| All I Ask |

All I Ask: Chapter 49

Yonatan leaned forward, focused and intense. “This Lulu — is he an older man, around 60, who goes around in a brown plaid shirt and a flat, shabby cap?”
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his is going to sound a bit stupid,” said Yonatan, rubbing his hands together awkwardly, “but do you happen to know any beggars?”

“Lots of them,” said Yanky evenly, wondering why Yonatan was asking. “They come through Zichron Moishe all the time.”

“Do you know any of them by name, and where they live?”

“Explain to me what you want,” said Yanky, “and I’ll help you if I can. You’re looking for a specific beggar?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Yonatan replied cautiously.

“Where did you first meet him?”

“He used to sit by the Central Bus Station, and he often bought falafel at the shop there. Mordechai’s Falafel.”

“There was a whole group of beggars that used to sit out there together,” said Yanky. “They lived in one of those abandoned buildings across from the bus station.”

“And where are they now? Do you know?” Yonatan was looking very eager.

“Well, they went their separate ways. Two of them left for Tel Aviv, and one of them… passed away. He had cirrhosis of the liver and died in the hospital.” Yanky’s voice shook as he recalled that night. “One of them is still on the streets here in Yerushalayim, camping out here and there. And the last one of the group isn’t a beggar anymore. He’s trying to rehabilitate himself. He’s renting a small apartment here in this area, and he’s working, trying to save up money.”

With a little smile, Yanky went on, “He has this dream of staying in a nice hotel, sort of a rite of passage to show that he’s made it. And after that he hopes to get married and have a family.”

“So this last one is a young person?”

“Pretty young. About your age, or mine.”

“The one I’m looking for isn’t young,” said Yonatan. He looked disappointed. After a pause, he said, “What about that one who died? What was his name?” Lulu, Lulu — say it was Lulu! Then this whole miserable story will be over, and I won’t have to go looking for my crazy uncle… although when I saw him in that old Russian man’s house, he didn’t look terminally ill… but still, you never know…

 

“Uh, what was it?” Yanky paused, trying to remember. “Musa. A nickname for Moshe, I think.”

“Ah,” said Yonatan. What a cruel person he must be. What was wrong with him? How could he be disappointed that his uncle hadn’t died?

“And let me think… the two who relocated to Tel Aviv were Avery and Mishmesh,” said Yanky.

“Mishmesh? Isn’t that the name of a fruit?”

Yanky chuckled. “That’s what they called him. Probably also a nickname for Moshe. And the one who stayed in Yerushalayim, and is still wandering around, is called Lulu.”

Yonatan leaned forward, focused and intense. “This Lulu — is he an older man, around 60, who goes around in a brown plaid shirt and a flat, shabby cap?”

“That sounds like him,” said Yanky.

“Do you know how I can get hold of him?” Yonatan asked with a strange mixture of eagerness and reluctance.

“Why are you looking for him?” Yanky asked, frankly curious.

Stam…” That word came in handy at times like this. “Uh, someone I know owes him money, and I’ve been trying to help track him down. I asked Mordechai, who owns that falafel shop, about him, and he wouldn’t give me details. I barely managed to convince him to accept some money to buy Sha— Lulu some warm winter gear.”

“Never mind the fellow from the falafel shop. In two minutes, I can arrange for you to meet Lulu,” Yanky assured him.

He took out his phone and called Bugi, and a minute later he had an update for Yonatan: Lulu was planning to come over to Bugi’s place that evening. He was collecting now in Bayit Vegan, and when he was finished, he was going to take the light rail across town to have supper with Bugi. He would be over in less than an hour.

Half an hour later, Sandy Eliav was standing near the Har Herzl light rail stop. A scarf wrapped high around his neck came up to his nose, and he wore dark glasses. He glanced at his watch again and again. He wasn’t planning to speak to Shalom yet, or even to reveal his presence. Yonatan, and maybe Judy, would initiate contact. But he absolutely had to get a look at him. Maybe he wouldn’t look so down and out, after all. Maybe it was all a mistake, and this man Lulu wasn’t even Shalom. Maybe Shalom was still in California and his business was doing great, and the only reason he hadn’t been in touch was because he’d lost Sandy’s address and forgotten his phone number. Maybe some miracle would happen…

Marta was next to him, trying to distract him with random chitchat. She, too, was bundled up so as not to be recognized. Judy stood by, reading the boring poster on the train station, with its instructions about ticket validation, over and over. Yonatan was looking toward Bayit Vegan, waiting for Lulu’s figure to emerge onto Sderot Herzl. Neither he nor Judy was disguised like an amateur spy, as Shalom had never met Judy, and Yonatan had barely been a toddler when they’d last met. The four of them waited.

“There he is. He’s coming,” Yonatan whispered at last.

Judy tightened her grip on her mother’s arm. Sandy prayed silently, a desperate prayer whose content wasn’t quite clear even to him.

A scruffy figure was advancing toward them. He was more unkempt than they ever could have imagined. He was rattling coins in a disposable cup and calling out blessings and slogans about the merit of tzedakah.

“Oh, dear G-d!” Marta gasped, after he’d passed them by.

Judy could find no words, but merely stared in horror at the nightmarish figure.

“He never did like to bathe much,” was all Sandy managed to say.

“Daddy,” Judy said faintly, “do you think there’s any hope? Can we ever… get him back to normal?”

