All I Ask: Chapter 62| July 1, 2020
"Bugi said there was no sense in our going without him. He says he knows how Lulu’s mind works much better than we do”
"So does Lulu need our help now?” Yanky asked. “What do you think, Raizele?”
Raizele shrugged. “Who knows? He might have managed on his own, just like he’s been doing all these years. He might have found some abandoned building or an empty cellar and set up camp there.”
She sighed. “Or he might be wandering around on Sderot Bar Lev in a daze, shivering and getting numb.”
“That sounds terrible.”
“It does,” she acknowledged. “But do you have any way of helping him? Even if you could find him, how would you get there? There are no buses, and I bet the trains will stop running any minute now.”
“I think I’ll ask Yonatan to join the expedition,” Yanky said. “He’s got a good car — an all-terrain type vehicle, it should be able to get through the snow easily. A Nissan… uh, Nissan something or other, I don’t remember.”
Yanky took out his phone and searched for Yonatan Eliav’s number.
Pathfinder? No, that’s an old model. Tzvika used to have one. Yonatan has a much newer model with some funny name… something like kashkaval, but not kashkaval, that’s a cheese…
“Hello?” The impatience in Yonatan’s voice took Yanky aback.
“Yes. Hello, Yanky.”
“Uh, is everything all right? You sound a little tense.”
Yonatan made a split-second decision not to share the news about his father. He wouldn’t want rumors spreading that the great Sandy Eliav was ill. After all, maybe Dad would be back on his feet by tomorrow. “Sorry. I just have a lot on my mind. What’s up over there, Yanky?”
Quickly, Yanky filled him in on the fact that Lulu was last seen wandering around in the snow and that nobody seemed to know if he’d found shelter. Unaccustomed as he was to dealing with double emergencies, Yonatan agreed after a moment’s thought that they’d better form a search party.
“I’ll be there shortly to pick you up,” he said.
He left Sara Baila in charge of booking tickets to London, and ten minutes later, he was outside Yanky’s building.
“We need to stop at the Mamilla Hotel first,” Yanky said as he climbed in, “to pick up Bugi. I didn’t want to bother him in the middle of his vacation, but he said there was no sense in our going without him. He says he knows how Lulu’s mind works much better than we do.”
“I imagine he’s right,” said Yonatan.
With Bugi looking grim in the back seat, they were soon gliding over Sderot Bar Lev, weaving in and out among the cars stuck here and there in the deepening snow. Some drivers had abandoned their vehicles, and others were trying desperately to get their cars moving again. But the Nissan Qashqai, as Yanky had predicted, was unfazed by the weather.
“Stop here, at the parking lot,” Yanky instructed Yonatan as they reached the Ammunition Hill bus station. He pointed. “Lulu got off the train here, and that’s the stop where Yishai caught the last bus to Maaleh Adumim.”
“Who is Yishai?” Bugi asked.
“The kid who let Lulu make the phone call to Mordechai. Drive into the parking lot, Yonatan. This Yishai said he saw Lulu going this way.”
Yonatan slowly drove into the parking lot. Forcing his sharp eyes to see through the falling snow, Bugi gazed intently in both directions.
“We may have come out here for nothing,” Yanky suddenly said. “Lulu might have decided to take the train back into town, or he might have found himself a warm place to sleep somewhere near here.”
“Yes, we might be chasing after the wind,” Yonatan agreed. “It’s been, what, an hour and a half since this boy saw him here? He could be anywhere in the city by now.”
“Not in the snow.” Bugi was authoritative. “And not if you’re old and weak, and you don’t have the right gear. I don’t think he’s far from here. Hey, stop!”
Yonatan stepped on the brakes. “What’s the matter?”
“Yanky, what did you say Lulu had in his hand when he came to your house?”
“A bottle of whisky, about two-thirds full.”
“I don’t know… some yellow stuff.”
Yanky shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Like that broken bottle there on the ground, by that black car?”
They all got out and approached the shattered bottle cautiously, something telling them not to disturb the evidence. Yanky bent over and peered at the bottle.
“I can’t know for sure, but I see the label here… the bottle he was carrying looked about like this,” he said quietly.
“Bugi,” Yonatan said, turning to him. “Try to get inside Shalom’s head. Where would he go from here? To the Har Hatzofim tunnel, maybe? To Hadassah Hospital? Givat Hamivtar? Ramat Eshkol?”
Bugi shut his eyes, imagining himself as Lulu, standing here in the cold, trying to decide. “Not the tunnel,” he said. “There’s no footpath. For sure Lulu wouldn’t want to get run over by a truck and wake up in Gan Eden. He wouldn’t go to the hospital, either. He doesn’t like official places, and they don’t like him.”
