Michal's Destiny, p.13Roberta Kagan
“All the people asked of the giant was that he treat them fairly, but he was greedy and he was rich.”
Michal leaned against a tree and listened. She had stopped pushing the stroller, but she glanced at Alina, who was still sleeping soundly. Then she looked up to catch the storyteller watching her. His eyes were the deepest shade of blue she had ever seen, not light blue, but midnight blue. His hair was dark, thick, wavy, and unkempt. He was slender and his clothes fell about his frame haphazardly. But he was filled with passion, and something about the fire that exuded from him reached deep inside of Michal. He smiled at her as he pushed his hair away from his face. She returned his smile. Then … he smiled even brighter.
“The poor people had no choice but to fight the giant. They knew that if they didn’t, the giant would take everything they had, and work them until they died of starvation. But the giant was so much bigger than they were, and the only way that the people in the village could even hope to defeat such a force was if they joined together.”
Michal heard Alina stir in her buggy. She glanced at the baby, who had awakened. Alina could go from a deep sleep to running at top speed in seconds. Once Alina was awake, she was a handful. Michal tried rocking the stroller gently. Often the motion would send her back to sleep. Alina stretched, then her eyes closed softly and she drifted off again. By this time, the performance was over. Sammie was talking to another little boy. Since the problems had begun in the Fogelman household, Sammie had not been interested in playing with other children. He’d withdrawn. So, rather than discourage him from talking to the other child, Michal stood back and waited. The two boys were playing with stones they’d found on the ground.
“I am Otto Keihn, and I thank you for listening. My book, Fables to Build a New World, is available for purchase at Merek’s books, which is right on the corner.” He pointed towards the shop and the heads of the audience turned. Then, Otto Keihn got up and stretched his long legs and arched his back. Then, without hesitation, he walked over to Michal. In his hand, he held a book.
“Hello,” He smiled.
“Hello,” she answered, still keeping an eye on Sammie.
“Would you like to have this? It’s a copy of my book.” He held the book out to her.
“No, thank you … I don’t have any money with me,” she said, but just as she did, Sammie left his new friend and came running over to them.
“Did you like my story?” Otto asked Sammie.
“Very much, sir.”
Otto smiled. “I don’t want you to pay for my book. I would like to offer it to you as a gift for your son. You can read it to him. He seems to enjoy the tales.”
“Thank you, but no,” she said, “and, he isn’t my son. This is Sammie. I’m his nanny.”
“And, who is this?” he said, looking at the bright eyes that were now open in the stroller.
“This is Alina; she’s my daughter.”
“Your husband is a lucky man…”
She looked away. “I haven’t seen my husband in many years.”
“I would like to say that I’m sorry, but I’m not. I’m glad.”
She frowned, feeling awkward and not knowing what to say.
“Please, don’t be offended. I mean no harm. I only wanted to ask if maybe you would like to go for a walk with me sometime, or perhaps have a meal?”
“I am still a married woman. I cannot accept a date with a strange man.”
“Again, please, I am sorry I had no intention of being disrespectful. You are just so lovely and, well, and.…”
“And?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “I think we should be going. Come along, Sammie.”
“Please, don’t be offended. I just wanted to get to know you better,” Otto said, throwing his hands up in the air.
“You should come to our house and tell us more stories,” Sammie said. “Can I have the book?”
“Yes, of course you can,” Otto said, handing the book to Sammie.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea for him to come to the house,” Michal shook her head at Sammie.
“But can I keep the book, please Michal?”
“I suppose,” she said. Then she turned to Otto. “Thank you for the book. We’ll be going now,” she said and began to walk away.
Just as Michal was wheeling her carriage around the corner of a tree-lined street across from a row of shops, she saw a man come out of the dry goods store and begin running. The owner was on his heels, wearing a white apron, and shouting obscenities. The owner gained upon the thief and pulled him down from a fence, throwing him to the ground. The thief pulled a gun and shot the store owner point blank in the forehead. The owner fell, his apron turning red with blood as crowds of people came rushing outside at the noise of the gunshot. Two men tried to grab the man with the gun, who was now frightened by what he’d just done. He writhed in their grasp and when he was unable to break free and unable to aim directly at either man, he shot wildly into the crowd. People were scattering to hide and screaming as the man with the gun began running. Otto raced over and pushed Michal and Sammie to the ground. Then he threw his own body over Alina, who was wailing in her stroller from the loud sounds of the gunshots. There were more squabbles in the street. Michal heard them, but from where she was lying on the ground, she could not see them. It was several minutes, but seemed like hours before three police officers arrived. One of the officers tended to the man with the apron, who lay in a pool of blood on the sidewalk, while the other two chased the criminal. The police had arrived too late; the man escaped into the crowd and disappeared. Gingerly, Otto rose from his position of protecting Alina.
“Are you hurt?” he asked Michal.
She shook her head. “I’m fine.”
“I’m not fine, I hurt my knee when I fell and my elbow too.” Sammie was crying.
