came to sell pretzels near my cheder. He was an amazing person—you know that—but it took many years until I was able to recognize that, and appreciate him. I was just thinking about that this week, on his yahrtzeit.”
Hinda’s forehead had creased. “Oh, you spoke to Mali on the phone the day before yesterday… You were sharing memories from America with her?”
“Yes. Oh, don’t be angry at her, Hinda,” he’d added, as if it had just dawned on him that this was a possibility. “I was just telling her about your grandparents, memories from the past, and I flashed back to those years… And then she said—or rather, she hinted—that she doesn’t want you to go to this meeting with your old tichel.”
“I’m not angry at her,” Hinda had said, a bit tightly. “But you can’t use every story a little girl tells you to run our lives. She’s also ashamed of Yosef, do you know that? So does that mean I should send him away? She also doesn’t want to walk in the street with Baruch, because his glasses are broken. And she didn’t want her friends to see Chani when the poor girl broke out in a rash a few weeks ago… So now she doesn’t want me to go with my blue tichel to a neighborhood gathering that happens to be taking place in her Bnos leader’s house. Okay, what else is new!”
Michoel had kept quiet, as he leafed through the account books, without actually looking at them.
“I’m trying, Michoel,” Hinda had whispered. “I want Mali to be happy, to feel confident and wanted and that she’s important to me. But a child cannot feel confident and wanted and important if the parent is constantly dancing to that child’s trumpet.”
“Is this the most recent ledger?” Michoel had interrupted. “Good. I’m taking it with me, alright? We have an audit this month, and I want to thoroughly review what it says here.”
He’d left, and Mali had gone to sleep, curling herself up tightly when Hinda came in to straighten her blanket. And of course, Hinda hadn’t gone to Rebbetzin Werner’s speech that evening. She’d lost her desire for it.
She wondered what Mali had told Michoel now, and how it all came together with the organization and the money… What was going on with him?
Hinda advanced toward the Kosel exit gate, and the group suddenly turned around. Mali’s gaze fell on her, and Hinda quickly and gracefully looked away, fixing her eyes on the wall to the right. She had no interest in embarrassing her little girl, so if Mali wanted to slip away, this was her chance.
But Mali decided not to use that chance. She hesitated for a fraction of a second, and then said, “Ima?”
Hinda turned back to look at her. “Mali!” she exclaimed warmly. “What a surprise to meet up with you here! I’m so happy to see you!”
Mali smiled thinly. She didn’t say, “Me, too.” She just looked over her mother’s shoulder to see if anyone else was there.
“We made up to meet outside, near his car,” Hinda said calmly. “I would offer you a ride, but I don’t want to ruin your fun with your friends.”
“His car? He got a license?”
Hinda was quiet for a moment. “I was talking about Dov, not Yosef.”
“Are you Mali’s mother?” The friends crowded around them excitedly. “You have an adorable daughter!” one of them gushed.
That was a signal for the others to launch into their own praises of Mali, as if Mali was a kallah and Hinda the mother of the chassan. Hinda felt that this was a sweet caress from Above, after the slap Michoel had just given her.
From far, she saw Dov approaching, talking into his phone while making vigorous hand motions. He was probably directing Penina about which cabinet to open to find the nougat chocolate that she loved. The group of friends moved off, after taking leave of Hinda rather loudly, and Mali remained at her side, near the car.
“Did you speak to Uncle Michoel lately?” The question burst out of Hinda’s mouth before she could think it through.
“Me?” Mali’s smile was bitter. Hinda didn’t like it. “Well, he didn’t want to open the door for me. He gets an exact report from the family about how many times a month I call each one, and he’s punishing me, right?”
Dov stopped a short distance away, still on the phone. Hinda looked at her daughter. “I appreciate your effort to speak respectfully,” she said solemnly. “Instead of referring to me, you chose to refer to ‘the family.’ That’s nice. You never were chutzpadig, Mali.”
Her daughter looked down. Perhaps at Hinda’s bag. Or at her shoes.
“Do you think it’s chutzpadig of me to move away from home, to Yerushalayim?”
“Chutzpadig?” Hinda did some speedy inner searching. “No, I wouldn’t call that chutzpah. It’s an escape—that’s what it is.” She didn’t say, And you can’t escape from me, even though that thought was echoing in both of their minds at that moment. “In any case, Uncle Michoel doesn’t get any reports about you from me or from anyone else. I haven’t spoken to him in a long time.”
“You went to visit, and he didn’t let you in?” Hinda bit her bottom lip. Then she raised her eyes and smiled. “Hello, Dov. What do you say? Our Mali was recently at Uncle Michoel’s house, and he didn’t open the door for her either.”
If Dov was taken-aback at seeing his wife talk to this daughter for the first time ever, he hid it well. “What do I say? Only that it doesn’t sound too good. Doesn’t sound too good at all.”
Breakfast was cornflakes in long-lasting milk and sugar. It was both repulsive and boring already, and Martin began to feel powerful cravings for fresh bread, not soggy cereal. But he didn’t dare consider going out in the street in broad daylight, surely not when his dormitory was all of three and a half minutes away, and his friends shopped regularly at the nearby supermarket.
But for how long could he sit in this house, fearful of the moment that Perl might suddenly reappear?
He had to go out for a quick errand, to buy a new cell phone. He was sick of the silence and the loneliness; he had to contact humans and find out what was going on in the world. He couldn’t sit here like an ostrich, waiting endlessly without knowing when this would end. He would withdraw money from the ATM, in the hope that there was something left in his account, and he’d buy a prepaid phone. Without an address, without names, without any details. He’d find out his friend’s numbers, and he’d hear what had happened over the past few days.
Only late in the afternoon, when he knew his friends were busy with their classes, did he go out. He walked very calmly, like a genuine tourist. He went to the nearest bank and was surprised to learn that his account was far more well-endowed than he’d remembered.
He had no time to enjoy his freedom, though, because ultimately, it was all very risky. He went to Roni’s Electric, and from there, he hurried back to Perl’s house, which waited for him with the same empty silence. And because of the large sum of money in his bank account, his first phone call from his new phone was to Rabbi Eisenthal, in Canada.