All I Ask: Chapter 60| June 17, 2020
“There’s room for everybody, and you’re the guest of honor at our party, Lulu"
Like a red-eyed caterpillar, the light-rail slithered out of a cloud of snowflakes and slowed down at the Davidka station. The doors opened and Lulu stepped in, pulling his overloaded stroller in after him. In his right hand he held the remaining half of the sandwich Raizele had given him, taking a bite from time to time. His half-full bottle of whisky was stowed in a safe place among his bundles. In 30 or 40 minutes he’d be in Pisgat Ze’ev, and in Mordechai’s house he’d be comfortable for the night, and maybe tomorrow night too. Mordechai had a big basement, and he’d repeatedly invited Lulu to come and stay over whenever he needed.
But he’d better call first. “Excuse me,” he said to a teenager standing by the door. “Could you let me make a call?”
The boy looked up from his phone, gave it a tap, and held it out to Lulu with a blank expression. Lulu started searching his pockets for the paper with the short list of his friends’ phone numbers. For some time already he’d been thinking he should make several copies of it and put them in all his pockets, so he wouldn’t have to search like this every time….
The boy was starting to tap his foot impatiently, and the train was at City Hall by the time Lulu finally found the ragged list. Now he had to dial the number. How did you dial a number on these phones without buttons? He tried tapping here and there on the screen, and various things appeared, but nothing suggesting a telephone dial.
“Tell me the number, I’ll dial for you,” said the boy with a touch of irritation, as the train left the Damascus Gate station. Lulu read the number. The teenager dialed, and just before handing the phone back to Lulu, he put it on speaker. He didn’t have to say it, but Lulu understood: I don’t want this guy holding my phone up to his ear.
“Hallo?” Mordechai’s voice rang out. Some cheerful Sephardic music was playing in the background.
“Mordechai?” Lulu looked plaintively at the phone’s owner and said, “Would you turn off the speaker, please? I can’t hear a thing this way!”
“Okay, I’m taking the phone to a quieter room,” Mordechai said. “Who is it, Yaakov?”
“No. It’s Lulu.”
“Lulu! What’s going on? Where are you? Is everything okay?”
“It sounds lively over there,” said Lulu. The train stopped at Shivtei Yisrael.
“Yeah, we’re celebrating Zohar’s birthday. She’s 16, my baby girl! I remember it like it was yesterday, the night I took Daliah to the hospital in my old Subaru with the rear-wheel drive. It was snowing that night, too… who would believe it’s been 16 years?”
“Oh, so you’re in the middle of a family celebration?” Lulu was hesitant now.
But Mordechai didn’t pick up on it. He was all caught up in his sentimental reminiscences. He saw himself early that morning, 16 years ago, holding a newborn girl in his arms, looking out at the glistening white blanket that covered the city, deciding to call her Zohar. Daliah thought it was the perfect name. Even if it hadn’t been snowing, she would have liked it, she said.
“Yes, my siblings are all here,” Mordechai said. “I told them if the roads get closed because of the snow, we could put them up here. You know, I have a big basement….”
“So you don’t have extra room, then.” The train pulled out of Shimon HaTzaddik.
“We always have room — in our hearts, and in our house. But where are you, Lulu? Did you leave that apartment you were staying at?”
“Yes, but it’s okay, I’m managing.”
“Come and stay with us, Lulu. The train is still running, I can hear the bells every few minutes. Catch a train and come over. Daliah made the best food, meurav Yerushalmi like you’ve never tasted, and her kebabs are incredible. Hummus like you wouldn’t believe, salatim, all kinds of pickles… Come over, brother, there’s way more than enough.”
“But you said your brothers and sisters are going to sleep over in the basement. You won’t have room for me. And I don’t want to barge in on your family party.”
“Don’t worry,” Mordechai insisted. “There’s room for everybody, and you’re the guest of honor at our party, Lulu. You’re my personal guest. Come, Lulu, catch the next train and come straight over.”
