Zayit drives Mutty and Manny back to their boarding house. Manny suggests to Mutty that he return to New York by himself to be there for their now-destitute parents.
* * *
If Manny expected a fight, he was surprised by Mutty’s reaction: Mutty laughed.
“You’re kidding right? Me take care of Papa and Mama? I don’t think so. I’m only twenty years old.”
Manny failed to see the humor.
“Mutty, when I was your age I was already working full-time and learning in the evenings. At what age does a person take responsibility?”
“I don’t know,” said Mutty. “I only know that I am far too young for this particular responsibility. I see only two solutions to this problem.. One is for Esther to stay there and take care of Papa and Mama, and the second is for you to go back. I do not want to go. This was supposed to be my year.”
Tiny flames of annoyance began to lick at Manny’s throat, and he struggled to tamp them down. “I think it would be a good idea if we spoke to the Roshei Yeshivah. You might not have heard me mention that they agreed with me it was a good idea.”
Mutty caught the nuance in Manny’s words. “Oh, now I see. They agreed with you. So it was your idea in the first place.”
“Yes. It was my idea. But I’m asking you to come and speak with them. Listen to what they have to say, and then decide. Can you do that?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“No,” said Manny. “You don’t.”
Manny, so certain of his idea a few minutes ago, now felt torn. Perhaps Mutty was too young, but it wasn’t as if Mutty would have to go out and get a job to support them. Manny would be paying for everything, although he did also hope Mutty could learn to oversee his business.
“Fine, just fine,” said Mutty, pulling his shoes on in a huff. “Do what you want. I don’t care.”
“Where are you going?” said Manny.
“Out! Away from here.” He grabbed his hat and jacket and slammed the door behind him on his way out, causing the wall lamps to rattle.
It took over an hour for Mutty to walk off the steam that had built up inside of him. Just because he likes it here I have to go home? he fumed. Mutty had the feeling he was losing a chess game he hadn’t even realized he was playing. Even if he spoke to the rabbis tomorrow, how could he say to them that he was unwilling to go home and take care of his parents? How would he be able to face himself after that? Was that what Manny was counting on? It would be better if he went to see them himself, he decided, without Manny’s knowledge or his presence.
His feet took him automatically to the humble dwelling of the maggid shiur with whom he usually conferred. It was late, but Mutty had a feeling he’d still be awake. As he approached, he saw a tiny oil lamp illuminating the small hovel that the rabbi called home.
Mutty stood on the path outside to gather his thoughts before knocking, and it was this exact moment he would point to, years later, when he reviewed in his mind how his life changed on that day.
For along with his rebbi’s wife and children, an older man — apparently his father — shared the small dwelling as well. He was wrapped up in a blanket and seated cozily on a wooden armchair, surrounded by cushions, a glass of what looked like hot tea cupped between his two hands. Manny could see the haze of steam rising from the glass.
Seated in front of him on a low stool was the rebbi’s son, whom Mutty had seen in yeshivah many times, with a basin of water on the ground before him. His grandfather’s feet rested on a towel he’d spread out over his lap, and the boy was slowly washing the older man’s right foot. Mutty stood transfixed as he watched the boy attend to his task. The boy’s face was peaceful as he worked, and a small smile played at his lips. The grandfather’s hands would occasionally come to rest on the boy’s head or shoulder, delivering small and gentle pats.
It was only when his rebbi came in to help the boy dump out the water that their eyes caught through the opened window. Rebbi gave a short start at first at the dark presence, and then a nod of recognition when he realized who it was.
Mutty didn’t know whether to stay or go. His mind said run, but his feet remained rooted to the ground. He felt as if Hashem was presenting him with an other-wordly tableau of honor and devotion, timed and scheduled perfectly to make its point.
To be continued . . .