* * *
The light of day, or what there was of it, was comforting, and Kalonymous felt better about leaving his brothers behind as he went to forage for food.
“You’ll be fine. I’ll be back before you know it.” Hershel nodded and tried to put on a brave face, but failed miserably as his features crumpled in distress. “Please, let us come with you.”
Kalonymous understood. “Okay, let’s get moving then. Are you ready?”
They slid out one after the other, a small platoon, and stepped out to face what was rapidly becoming a cruel world. Kalonymous tried to think of places they could find food, but, as he didn’t know where they were, he realized he was going to have to rely on luck rather than logic. He had no idea, at that time, that Hashem was watching over them so carefully, guiding each step of their path, arranging in advance all they would need to survive the journey.
“Careful,” he said, calling over his shoulder. “The ground is slippery.”
They plodded quietly through the wooded trail until they reached the road. “Hey, I recognize that.” Hershel was pointing at a large tree with an albino bark. He remembered seeing it on a bicycle trip he had taken while they lived at the Hohmanns’. “It was hit by lightning,” Hershel told them.
“That tree?” said Kalonymous. “Are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t forget something like that!” said Hershel.
“Do you know which direction the house is in?” asked Kalonymous.
Hershel’s forehead puckered with thought. He turned around in a complete circle, trying to get his bearings, but in the hazy gray morning he couldn’t figure it out.
“It’s okay,” said Kalonymous, wrapping his arm around Hershel’s shoulder. “At least we know we’re not in China.”
“China?” Hershel was even more confused now, and only relaxed when Kalonymous burst out laughing. Hershel hadn’t seen his brother laugh in so long that he became a little frightened, but soon he joined in. “China!” he said, guffawing. The laughter felt so good that even his stomach stopped growling with hunger for a few glorious moments.
As they walked along the side of the road, too exhausted to be nervous, they swung hands and Kalonymous tried to keep up all of their spirits by singing songs and telling them little stories. As weary and scared and hungry as he was, there was a small part of him that could not be suppressed. Although he wouldn’t have been able to articulate it then, he was terrified that he would lose that part of himself completely, ground into dust by fear, worry, and crushing responsibility, so it would occasionally force its way out.
On a whim, he grabbed their hands and began to sing and dance around in a circle:
Brüderlein, komm tanz mit mir, Beide Hände reich ich dir, Ein mal hin, ein mal her, rundherum, das ist nicht schwer. (Little brother, dance with me. Take both my hands. Once this way, once that way, Round and round, it’s not hard.)
They swung around, singing at the top of their voices, oblivious to the noise they were making. For a moment they looked like exactly what they truly were, beneath their sorrows: happy, dancing, singing little boys. The song was a little babyish for Kalonymous, but once he saw how much Hershel and Dovid’l were enjoying themselves, he knew he’d made the right choice. All the while he kept his eyes peeled, searching every spot where there might be some food.
He soon noticed, alongside the road, small white button-shaped protrusions growing amid the weeds. Still humming so as not to distract his brothers, he meandered over and squatted down to have a better look. He recognized them as mushrooms and nearly grabbed a handful before stopping himself. He remembered his mother telling him that some mushrooms were good to eat and some were poisonous, but she had never told him which was which and he had no way to know. Gazing at his brothers’ pinched faces, he realized he was going to have to take a risk.
“Listen,” he said, plucking a mushroom up from the ground. “This is a pilz,” he said in German. The boys faces were blank. “A champignon.” Their eyes lit up with recognition. They all recalled Yannick and his enjoyment of the delicacy. He usually ate them sliced, so that’s why Hershel and Dovid’l didn’t recognize it. “Some of them are good to eat and some are not, so here is what we are going to do. I am going to eat one. If we wait a while and see that I feel good, we’ll know that we can eat them. If something happens to me…”
At that, Hershel and Dovid’l began to cry. “No, no, don’t eat it! Don’t eat it!”
“We must, otherwise we will be hungry. Let us all be brave.” They sat down and watched while Kalonymous wiped the dirt off the mushroom and swallowed it in one bite.
They allowed some time to pass and, when they saw Kalonymous was still okay, they picked and ate as many as they could manage. “Don’t eat too many,” Kalonymous warned. “Eat slowly.” They ate their fill, finding the mushrooms to be bland tasting but extremely satisfying and, after they felt a bit fuller and stronger, they set out on their way once again.
Only this time, they did not get very far.
To be continued . . .