Manny finds an apartment and prepares it for Esther’s arrival.
* * *
By the time the day of Esther’s arrival rolled around, Manny was a nervous wreck. Every day for the week prior, Manny had approached the wagon driver he had hired to drive him to the port, to make sure he’d show up on the day he was needed. He knew Esther would be surprised by that mode of travel; they had been using automobiles for some time now in America. However, the taxi service in Eretz Yisrael was spotty at best and non-existent at worst.
Even after all his machinations, the wagon driver turned up an hour and a half late. It took a large dose of restraint for Manny not to reprimand him, but he didn’t want to ruin the specialness of the day. And anyway, he knew by now from experience that an argument would only slow things down still further.
They arrived at the port on time after all. Manny gave the driver some baksheesh and reminded him to wait. The driver nodded his head, pointed to the back of the wagon, and pretended he was snoring. Manny nodded, glad to know the fellow wasn’t planning on going anywhere.
Esther’s boat had docked, passengers disembarked, and, after about two hours of processing and unloading cargo, she finally appeared, a squat Arab saval lugging her bags. He was bent nearly double beneath the load.
Esther seemed a little worn out from the journey, but otherwise she looked fine.
“Bruchah Haba’ah,” he called out to her. “I’m so glad you’re here. I missed you. How was your journey?”
“Long. Not bad, though,” she answered.
“No seasickness?” he asked.
“If you have to ask, you definitely didn’t have it,” he replied, impressed.
“So,” she asked. “Where to first?”
“Why, I thought we’d go home.”
“Yes,” said Manny, trying to hide his pride.
“You found us a place?” she said.
“Oh. I thought we’d look for a place together,” she replied.
“You’ll like it. Don’t worry.”
“We’ll see. Where’s the car?”
So far, this reunion was not shaping up the way Manny had planned. He didn’t want Esther to feel dissatisfied the moment she arrived, but that was how it was playing out.
“Er, we’re not exactly traveling by car,” Manny hedged.
“Um, horse and wagon.”
”Are you kidding me?”
“Welcome to Eretz Yisrael,” said Manny meekly.
The ride back to Yerushalayim was bumpy and hot. For Esther it felt worse than the entire sea journey she had just traveled. Manny kept up a steady chatter, but Esther was finding it difficult to stay awake. Her eyes kept drooping closed and then jarring open again when the wagon hit a hole or a rock. She started to feel queasy and had to ask Manny to stop the wagon so she could regain her equilibrium.
They finally pulled up in front of the little cottage and Manny was thrilled when he saw Esther’s face light up. “It’s adorable,” she said. The wagon driver and Manny unloaded Esther’s luggage, and Manny kept plying him with tips every time the man krechtzed. Esther, meanwhile had gone inside and was peering from the front door into some of the rooms.
“If I’d have been with you, I’d have picked this place,” she said to her husband as he and the driver dragged in the steamer trunk at last. “Of course, I didn’t see the other places, but this will do nicely. Thank you Manny. I can tell you were thinking of me when you made this choice.”
”I certainly was,” said Manny, inwardly breathing a sigh of relief. He knew it had been chancy to choose a home without Esther along, but he couldn’t very well bring her to the boarding house, and he didn’t think she’d go for the hotel either.
Her breath caught as she saw the beautiful tapestry Manny had hung along the wall next to the little table and chairs. “Is this for me?” she gasped. What she meant was, did this come with the house or did you buy it? Manny understood this. He said, “It is for you, my dear Esther. Who else would have traveled all this way so her husband could learn and soak up the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael? Don’t think I am unaware of the sacrifices you are making by coming here. I promise you I will do everything I possibly can to help you feel comfortable here.”
Esther was surprised at Manny’s little speech — perhaps the air of Eretz Yisrael had made him wise to his wife’s heart? He had never been given to grand expressions like this before.
“Thank you,” she said, a bit formally. “That’s very kind of you.” She was saying the right words but she still felt nervous. It felt like they were two different people, having a conversation that didn’t feel familiar. They had never been so outspoken in their appreciation; it sounded like other people’s words were coming out of their mouths.
“It will probably take us some time to readjust,” she said quietly.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. You’ve been away a while. It’s nearly Chanukah time.”
“Chanukah! Oh, Esther. Won’t it be wonderful to spend Chanukah together in Eretz Yisrael?”
Who is this man? she thought.
To be continued . . .