Papa Rothstein wants to meet the boys, so Breindl tries to prepare them. Her conversation reminds Kalonymous’s of the boys’ final meeting with their zaide. He declares that he does not want to meet the parents of the Fetter Motti.
* * *
Despite Kalonymous’s fervent objections, Papa and Mama arrived by taxi, accompanied by Emanuel, and were greeted by the entire Rothstein family. Breindl had shined everyone up, and they stood outside and watched the car approach from far off, then jumped at the door to open it for their grandparents. The three foreigners hung back and watched, tempted to cling to Breindl, but determined to be brave.
Papa and Mama allowed themselves to be conveyed into the house. The table was set with tea and freshly baked mandelbrodt, still warm from the oven. Kalonymous had watched Breindl make it a few times and he now insisted on making it himself. Breindl worried – Papa liked everything just so – but Kalonymous was determined, and the results were so delicious that they finished an entire loaf before the guests even arrived.
Breindl sat by Mama’s side as they refreshed themselves with tea and cake. Mama complimented her on the mandelbrodt and Breindl pulled Kalonymous over to stand by her side. “I didn’t make it, Mama,” she said. “This is Kalonymous Sperling. He made it all by himself.”
“Sperling?” said Papa. “You didn’t tell me the name was Sperling. Come here, yingel.”
Kalonymous instinctively drew back.
“What’s wrong?” said Papa. “I want to take a look at you. Can’t you speak?”
At that moment, he couldn’t; fear locked his throat.
Emanuel stood behind Kalonymous, placing a firm, kind hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right, tzaddik,” he murmured, and gently pushed the boy over in his father’s direction until Kalonymous was standing right in front of the older man.
“Sperling, yes? Let me have a look.” He touched Kalonymous on the chin. “I don’t recognize the name, but I certainly recognize the face. You come from the Krausz line. You are the spitting image of your alter zaidy.”
“I am?” The words flew out before Kalonymous could stop them. A flush of pride spread through him, a glorious thrill of belonging. There was family out there with faces just like his, and even he if never met them, he still belonged to them.
“Certainly. It’s like seeing double.” Papa took a wrapped toffee out of his pocket and gave it to the boy. “Welcome to the family,” he said warmly. “We are glad you are here.” He beckoned to Hershel and Dovid’l to come over as well, for inspection and candy, and they were happy to oblige.
After Papa and Mama departed with Emanuel back to Yerushalayim, Breindl lay down to take a nap, and Motti took the children for a walk so she could rest. Only Kalonymous and his cousin Yehuda remained behind. Yehuda was eleven, a year younger than Kalonymous, but he looked at least three years older. His body hadn’t been wasted by scrounging for food in the forest for six months, and his face had never seen horror. When Kalonymous walked outside to see the sheep, Yehuda was close behind.
“Hey!” he shouted, pulling Kalonymous back by his shirt collar.
“What are you doing?” said Kalonymous. “Get off of me.”
“I won’t. Where do you really come from? Who are you anyway?” Yehuda glared. Kalonymous was sorry now that he’d been wrapped up all this time in his own thoughts. He hadn’t paid enough attention to the other children, and now he regretted it. Yehuda often went off with his father on his rounds and, until today, he’d been little more than a vague presence.
It was like a lion had suddenly awoken and roared to life, and Kalonymous had no stick to fend him off. “No one asked you to come here,” growled Yehuda.
“What did I do to you?” said Kalonymous.
“It’s not what you did; it’s who you are. You walk around like you can do anything you want. You don’t do any chores — all you do is bake. I wish you would go back where you came from.” He gave him a final shove and stalked off.
Kalonymous was stunned at this outburst, and didn’t know what to make of it. Despite his standoffishness, he loved the attention he received from Breindl and Motti. He would never admit it, but their gentle perseverance had started to penetrate his shell.
But now he could feel himself closing up again. It was so hard to be afraid all the time, and he wondered if his fears would ever go away. It was impossible to trust anyone. Even Berta had turned against them when they needed protection, and Motti and Breindl might do the same.
He couldn’t take that risk. He’d already upset Breindl once, and he didn’t dare do it again. Maybe Yehuda’s outburst had been a warning sign. He resolved to make himself useful around the house so the Rothsteins wouldn’t think of sending them away. If they didn’t like them for who they were — and based on Yehuda’s behavior that seemed to be the case — they might let them stay if they started helping.
From tomorrow, we start earning our keep, he decided, and staying out of Yehuda’s way.
To be continued . . .