| Follow Me |

Follow Me: Chapter 33  

Yochi curled his peyos. “Does wearing a T-shirt on a trip in Africa really bother you, Pessie?”



“The airport is becoming our second home,” Yochi commented as he settled into a chair next to Pessie in the airport lounge to wait for Hindy’s flight to land.

“Not ours,” Pessie corrected him. “Yours.”

“Hmm.” A cabbie walked past them, holding a sign with the name Gerald on it. Announcements echoed through the Tannoy system over the dull rumbling of suitcase wheels, chatter, and footfalls.

Yochi cracked open a bag of pretzels, but then his phone rang. “Whoops, this is important,” he said. He offered Pessie the pretzels, but she waved them away. Eating carbs out of boredom was never a good idea.

While Yochi paced the area, deep in conversation, Pessie observed the cavernous lounge. A group of sharply dressed businessmen walked purposefully past, heels clicking, laptop cases swinging from their hands. A crowd of passengers streamed in, some bleary-eyed from the flight, some disheveled, some noticeably excited. There were shrieks of delight as family welcomed arrivals.

She wondered about Hindy. Had the trip changed her at all? She was at that in-between age where she sometimes behaved all maturely, and sometimes acted babyish. What would she be like now?

Motti stirred, and Pessie gently rocked his stroller. She called her mother to check up on Zissi and Malkie.

“They’re fine,” her mother reported. “They’re helping me bake rugelach for Shabbos Nachamu. Right, kinderlach?”

Pessie flinched at the reminder of her mother’s grand Shabbos Nachamu plans. When she’d told Yochi about these plans, he’d had only one suggestion: “Come along to Greece.”

She glanced at Yochi now; his lips were pressed together, forehead creased in concentration. From the way he paced — long strides, abrupt stops, fingers roping through his peyos again and again — it seemed like something serious was going on.

Pessie pushed the stroller over to Yochi. “What’s going on?” she mouthed. “Something wrong?”

He motioned to her to wait, then deliberately turned away. Pessie watched him anxiously for another moment, then went to check the screen for flight updates.


Twenty-five more minutes, the screen indicated. Pessie turned around to see what was happening with Yochi.

He’d hung up the phone, but he wasn’t moving. He stood rooted in his spot, a faraway look in his eyes. Pessie walked over slowly.

“What happened, Yochi?”

He jolted. “Nothing,” he said quickly. “Nothing, just tour stuff.”

Just tour stuff. What did it matter to her, right?

She swallowed. “The flight is delayed,” she told him mechanically.

“Oh.” He slipped his phone into his pocket. “I’m going to go buy something, all right?”

Pessie nodded, her stomach twisting. Whatever “tour stuff” was, he did not seem inclined to share it with her.

She returned to the lounge and sat down to feed Motti a yogurt.

A Russian family surrounding a trolley loaded with luggage passed by. When one suitcase tumbled off, they stopped to arrange the whole tower. An argument broke out between the father and teenaged son. By the time the luggage was rearranged and secured on the trolley, the boy was stewing and the father cursing under his breath.

All this travel — it did something. It changed people. She didn’t know if it had changed Hindy, she didn’t know what it was doing to Yochi, but whatever it was, she and Yochi weren’t traveling together. And she didn’t like it one bit.

When Motti finished eating, Pessie stood up again and threw the container in the garbage. The delay was still flashing on the screen. Hindy wouldn’t land for another half an hour. Where are you, she texted Yochi.

He replied a moment later. Coming.

A few minutes passed before she saw him approaching.

“I’m getting restless,” she told Yochi. “Let’s walk around a bit, we’ll come back before the plane lands.”

“Sure,” he said. “Should we go buy drinks?”


They started walking, their silence drowned by the hustle of people hurrying past them. Barely a minute had passed when Pessie halted and narrowed her eyes at Yochi. “Were you… smoking?”

“Yes.” He shrugged and flicked his thumb back. “There’s a smoking room a little further down.”

“Yochi, you started smoking?”

He nodded. “Yes, I did.”

“Um, if I may ask… since when do you smoke?”

