The brothers find the post office closed when they first go to send a telegram to their parents. Mutty reminds Manny that Hashem is in charge; both are impressed at the change in Mutty.
* * *
It was a good thing the post office was closed — had Manny sent the telegram when he intended, he might have found the responses surprising.
Upon return to the boarding house, the two brothers fell into such a deep sleep that they barely awoke in time for Minchah. Between Minchah and Maariv they ran to the post office, which was just about to close its doors, and begged to be allowed in. Naturally their request was refused, and only after some long and garbled explanations and some tipping was Manny handed the form to compose his message.
How do you ask a person, especially your own father, if he has lost everything he owns, and in so few words? Manny wondered. “HAVE YOU LOST EVERYTHING?”
After much deliberation, he realized he would have to rely on his father’s understanding.
TO: RABBI J. ROTHSTEIN
SHOULD WE RETURN HOME?
YOUR LOVING SON
Mutty, once again leaning over Manny’s shoulder, huffed when he saw the signature. “What am I, then?” he asked. A quick look by Manny revealed the hurt expression on Mutty’s face. “I care too, you know.”
“Of course. I’m sorry.” Manny quickly changed the sign-off from “son” to “sons,” and checked the boxes marked “hand delivery” and “urgent.”
“Do you think it will scare Papa and Mama if they see it’s marked ‘urgent’?” said Mutty.
“I’ll take my chances,” said Manny. “It’s more for the telegraph company than for them.” He turned to the clerk and put on his businessman face.
“Must deliver today,” he said, slowly and loudly.
“I heard ya, mate,” said the English clerk. “No need to shout, eh?”
“Oh. Sorry. When will it arrive?”
“No idea. Once it leaves here, your guess is as good as mine.”
Manny rolled his eyes, once again stymied by the slow pace of the Middle East. “All right, then. I’ll just have to pray.”
The clerk smirked. “You do that, mate.”
Manny was about to answer when Mutty pulled him by the arm out of the post office. “He’s a fool, first of all,” said Mutty. “And the last thing you want to do is get the guy who sends the telegrams mad, am I right?”
“Once again, you are.” Manny felt that same sense of surprise he had felt at his younger brother’s earlier comment, brushed off his frock and allowed Mutty to lead him out of the stifling office.
They were already well down the road when Manny realized he’d forgotten to send a telegram to Esther as well. “Wait!” he cried. “We need to go back.” They ran back to the post office only to find it locked and shuttered. The clerk stood just inside the gate, smoking a cigarette, when they started to bang on the bars. The clerk just smiled and pretended he couldn’t hear them.
“And that’s with us being nice to him!” said Mutty. “Just imagine if we hadn’t been!”
After Shacharis the next morning, Manny ran back to the post office while Mutty went to learn in yeshivah. He was grateful to find a different clerk behind the counter, and took the form in his hands gingerly, as though it belonged to Esther herself.
TO: ESTHER ROTHSTEIN
PLEASE ADVISE FINANCES. DID YOU SELL?
SHOULD I EXPECT YOU HERE OR BEST TO RETURN HOME?
Although he wrote his return address on the form, he made sure to write it over again in large letters in both English and Hebrew, and leave it with the clerk. He decided to make light conversation in the hope that the clerk would remember Manny when the replies came in.
“Telegrams, huh? Great invention. Where’s the machine?”
He wasn’t lucky again to get a clerk who was fluent in English, but what the fellow lacked in language skills he made up for in goodwill. “No machine,” he said, enunciating the words as carefully as he could.
Manny assumed he misunderstood. “No machine? What do you mean?”
“Boy comes and takes the telegrams. He brings it to his father, who takes it with him to big post office somewhere. Tel Aviv? Haifa? From there they send. I think so. Maybe. Not sure.”
“Thanks very much,” said Manny. He left a small tip which the clerk put gratefully into his pocket, and stepped out into the bright light of day.
It took ten full days to receive a reply, with Manny praying all the while that everyone involved made the right connections, that the telegram forms made it to their destinations and were sent quickly and accurately. One couldn’t take anything for granted, he realized.
Manny was grateful that he was at the boardinghouse when the reply came from his parents.
He took a deep breath as he held the reply in his hands, then quickly ripped it open to read.
To be continued . . .