“Where, then? Where would he go?” Yonatan and Yanky waited for the oracle to speak.
Bugi thought hard. “I think he must have gone further in, between the trees. He might have planned to get to the dugouts up there on the hill.”
The three young men, all bundled up warmly, started up the slope. Yonatan pulled out a powerful flashlight, and he cast its beam from side to side on the snowy ground.
“Hey!” This time it was Yanky who cried out. “Here’s something. Give us some light over here.”
“It’s just a plastic bag,” Bugi said dismissively.
“A plastic bag with wax paper inside, and a bit of lettuce,” Yanky corrected him, picking it up and shaking the snow off. “And is there anyone else in all of Jerusalem, besides my wife, who wraps sandwiches in wax paper?”
They were all silent. Only the frozen air around them spoke. It enveloped them in an icy embrace and sent thousands of soft white flakes fluttering in their faces.
“We’d better hurry,” Yonatan said curtly.
Yanky and Bugi zigzagged among the trees, asking Yonatan every now and then to focus the light on some possible clue. After a few minutes they found the bags holding Lulu’s unwanted shirts and his utensils. The thick layer of snow on them meant they’d been left here some time ago. At least an hour.
“I wonder — did Lulu leave these things here on purpose, as clues so we could find him?” said Bugi.
Yanky shook his head. “I doubt it. I’m afraid he was getting too weak to schlep all this weight, so he just unloaded it.”
Now they came to the barbed-wire fence. It was high and menacing. Lulu surely couldn’t have climbed it. What would he do at this point? Again, Yanky and Yonatan looked at Bugi.
“Okay, if I were him…” Bugi said, closing his eyes tight. “If I were him, I think I would decide to go down to Ramat Eshkol.” He opened his eyes and looked to the right. “No, I wouldn’t. Not if I were Lulu. It’s too steep. Even without the snow, I don’t think he’d risk it…. So maybe… maybe I’d just go back the way I came and take the train back into town….” He was frowning, dissatisfied.
“I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “I have no idea where he’d go from here.”
The beam of Yonatan’s flashlight scanned the fence. Up and down, a little farther to the right, a little farther to the left, until it met the fallen tree. And there, beside the tree, gray and grubby as always, stood Lulu’s stroller. The bundles still remaining in it were covered with a blanket of pristine, sparkling snow.
“His blankets are here!” Yonatan said in horror, rummaging quickly through the stroller’s wretched cargo. “Bugi, does Shalom have another blanket, besides these two here?”
“Then we’d really better hurry.”
“He’s got a good sleeping bag, though,” Bugi reminded him.
“And that good woolen coat,” Yanky added.
“That isn’t enough.”
Yonatan and Bugi walked lightly over the tree-trunk bridge and jumped into the memorial site. Yanky, following after them, had trouble keeping his balance. For the past few years Raizele had been telling him he ought to start going to a gym. She was right. He scrambled down from the tree to the slippery ground, praying that he wouldn’t break a bone. The last time it snowed, people were saying all the plaster in the city had been used up.
Suddenly the snowflakes stopped falling, and Yanky’s breath caught in his throat as the view came into focus. All of Jerusalem lay before him, like a bride in her perfect white gown. Ramat Shlomo, Ramot, all the neighborhoods on the north side, Bar Ilan, morphing into Yirmiyahu. Rav Shefa, Tenuvah. The Chords Bridge, rising gracefully into the sky. From the 797-meter height of Ammunition Hill, all was white, pure, and shining under the city lights.
“Yanky?” Yonatan popped up beside him. “We found nothing in these foxholes.” He pointed to the first two dugouts. “What do you think we should do — split up, and each search in a different direction? Or stay together?”
“Stay together,” said Yanky, shaking from the cold. “Or actually, maybe two should go into the deeper dugouts, and the third man should stay up on the ground to direct them.”
“Okay,” said Yonatan, a bit distracted. He’d asked Sara Baila to let him know as soon as she booked tickets. Could it be that she hadn’t found seats on any flight to London? Maybe flights were canceled because of the snow…. And why hadn’t Judy and Moriah called to update him on Dad’s condition? He would have to call them, right after they got Shalom out of here.
The next dugout, dark and gloomy, loomed before them. Yonatan clambered down first, Yanky followed, and Bugi stood above them on the ground, giving directions.
“There’s a bunker there on your right, have a look inside,” he called.
The small bunker, a relic from the Six Day War, was well protected from the wind and the snow.
And from its depths, amid the pervading silence, the three of them clearly heard a quiet, heavy sigh.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 817)
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