There was a crackle on the line, and the voice coming through the speaker was muffled. Muffled, but familiar
"T!" Yochi slapped the even-keeled caterer on the back. Eli T. wasn’t only the tour’s claim to fame; he was its very soul. Because as Yochi had been telling Binick from their very first meeting, food was the everything of everything.
“T,” Yochi said earnestly. “I hope dinner is ready, and that it has a five-digit calorie count, and that it’s being served on 24-karat gold plates. Oh, Noe did the game reserves today, he’s coming home with the appetite of a lion.”
“Are you kidding?” Eli Tannenbaum retorted. “I’ve been personally massaging his cow for the past year. I definitely hope he’s hungry.”
“Good.” Yochi drummed his fingers on his tablet. “Anyway, just making sure, you’ve got the nut-free menu for Strohman?”
“Staff knows to start airing wines at five today?”
“Are we good with the edible flowers? They didn’t wilt yet? And what about Anthony, is he feeling better? Is he on for plating tonight?”
“Check and check. The flowers have about another day, and Anthony texted me that he’ll be here at four. You can go have your coffee now, Hersko.”
“I will, T, a full 24 ounces, and a really elaborate one at that. I’m just reminding you to remind your staff to speed it up a bit between courses tonight. The fireworks show is starting at eight, and we need to give our guests time to digest those cows before the skies light up.”
“You got it, bro,” T sang.
Yochi brought his thumb up in the air. Then he tucked his tablet under his arm and moved along to the next wing of the kitchen to check in with the pastry chef. After that he sat down for a quick meeting with hotel management to once again review the Shabbos electricity plan, took a call from a guest — “What time is the second Shacharis minyan being held tomorrow? Can I reserve the davening? It’s my uncle’s yahrtzeit, I want to say Kaddish, he never had kids.” — then sat down with Binick to “quickly go over a handful of things,” which ended up taking well over an hour.
He was finally sitting down in a corner of the lobby with his coffee — yes lotus, yes cinnamon, yes whip, yes cardamom, whatever that is — when his phone rang.
Not answering. This is my break. I don’t want to hear a human voice right now.
He ignored it. He peeled back the lid of his coffee and took a sip.
But a minute later, his phone rang again. Well. Tour director responsibility. He put down his coffee cup and glanced at the screen. It said Unknown. He frowned.
Glancing wistfully at his coffee, he answered.
There was a crackle on the line, and the voice coming through the speaker was muffled. Muffled, but familiar.
“Pessie!” He pushed his chair back and stood up. “How are you? Perfect timing! I just escaped for a short break here. I’ve been on my feet all day, I didn’t have a second to breathe.” He grabbed his cup of coffee and hurried across the lobby toward the orchard exit. “So let’s hear, how’s it going there? Did you see the concert pictures I sent you?”
“No, I don’t have email access here, how was I supposed to see them?”
Okay, that made sense, but still. Did she have to sound so… caustic? “How’s Hindy?” he asked.
It took a few seconds for the crackle to clear. “Hindy—” she started. “I don’t even know what to say. I mean, I think we’re starting to see a little improvement? Or maybe we’re just trying to convince ourselves? We’re following the doctor’s plan to the letter. No water, only sun, and with the exact timing for sun exposure, showers, and creams. It’s obviously too soon to tell, but for the price I paid, it better work.”
Yochi frowned. Doctor? Paid? What was she talking about? Which doctor? No water? Wasn’t the purpose of the trip to float in the Dead Sea and allow the water’s minerals to heal her skin?
But he couldn’t even ask, Pessie was blabbering away. “Anyway,” he heard her say, “I have two great pieces of news.”
Yochi’s stomach was starting to feel mildly unsettled. “Uh, let’s hear!”
“So first, my mother finally got Motti’s X-rays done, and it’s perfect, there’s no fracture.”
Yochi nearly tripped on a fallen mango. “X-rays? What?”
“And second, they found my suitcase! It’s being delivered this afternoon. Gosh, it’s been so crazy. I’ve been handwashing this same T-shirt every night since we arrived, I can’t wait to get my clothing back.”
In the distance, Yochi saw elephants roaming the fields. He should get away before they headed over to snack on the mangoes littering the ground. As fun as it was to be in Africa, he had no desire to develop a relationship with mammals who were bigger than humans.
He wanted to share all this with Pessie. He wanted to tell her about his conversation with Uri Davidi and about the guy who’d complained that the tuna steak was too well done, to which Binick had later told Yochi, “If a person complains while he’s with Touring Together, he’s going to complain in Gan Eden as well.”
He wanted to tell Pessie how sweet the Binick kids were, and how he’d bribed the impatient forest ranger to allow the tourists the time and space for Minchah. He wanted to tell her how much he missed the family and wished they could all be there together with him, and would she maybe reconsider joining him on the Greece tour?
He wished he could make her understand how hard it was to watch families sit down together for dinner every night, while he ate on the run in the kitchen, making sure that every one of these families’ wishes was being met.
Pessie was saying something, he missed what it was, and then he heard her ask, “And I guess you’re having a good time?”
“I—” He stopped short. No, he wouldn’t share any of it. Guilt settled on his tongue, and his coffee suddenly tasted bitter. His family was scattered over three continents, dealing with skin treatments and X-rays and missing luggage. While their father was out of the picture, completely detached from their lives and struggles. Had he abandoned them in his quest to follow his dream?
“Oh, and by the way,” Pessie said, “after your parents got a yes from the second apartment in Arad, the first one came back that the apartment will be available after all, so now they need to decide between the two. Anyway… How’s Oh No?” she asked. “Is his wife’s sheitel okay? Is he on better terms with the elephants now?”
Like a cube of ice, the guilt melted away, leaving anger in its place.
She was doing this on purpose. She was shutting him out, trying to shake him up so that he would regret his decision, and…
Return to the firm?
It wasn’t fair. She really wasn’t being fair. It was as though she wanted him to feel stupid. She was deliberately sending him on a guilt trip.
Yochi kicked a branch away. “I need to go,” he said.
“Take care,” she said.
He hitched his phone back in its holster and turned to head back into the building. When he reached the door, he came face to face with his fellow staff member, Sruli Zeitlin.
“Mr. Yochonon Hersko,” Zeitlin drawled. “Whoa. Someone is stressed out.”
“I’m just busy,” Yochi muttered. “I’ll see you soon.”
Zeitlin blocked his way. “No way. Too busy to drink your coffee?”
“Come on, Sruli, move.”
But Zeitlin wouldn’t budge. “That way,” he said, pointing toward the orchard. He gripped Yochi’s shoulder, and Yochi trudged along wearily. “Whoever’s looking for you will manage without you. The world won’t cave because Yochi Hersko skipped town.”
“No?” Yochi asked sharply.
Zeitlin pulled a box of cigarettes out of his pocket. “It’s a hot day, but it’s pleasant in the shade.” He offered the box to Yochi. “Want one?”
Yochi hesitated. He wasn’t a smoker, really not. But he was irritated and confused and very, very upset. His conversation with Pessie had brought on a disastrous headache.
“I’ll take one.”
Zeitlin handed him his lighter. Yochi brought the stick to his lips and drew in a puff. Then he released it, slowly, and in the cloud of smoke, his anger slowly dissipated.
No, Pessie wasn’t doing this on purpose. She was dealing with so much at once. If she did have grievances, she was right.
She was right.
And so was he.
They were both right.
And yet, despite the sun streaking through the leaves of the mango tree, everything felt wrong.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 760)
Oops! We could not locate your form.