All I Ask: Chapter 61| June 24, 2020
“We’re going to the emergency room,” Yaakov said. He was telling them, not asking
andy and Marta Eliav sat down to an early supper, the wedding album open between them. It had just arrived this morning, and now they had time to savor the memories together.
There were Judy and Yaakov, and their little girls, dressed like princesses. Moriah and her husband, with their sweet baby boy. Yonatan with his bride at his side, his eyes shining. And on the next page, one large picture of all of them together. Marta stroked the stiff printed page with her fingertips, tracing an imaginary cloud around her perfect family. They were all married off now, all settled, all happy.
“They make such a nice couple,” said Sandy, pointing to Yonatan and Sarah Bayla. “A really nice couple.”
And suddenly a lightning bolt shot through his brain.
“Yes, they do,” said Marta with motherly pride. “Everyone was so impressed with Yonatan, the way he received all the guests so graciously, even the people he didn’t know at all.”
She looked up, away from the album, and saw her husband leaning forward. His elbows were on the table, and he was supporting his forehead with his palms.
“What’s the matter, Sandy?” she asked, alarmed. “Are you all right?”
“A headache,” he said.
“Is it just the usual?”
“Worse than usual.”
“Do you think we ought to go for a checkup? Or is it just because of all the traveling, and all the excitement?”
Sandy shut his eyes. Strange sensations were jumping around in his head, and bile was rising in his throat. “I think we’d better.”
“Can you drive?” Marta asked.
“No. We’ll ask Yaakov to take us.”
After a few breaths he looked up and saw her face. It was paper white.
“Don’t worry, it’s probably nothing,” he said. “But just to be sure, I think we should get a doctor’s opinion.”
“Yes, you’ve probably just overtaxed yourself a bit,” she said. “That meningioma is benign, after all.” No! No! No! You have to be okay, Sandy, she tried not to scream.
“Right,” he said weakly.
“And they’ve been keeping track of it.”
“It’s a slow-growing thing. The doctor said you can live with it to a ripe old age.”
“Call Yaakov, ask him to come.”
Marta called Yaakov, and as she put down the receiver she saw her husband’s head sink to the table.
“Are you okay, Sandy?”
“No. Tell Yonatan that…” Some garbled words came out.
Marta grasped for the right words. She wanted to say reassuringly, “You’ll have plenty of chances to tell him whatever you want.” But the look in his eyes frightened her. “Sandy, I can’t understand you,” she said. “Try to speak clearly. What should I tell Yonatan?”
“Same as I said to Shalom,” he mumbled.
“I should tell Yonatan what you said to Shalom?”
Sandy mumbled something unintelligible. And then Yaakov was there, ready to take charge. Supporting his father-in-law’s arms, he led him out to the car.
“We’re going to the emergency room,” Yaakov said. He was telling them, not asking.
No one said a word in response.
Things moved quickly at the hospital, but not quickly enough. As they began prepping Sandy for a CAT scan, he lost consciousness. As the doctors entered and exited the room, their faces said too many things, and Marta felt completely lost. She called her daughters, asking them to come, and quickly. Moriah and Judy promised they would just make some quick arrangement for the children and then come right away. Marta wanted Yonatan there, too. She felt scared and helpless, and she wanted him at her side, with or without his spouse. She called him.
“Can you get here?” she asked. “Daddy isn’t well.”
“If you think it’s important, we’ll come,” Yonatan said in an uncertain voice. Mountains of work was waiting for him in the office after the ten days he’d taken off for his wedding. Sarah Bayla also had catching up to do.
“Yes, I think it’s important,” Marta said quietly. “Daddy is unconscious. The doctors don’t know for sure, but they’re telling us that it looks like the meningioma didn’t stay quiet like it was supposed to. They think something’s wrong, that there’s a buildup of fluid in Daddy’s brain. You have to be here, Yonatan!”
“Then we’ll come. As soon as I hang up, Mum, I’ll look for the earliest flight.”
“Thank you, Yonatan.”
Sarah Bayla was listening anxiously. “What happened, Yonatan?”
“My father’s in the hospital, unconscious.”
“What— all of a sudden?”
“Not exactly. Remember I told you that he has a benign tumor in the meninges — you know, the membranes around the brain — but the doctors said it won’t affect him? They couldn’t operate, but they said it was okay to leave it alone. It was small, and totally benign, according to all the tests. It was only supposed to cause mild symptoms.”
“So what happened now?”
Yonatan spread his hands out. “I don’t know. I guess that’s what the doctors are trying to find out.”
Fear gripped him. Was Dad’s life in danger? Dad, no, you can’t leave us now. You can’t, because you’re big and strong, and I love you, and Mum could never get along without you… and because there’s so much we haven’t done yet. I haven’t put a grandchild in your arms yet, or honored you as sandek, or invited you to a kiddush, and we haven’t spent even one Yom Tov with you since my wedding.