“Let me see,” Otto said. He looked at Sammie’s injuries, then he smiled at the boy. “You’re a man. Men don’t cry when they fall down. You’re not hurt, just a little scratched up. An injury like that is nothing to a real grown up man.”
Sammie stopped crying. “I’m growing up very fast,” he said.
“Of course you are.” Otto nodded and patted Sammie’s shoulder.
Michal mouthed the words, “Thank you for everything.”
Otto smiled. “I’m glad I was here.”
“I have to admit, so am I,” she said.
“Let me go into the store and get you something cold to drink.”
Michal nodded. “Thank you.” She was out of breath and overwhelmed.
Otto returned with a large glass of water. He handed it to Michal, who took a sip and then gave a sip to Sammie. Then she held the cup to Alina’s lips.
“Are you all right?” Otto said.
“I think so, just a little shaken up.”
“I know that what just happened here on the street was terrible, but this is what happens when people are starving. That man stole food. Then he panicked when he felt surrounded. How can you blame him?”
“He killed a man … he could have killed all of us.”
“Don’t you see? Our money here in Germany is practically worthless; the man was only trying to feed his family.”
“That’s still no way to behave. There are other options.”
“Like what? You mean the charities? Or those terrible shelters filled with tuberculosis? We don’t know anything about the shooter’s situation. Besides, with money being as tight as it is, he would be lucky to get a meal at a shelter. I can’t judge other people when I am faced with the poverty in Germany right now. The rich have everything and the poor are starving. This is a climate for disaster.”
She finished the water and handed the glass back to Otto. He took it. “I’m going to return this glass to the restaurant. The manager was kind enough to allow me to take it with a promise that I would return it. I’ll be right back.”
He returned. “Let me walk you back home. I want to be sure tha
“Yes, please do,” Sammie said. He took Otto’s hand. Michal bit her lower lip in contemplation. She shouldn’t be surprised that Sammie took to Otto so quickly. The child was starved for a father’s love. Her own child would be the same when she got a little older. Having no male role models in their lives to look up to, of course they would grasp on to any man who treated them as though they mattered. Michal glanced over at Sammie and thought about Taavi. Poor Sammie had never really had a father’s love. But Michal wondered how Taavi would have been as a father to Alina. If only she could swallow her pride, go, and talk to Taavi, let him know he has a daughter. She owed it to Alina. The child deserved a chance at a normal life. Right now, she was growing up as the nanny’s daughter in the home of her employer. Michal had to admit to herself that the Fogelmans had everything the world could offer materially, and living in the Fogelman home, Alina never wanted for nutritious food, warmth, clean clothing, or a safe neighborhood. With the state of things in Berlin right now, Alina might not have these things if it were not for Michal’s employers. Still, would it be better for Alina if she had a family of her own? If she had a father who she could look up to? Or was Michal putting too much stock in Taavi? When she and Taavi were together, they barely had enough food for the two of them. Perhaps things were better for Alina just as they were.
Otto walked quietly beside the stroller, holding Sammie’s hand. He caught Michal’s eye and smiled. “Are you doing all right?”
“What you just went through was terrible. If there is anything I can do….”
She shook her head. “No, thank you. But I am glad you were there at the right time. It was quite frightening.”
“I know this is bold, but I would really like to get to know you better. Let me take you out for a meal. Lunch? Dinner, perhaps?”
“I don’t know.”
“Just as friends. We would be having a meal just as friends. How can that be wrong? It’s only a meal, and it would mean so much to me.”
She laughed a light giggle. “I saw the way all of the mothers were looking at you; it hardly seems to me that you are wanting for company.”
“But you’re wrong. I am. I want to spend my time with someone who I feel I might be able to talk to.”
“And you feel that you can talk to me?”
“I don’t know. I will be quite honest with you. I like your eyes. I like the serious look in your eyes. You seem different from other women. You have a depth about you.”
“All of this information you gathered about me just from looking at me across the park?” She laughed, then looked at him sideways. “Ahhh, I know, let me guess … perhaps you are one of the famous psychics of Berlin. You would have to be, to know so much about me without ever even speaking to me.”
“You’re laughing at me. I’m not joking. I feel that you’re different. I might be wrong. But my gut tells me I’m not wrong. And I believe it would be worth the time and trouble for both of us to find out.”
“You are incredibly bold.”
“Yes, most revolutionaries are,” he said. “And, I, my dear, am a revolutionary. I am determined to make a difference in the world.”
She laughed. He mock bowed. Then he laughed too.
“I am serious, though. We do need a change here. The wealth has to be distributed more fairly.”
“Please don’t tell me that you’re a member of that National Socialist group that everyone is talking so much about. They are anti-Semitic and, you might as well know right now, I am a Jew.”
“I am not a member of that Jew-hating party of miserable bastards. In fact, I am quite the opposite; I’m a communist.”
“Oh, a troublemaker on the other side of the fence,” she said.
“I don’t want to make trouble. I want to see the world become a better place. A better place for all people, not just the rich. I want to help those who are too weak or underprivileged to help themselves.”
“A lofty goal indeed.”
“Indeed.” He smiled. “But a goal that my conscience insists that I must pursue.”