“Oh, I don’t smoke,” he said casually. “I just had a smoke.”

Pessie gazed at him sharply, an ugly pit settling in her stomach. “I — um, so, like, how often do you ‘not smoke, only just have a smoke’?”

He let out a short laugh and started walking again, forcing Pessie to follow at his side.

“Okay, Pessie,” he said. “Relax. I bought a box of cigarettes because I needed a smoke now. Something came up with the Greece tour, a huge issue, and I felt like my brain was going to explode. This cigarette helped me clear my head a bit. Why are you getting all dramatic about this? Did I ever have a smoking problem in my life?”

“You never had a smoking problem,” she said guardedly. “But you never told me you smoke. At all.”

“There was nothing to tell you. I don’t smoke. A guy has a smoke once in a while, it’s not called smoking.”

“Just like wearing a T-shirt isn’t called wearing a T-shirt?”

This time Yochi was the one to grind to a halt.

“What’s that all about?”

Pessie looked down at the stroller.

“It hurts me, Yochi.” She swallowed something bitter in her throat. “Not the smoking — although you know that smoking is terrible for anyone’s health, and the smell is disgusting — and not the T-shirt per se, which I discovered on a picture you sent to your mother. Interesting that that picture wasn’t among the many pictures you sent me.”

Yochi curled his peyos. “Does wearing a T-shirt on a trip in Africa really bother you, Pessie?”

Pessie gripped the handlebar of the stroller. “No, actually, it doesn’t. Some of my brothers wear T-shirts when they travel, I never had a problem with it.”


“But?” She blinked fiercely, keeping her eyes on the ground. The force that had hit her when she’d seen the picture in the hotel lobby rose up again, sharp and stinging.

The words left her mouth in a torrent of hurt. “But you never wore a T-shirt in your life. You’ve worn the same white, chassidish, right-over-left buttoned shirt anywhere we ever traveled. You never wore anything else while you were an accountant at the Hartstein Group.

“But suddenly, you’re this big-shot tour director, a million miles away from your regular crowd, and you put on that T-shirt — I don’t even know when you bought it, you definitely never told me about it — because you feel cool or with-it or whatever. And you make a deliberate effort to ensure that your wife doesn’t find out about it. At least, it wasn’t in the bag of laundry you brought back from Zambia.”

Yochi was quiet, his head lowered. Pessie waited. They continued walking, quick, heavy steps, Pessie’s fists clenched around the stroller’s handlebar.

“You don’t get it,” he said at last.

“I’m trying to get it.” She made an effort to soften her voice. “If you would at least try to explain.”

He took a deep breath. “It’s not… it’s not the way you put it, not at all. I never made a decision to smoke. You really don’t realize what my job entails.” He flattened his moustache. “You think it’s all glitz and glamour, that I’m having a grand time on vacation. I’ve tried telling you many times, I work hard. Very hard. You have no idea how much stress I’m under.

“Yes, of course I enjoy what I’m doing, I never regretted my decision for a minute. But the stress can get to me sometimes. I’m carrying tremendous responsibilities. People pay an enormous amount of money to join our tours. I have to make sure that every last detail runs smoothly and that everyone is comfortable and happy at all times. Which means I, as the host, must appear comfortable and happy at all times as well, so everyone feels relaxed.

“And in a moment of intense pressure, yes, a smoke helps. I smoked, what, maybe five cigarettes during the entire trip? Is that a reason to get so hysterical?”

Pessie nodded slowly. “Why couldn’t you tell me?”

“I just didn’t think into it. It wasn’t a conscious decision, honestly, Pessie. Please don’t overthink this.”

“I see,” she said tartly. “And the T-shirt?”

He tugged at his beard. “I wore it one day. It was a very hot day, it was just more… comfortable.”

“I see,” Pessie repeated. But the way her eyes had darkened, it was obvious that she didn’t.

“I have nothing against T-shirts,” Pessie said, “and I don’t think less of anyone who wears them. I don’t have a problem with a guy having a smoke four times a year, either, I don’t think it will kill him. I have a problem that your new job is making you lower your standards, and I have a very big problem with you hiding things from me.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 764)

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