You can’t go yet, Dad, because… we haven’t talked. I’ve never told you how much I need your love and approval. You can’t go, because you haven’t told me how precious I am to you, and that you love me… and…
“How will we get to the airport? Look outside.” Sarah Bayla’s voice cut off his rushing thoughts. She stood at the window, her glance flitting nervously between her husband’s face and the tranquil scene outside — a street in Nachlaot, covered thickly with snow.
“That’s a problem.” Yonatan bit his lip. “I think the Jeep can get through the snow, but it can’t fly over all the other cars that are going to be stuck on the roads.”
“My Yishai? Yes, he managed to get home in time. He caught the last 177 going out of Yerushalayim this evening. But don’t ask what happened,” Yishai’s mother reported in detail to her sister. “When they got to the entrance of Maaleh Adumim, the driver stopped and said this was the last stop. He couldn’t go around town dropping people off at the local stops in this weather.
“So what did Yishai do, you want to know? The same thing all the other passengers did. He tramped through the snow for 45 minutes and got here wet and frozen to the roots of his hair. Just a second, his cell’s ringing. Yishai, your phone’s ringing! Should I answer?”
“Who is it — Maor?” Yishai called from the shower.
“No, not Maor. Some number ending in 760.”
“Oof,” Yishai grumbled as he pulled up his right sock. “That’s the number that nudnik from the train called. Don’t answer.”
“They already hung up, anyway.”
“This always happens when I let strangers make calls from my phone. I get all these people calling back, bothering me with all sorts of questions. Oof¸ now it’s ringing again. If it’s the same number, don’t answer, Ima, okay?”
“It’s not the same number. Now it’s somebody calling from Yerushalayim.” Yishai’s mother took the call.
“Shalom,” she said in a friendly tone.
“Shalom,” said a man’s voice. “Uh, did you… about an hour ago, you let somebody make a call from this phone, I think?”
“Yes, that’s right. Anything I can help you with?”
“Well… we’re trying to track him down. It’s important. Maybe you happen to know where he is now? Or which way he went?”
“Just a moment. It’s my son’s phone, not mine. Let me ask him. Yi-shai!”
“What’s going on?” Yishai was irritated. These people were harassing him. He was still trying to shake off the cold from the long walk home, and here they couldn’t even let him put his socks on in peace….
“You let somebody make a call from your phone, you said?”
“Yeah,” Yishai told his mother from behind the closed bathroom door. “Some old beggar who didn’t know how to use a touch screen. I spent five minutes explaining to him, and then I had to dial for him, because he still didn’t get it. Like all these old people.”
“Yishai!” his mother admonished.
“Show a little respect for your elders!”
“I show them lots of respect, Ima, but that doesn’t change the facts. They don’t know how to use a touch screen.”
Yishai’s mother remembered the person waiting on the line and got back to the point. “So yes,” she told the caller, “an elderly man made a call from this phone. But what was it you wanted, exactly?”
“We’re trying to find out where that man is, the one who made the call. It’s important,” the man on the line repeated.
“Where is he? In Gaza, for all I know,” Yishai growled from behind the door. “How am I supposed to know where he is?”
“Please ask him where the man got off the train,” the voice said, politely determined.
“Yishai! Where did the man get off?”
“Givat Hatachmoshet, Ammunition Hill” Yishai called from the bathroom. “Same place I got off, after I grabbed my phone back from him while the other guy on the line was still going on about some birthday party.”
“Yishai! I don’t believe the way you’re talking. You grabbed the phone away from him?”
“What does everybody want from me? The 177 was there at the bus stop, and if I didn’t make it onto the bus I would’ve been stuck there until tomorrow, in the snow!”
Yishai’s mother put the phone on speaker. “And this man got off after you, at Givat Hatachmoshet?” she asked.
“Yeah. He was dragging an old baby carriage with about a million plastic bags on it.”
“Which way did he go?” said the voice on the line.
“I don’t know. I could hardly see where I was going myself, and I almost fell and broke my neck running for the bus.”
“This man we’re looking for is homeless and has no family,” the caller said. “We’re worried about him, and the only clues we have are your phone number, plus any details you can recall.”
“I understand,” Yishai’s mother said kindly. “But I’m sure you can also understand that my son was running to catch a bus in a snowstorm, and he really couldn’t notice what was happening around him.”
“I do understand that. But still, maybe he can remember something more. After he sat down on the bus, did he look out the window? Maybe then he saw which way the man went?”
Yishai opened the bathroom door, dry and dressed warmly. “Now that I think about, I did see him,” he said. “He was schlepping that carriage into the parking lot, I think.”
“And then my bus left the stop, and I never gave another thought to that dirty old beggar.”
“Yishai! What a way to talk!” his mother scolded.
“Well, he was old and dirty, Ima. I’m just telling you the facts. They should be grateful that I even let him touch my phone.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 816)
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