| All I Ask |

All I Ask: Chapter 56

Since they couldn’t simply deliver the whole care package to Lulu, they had to decide what was most urgent

 

The coat had arrived first, a few days before Yonatan’s wedding. A designer wool coat, in understated black.

“We should cut these buttons off, the ones here at the top,” Raizele suggested. “They’re too shiny, they’re a dead giveaway that it’s a new coat.”

Racheli thought differently. “It would be shame to tear them off. Let’s see if we can just make them look a little duller. Do you have some steel wool? That should take care of it.”

Raizele brought a tuft of steel wool from the kitchen and handed it to her sister. Racheli attacked the buttons enthusiastically.

“Give the zipper a once-over, too,” said Raizele. “Scratch it up a little.”

“Be careful not to break it, though,” Yanky cautioned his wife. “He already has one coat with a broken zipper.”

“I hate to spoil such a good coat,” Raizele murmured, not very sadly. “It must have cost $700.”

“Eight hundred. Pounds sterling, not dollars,” said Yanky with a smile. “Yonatan told me. When he told his father to send over a coat, this is what Mr. Eliav assumed he meant.”

Raizele looked at the £800 coat appraisingly. “Okay, the buttons and zipper look old enough now. Now we have to do something about the coat itself.”

“The simplest way would be to put it through a hot water cycle in the washing machine,” Racheli mused.

“We could dip it in bleach, too, and then it would get some horrible pink streaks,” said Raizele. “But we’re not trying to ruin it completely. We just want it to look old, like something you would find in a pile of rags on the street.”

Yanky left the house while the women were still deliberating about how to achieve the desired effect. When he came home for supper, the perfect coat for Lulu was ready and waiting: a bit matted, missing one button, with a few faint stains along the right lapel. Good work!

That night, he and Nochumku stole toward Rechov Shmuel Hanavi. A bit of detective work via Bugi had yielded the intelligence that Lulu should be coming home to his borrowed apartment in just a few minutes. They wanted no more than a few minutes leeway, so no one else would come along and claim the prize before him. First they piled up a heap of bona fide shmattehs near the dumpster beside the entrance to the building. A woman who ran a local clothing gemach had been happy to give them the rejects she’d weeded out from the bags of usable donations. At the top of the pile they placed the coat, rumpling it among the rags so it wouldn’t stick out too obviously. Happy with the effect, the brothers swiftly crossed the street and slipped into the shadows, behind the pillars of the nearest apartment building.

When they heard heavy footsteps, accompanied by the squeaky wheels of the battered, gray baby stroller, they peeked out cautiously. Lulu stopped at the rag pile. He picked up a few items and examined them by the light of the streetlamp. And then his eyes lit up — he’d spotted the coat. He picked it up and smiled to himself. Folding it haphazardly, he added it to the pile on the stroller and went into his temporary home.

The very next day, at Zichron Moishe, Yanky saw Lulu wearing the new coat instead of the threadbare army jacket barely held together with paper clips. He wondered whether to compliment Lulu on it or say nothing, but Lulu solved the dilemma by coming over to him.

“Did you see my new coat?”

“Sure, I did. How could I not notice?” Yanky replied heartily. “It looks good and warm, huh?”

“Yeah. It’s a good coat, a designer piece.” Lulu was glowing. “You see? G-d sends me everything I need.”

You need a warm hat, too, Yanky noted, instead of that stale pancake you’ve had on your head for the last ten years or so. A pair of good, thick gloves wouldn’t hurt, either, and a few pairs of thermal socks. And a scarf.

 

Once Yonatan had finished his sheva brachos, Yanky delivered a full report, which Yonatan relayed to his parents. Soon enough, a package containing all these items and more was delivered to Yanky’s door.

“Get them to him, as much as you can manage,” Yonatan told him. “But be careful!”

They both knew that if Lulu were to realize where these “finds” came from, he would refuse to use them, and he’d probably cross Yanky off his sparse list of friends, too.

Yanky and Raizele looked through the box. According to the forecasts there would be a storm starting tomorrow morning, which would segue into a real snowstorm at night. Since they couldn’t simply deliver the whole care package to Lulu, they had to decide what was most urgent.

“Thermal socks,” Yanky paskened. “Cold feet can drive a person crazy, especially at night.”

“He has a heater there, in that place you found for him, doesn’t he?” asked Raizele.

“Yes. The neighbors let him string an extension cable into their apartment for the radiator. But a radiator isn’t enough in this cold. You need warm clothing, too.”

“I have an idea!” cried Raizele. “I mean, I know what we can dip the socks in to make them look used. But it might wash out in the laundry….”

“Don’t worry,” said Yanky, rummaging to the bottom of the box and pulling out a thick woolen scarf. “Lulu is never going to wash them. That’s one thing you don’t have to worry about.”

***

At exactly 3 p.m., Bugi walked into the hotel, straight up to the check-in desk. His little suitcase was taken to his room, and he was left in the lobby, trying to engage the reception clerk in a friendly chat.