Sandy spread his hands out. This time, he had no idea.

The train was coming. “So are we getting on?” Judy asked.

“Yes,” Sandy said quietly.

They found places for themselves in the center of the car, and then Sandy told his family, “I have to get another look at him.” He started moving forward in the car, which was already filling up with standing room only.

“Be careful! Don’t let him see you,” said Marta.

“Don’t worry. He won’t notice me in the crowd. He’s not expecting to see me here.”

Shalom was sitting in a set of two pairs of seats that faced each other. The other three seats were empty. His head was tilted back, and he was snoring loudly. Sandy stared at him as if in a trance. People saw the empty seats and approached, but stopped short when they saw Shalom, some of them grimacing in candid revulsion. Shalom’s hands moved back and forth in his sleep. Suddenly he coughed. Sandy turned to go back to the middle of the car, but the crowd was making it impossible to make a quick retreat. He squeezed carefully past an elderly man who had a large suitcase in front of him, and then begged pardon from a lady of huge proportions who was filling the aisle.

And then Sandy made a mistake. He looked back, to see if Shalom had woken up yet.

Yes, he’d woken up. And at that terrible moment, their eyes met. Without the scarf and dark glasses, Shalom recognized Sandy instantly. The way one recognizes one’s twin, even after twenty years’ separation. Perhaps if Sandy had kept moving, that split-second encounter would have passed into oblivion within a few minutes. But Sandy was held to the spot as if magnetized, gripping the metal pole and staring into Shalom’s eyes, seeing madness and terror in them.

He hated Shalom at that moment. He felt a raging, angry, wild loathing.

Around them, people moved in and out through the doors of the tram as the electronic conductor’s voice announced, “Kiryat Moshe.”

“He’s a fool and he’s insane, and he brought himself down to the gutter. He made it happen — on purpose — and he’s disgracing himself more than he even knows.”

Sandy was shaking with rage in his hotel room, seven minutes later. The doctor’s prognosis flitted through Marta’s mind. It frightened her to see him so upset.

“Judy, get him some cold orange juice,” she said.

Yonatan suggested he come out to the balcony and look at the amazing view of Jerusalem. They desperately reeled through every good thing that had happened to him since the day he was born.

It was no use.

“I wish I’d never had a brother,” Sandy said, choking on his own voice. “I wish… I wish he…” Sandy couldn’t believe the intensity of the emotion that was flooding him. He’d never hated anyone like this. He’d never thought it was possible to hate someone like this.

 

***

In a small rental unit a few kilometers away, Yanky and Bugi were trying hard to bring Lulu back to his senses. The old beggar was raving and shouting.

“They’re chasing me!” he cried. “They’re going to catch me and destroy me!”

Yanky called Nochumku, who hurried over.

“Come, sit down, Lulu,” he said soothingly. “We’re going to help you. Tell us what happened.”

“He’s going to catch me! He’s going to step all over me!” Lulu was sobbing. He stretched his hands out wildly in front of him, as if trying to ward off some invisible enemy.

“Who? Who’s chasing you?”

“Sandy.”

“Who is Sandy?”

“My brother,” Lulu wailed, knocking his head against the wall. “He’ll never stop chasing me. He always wins, and I never do. I couldn’t even run away from him.”

In a flash, Yanky saw the whole picture. “Sandy Eliav,” he said slowly. “Sandy Eliav is…”

“He’s my brother,” Lulu confirmed, and his eyes started rolling madly in their sockets. “He’s trying to get me. He caught up with me on the train.”

“And what did he do to you?” Yanky asked, trying to flow with Lulu’s strange thought processes.

“He caught me.” Lulu’s voice shook spasmodically. “Now he’ll make me take money from him.”

“Nobody can make you do anything,” Nochumku said firmly. “You’re an independent human being, and you don’t have to take money from Sandy or from anyone else. You’ll take money only from people you want to take from.”

“I don’t want to see him,” Lulu whispered, defeated.

“You don’t have to see him,” the Kleiner brothers said together.

“He doesn’t have to know where you live,” Nochumku added.

I don’t even know where I live,” said Lulu, momentarily connected with reality.

“Just a moment. I’ve got an idea. I might have a place for you,” said Nochumku.

“I won’t go to one of those city shelters,” Lulu said adamantly.

“No, no, not a shelter. I know of an empty apartment. It’s pretty broken down, but it’ll give you a hiding place. My shver’s brother-in-law bought it as an investment. He’s going to renovate it eventually, whenever the people in City Hall stop being so lazy and get around to processing his application for a permit. Wait a minute, let me find out if you can stay there.”

He was already dialing the owner’s number. “Shalom, Reb Chanoch, this is Nochum Kleiner. I wanted to ask you about that apartment you bought on Shmuel HaNavi. Would it be possible to use it temporarily? No? Because it’s not fit to be lived in — it’s too run down? Any other reason?”

After some more back and forth, Nochumku put down his phone. “He said yes. The place is a total wreck, but if we want, we can come and get the key for the time being.”

“And you won’t let Sandy know where I am?” Lulu asked worriedly.

“We won’t tell,” his three friends all promised.

“And you won’t take any money from him for me?”

“We won’t.”

“All right.” Lulu seemed mollified. “I’m willing to go there, then. Just give me the exact address, Nochum.”

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 804)

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