Kalonymous is to be sent to his aunt and uncle in Jerusalem. Zayit privately objects, but defers to Motti and Breindl’s decision.
* * *
If Motti had realized the extent of the devastation that would result from Kalonymous’s exile, he might have thought twice about it. It was, in fact, his first real misstep when it came to the Sperling brothers, but its effects would last for generations.
Giving Hershel no chance to say good-bye, sending Dovid’l with Kalonymous for the night then sending him away before the actual departure — if life left actual scars on the body, these would receive pride of place, worse, even, than the trials they’d faced throughout their long journey.
As for Kalonymous himself, if his heart had hardened already as a result of his towering responsibilities, shepherding himself and his brothers to safety, with this blow the entire casing was complete.
He was only furious with himself that he had let his guard down at all.
When the time came for Kalonymous to climb into Zayit’s wagon for the journey to Jerusalem, he situated himself on the bench behind his neighbor, a pointed reference to what he perceived as Zayit’s betrayal.
He stood, stoic, as Motti shook his hand and wished him well, staring straight ahead, directing his gaze over Motti’s ear rather than into his face.
“It’s only temporary.” Motti’s voice sounded as though it was traveling down a long tunnel. “We will come to see you. You can visit us. It’s only until things calm down.”
Kalonymous nodded imperceptibly at Motti’s platitudes, knowing full well that he would not be returning.
Orna Zayit placed a large package wrapped in cloth on the seat next to him. “I know Doda Esther will stuff you with her delicious cookies and cakes, but I wanted you to have a taste of Hebron with you.”
Kalonymous knew what was inside. Mrs. Zayit would often bake the olive and lemon cookies for him that she knew he loved. The first time he’d taken a bite, a look of such wonder burst out on his face that she’d nearly started laughing. The sun-kissed warmth of the confections was such a far cry from the Bavarian ice-world he emerged from that the contrast was overwhelming.
Ever since then, Mrs. Zayit would try to give him a few cookies whenever she made them. She also gave him little baklava cakes, dripping with honey and sprinkled with chopped pistachio nuts. For her he had a small smile, all he could manage without the dam bursting.
There had been some discussion about Motti joining them on the trip to Jerusalem, but Zayit had gently discouraged it. He already knew his friend was making a tragic error, and if it was at all possible, he’d have taken in the boy himself. But he knew that the bonds of blood were far stronger than anything he could conquer.
Just as they had decided to send Kalonymous away rather than their own son Yehuda, so too he knew he could not get in between the Rothstein brothers, as fond as he was of both of them. They knew his opinion and had chosen to act differently, and Zayit knew he had to respect their decision, as much as it pained him.
“Good-bye, son,” said Motti, placing his hand on the boy’s stiff shoulder. Kalonymous flinched, both from the touch and the use of the word “son.” He’d tired of hearing it — he was no one’s son and he never would be. A person is only given one father, and if that man was not there to do the job, there could be no replacement, despite what others might be led to believe.
Kalonymous said nothing in reply.
Motti had asked Breindl to stay behind, claiming that she would raise the emotional level of the parting too high, but he should have known his wife better than that. Sleepless and exhausted from a night of silent tears pressed deeply into her pillow, she had waited until Motti departed before making her own way over to the Zayits.
Her children and theirs had trod the path between their homes so frequently that even the shortcuts and secret passages were well worn. She followed their path, quiet and resolute, and reached the back of the Zayits’ home undetected. From there it was a few steps along the side of the house until she was a few meters away from where the horse and wagon stood, waiting to depart.
A part of her always knew it would end like this — that she would be forced to choose between her own children and the stranded refugees. Blood ties were too strong to be severed, even if the relationships they engendered stood on shaky ground, and there would always be those set adrift as a result. She knew this, and she’d given her heart to Kalonymous anyway, and now she felt like a fraud, that she’d purposely deceived him and that this was where all roads to deception eventually led.
As the wagon pulled away, Breindl’s heart lurched. She had positioned herself perfectly, so that the last face Kalonymous saw as they drove away was her own.
To be continued . . .