Elka was exceptionally surly the next morning. She muttered a sullen “Good morning” in Chaiky’s direction after Chaiky had arrived 40 minutes late and then disappeared in the direction of the library.
“Is Noa here already?” Chaiky whispered to Miri after she’d put her bag in her office and come over to find out if there were any messages for her.
“Yes,” Miri replied. “She’s been coming even before eight o’clock lately.”
“How does she get in?”
Chaiky didn’t have a key to the main door. Only Miri did. As much as Elka had always appreciated the director of her center, keys were her weak point.
“Why do you need a key to the front door?” she’d asked when Chaiky had once requested a copy. “As the director, you don’t have to open the door in the morning and lock up in the evening, right? And between you and me, you really don’t do that.”
Chaiky had agreed, without even becoming offended at the not-very-veiled rebuke. Even back then, when things were normal, she wasn’t one to arrive early or leave late. Even during the busiest times, she didn’t come to work any earlier than her position required.
As it was, she spent many long hours at the center, and saw no reason to take upon herself a single extra minute.
“So Miri, who needs to open and lock up, has a key,” Elka had declared in conclusion. “For you, though, I think it’s unnecessary.”
It really had been unnecessary, and that’s why Chaiky had accepted the decision without complaint.
But what was this with Noa? If Noa arrived even before Miri, did that mean that she had a key?
“Yes, she does have a key,” Miri replied even before Chaiky could ask. “She told Elka that on days when she works here in the morning, it is better for her to start early and finish early because she goes to school right afterward.”
“Does she really leave early on those days?”
Chaiky was loath to admit that this Noa was piquing her interest more and more. She was about to go back to her office, but something kept her at Miri’s desk, asking more questions to satisfy her curiosity.
She tried to sound as indifferent as possible as she asked casually, “What are these courses that she’s taking?”
“Some type of engineering, I believe.”
“Where is she studying? In the uni-versity in Haifa?”
Miri shrugged. “Maybe,” she said.
“But I would have thought she’d have completed a degree years ago already,” Chaiky said, looking at the distant door of the library through narrowed eyes. “She’s not particularly young.”
“Maybe she’s studying in their advanced training program, for some kind of higher degree. There’s no age limit for this kind of thing, you know.”
“Maybe, instead of two women standing and gossiping about a very fine girl, each one should go back to doing her work?”
Where had Elka suddenly appeared from?
“I think you both have what to do this morning. And if not, you would be better off using your time to think about how to help a girl who is trying to become more observant. I would expect that especially of you, Chaiky,” she looked at Chaiky, “as the one in charge here.” And she continued walk-ing briskly toward the main entrance.
Miri and Chaiky watched her go, and then glanced at one another.
“Well, she happens to be right,” Miri said sheepishly, and opened her drawer.
Chaiky couldn’t even respond. True, Elka had hastened to couch her harsh words in a vague compliment regarding Chaiky’s position, but after everything was said and done, she had stood there and rebuked Chaiky for not joining the song and dance of admiration around Noa. That was how it was; when a new horse joins the pack, you sometimes forget the qualities of some of the older horses. Elka was still convinced that Chaiky had to abandon her personal plans for tomorrow to accommodate Noa, the new horse.
Someone emerged from the library just then and approached them. “Is Elka here?” she asked in a low voice, looking around.
“She left a few minutes ago,” Miri replied as she raised her eyes from the screen.
“Oh, great.” Noa looked at Chaiky and Miri alternately. “So . . . I hope maybe you can help me.”
Only now did they notice the packaged Danish she was holding in her right hand, as if trying to hide it.
“With pleasure, if we can,” Miri said. Chaiky remained silent.
There are some people who only remember that you exist when they need you. And each time you encounter them, it boggles the mind as if it was the first time.
Noa cast a cautious glance at the main entrance and showed them the clear package. “She brought this to me earlier. Lately she’s been bringing me a Danish every morning, and I simply can’t stand them. They are full of carbs and sugar and fat . . . I told her thank you but there’s really no need for them — but she keeps doing it! How can I explain to her that these Danishes are unnecessary and really a waste of her money?”
“You mean Elka?” Miri asked, looking at the Danish.
“Yes. I don’t know what to do with it now.”
Suddenly she looked like just a con-fused girl seeking advice, and the barriers of resentment that enveloped Chaiky weakened somewhat.
“I think you can honestly tell her that you try to eat healthy food. She should be able to relate to such a thing.”
“I told her that pretty clearly already.” Noa shook her head and put the Danish down on Miri’s desk. “So do me a favor and take it, so that it doesn’t have to stay by me. She doesn’t understand why it sits on my desk and why I haven’t eaten it yet.”
“You can put it in your pocketbook, you know.” Miri wasn’t enamored by the idea of serving as Noa’s garbage can.
“That’s what I did yesterday, and the day before. Today I left my bag at home. I would throw it out, but the trash can is clean and empty. She’ll see it there for sure.”
“Fine.” Miri sighed reluctantly and stuck the Danish into one of her draw-ers before turning back to the computer. A second later, she glanced at Chaiky, giving her a pointed look. If Elka was already buying Danishes for Noa . . .
Esther Rapaport’s novels include Diamond in the Rough, Divided Attention, Behind the Scenes, Without a Trace, Dance of the Puppet, Blood Brothers, and The Kenya Conspiracy. She resides in Israel. Stay tuned for the next installment in next week’s Five Towns Jewish Times or visit 5tjt.com for more.