Victory Gardens – Chapter 54

Novel

Zayit brings Mutty to Jerusalem to rejoin the yeshivah. While there, they stop off at the Petra to visit Zayit’s passenger from the port, and they are told he will return in an hour. They go on to the post office to send a very brief telegram, finally, to the Rothsteins.

*   *   *

Had it been a film, it would perhaps have been shot in slow motion: the lazy turn of the ceiling fan, the sluggish ebb and flow of customers. Everything took so long here!

Finally, with a sigh, Mutty stood, stretched and turned to face Zayit and study his companion. A man, wearing a hat and an overcoat — in this heat! — stood with his back to Mutty, but had he been wearing a sign on his back, the familiarity of the figure could not have been more clear.

Perhaps it was heatstroke? For how could he be seeing what he thought he was seeing? And why was Zayit speaking with him? Mutty began to walk, slowly, to where the two men stood.

Zayit held out an arm to Mutty as he drew closer. He was taller than the American, and could see Mutty approaching. Mutty watched Zayit’s face break into an even wider smile, saw the hand reach out to him, and stood still as the American slowly turned around and Zayit prepared to make introductions.

But no introductions, of course, were required. The two brothers stared at each other frozen in shock and disbelief for a moment, before the older man’s arms opened and Mutty fell into them.

Zayit was half surprised and half not. There had been something about the American that had been tugging at him since they met at the port, something he hadn’t been able to identify. Now that he saw the two of them together, the truth was so obvious he laughed out loud.

The strange reunion continued to play itself out. He had never seen two people greet each other so silently. They had yet to exchange a single word. It looked, too, as though this was the first time they had hugged each other, and this was in fact the truth.

As he observed them, they suddenly awoke, like they had been lost in a dream state for a moment, and to his surprise, the words with which they greeted each other were harsh.

“Where-have-you-been?” Manny spoke through gritted teeth.

“What are you doing here?” said Mutty, at the same time. “How did you get here?”

As Manny regarded Mutty standing right in front of him, alive and well, he was aware of nothing but pent-up anger.

“You ungrateful, little — ,” Manny couldn’t continue. Zayit’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “You couldn’t have let us know you were all right? We thought you were dead!”

“You did?”

“Of course! We received a telegram from the yeshivah right after the pogrom, telling us you were missing!”

“You did?”

“Can’t you say anything else?” said Manny.

“I don’t know what to say! How would I know you were going to come looking for me here?”

“What did you think we would do?”

“I don’t know! Nothing like this has ever happened to me before!”

“And you’re just sending a telegram now? What was so important that you waited this long to let us know you are alive?”

Mutty’s forehead crumpled with confusion. For the first time he realized that his actions, or lack of them, had consequences that affected others very deeply.

Zayit thought it wise to intervene. “We’re actually sending that telegram right this minute. It’s incredible that we found you here.”

“Yes, well, unlike my brother, I keep in touch with my family when I know they are worried about me.”

“Mr. — eh, I still didn’t catch your name?”

“Manny,” he replied, holding out his hand again as though they were meeting for the first time. “Manny Rothstein.”

“Mr. Rothstein, your brother has been in a state of deep shock. You cannot imagine what it was like.”

Manny’s mouth twisted skeptically. “He’s faking it. I know this kid. He’ll do anything for attention.” He gave Mutty a little push as he spoke.

But Zayit’s face was dead serious. “Not this time.” Mutty looked up at him gratefully. “I found him on my land, nearly unconscious, after he had run miles in the hot summer sun to get away from certain death. There were boys from the yeshivah who were killed in cold blood. He could easily have been one of them if it weren’t for his quick thinking.”

“Quick thinking? This one? That’s news.”

“You might need to take a fresh look at your brother, Mr. Rothstein. He has seen things with his own eyes that you could never imagine as long as you live. I think you need to respect that.”

Manny shrugged. “And I think we need to show some respect to our parents and send them a telegram!”

It was painful to watch Mutty’s shoulders fall and hunch into themselves, as he reverted back to the recalcitrant young boy he’d been the last time the two had seen each other. Zayit was going to have to have a long talk with Mr. Manny Rothstein, before the damage he was doing became irreversible.

To be continued . . .