Motti has begun teaching the boys Torah in earnest. Zayit acknowledges that he and Kalonymous have met. More of Yannick’s history with the boys is revealed.
* * *
After the boys had learned all the letters and their sounds, Yannick started on words. He would say a word in French and point to the object in the room: la table, la chaise, le plafond — table, chair, ceiling. He taught them little and big by placing Dovid’l next to himself and pointing.
After a week of intensive training, the boys were fluent enough to understand Yannick when he spoke and offer clumsy but comprehensible replies. It wasn’t long before Yannick’s plan for them was set into action.
He would pack a small satchel and secure it to Hershel’s back, and then hand Kalonymous a slip of paper with directions and force him to memorize it. Once they arrived at their destination, the backpack would be opened, the butter, oil, and coffee, the cigarettes or heavy packets of sugar removed and replaced with American dollars. Then they would return the way they came.
On one of their deliveries they were spotted on the road. As the bicycle slowed down beside them, they linked hands and ran as quickly as they could, but they were no match for their new companion. She sped up and turned right in front of them, forcing them to stop. She scrutinized each one of them from head to toe, and without a word, piled them onto her bicycle — one on the handlebars and two on the rack behind her, and started pedaling.
The boys were too weary to protest. They were tired and afraid of Yannick, and while they had no familiarity with the black market, they sensed that he was having them do wrong. They clung to each other and felt every bump as the girl raced down the road.
After the interminable ride, the girl made a sharp turn onto a paved road and rode straight ahead. Hidden behind a row of hedges was the largest house they’d ever seen. It was white stucco, with a shingled roof and wide balcony that bordered the building’s entire length and width. There was a manicured, grassy lawn and a small stand of trees.
The girl — Berta was her name — ran up the sloping hill. Flinging open the front door, she disappeared into the darkened interior. Dovid’l proceeded to lay down on the lawn and run his hands through the soft blades. Then, as Kalonymous and Hershel looked on, Dovid’l fell fast asleep. Hershel, too, was powerless to resist the temptation. His knees buckled, and his small, thin body followed shortly after. Kalonymous stood guard, stoically awaiting their fate.
Berta came back after a lengthy absence, followed by a thin and wiry woman, who stood framed in the doorway. Her hand instinctively covered her open mouth as she regarded the little tramps stretched out on her front lawn.
She spoke to Berta in low tones, and turned back to the house. Berta roused the boys and led them to a shed at the back of the house, where she took leave of them. A woman with skin that looked like it was made of leather followed behind, carrying a burlap sack in one hand and a stack of worn-out rags in the other.
The woman, whom they would soon discover was the housemaid, spread out a thick layer of newspapers on the floor. She filled a paint-spattered metal basin with water, and removed a pair of scissors and a hefty metal razor from the bag, brandishing it with a firm grasp. She took the scissors first and began to cut the boys’ hair all the way down to their scalps. Their hair had grown so long that their peyos were no longer visible but all three boys instinctively covered the area where their peyos were supposed to be. The maid thought they were protecting their ears to avoid the soap and water and roughly removed their hands, only to face the mutiny all over again.
She stopped working for a moment, trying to make sense of the unusual reaction. They hadn’t protested at all and in fact had said nothing throughout all her ministrations. Left with no choice — the mistress of the house had told her to remove all the hair — she cut it all off and then shaved their heads clean. The smallest boy began to wail while the older two sadly accepted the loss of their peyos.
She handed Kalonymous a jar of vinegar and told them to scrub themselves from head to toe, first with soap and then with the vinegar while she waited outside. It was really too cold for a bath, but the thought of being clean helped them withstand the wind. Kalonymous knocked on the wall to let the maid know when they were finished, and she handed them the rags to dry themselves off. They stood shivering as she gathered up their soiled clothing and stuffed it into a corner to be burned later, then handed each of them a sweater and a pair of gotkes that were so big on them that she had to tie ropes around their waists. She also gave them thick woolen socks, which swallowed their small feet, but still protected them from the cold.
“Schon,” she declared, giving them a final once-over. “This will have to do.”
She left the shack abruptly, leaving the door open behind her, beckoning to the boys to follow. They didn’t know what they were walking into, but it had to be better than Yannick’s windowless prison.
To be continued . . .