The boys set out in the dark, when they think they will be safer. As the sun rises they must seek shelter; they find a hut in a field where they sleep throughout the day.
* * *
Kalonymous cried out the first time he saw Zayit approaching the Rothstein’s house. He looked exactly like the man who had been watching them sleep inside the shack that day, and Kalonymous wondered how he had found them all the way out here. When they had awoken in the shack, he had been standing over them as though he were waiting for them to wake up. Kalonymous had no idea how long he had been standing there, but he had already sized up the situation. With one motion, he swooped up all three of them and dumped them in his cart. He threw a scratchy blanket over them and put his finger to his lips. The boys were still groggy from sleep and too stunned to scream.
The cart bumped along for what seemed like hours. The man wore a tattered kretchma and a very worn but very warm-looking coat. He sat up front and held the reins loosely as his horse slogged its way through the slushy ground.
“Where is he taking us?” Hershel whispered.
“I have no idea.” Kalonymous’s mind was whirling at top speed — to keep going or to jump out? If they jumped out, they’d eventually freeze or starve, and despite the bitter end, it was at least a certainty. This reluctant journey was a wild card, and they could not guess where they would end up. Looking at his brothers’ wan faces, though, he decided to stay put and take their chances.
They dozed off again, despite the bumps and jolts — none of them could keep their eyes open, and the warmth of the blanket had a soporific effect on them. They didn’t notice when the cart came to a stop, and it was only when the man scooped them up again, still wrapped in the blanket, and carried them down a long flight of steps, that Kalonymous spoke.
“Wo sind wir?” he asked, in shaky German. “Where are we?”
The man shook his head slightly, indicating that he did not know German. Kalonymous tried Yiddish then, to no avail, and it was only then, through the dim light, that they could see that the man’s complexion was quite dark. Zayit was not as dark as this man was, but between the almost identical clothing he wore and his glowing brown skin, it was close enough for Kalonymous to make the mistake.
The surprise and shock was too much for Dovid’l. He started to wail but the man did not seem perturbed. The large room had no windows, but there were three mattresses, blankets folded neatly at the foot of each one, spread out on the floor as if he had been expecting them.
“Calm down, Dovid’l,” said Hershel, placing his thin arm around his brother’s neck. “It’s all right. Everything is all right.” Without giving it much thought, he sat the two of them down on one of the mattresses and threw the blanket over them until only their eyes were visible. He quashed a twinge of envy, part of him longing to huddle under a blanket too, but he knew he must stand strong and find out what their possible kidnapper was up to.
He pointed at his chest and introduced himself. “Kalonymous,” he said. “I am Kalonymous.”
The dark man seemed to understand. “Yannik,” he said, imitating Kalonymous. “Je suis Yannick.”
Kalonymous stepped back, not recognizing the language, but determined to communicate. He mimed himself eating from a bowl with a spoon, and Yannick nodded his head.
“Une minute,” he said, holding up one finger to indicate he would be right back. He disappeared through a door that was not noticeable from the wall. Kalonymous looked around. He didn’t yet know whether or not they were in danger, but he didn’t see any other option except to stay put.
Yannick bustled out then holding three mugs of tea, the handles looped around one finger. He set them down on a small table, then turned back around and left once again.
Kalonymous was about to sit down when he realized even that small task would be too much for his brothers. He brought the steaming mugs over to the mattress, kneeling down and carefully placing a mug in each of their outstretched hands. Their yarmulkes had disappeared long before, and Kalonymous wondered if he should have them make a brachah over the tea. He knew it was the right thing to do, but his thin shoulders could not bear the burden, and the tea was sipped with no acknowledgement to Hashem. That was the moment that their Yiddishkeit slipped away. It wouldn’t return until it was coaxed back to life by the devoted care of the Rothsteins.
“Shalom Aleichem,” Zayit called out, waving a hand in greeting. He’d seen the boy roaming among the sheep, had observed him carefully, in fact, considering when would be a good time to approach him, and when Mrs. Rothstein had asked him to look in on him, he’d jumped at the chance. Motti had spoken to him several times regarding this wary child, seeking advice from the man who had once saved his life. In his dealings with Kalonymous, Motti had in fact employed many of the lessons he’d learned from Zayit when the man had found him on the ground near his orchard, exhausted from running 25 miles, away from the riot and pogrom taking place in Hebron, and deeply in shock. Zayit had patiently healed him, and the men had become devoted friends. It was because of Zayit that Motti had bought the land abutting his and they became neighbors as well.
To be continued . . .