Fisch and Berl are mortally wounded by German guards at the Danish border and insist that the Sperling boys continue on. The boys say good-bye, and find a hole in the border fence. They enter into Denmark.
* * *
In Yerushalayim, leaving the Rothstein’s house behind, Kalonymous ran as fast as he could. His small frame was no match for the press of people, and he felt himself being pushed backwards rather than going forward.
When he finally saw a space in the crowd and ran through it, he skid on an oily slick and went crashing to the ground. On his way down, his foot hooked onto the rim of a pail of live fish, and they, too, went sprawling. As the fish flopped around, gasping for water, Kalonymous struggled to regain his balance and escape the chaotic scene. Just as he had raised himself to a squatting position, a greasy hand hoisted him up in the air by his shirt collar.
“Put me down! Put me down!” Kalonymous’s flailing was no worse than the fish he’d capsized, but it did him no good.
“Look what you did!” A small man with a large head and a long beard was dangling Kalonymous in front of him like a fish on a rod. “You spilled all my fish. If you don’t pick up every single one of them I will give you the hardest potsch you ever got in your life!”
“I didn’t mean to!” Kalonymous cried. “It was an accident. Who told you to put your pail down in the middle of the road?”
“The other hooligan who knocked it off my cart and spilled out all the brine you slipped on. He got away, but I’ve got you now. You can do the job for the both of you.”
Kalonymous was in no mood to be threatened. He started to nod his head as though in agreement, and the moment the man put him down he took off again. He slipped down a narrow alley and waited for the fish man to run past on his way after him before allowing himself to breathe again. As he turned to go further down the alley, he realized he was not alone.
“Who are you?” he cried.
The boy standing behind him was a little taller and broader, but didn’t look much older than he was. He wore a white knitted cap and his peyos fell well below his shoulders.
“I’m Chilik. Who are you?”
They were children and neither was given to conversation, so instead they began walking. The alleyways became deeper and tighter and narrower. Chilik moved like a cat, dodging in and out of obstacles without losing his footing, and Kalonymous had difficulty keeping up.
It was hard, too, because he wanted to stop and look at everything. All he’d seen so far of Eretz Yisrael was the port, the roads around Hebron, and the street outside Uncle Emanuel’s house, and now, Chilik was leading him into what looked like a separate city, leaping from courtyard to courtyard, hopping over low walls and fences, climbing up and down narrow staircases. People were everywhere, hanging laundry, cooking, children running around underfoot — it was the busiest place Kalonymous had ever seen.
Chilik stopped finally in one of the courtyards and sidled up next to a large woman with a baby in each arm. She smiled warmly at him as he stood on tiptoes and whispered something in her ear. She turned her head then to look at Kalonymous.
“Well, who is he?” she asked, not bothering to whisper. “Where is his family?”
Chilik shrugged his shoulders.
“Yingeleh,” she called out. “Who are you? Where do you come from?”
So many replies ran through his mind — I am Kalonymous from Berlin, Yannick’s prisoner, Berta’s house worker, pretend son of Berl and Fisch, distant cousin of Mordechai Rothstein, and now, Fetter Emanuel’s runaway guest — that they jammed up in his throat, each preventing the other from being spoken. Instead he stood mute, his eyes wide, his hands dangling helplessly at his sides.
“All right, then,” she conceded. “Come inside.”
The whole house was one room, but it was a fraction of the size of Fetter Mutty’s house, and only a dot of the size of Fetter Emanuel’s. Still, it was filled. Every corner was teeming with activity, and there were children everywhere.
Chilik’s mother, Pesha, handed one of the babies over to her son, and with her free arm held out she cleared a space at the table in the center of people and things. She sat Kalonymous down and put a bowl of soup in front of him, and because he didn’t know what else to do, he started to eat. It was as good a way as any to join a family — he’d done the same by Tanta Breindl – and they’d hardly known he was there among all the others. If they were anyway separating him from his brothers, he might as well be somewhere he was wanted.
He looked at Chilik and smiled, and Chilik shrugged his shoulders again, his way of saying welcome to the family.
To be continued . . .