“Hello, Lulu? You need a place for the night? Come here, to the hotel, it will be perfect"
Five pairs of eyes gazed intently out the window, and three small noses were pressed against the cold glass.
“It’s sticking!” Eliyahu and Nachumi shouted joyously.
“It’s sticking,” Yanky agreed. “All right, you can relax now and go back to bed.”
“But what if it starts raining while we’re sleeping, and it all melts?” Nachumi’s innocent face was furrowed with doubt. “And we wake up in the morning, and the street is black instead of white?”
Boom! A loud banging diverted the family’s attention from the window.
“Sounds like somebody’s knocking desperately on Bugi’s door,” said Raizele. “Is Bugi there?”
“No. He’s been at the hotel since yesterday.”
“Oh, that’s right… and now they’re coming up here, whoever was knocking.” Raizele pricked up her ears. “And they’re schlepping something on wheels behind them.”
A few seconds later, the knocking resumed, this time at the Kleiners’ door. There on the doormat stood Lulu, looking more wretched than they’d ever seen him before.
“Lulu! Come in!” Yanky urged him. He ignored Raizele’s grimace. Of course she’d agree that you couldn’t leave a person out in the cold on a night like this.
“Do you happen to know where Bugi is?” Lulu asked, still shivering. “I thought he’d be home from work by now, but I’ve been knocking and knocking, and there’s no answer.”
“Bugi went to stay at a hotel for a couple of nights,” Yanky reminded him gently. “You know, that was his dream, he’s been saving up for it for months.”
“Oh,” said Lulu, looking very lost. “So then... I guess I’ll go somewhere else.”
“Wait a minute,” Yanky said. “Maybe you could stay in his apartment while he’s gone? I’m sure he’d let you.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” said Lulu. “Maybe you could call and ask him?”
Bugi was sitting in his room, relishing the luxury. He pulled back the curtain and looked out at the swirling snowflakes. Tomorrow at noon he’d be checking out of the hotel. Until then, he was trying to enjoy every moment, and there was plenty to enjoy. Finally he felt like a mensch. He was being treated with respect, being served at a set table with wine glasses and cloth napkins, being asked what he would like, sir, and a personal host was at his beck and call.
His cell phone rang, and he reached for it with a lazy hand.
“How are you, Bugi?” the phone inquired. “Are you having a good time at the hotel?”
“I’m having a great time,” Bugi replied. “But…” All at once, his buoyant mood sank.
“Just… it’s a little bit sad that it’s going to be all over tomorrow at twelve o’clock.” Bugi’s hand played with the expensive drapes. “I mean, all this luxury and all the respect, it’s like a soap bubble. Tomorrow it’ll all be gone, and I’ll be back to working hard for a few pennies.”
“But you can always save up again, and take another nice little vacation,” Yanky said, trying to comfort him.
“I know,” Bugi said. “But is that going to be my whole life — working day and night so I can go to a hotel, and then going to a hotel, and then working day and night so I can go to a hotel again?”
“No,” said Yanky, and Bugi heard the smile in his voice. “No, Bugi. That’s not going to be your whole life. Because if you’ve come to the point where you’re asking that question, then you get a mazel tov. You’ve reached the next level. You’re not living from hand to mouth anymore, you’re not worrying every day about what you’re going to eat tomorrow. You’ve got a solid base under you, and now you’re starting to look for something more. Kol hakavod, Bugi.”
“There’s something in that, I guess,” Bugi said. “I mean, I don’t know what you mean exactly, but it sounds about right.”
From the corner of the living room, Lulu coughed meaningfully.
“So, listen, Bugi,” Yanky said, diving right in. “Lulu’s here with me. They started the renovations on the apartment where he’s been staying, and he had to leave….”
“Let me talk to him! Put him on the phone! Hello, Lulu? You need a place for the night? Come here, to the hotel, it will be perfect. The heating is fantastic here. There’s another bed here in my room if you want, or we could rent another room for you….”
“They’ll never let me in,” Lulu said sullenly. “And I don’t have money for a fancy hotel, you know that.”
“You don’t need to worry about that,” said Bugi. The thought of hosting Lulu in these beautiful surroundings was making him feel wealthy and expansive. “There’s somebody who’ll pay for you, don’t worry.” Yonatan Eliav had asked him to give Lulu whatever he needed, and his father would pay him back right away.
“What’s this about somebody paying?” Lulu asked suspiciously. “Who do you know who pays people’s hotel bills?”
Bugi realized, too late, that he’d bungled it. He tried to backtrack.
“No, nobody… I just meant I’d be glad to pay for you. You know, it’s only for one night, and…”
“Have you been talking to my brother?”
“Uh… no! Mah pitom…” He hadn’t spoken with Sandy, after all, only with Yonatan.
