By Esther Rapaport
Already the next afternoon, the girl from the brick wall knocked at her door.
“Your salad was good,” she told Mira, taking a step inside the apartment, “but my aunt said that she has no time to prepare such things, and if you think that it’s important for me to eat cucumbers and peppers, then you should give them to me yourself.”
The problem was that her stock of vegetables had been almost depleted, but Mira did not give up. In the drawer of the fridge she found one shriveled carrot, a small kohlrabi, and a tiny radish. “Today I’ll make you a different type of salad,” she said to Anna, and took out her cutting board. “This way you’ll get to taste different vegetables.”
The kohlrabi was especially difficult to cut; she’d never tried to cut it into tiny cubes. But 12 minutes later, she had a salad ready in a little bowl. Three minutes later it was gone.
“This was also pretty good,” Anna said and leaned back in her chair. “But yesterday’s was better.”
“But I’m out of pepper and other things,” Mira said. “Do you want to go with me to the vegetable store?”
That day Anna went with Mira to the vegetable store. The next day they went to the grocery together, and the day after that, when Mira returned home from work, she found the girl standing at her closed door, an accusing look in her eyes. “Didn’t you know that I’d come?” she asked.
“I didn’t know,” Mira said honestly, rummaging in her pocketbook for her key. “And I couldn’t be home today — I was at work.”
“I’ve always liked computers,” Noa said as she sat down beside Miri. Chaiky stood opposite them both. “If you ask me, the three that we have here are really ancient. That’s why the library program, for example, is making problems. The computer simply can’t handle it.” She pointed to Miri’s computer. “And this model is something you don’t see anymore. How do you work on it, Miri? I’m going to tell Elka that she should buy new computers.”
“I actually am very happy with my computer,” Chaiky said. “I don’t think it needs to be replaced. Miri, are you printing out that list of Rabbi Weinberg’s speaking topics? The people looking into the course want to know what he’s going to speak about.”
“Sure, right away.”
“Your computer may be the newest one here, relatively speaking,” Noa said to Chaiky. “Are you familiar with computers?”
“With whatever I need to know.”
“You have a computer at home?”
“Yes, but I hardly use it.”
“Why don’t you use it to entertain your kids?”
“We believe that a computer is purely a work thing, and not for children,” Chaiky replied. She had no energy to expound on that. “My children really don’t touch the computer.”
“So why do you need it?”
Chaiky looked at the printer that had begun to blink and rumble. “I used to use it, mostly for my husband’s correspondence,” she said. “Things relating to the yeshivah.”
“Yeshivah?” Noa sipped the last of her juice out of the carton. “What do you mean?”
“The yeshivah in Yokne’am. My husband is the son of the director, and he learned there himself. He helped a bit with the administrative work and some other things, and sometimes, we needed to send out letters by e-mail.”
“There’s no computer in the yeshivah?”
“There is, but there’s also a secretary there.” Chaiky took out the first page that the printer emitted and perused it. “And my husband really didn’t want to turn into an office worker at the yeshivah. When he went there, it was to learn. The other things, he took care of at home — or more accurately, I took care of it for him.”
She had no idea how updated Noa was about the news with her husband, and she had no interest in offering any more details. Whatever the case, this conversation was beginning to irritate her. “Thanks Miri,” she said, and turned to go back to her office. “It’s important for me to have this.”
Back in her office, she sat down with the papers and tried to read them. The lines were short and clear, but Chaiky found herself starting over for the fourth time without having any idea what she had read on the first three tries.
This didn’t usually happen to her. When she would read, she read; when she would listen, she listened, and she always was able to go with the flow of conversation and be friendly and interested. Even when things bothered her, she was always able to function normally.
But now, everything had changed. When she read, she wasn’t really reading. When she listened, she didn’t really hear, and the once-efficient Chaiky, who was always involved and on the ball, had become anxious and impatient. She had little energy to invest in trying to act pleasant. In fact, there was very little she could point to these days at which she was successful.
Ima and Abba were encouraging her, urging her not to blame herself. They told her she should get some more help, and that with Hashem’s help, everything would fall into place. But no matter what words of encouragement and reassurance they gave her, she was still very uptight. Who was she really, Chaiky Struk? A nice, successful, efficient woman who happened to be suffering pain, pressure, and distress now, and thus was unable to act her normal self these days? Or was the image she had projected until now — one of success, efficiency, and tranquility — all just one big show?
What was she really?
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.