They walked for a while in silence. Then Otto cleared his throat. “You know, I don’t even know your name.”
“Her name is Michal, I’m Sammie, and the baby is Alina.”
“I’m not a baby,” Alina said. “I’m three.”
“Of course you’re not,” Otto said, then he winked conspiratorially at Sammie. Michal saw Sammie wink back.
This Otto fellow seemed to be a nice man, Michal thought. So what could be the harm in having dinner with him on her day off on Sunday? After all, she and Taavi were separated. Perhaps she could pay a sitter to watch Alina.
“So, now you know my name,” she said.
“Yes, and we have been officially introduced.” Again, Otto winked at Sammie. “Perhaps you will have dinner with me.”
“Sunday is my day off. I’ll have to arrange a babysitter.”
“That should be easy. I have a sister; she’s almost fifteen. She would be happy to watch your daughter while we went out for a quick dinner.”
“How do you know? You haven’t asked her.”
“I can guarantee it. She loves children and she doesn’t have any younger brothers or sisters … so, I am sure this would be a treat for her. What time can I come by for you?”
“Would seven be alright?”
“Perfect.” He smiled.
Otto picked Michal up at the Fogelman’s home and they took the subway back to the house where Otto lived with his sister. It was closer to town, but not directly in town.
It turned out that Otto’s sister was a sprite of a girl. Bridget was short with an athletic build, light brown, almost blonde hair, and an endless supply of energy. Michal was surprised to see that Alina took to her right away.
“Are you sure that you want to watch Alina while we go out for dinner?” Michal asked Bridget.
“Of course. Don’t worry, she’ll be fine with me.”
Michal had never left her daughter with a stranger before and, even though Otto’s sister seemed sweet and friendly, Michal was a little apprehensive.
Otto and Michal walked for several blocks to a quiet little restaurant with worn but clean eggshell-colored tablecloths.
“Feel free to sit anywhere you’d like,” a heavy-set man with a thick black mustache said.
They chose a table near the window. There were no menus. A young girl with a tooth missing in the front of her mouth came to take their order. She seemed bored as she recited what was available for dinner that night.
“We don’t have menus,” she said, “because we never know what we’re going to be able to get on any particular day. Sometimes maybe we can get fish, sometimes if we are very fortunate chicken, or cheese. Most times we try to have bread. You understand; everything is scarce.”
“Of course,” Otto said with a charming smile. Then he turned to Michal, who seemed to be feeling a little awkward. “Would you like me to order for you?”
“Yes.” She was relieved. She had no idea what to order or what to do. Was he going to pay the check? Would she be expected to pay some of it? She’d never been out for dinner with a man who was not her husband or betrothed before. It was all so strange and new. But Otto was so comfortable that he put her at ease.
“So, tell me a little about yourself, Michal.”
She took a breath and sighed. “Well, as you know, I am Jewish. I don’t think you are.”
“No, I am not.”
“Does it bother you that I am?”
“Nothing about you bothers me. In fact, I have a little secret to tell you. Do you promise not to tell anyone?”
She straightened her back as if she was worried that he might reveal something she would rather not know.
Otto laughed. “It’s all right. It’s nothing that would get you into trouble in any way. I promise.”
She cocked her head to the side. “Tell me th
“Well…” He hesitated for effect. She moved forward in her chair, waiting for him to speak. “Well … I have been thinking about you every day since the first time I saw you. And…” He cleared his throat for effect. “I wrote you a poem. A poem just for you … Would you like to hear it?”
“Yes.” A poem just for her?
Otto took a folded piece of paper out of his pocket, but before he could begin reading, the food arrived.
It became a ritual. Every Sunday evening, Otto came to the Fogelman home at seven-thirty. He and Michal would take the subway back to his apartment, where they would leave Alina with Bridget. Then the two of them would walk through the streets as the sun was setting. They usually went to the same café to share their dinner and all of the events that had taken place during the week.
One Monday morning, Otto was being featured at a book signing for children’s literature at the little bookshop where he sold his books. He’d invited Michal the night before when they were having dinner. Then, to his surprise and delight, she’d arrived with both children. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Otto was known to be promiscuous amongst his friends in the art world. When people spoke about him, they used words like suave and debonair, passionate and handsome. It was well known amongst his peers that Otto was bisexual, but he had never felt about a woman the way he felt about Michal. When he thought of her, he would smile to himself with the realization that opposites do attract, in the same manner that opposing sides of a magnet hold together tightly. He adored the way that she was so proper, but at the same time it made him reluctant to try to take her to bed. In fact, he had not even kissed her yet. And for Otto, this was strange behavior indeed. He thought that she liked him, but he wasn’t sure. Perhaps he was intrigued by the way that he could never be sure of her; she always kept him guessing. In the past, Otto was a confirmed bachelor. He never wanted to marry, but he had actually begun to consider the possibility with Michal. And if she didn’t have a husband in some faraway place, he would already have proposed. It was hard to be around her and not want to take her into his arms and plant a kiss on those soft lips.
Michal's Destiny by Roberta Kagan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes