Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 26 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.
The conversation with Rabbi Eisenthal was friendly. The rabbi didn’t probe; perhaps he didn’t know anything about Martin’s current state of affairs. It was nice to hear that as his current custodian, he had deposited the money in Martin’s account.
The second phone call was to Dan, at one in the morning, as Martin strolled along the sidewalk near Perl’s house. Dan answered sounding rather sleepy, but grew much more alert when he heard Martin’s voice. “Hey!” he said, displaying commendable caution when he didn’t state the caller’s name. “I’m not sure that I’m right and you are who I think you are, but if it’s you, how are you? Where are you hanging out?”
“And if it’s not me?” Martin laughed. “In any case, whether you mean me or not, I hang out here and there, there and here.” It was so good to hear his own voice again, and to just be himself! “How are you? What’s new in your pretty settlement?”
“All good, thank G-d. I’m out on bail, but there’s still a serious trial waiting for me.” Dan paused. “Yeah, well, things like that don’t scare us. But what about you, brother? You’re really in hot water this time… How did you survive the searches?”
“If I am me, then who says I survived? Maybe I’m talking to you from my hidden bunker, on the lam?” Martin joined the humor. Taking into consideration that Dan’s conversations were all recorded – he surmised – why not confuse the searchers? “But if I am not me…” He grew serious. “You really can’t know what I’m going through.”
“Whatever you are or aren’t going through, you’re not the type who gets scared by these things.”
“That’s true,” Martin agreed slowly. “But not entirely.”
“What part isn’t true?”
“The part about hurting others.”
“Meaning?” Dan’s voice grew a bit chilly. “Who’s talking about hurting others? Not me.”
“Of course not, but I would always want to know that no one was killed by my actions.”
“Killed? Who’s talking about killing?”
“I…” Why did the image of the little Arab boy curled up near the fence in the Old City suddenly come to mind? “You know, even if we know that we are the members of the Chosen Nation, that doesn’t give us permission to…”—he searched for the right word, but settled on the simplest— “to hurt anyone.”
“What about someone who comes to kill you? Oh, forget it. I really think that I’m not talking to the person I thought I was talking to at the beginning.” Dan’s voice grew a few degrees colder. “Or else it’s a diversion tactic on your part. Forget it, let’s not talk politics. So, what’s going on with you? Are you thinking about exams yet? How many levels of them do you plan on taking?”
Had Dan forgotten that he was doing just one year of studies here, and wasn’t taking any high school exams—at least not in this country? Or was he trying to help him blur his identity?
“Oh, I’m doing all the possible levels,” he blurted without thinking.
A man with a short-sleeved, dirty gray shirt turned the corner and brushed against him, muttering to himself. Martin quickly jumped aside.
“Really! We always knew you were brilliant, already back in Morah Shula’s kindergarten class!” Dan’s voice rose a few notches. “You plan to major in computers, right?”
“Nice. Yeah, you were always at the top of the class. You know, I’m sure your friends will be very excited to hear about all of your accomplishments, when they meet you at your class reunion.”
“Forget it. I’ve grown up already, and I’m not sure I’m going back to that.” Martin glanced behind him fleetingly. The man had disappeared—
Wait, he was crossing the street, diagonally…no, it couldn’t be that he was walking toward Perl’s house!
“Huh? You grew up?” Dan’s voice echoed, with a question mark.
“Yes, and I’m not sure the principal would be happy to see me again. Do you remember all those antics I did?”
“Who’s talking about the principal?” Dan’s voice was warm again. “Just the friends. A small, closed meeting. I promise you.”
Martin glanced all around him. The man with the gray shirt was standing at the gate to Perl’s house, studying it carefully. He didn’t even glance at Martin, but Martin couldn’t take his eyes off him. Were they on his tail?
What was clear was that he’d better end this conversation with Dan right now. A random eavesdropper wouldn’t be able to understand either boy’s veiled references, but if someone was sitting and listening to every single conversation that Dan had, he might pick up on the fact that this caller was Martin. Then he might try to track him down based on the telephone’s location.
“We’ll talk another time, Dan,” he said. “Maybe the day after tomorrow. Around this time.”
He’d call tomorrow, of course. He was not going to wait two more days to try to figure out from Dan what had happened to the Arab casualties of the accident.
His legs carefully carried him toward the two-story house. The man still stood there, gazing at the mailbox. He turned around when he heard Martin’s quiet footsteps. “What’s a boy doing on the street in the middle of the night?” he asked, with a crooked smile. But before Martin could move back, the man turned back to stare at the mailbox again. “Again Michoel is not home,” he said thickly. “We need to empty his mailbox. He hasn’t been home for a long time, has he?”
Martin looked at the mailbox, which rested on a wide, wooden base. It didn’t look particularly full.
“I’m asking you if he’s been away for a long time!” the man repeated, sounding more aggressive.
“How am I supposed to know?”
“You? Of course you are supposed to know everything about Michoel — because you have an American accent, like him! Who else is supposed to know about his whereabouts? Me?”
“Maybe,” Martin fired back.
“I was in the hospital, that’s where I was. And when I’m in the hospital, I don’t know anything. Now get me a screwdriver.”
“A screwdriver?” Martin swallowed, feeling confused. “From where?”
“From wherever you live.”
“I don’t live anywhere.”
“You don’t have a home?” The man straightened up and turned around to study the boy. His eyes were gleaming, and he looked a bit sickly. “You too? Like me! Come, let’s be friends! I also don’t have a house, but I do usually have Michoel. It’s good that I have him; it means pizza every Tuesday, a hot meal every Wednesday…cholent on Friday afternoon… I didn’t have any of that in the hospital. And he didn’t even consider coming to visit me there. That wasn’t nice. So, are you bringing me a screwdriver or not?”
Martin took a deep breath. “Why do you need a screwdriver? You want to break into his house?”
“Is that what I look like to you? Like a burglar or something?” the other man fumed. “I just want to empty his mailbox. Look how full it is.”
“There are barely two or three letters there! Just let the man himself come and take it all out. I’m not touching his mail.”
“Ha, ha you’re so funny,” the man said. “See, Michoel’s mailbox is not just the box here at the top. It’s the whole base here, until the bottom, where it touches the ground. And it’s all full of mail. When you see something sticking out from the slot at the top, that means there are forty or fifty envelopes in there. Could you wrap your mind around that?”
“So why doesn’t he take his mail out?”
“Maybe he doesn’t have time for it, or maybe he’s not home. No, he’s for sure not home.”
“So that must be why he didn’t come visit you in the hospital,” Martin suggested. He bent down to inspect the interesting mailbox.
“Right, right. He often travels for a long time. But this time it’s been a very, very long time. Maybe he was stolen, kidnapped.” The man spoke very calmly. “Are you bringing a screwdriver today, or another day?”
“Another day,” Martin said, but he was deep in thought as he looked again at the stuffed box.
“Ima?” With that one word, Hinda could hear that Mali had no intention of making this a long conversation. She sounded very focused on something. It was alright; Hinda didn’t have time now for a long chat, anyway. The mound of apples she was about to cook for Penina was big enough to keep her busy for the next half an hour, at least. And she had promised the Haber family an answer by tonight about the distance between the two sinks in their kitchen.
“Yes, Mali,” she replied evenly. “How are you?”
“Fine, baruch Hashem… So, I thought that maybe you should send Uncle Michoel a fax and tell him that you’re not angry at me, and I’ll send him an email and I’ll write…” Mali paused for a second. “I’ll write that I’m not angry at you. If that’s the problem, it should calm him down.”
“That’s an idea.” Hinda weighed her words. “Alright. I’ll send him a fax. I was planning to do it anyway, but I wasn’t thinking of writing anything about us, because the way I see it, that was just an excuse. Something about the way the organization is being managed must have irritated him, although I’m not sure what.” She was silent for a long moment. “Fine, I’ll write to him that we’re not angry, and that we even met at the Kosel, and it was so nice for me to see you.”
Mali didn’t immediately say, “For me, too.” She paused for a moment and then asked, “Do you have his email address, Ima?”
“No. I don’t have email or a computer; you know that. I’ve never needed either.”
“You still don’t have email? So how do you work with your clients?”
“My clients have learned that I’m available by phone, or in person. And I think that handwritten pages are much clearer and more illustrative than a computer program can generate.”
Mali didn’t say anything. At that moment, Penina entered the kitchen, and gaped at the mountain of apples on the counter. “What is this?” she asked, although the way she smiled, it seemed she had guessed what it was.
“It’s going to be compote for you. It freezes beautifully, and you can enjoy it for a few Shabbosos after you go home, b’ezras Hashem.” She glanced at Penina. “Which will happen whenever you want it to.”
“What?” Mali said into the phone.
“I was talking to my lovely guest.” Hinda smiled as she picked up the peeler. “Anyway, do you want his fax number, Mali?”
“I thought you were telling me to come home.” “That will also happen only when you want it to,” Hinda said quietly.