Sayid takes Yehuda to the home where Kalonymous now lives. After a few hours’ wait, his step-brother and Chilik come out. Yehuda apologizes to Kalonymous and asks him to come back. Kalonymous tells him to reassure his brothers that he is okay, and they part.
* * *
Sayid guided Yehuda back to his Uncle Emanuel’s house, where he was greeted with more than a little shock by his Tanta Esther.
“Yehuda?” she asked, uncertain. The children grew and changed so quickly sometimes you could only guess who you were looking at. “What are you doing here?”
“I came with Zayit,” he said. “Can I come in?”
“Brush yourself off first. I’ll give you something else to wear. I don’t want a mess in the house.”
Yehuda wondered why Tanta Esther didn’t seem more excited to see him.
“Your mother didn’t tell me you were coming,” she said, gathering clean clothes for Yehuda to change into from an old teak bureau stationed in the hallway. It made a tight fit, but Papa had been unable to part with it.
“She didn’t know.”
“I didn’t tell her I was coming,” said Yehuda. He wondered how much more of the truth he should reveal. “Is Zayit coming here before he goes back home?”
“I think so,” said a very confused Tanta Esther. “Didn’t you make up to meet him?”
“No. He doesn’t know I’m here either. I rode in the back of the wagon.”
“What is it with you boys?” cried Esther. “Do you have wings under your skin? Why are you always running away?”
Yehuda was disappointed. “Abba and Ima don’t even know I’m gone.”
“I’m sure they do,” said Esther, although she wasn’t really certain.
“Can I have something to eat, Tanta Esther?” he asked. “I’m very hungry.”
“Of course. What would you like?”
“Whatever you give me is fine. I saw Kalonymous today.”
“How about some delicious chicken soup… wait, What did you say?”
“I found Kalonymous. I spoke to him and asked him to come home. I couldn’t take it anymore. But he doesn’t want to come. He wants to stay where he is.”
“Yehuda, where is he?!”
Yehuda shrugged. “I don’t know. A boy took me there.”
Esther tried to control herself. She smoothed down the front of her apron and straightened her head covering. “Do you know which boy?” She set down a plate of hot soup and motioned for him to go wash.
Yehuda hungrily tucked in to the plate of soup, and Esther gave up on getting more information, preferring to leave the interrogation to Emanuel. “How was he?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Yehuda, gobbling his food. “Good. He’s dressed up as a chassid, like a Purim costume.”
“Oh really.” It finally dawned on Esther that Yehuda could be inventing the entire story; nothing he was saying made sense to her. Was it that he just felt like having an adventure and he threw in a story about Kalonymous to make it more interesting? A little surge of anger at the boy bubbled beneath her skin. None of this would have happened if Yehuda had not started that argument with Kalonymous. Everything had gone upside down since then, and she couldn’t bear the tension much longer. Emanuel was morose, retiring to his den after supper with hardly a friendly word to her to pass the evening.
“Go play with your cousins,” she told him after he had recited Birkas Hamazon. “When Uncle Emanuel comes home you can tell your story to him and see what he has to say about it.”
Yehuda trudged away while Esther sat at the table and stewed. Had they done the right thing, agreeing to take on the Sperlings? There’d been so much trouble since their arrival.
She heard a wagon drive up and dashed out to the doorway. Zayit was pulling up in front of the house. “Mr. Zayit,” she called. “Were you aware that you were harboring a stowaway on your wagon today?”
Zayit had already jumped off the wagon and was already attaching a feed bag to the donkey’s neck. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Rothstein?” he said. He hadn’t yet gotten the gist of what she was saying.
“Yehuda rode with you in the back of your wagon. Did you not see him?” Her arms were folded tightly, and she appeared at her most formidable.
“I did not. I had no idea he was there.” He spoke calmly but he was shaken. If anything had happened to Yehuda without his knowledge he’d never forgive himself. “Where is he now?”
“He’s inside, waiting for you. My husband should be back any minute.”
“Can you tell Yehuda to come outside? I’d like to have a word with him.”
A few moments later, Yehuda appeared in the doorway, his head tucked into his neck like a turtle.
“Is there anything you want to say to me?” asked Zayit, his voice tight.
“I’m sorry!” Yehuda burst into tears and fell into Zayit’s arms. The pain had finally worked its way through his system and was fighting its way out and, as so often happened, Zayit was there to catch it as it fell.
To be continued . . .