By Esther Rapaport
“Hey, there’s someone new!” Rachel said in surprise and hurried over to the baby’s crib. She put down her large bag on the floor, skirted the intravenous pole, and leaned over the high railing, peering into the crib. “He’s cute … ” she said thoughtfully. “What does he have, Elsie?”
“A serious heart problem,” Elsie the nurse said from behind a tower of folded sheets. “It’s affecting his entire development. Please open this cabinet, Rachel.”
The fourteen-year-old raised her eyes. “Is his life in danger?”
“Not at this moment — otherwise he’d be in intensive care, not here. He’s recovering from his second surgery, and we are praying that he grow up to be healthy.”
“A second surgery! Poor thing … How old is he?”
“And when he gets healthy, where will he go?”
“We’ll see,” Elsie said. “But Rachel, if you’ve already come for Shabbos, I prefer you help me with Sarit. She’s bigger and needs your attention. She actually just ran out into the hallway, and I can’t run after her all day. This little one, on the other hand, rests quietly, and I’m not sure that he even realizes what is going on around him — who is with him and who isn’t.”
Rachel gazed into the crib at the baby who lay there with closed eyes, unresponsive to her stroking. “He’s not so little,” she said quietly. “And I’m worried. When you send me from one baby to another, it’s usually because you don’t want me to get too connected to that baby, because then my heart will break if something happens to him, chalilah.”
“If you understand so many things,” Elsie replied sharply, “then I expect you to understand the simple instruction that I gave you nearly 50 seconds ago and open this cabinet for me. My hands hurt.”
“Oh, I’m really sorry.” The girl hastened to the cabinet. A moment after she opened it, a two-and-a-half-year-old girl entered the room. She hurried over to Rachel, babbling incoherently, and Rachel picked her up and hugged her tightly. “Right we love each other, Sarit?” The little girl gurgled.
“I saw another baby with Down’s syndrome in the ward as I came here,” Rachel remarked as she sat down. “But she had parents. They are really chareidi. Is it true that chareidim will never leave their babies in the hospital?”
“Too bad I’m not your daughter,” Rachel said from her chair. “Then I would be able to say that my name is Rachel after my real grandmother, and not for the ‘mother of the nurse in the pediatric ward who raised me from when I was born.’ Right?”
“You know that I love you anyway,” Elsie said, glancing into the girl’s eyes.
“And if you were my mother, you for sure wouldn’t have left me in the hospital, right? First of all, because you’re also very religious.”
“Okay, I think that’s enough talking for now, Rachel.” Elsie loved the girl she had raised, but she liked her direct topics of conversation less. “Now come to the kitchen so we can get some supper together.”
“How did you know that I was on supper duty in the dorm this month?” Rachel cried excitedly. “You have no idea what yummy things I made! The girls celebrated every evening. And don’t think I had any special ingredients to work with. The housemother said that the school is really in debt and can’t afford anything too major. So we only had hummus and tomatoes and eggs and all the other simplest things to use, but still, I helped the cook make the most delicious meals. She said that now she can relax, because even if she doesn’t feel well one day or something, I’ll be able to take her place. But I told her I hope she feels well every day, because I didn’t always manage with the peeling and all that.” Her voice grew a bit sad. “My paralyzed hand can get pretty annoying sometimes.”
“One thing is for sure, and that is that your mouth is not paralyzed, thank G-d,” Elsie said. “Let’s go, Rachel. Now that you’ve come, help me and we’ll see what you can do. You’ve really grown up, my girl.”
Esther Rapaport is a prolific author whose 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.