“So what’s your policy here toward beggars and street bums who come around?” he asked.

“They don’t come,” said the clerk. “They know this isn’t some cheap youth hostel.”

“It’s never happened that a beggar tried to come in off the street?”

“Well, it did happen one time, back in the summer. Some young fellow… very scruffy-looking, probably homeless, you know. He had his nose pressed up right against the glass wall over there, and he was looking at the chairs in the lobby like he was dying to come in and rest.”

“So what did you do?” Again, Bugi felt the burning pinch of the security guard’s hand on his shoulder, as if it were happening now.

“We went out to talk to him. The poor thing, he wanted us to let him in, just for a minute, he said, just to see what it was like to sit in a place like this.” Yossi, the clerk, gave an embarrassed little chuckle. “We didn’t know how to get rid of him.”

“So what did you do?” Bugi repeated. He sat down comfortably on a sofa, the same sofa he’d been eyeing from the window that day. He was well groomed and wearing his best clothes.

“Uh… I went inside and got a brochure to give him, hoping that would satisfy him.”

“But by the time you got back to him with the brochure, the security guard was already dragging him away and throwing him down in the street.” Bugi felt a tightness in his gut, yet he found a strange satisfaction in filling in the part of the story Yossi was leaving out.

“That’s right! But… how did you know? Were you here that day?”

“Yes, I was. I happened to pass by right then, and I saw it all.”

“Ah, so you saw what Slava did. I spoke to the manager that day, I told him that the hotel would pay a high price for these savage outbursts of Slava’s. Better the guests should see a beggar hanging around outside the hotel than see our security guard dragging the poor fellow away and kicking him into the gutter. It could have turned out even worse — a truck was coming, and if that beggar hadn’t gotten up as fast as he did, he might have gotten run over.”

“Yeah, it was terrible. I remember that truck, too,” said Bugi, full of empathy for the poor beggar.

“So you can understand why Slava got fired. There were a few other incidents like that, and in general he wasn’t good at taking direction, so the management had to dismiss him.”

“Of course,” said Bugi, nodding definitively. “You have to protect the hotel’s good name.”

A trio of guests went up to Yossi’s desk, and he hurried over to take care of them. Bugi was left on the sofa, stroking it to make sure it really existed. Yes, he was actually here. Registered under his full name, paying with his own credit card. His suitcase was safe in his room, a beautiful space with a picture window overlooking the view.

There was plenty of time until dinner. Maybe he should go upstairs and rest. He’d been working nonstop the last few days, taking on more and more shifts at every possible hour. But on the other hand, after all his striving to get here, it was silly to spend his time napping. After all, he could sleep in his little rental unit, too, or even in the underpass by the Central Bus Station, for that matter.

But he was so tired. Ten minutes later, as Bugi slid into the comfortable bed with its Egyptian cotton sheets, he had to admit that it was much nicer to sleep here than on flattened-out cartons in the underpass.

Almost immediately, wild dreams assailed him. He tried to get up, but the floor was holding him down like glue. He was stuck to the cartons. And they were stuck to the light rail tracks. He reached out and felt the tracks, and they were cold and dirty. He tried to get up, but he couldn’t.

Bells were ringing, again and again, hysterically. Bugi looked up in terror and saw a train moving toward him at full speed. The driver was signaling to him to get out of the way.

“I can’t!” he gasped, trying to shout. “I’m stuck! Stop!”

There were a lot of people on the train. Friends from the past, acquaintances, even Shmulik Michaeli from the minimarket. There were a lot of people on the street, too. They were pulling at his arms and legs, trying to move him off the tracks, but they couldn’t budge him. The train was two meters away from him. He saw the driver’s desperate face… he heard the low growl of the little wheels, the ones that cling to the tracks, as they spun toward him. In a few seconds, there’d be nothing left of him. In tomorrow’s papers they’d write about a death in a light rail accident.

Suddenly he felt a powerful grip pinching his shoulder, and a vicious kick to his ribs. Strong, beefy hands were dragging him off the tracks, throwing him down on the sidewalk. Slava, the security guard! What was he doing here?

The train passed by, its bells ringing, and Bugi sat up, his heart pounding in his throat. The bells were still ringing. It wasn’t the nightmare train. Down in the street, a real train was serenely passing through Kikar Tzahal. His phone rang, and he answered tiredly.

Shalom, Gavriel, this is room service. You asked us to wake you before dinner.”

“Right, thank you,” he murmured.

“After dinner there’ll be a live performance in the restaurant,” the voice on the phone added. “A string quartet will be playing the great all-time classics for our guests.”

“Thank you,” Bugi murmured again. What a terrible dream!

The realization hit him like a cold blast of air. Remember how you wanted to give a tip to Yossi, that day when he was kind enough to toss you a brochure from the hotel? But you really should be tipping Slava.

It was his rough hands that saved you, his vicious kick that made you get up on your feet. If not for him, you might still be crouched on the street, waiting for people to take pity on you, and the train of life would have run you over a thousand times.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 812)

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