By Esther Rapaport
“But why?” Elka refused to understand.
“I want to help her.” Noa refused to back down.
“And you think she’d want to accept such help from you? Come on, Noa. Do you really think Chaiky wants you as a boarder?”
Noa cut a piece of tape off the roll. “What do I really think? I really think that you are smart, Elka, and you usually manage to get what you want, so I trust that you’ll succeed here, too. I have gotten a very good idea of how you manage this community center so skillfully.”
Elka, who had been playing with a pair of scissors, put them down and raised her eyes. This was the first time that Noa had insinuated to her, actually almost spelling it out, the real reason she was here. And she, of course, was not allowed to reveal that she knew the reason already.
“I’m happy that you think that way of our community center,” she said with a broad smile as she rolled the scotch tape back and forth on the table. “It’s a big compliment, especially coming from you. But I really don’t think there’s any connection between that and what we were talking about.”
“But I think there is.” Noa put a book wrapped in shiny plastic on the stack of books at the edge of the desk and took another book to cover. “People’s abilities are multifaceted. Elka, won’t you do this for me?”
Her voice, like so many times before, was a bit pleading, as though she were a spoiled child asking for something. But for the first time, Elka detected a different, unfamiliar tone. A tone that said that the spoiled child already had a lot of experience in this role, and she was convinced that everyone would do anything for her. And she would not stand for receiving a “no” as an answer, because if so…
What would happen if so?
Elka knew that she would not ask Noa that question. In any case, there was no need to ask it. Margalit had told her about it all some time ago, when Noa had just begun spending time in the library, long before she had bashfully approached Elka to ask if there was any way she could work there.
“I can try to speak to Chaiky,” Elka said now haltingly to Noa. With all due respect to Noa, the Culture and Community Foundation, and the secrets that Margalit had learned and shared with her, she could not become a dishrag, being squeezed over and over, incessantly, in order to satisfy their wishes.
“Dina, how are you?”
Dina Struk could hardly be heard against the backdrop of loud noise. “Baruch Hashem, wonderful. Who is this? Elka? Oh, hi! We’re just coming out of my granddaughter’s class’s siyum now — Chaiky’s daughter. It was a pretty major siyum, and it was so moving … really something …”
“Beautiful, mazel tov. And lots of nachas, Dina,” Elka wished her warmly. “I really don’t want to disturb you now. I just wanted to ask about what you told me the other day, you know, about finding a boarder for Chaiky. I know a nice girl who’s becoming more observant. A really nice person. Could you ask Chaiky in general terms if that’s the type she’s looking for?”
“I’m not the address for that, Elka.” Dina suddenly sounded very tense. “Why don’t you speak to her about it? You speak to her much more than I do.”
“No, I’m not the address for this, either.”
“Why not? If you know someone who might be shayach, then why don’t you suggest it to her?”
“Because I’m afraid that she has some preconceived opinions about this person, that’s all. And she won’t change those preconceived opinions on my say-so. That’s why I prefer that the suggestion come from somewhere else.”
“But that ‘somewhere else’ can’t be from me. I’m really sorry, Elka.”
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.