* * *
The rest of the journey proceeded quietly and uneventfully, as though no great unburdening had occurred. Kalonymous sat with his back straight and his head up, while Zayit lounged comfortably in the driver’s seat, and before they knew it they had arrived at the entrance to the Rothstein home.
The elder Rothsteins had been through a series of moves since their arrival in Jerusalem. When Emanuel had first come to search for his brother Motti at his own father’s behest, he had lodged for a time at the Hotel Petra before moving on to a boarding house. After arrangements had been made for Esther’s arrival, Emanuel had searched frantically for what she would consider a proper abode, and finally found a small cottage near the Kotel Hama’aravi. After he had brought Papa and Mama over to live out their days together with them, the search began in earnest. The sale of his printing press, one of the few business concerns to remain solvent following the stock market crash, allowed him to purchase a home considered grand by Middle Eastern standards but was actually not much larger than a typical New York City brownstone. Still, there was plenty of room for them all and it was comfortable enough.
When Motti had come to gather more information about the boys, he hadn’t seen the harm in it, but he hadn’t seen the help in it. He’d deferred to his brother and had posted the request as he’d been asked. So when an urgent message was delivered to him, begging him to take Kalonymous for a short while, he’d been understandably concerned, wondering what had changed so quickly that the boy was being handed off this way.
When she heard the news, Esther was beside herself. “Tomorrow!” she’d fretted. “How will I get everything ready?” Even a spoiled American such as Emanuel could hardly see the need for the fuss: What more did a ten-year-old boy need than a place to sleep and good food? But he understood — for Esther, it was the equivalent to a visit from small royalty. He stayed out of the way as she’d cleaned and cooked and baked, until she was satisfied by the fruits of her labor.
As soon as they heard the wagon pull up, they hurried outside to meet it. They weren’t sure what to expect — they didn’t see the Sperlings very often — but the sight that greeted them was a far cry from any they could have imagined. Kalonymous often appeared older and larger than he really was as a result of his surly expression and prickly temperament, but the Rothsteins were struck, as they regarded the pale, trembling child, by his utter vulnerability. This was no wayward boy they were dealing with — perhaps Motti had grown too close and lost sight of this — but rather a splintered sapling.
Emanuel felt a flash of anger at his brother course through him — What had he been thinking? — and was tempted to send him back home exactly the way he came. Clearly, Motti had lost his way with the refugees, and perhaps it was for the best that Kalonymous had been brought to him. A fresh set of eyes on a situation often brought changes for the good in their wake, and perhaps this would be one of those times.
Esther came bustling out, tying a fresh apron around her waist as she stepped up to the wagon. She held her hand out for Kalonymous to grasp and, to everyone’s surprise, he held it tightly as he disembarked.
“Welcome, Kalonymous,” she said, the excitement burbling up from her throat causing her words to pop and fizz. “We’re so glad you’re here.” She led him into the house, leaving the two men looking after them, stunned.
“How do they do that?” said Zayit, shaking his head.
“It’s bred in the bone, I think,” said Emanuel. “So what is this all about? I get an urgent message from my brother to take Kalonymous for an undetermined amount of time…what’s happened?”
Zayit shook his head. “It all happened so fast. I’m afraid your brother reacted before thinking it through. A fight broke out between Kalonymous and their Yehuda and, unfortunately, a fire started as a result. If it hadn’t been for the fire, I don’t think they would have responded as strongly, but the fact of it cannot be erased.”
“Why didn’t they send Yehuda then?” asked Emanuel, sensible as usual. “He would have enjoyed a few days of coddling from his grandmother and aunt, and he would have returned home good as new.”
“Our question as well. Look, chabibi, you know it is not my place to get involved, especially between brothers, but I am concerned. Even if they want Kalonymous to come back, he might not go. Humiliation and rejection of this nature are not so easy to come back from.”
“What about his brothers?” asked Emanuel. “Surely he’ll go back for their sake.”
Zayit shook his head. “Kalonymous is very proud. Even though he took such good care of his brothers and is still protective of them, and even though he won’t admit it, part of him knows that his brothers are safe now. Perhaps at one time he’d have forgone his pride, but I don’t think he could do that now even if he wanted to.”
To be continued . . .