But suddenly Mordechai realized he was talking to the air. There was no one on the line. He looked at his phone, sighed, and went back to the living room, hoping that Lulu’s common sense would win over his pride.
But Lulu wasn’t on his way to Pisgat Ze’ev. Not anymore.
The frigid air enveloped the parking lot at Ammunition Hill like a malicious old witch. With every step, Lulu felt his toes freezing as they trod on the snow in their worn-out shoes. Soon they went numb, along with his fingers. He pulled out his bottle and took another swig of whisky. It burned his throat and quickened his blood. As he was recapping the bottle with his stiff, clumsy hands, it slipped out of his grip and fell to the icy pavement. The bottle shattered, and amber-colored liquid flowed over the white clumps of snow.
Lulu looked at it in dismay. “Too bad I didn’t get a chance to drink some more,” he thought. The liquor had been so warming, so bracing. He kept going, past the parking lot and onto the hill itself, taking the last few bites of the sandwich as he walked. The wax-paper wrapper fluttered to the ground, and Lulu let it go. He was very opposed to littering, especially here in the holy city, but right now he felt too weak to bend down and pick it up.
He was still dragging the stroller after him with his left hand. It was leaving tracks in the snow. It was cold, maddeningly cold, and he had to find shelter.
“I won’t get anywhere like this,” he muttered to himself. “There’s too much stuff on this stroller.”
What could he discard? He selected two bags of shmattehs that didn’t seem very useful at the moment, and left them leaning against a tree — the big Miki’s Toy Store bag, which held his old army jacket, and the orange bag that was full of old shirts and his ancient brown cap. The stroller was much less heavy now, but it was still hard to schlep up the hill.
“All right, let’s take these off, too,” he decided, after struggling uphill for ten meters. He relieved the stroller of a few more bundles — his utensils, three towels, and the sandals he was keeping for the summer.
“In the morning, when the sun comes out, I’ll come back and collect all this stuff. And I’ll pick up that sandwich wrapper too,” he comforted himself.
Now the stroller was really light. But then Lulu and his faithful carryall came up against an impassable barrier: a steel fence stretched all the way across the width of the hill, topped and flanked with ugly curls of barbed wire.
Lulu looked to his right. Soft white flakes stung his cheeks and clung between his eyelashes, blinding him. His hands were red and stiff, and they weren’t obeying him. He knew that Sderot Eshkol was somewhere down that way, and on the other side of that long street were residential buildings. If he could get to them, hopefully their lobbies wouldn’t be locked, and he could find shelter under a staircase or something. And hopefully, on a night like this, nobody would chase him back out into the snow.
He thought it over. In order to get to those buildings, he had to get down to the road. But the descent was steep and slippery. One false step could be disastrous.
It might be more sensible to retrace his steps, back to the train station, and from there walk on flat pavement to Sderot Eshkol. Yes, that made sense, but Lulu knew a hike like that would take him a long time… and he didn’t have that time to spare. His strength was running out. He wouldn’t get further than 50 meters before he collapsed.
For the first time since he began begging on the streets of Jerusalem, Lulu felt that he was in real trouble. Maybe it’s time to let go of your pride and go back to London, go to Sandy, and take your share of the money? Maybe it’s time to admit the truth, that Sandy was always going to be the star and you the loser? Any street cat in Jerusalem could find shelter for the night… but not you.
A few meters away, a tree trunk lay on the ground, probably a casualty of last night’s wild windstorm. Lulu’s eyes lit up. It had fallen at the perfect angle, right onto the barbed-wire fence, knocking it flat and forming a bridge over it, into the memorial site of the Battle of Givat HaTachmoshet. And in that site, Lulu knew, were long trenches and armored bunkers where he could hunker down for the night. That fallen tree was sent by Heaven to bring him to safety.
Lulu abandoned the stroller and crawled carefully over the tree trunk, doing his best to avoid the treacherous tangles of barbed wire to its left and right. In half a minute, he was over the fence. Without his meager possessions, without food or drink, but very close to shelter.
He didn’t need any favors from Sandy. He could get along fine on his own, thank you.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 815)
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