* * *
Motti did not yet know how he was going to explain Kalonymous’ absence, but he could still speak the truth when referring to the boys in the plural. “No, they are fine. Wonderful, in fact.”
“Good. Good,” said Berl, his relief visible. “Good,” he said again, this time only to Fisch.
“I haven’t yet told them of your arrival,” Motti confessed. “We didn’t want to get their hopes up. Your plans could have changed at any time.”
Motti noticed Berl shudder but decided not to pry. “I felt it would be best to see you with my own eyes first.”
“Do they still think we are dead?” Berl asked.
Motti recalled Breindl’s dilemma a few nights earlier when Hershel had looked her in the eyes and asked if Berl and Fisch were still alive. Unsure how to respond, she’d replied vaguely, “I don’t know.” Hershel had looked so heartbroken she’d been tempted to tell him the truth, held back only by Motti’s stern warning.
When Motti didn’t reply, to his surprise, Berl broke out in a luminous smile. “Won’t we have the jump on them, ja, Fisch?” He nudged his brother who responded with a similar smile. Comparing him with Berl, Motti could see how he might have been a softer, gentler version of his older brother, and wondered if his deficiency was a result of the shooting.
Motti kept them posted on the amount of time left to the journey, and when he told them they were twenty minutes away, they grew silent and pensive. Ten minutes, five, and they were home.
Hearing the wagon pull up, Breindl ran outside, stopping short as she saw the gnarled brothers for the first time. Even though their shoes and suits were new, these were already worn and rumpled from the journey. Their hair, beneath identical caps, was a mass of dust and tangles, and she wondered briefly if she should give them a chance to clean up before presenting them to Hershel and Dovid’l. She wished with all her heart that Kalonymous was there to witness their arrival.
Motti jumped down and helped them off the wagon. Berl’s leg was so stiff that he nearly tumbled over before Fisch caught him, exquisitely attuned to Berl’s well-being at every moment. They both looked around as though they’d landed on another planet, then turned expectantly to Breindl.
“I am Breindl Rothstein,” she offered. “We have been taking care of the boys. We’ve spent the day speaking about you, and I was trying to prepare them for your arrival. They may be shocked to see you, but I’m sure they will also be delighted.” She turned then to Motti. “Should I bring the boys out or…?”
She’d barely finished her sentence before Hershel and Dovid’l barreled out of the house, both intent on telling her “something important.” Noting the strange atmosphere, they looked up at the guests. Even though Berl and Fisch looked completely different from how they did when the Sperlings had spent time with them, Hershel and Dovid’l recognized them immediately.
As if by prearranged agreement, they hurled themselves into Berl and Fisch’s open arms. Forgetting his infirmity, Berl lumbered down on one knee to catch them as the four of them formed a tight group, crushing each other with hugs and tears. They remained that way for so long that Motti and Breindl began to feel uncomfortable, not only from the obvious affection they felt for each other, but also because it was the first time they’d seen the real Hershel and Dovid’l and not the frightened, guarded versions they’d been caring for until then. Their joy was so unrestrained that it was painful to watch, knowing that it had been locked up inside of them all this time.
“Come in, come in,” Motti urged. Breindl had spent three days preparing a huge homecoming feast and everyone sat down and dug in. Hershel and Dovid’l ate with such appetite, it was as though they’d been holding in their hunger for months. Famished as well, Berl and Fisch ate until they nearly fell asleep in their seats, after asking repeatedly after Kalonymous. Motti led them to his own room and laid them down on the freshly prepared beds.
They awoke hours later in a daze, awakened by a huge crash from outside the house and the sound of a heated scuffle taking place. Motti and Breindl eyed each other in alarm, uncertain of the source of the disturbance. Motti went out to check and came back in with a shocked expression on his face.
Right behind him, fighting off Yehuda’s firm grasp with all his might, was a furious Kalonymous. Kicking his feet to strike Yehuda, the bigger, stronger boy held him off at arm’s length, contributing to the other boy’s building fury.
“Look around you, Kalonymous,” said Yehuda, a grin breaking out on his face.
And that was the moment when Kalonymous laid eyes on his beloved Berl and Fisch once again
To be continued . . .