“So then you’ve been talking with one of his messengers. You should be ashamed of yourself, letting my brother and his money go to your head….” Lulu’s voice trailed off into a high-pitched wail and he started to rock back and forth as sobs overtook his body.
Raizele and the children reeled in shock. They’d never seen a grown man crying like that.
“I see I can’t trust you!” Lulu cried. “I never should have trusted you! You’d go and sell my soul to Sandy! You’d go and take money from him and try to force it on me! Doesn’t anybody care how I feel? How many times have I told you I don’t want his money? Doesn’t anybody care what I say?!”
Raizele hurried over Yanky. “Yanky,” she whispered, “let Bugi tell him it isn’t Sandy’s money — it’s Lulu’s own money! It’s his equal share of the yerushah!”
“He has a hundred and one answers to that taineh,” Yanky whispered back. “The money isn’t the problem. The man is emotionally disturbed, that’s the problem.”
Bugi realized he’d gone way too far. “Okay, Lulu, I understand you. Forget the hotel. So how about you just stay in my apartment for the night? Yanky has a key, he’ll let you in. Turn on the heater, and you’ll have—”
“No, I won’t have,” Lulu cut him off, wiping his nose on his sleeve and pouting like a child. “I don’t need any favors from you, and for sure not from Sandy. I don’t need friends who betray me like that, going behind my back. If I ever decide I want the money, I’ll go and tell Sandy myself.”
Lulu stabbed the red “end” button, and the conversation was over.
“We’ll have to keep him here for the night,” Raizele whispered, reluctance all over her face. “It’s the last thing I want, and I don’t think I’m up to the nisayon, but what choice do we have?”
What bed could she offer this person? It would have to be the folding bed. And she’d give him that brown set of linens, the ones she’d never liked… and afterwards she’d just throw them in the garbage. She’d give him some supper on disposable dishes, and when he was gone, she’d scrub the entire area with lots of bleach.
Raizele was still preparing herself mentally to have this deranged beggar as an overnight guest when Lulu started pushing his rickety stroller toward the door.
“Where are you going in this snowstorm?” Yanky asked him.
“I’ll go to Mordechai,” Lulu said weakly. “My friend from the falafel shop. He has a big house in Pisgat Ze’ev, and he’s a true friend. He respects me and respects my decisions. He wouldn’t take money from Sandy behind my back.”
“Pisgat Ze’ev? No, Lulu, you can’t go out in this weather,” Yanky pleaded. “Stay by us for the night, and in the morning we’ll see.”
Ignoring Yanky completely, Lulu took two more steps toward the door.
“You won’t get a bus,” Yanky warned him. “Egged stops bus service as soon as the snow starts sticking.”
“I’ll take the light rail,” said the old beggar, reaching for the door handle.
“Wait a second,” said Raizele. “How about some soup before you go? Or some hot tea?”
“No, thank you. No need. I already bought something to drink on the way here.” Lulu waved a small bottle of whisky before her eyes, about two-thirds full. “This warms a man up more than tea.”
And distorts his judgment more than tea, too, Raizele and Yanky thought simultaneously.
“Well, just let me make a sandwich for you, then, okay?” Raizele offered. “Something to eat on the way.”
“You don’t want to pass that up,” Yanky said in his most persuasive tone. “My wife’s sandwiches are the best in town.”
Lulu let go of the door handle, irresolute. Swiftly, Raizele sliced open a fresh baguette, spread it with mayonnaise, and layered lettuce, tomato, and pickle slices on top. When she saw that Lulu wasn’t running away, she cracked an egg and had an omelet ready in one minute to complete the sandwich. After wrapping it expertly in waxed paper, she handed it to Lulu, feeling like she’d won a relay race.
“Come and wash,” Yanky invited him, “so you’ll be able to continue the meal on the train.”
Lulu shuffled into the kitchen and washed, drying his hands on the pink towel, the nice one.
“Maybe you want to change your mind and stay over here by us?” Yanky tried one last time.
“No, I’m going to Mordechai,” Lulu said, implacable.
“I’ll tell you what, then,” said Yanky. “Let me walk you to the train station, at least.”
“What for? There’s no need for that.”
“For me, Lulu,” Yanky said. “Just for my peace of mind, so I’ll know you really did catch a train and you’re safely on your way.”
“There’s no need.”
“Please, Lulu. For me. I won’t be able to sleep tonight unless I know you’re okay.”
“Oh, all right,” Lulu grumbled.
Yanky bundled up in his coat and scarf. As soon as he’d escorted Lulu halfway down the stairs, Raizele took the pink towel, holding it away from her, between two fingertips, by the corner Lulu hadn’t touched, and tossed it straight into the washing machine. She added a heaping scoop of detergent and turned the dial to the longest cycle.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 814)
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