Victory Gardens – Chapter 86

Novel

Esther arrives in Eretz Yisrael and is surprised to discover that Manny has already found and furnished a home for them, including a tapestry displaying the entire Aishes Chayil. She is pleasantly surprised by the changes she sees in him, and realizes they are going to have to readjust to each other.

*   *   *

The next morning, while Manny was in shul, Esther decided to give the place a thorough cleaning. She could see that someone had tried, but the effort didn’t come close to meeting her high standards. But when she looked high and low for a broom and a mop, all she could find was an impossibly long window squeegee on a stick! The windows went nearly to the ceiling, but they weren’t wide enough for the squeegee to fit between the frames. She couldn’t even find a scrub brush. There were some shmattes lying around, but that was it as far as cleaning materials went.

Unable to clean, she decided to step out to do some shopping. She thought she might be able to surprise Manny with a decent breakfast. She had no idea what he had been eating since he’d begun this journey. He looked the same to her, though different in some ways. He had definitely gotten thinner. His skin was no longer the pale white she was used to. He looked like someone had painted his face with tea. His clothes were slightly tattered — not disrespectfully so, but she was glad she had most of his clothing in the steamer trunk, as well as two pairs of shoes. If anything about him showed the wear and tear of the past few months, it was his shoes.

She remembered Manny’s warning about being sure to drink water, so she filled up the thermos she’d brought from home. Manny had said he was lucky to find a place with running water, rather than having to get it from the nearby well like many others did. She had looked at him oddly, then said, “Well, that’s a relief,” but he hadn’t gotten the joke. There were all these little cracks in him now, where things she said that used to amuse him fell through and disappeared.

She took her purse and made her first solo foray onto the streets of Yerushalayim. A slight thrill ran through her as she walked west toward Moussaieff Street and the shuk Manny had pointed out yesterday. It had been dark, but her sense of direction was good, and she had a fair idea of how to find it. She wanted to buy some fruits and vegetables, some milk maybe, and some bread. Manny had put some things in the ice chest (she had made peace before she left the States with the fact that she wouldn’t have a Frigidaire) but she preferred eating food she bought herself. Manny rarely shopped in New York, and she wasn’t about to change that now. Too much was already different.

After about ten minutes of walking, she found herself in a warren of streets that teemed with people. To the left and the right were open air shops, sellers hawking vegetables, fruits and round, flat breads that men were baking and removing directly from the walls of a large, burning hot, round oven without the benefit of oven mitts. Huge bags of beans, rice, and spices were displayed in large burlap sacks. Every few feet, it seemed, was another butcher store, with cows’ heads and sheeps’ heads on display, along with the hanging carcasses. She watched a fish monger bang a fish on the head with a small black mallet. The smell was so overwhelming that her feet did not know whether to go forward or run for cover, but her head took over and she pressed on.

She hadn’t realized she’d need to bring her own bags, but she found a small stall that sold baskets with handles, identical to the kind she saw all over the shuk. As she handed over her American coins, she got a rude surprise.

Bedwen delar amerakea,” the old man told her, turning his head away from her outstretched hand. “No American dollars.” She had no idea what language he was speaking or what he was saying, so she just plowed forward.

“Basket,” she said. “I need a basket.”

“Pound. English pound only,” he replied, seemingly undisturbed.

A dapper-looking fellow wearing a straw fedora, accompanied by a woman who, by the looks of her seemed to be his sister, happened to pass by as Esther was desperately trying to communicate with the basket vendor, and stopped to observe the interaction. After a few moments, he stepped in and began conversing with the vendor. In less than a minute, after a quick exchange of currency and merchandise, Esther found herself the proud owner of a new shopping basket.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” she said to them, flushed with embarrassment.

“We were in your shoes once,” said the woman. “Take it as a welcome gift.”

“I must repay you. Will you take dollars?”

“Like the man said, we use only English pounds. Enjoy.”

“Do you two live here?” she asked.

“No, my brother is just passing through on a work assignment of sorts. My name is Helle Borum.”

“Then let me invite you both for lunch. My husband should be home by then.”

The man conferred with his sister for a moment in another language. His smile was wide and genuine. “This is the wife of the man I’ve been following,” he told her. “We’ve struck gold.”

Helle nodded, and answered in the same language. “It’s about time. I am sick of coming to this place every day to look for them.”

“That sounds like a good offer,” Helle said to Esther. “We can always use a hot lunch,”

“I can’t guarantee it will be hot. But it will hopefully be filling,” Esther replied.

“Thanks very much.”

“We live just down the street from here.” She described the location of the cottage and the man and woman nodded.

“I know the place,” he said.

“Thank you, Helle and — oh, please tell me your name?” said Esther to the brother.

“Certainly. My name is Jens.”

To be continued . . .