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Michals destiny, p.19
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       Michal's Destiny, p.19

           Roberta Kagan
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  “Here, let’s get you into your pajamas.”

  For once, Alina didn’t argue. Michal got her ready for bed, helped her to wash her face and brush her teeth, then Alina went to the shelf to get her favorite book. She handed it to her mother, put her thumb in her mouth, and laid her head in Michal’s lap.

  “Once upon a time … a long time ago … in a faraway kingdom.…” Michal began. She was relieved to feel her daughter grow quiet and calm as Alina listened to the story that Otto had written. Perhaps it was the walk or lack of nutrition, but Alina quickly drifted off to sleep. When Michal was sure by her even breathing that Alina was in deep slumber, she lay the book down and covered her child. Then she went into the living room.

  She threw herself into a chair and put her hands over her face. All she could think of was, What if Taavi never came? What was her next move?

  Chapter 43

  “Lev? It’s always good to see you. How have you been? What brings you here?” Taavi was opening a bottle of beer for a customer on the other side of the bar. “Can I get you a beer? On me?”

  “Sure,” Lev said. He studied his friend. Taavi wore a white shirt, open at the neck, with the sleeves rolled up to reveal his muscular arms.

  Taavi set the mug in front of Lev and wiped his hands with the rag he had wrapped around his belt. “How are you?”

  “As well as I can be, Taavi. I lost my wife. She died,” Lev said, as he looked at Taavi’s face more closely. Although his body was in wonderful shape, Taavi had aged. He had dark circles under his eyes and deep wrinkles had formed between his brows.

  “Oh, my God. I am sorry, Lev.”

  “Yes, me too. I miss her more than I can say. So, Nu? How are you?”

  “Fine. Tired.”

  “Taavi. Listen, I came to talk to you about something important. Your wife came to see me today at the shop. She was looking for you.”

  “Michal?” Taavi felt his breath catch in his throat. “Michal came looking for me? Is she all right? Where is she? How is she?”

  “She seems all right, but I think she needs your help.”

  “My help? I haven’t seen her for six years.” Taavi looked away. He didn’t want Lev to see the range of emotions reflected in his face.

  “I have an address where she is staying.” Lev handed the paper to Taavi. Taavi looked at Michal’s familiar handwriting and his heart swelled.

  “You have a child, Taavi. I saw her. A little girl. Did you know?”

  Taavi’s shoulders dropped. He shook his head. “No. I had no idea…” Taavi poured a vodka for himself and drank it in a single swig. “A child? Who has been taking care of her and the child?”

  “I don’t know what she’s been doing. She came to me this morning. That was the first time I have ever met her. I have no idea where she has been all this time. She didn’t say.”

  “What can I do? I am assuming that Michal gave you this address because she wants to see me, is that right? Does she need money?”

  “Yes, both. She wants to see you and she desperately needs money. They have no food, and soon they will have no place to live.”

  “Did she say when she wants me to come to this address?”

  “She didn’t say an exact time or day. All she said was that she needs to see you as soon as possible. If you can, why don’t you go there in the morning when you get off work?”

  “I get off at about four a.m. I’ll go home and clean up. Then I can go to see her at about six. Do you think that’s too early?”

  “No, go as soon as you can.”

  “She knows I’m coming? You told her you would find me and tell me to come?”

  “Yes, Taavi, she knows.”

  Chapter 44

  A comedian was performing at the club that night, but Taavi never heard a word of his act. Taavi was too busy thinking about Michal. What if she wanted a divorce? What if she’d found another man? What if she only wanted money? And why the hell did he still care so much?

  After the bar closed that night, Taavi went back to his room. He was laying out his clothes when Frieda knocked at his door.

  “Liebchen … it’s me,” she whispered.

  He opened the door. “Look what I’ve got,” she said, pulling an opium pipe out of the pocket of her silk robe.

  “Not tonight,” he said.

  “It will help you sleep.”

  “Not tonight. I don’t want to go to sleep. I have somewhere I have to go.”

  “Taavi, come on. Where do you have to go that you can’t go later this afternoon? It’s four in the morning.”

  He stared directly at her. It had been a long time since he’d really looked at her. She was weathered, worn, and hard. He had become the same. When Taavi had first come to Berlin, he was proud of the man he was. Now, he had lost his self-respect. He was doing things he’d never dreamed he would have agreed to do, acting in shameful ways he’d never thought he was capable of.

  “Frieda … not tonight.” His voice was firm. He could see by the look on her face that she was disappointed and perhaps even a little worried that she had done something to offend him. It seemed she was always holding on to him so tight, always trying to keep control; she was so afraid that she would lose him.

  “You want to just maybe make love tonight? No opium, no morphine?”

  “I want to be left alone. I’m not feeling well.” He felt sorry for her. “Look, Frieda, I am sorry. But not tonight. All right?”

  “Are you sick? Do you need to go and see a doctor? I can have one come here.”

  “No, Frieda. I need you to leave me alone for now.”

  She nodded. “Yes, of course.” Her voice cracked, but she turned and walked out of the apartment. He didn’t go after her.

  Chapter 45

  Taavi’s emotions were a mixture of contrasts as he walked up to the entranceway of the apartment at the address on the paper Lev had given him. He was furious with Michal for leaving him, for denying him her love, which had turned him into an animal that last night. He was shocked, but deeply touched that he had a child, and at the same time he was angry that Michal had kept his daughter away from him for so long. But, most of all, Taavi missed the only woman he’d ever really loved. In his mind’s eye, he could still see her smile, feel the warmth of her hand in his own. How could a man hate and love a woman so much and all at the same time? His hand trembled as he knocked on the door. Part of him wanted to flee like a child to escape the uncertainty of what awaited him. But he was frozen to the ground … waiting … waiting for her to answer the door.

  Michal opened the door.

  “Taavi?” Michal looked up into his eyes “Come in.”

  She was perhaps even more beautiful than he remembered. Her long curls hung about her waist and she wore only a simple house dress, but her eyes, those smoldering charcoal eyes….

  “How are you?” he asked, feeling foolish, clumsy, and at a loss for words.

  “I’m surviving,” she said, and he saw her lower lip tremble just slightly.

  “You asked Lev to find me and tell me to come here?” he said.

  “Yes, Taavi.”

  He cocked his head and waited. She turned away from him and cleared her throat. “I’ve done some terrible things since we have been separated. Things I am ashamed of. But, I wanted to see you. I have so much to say…” She couldn’t look at him. “Sit down, please.”

  He sat.

  “I don’t know where to begin.”

  “You need money?” he interrupted her.

  “Yes, I do. But that isn’t the only reason that I sent for you. Not by far.”

  “Then, what is it, Michal?” He knew he sounded harsh, but if he allowed himself to be at all vulnerable, he might crack.

  “I’m sorry, Taavi. I’m sorry for everything. I was a terrible wife to you and then after I left I was too proud to come to you and tell you that we have a child.…”

  “I know. Lev told me … you should have come.”

  “Yes, you’re r
ight. I should have. But that isn’t all, Taavi. I’ve sinned. I’ve sinned in the worst possible way.…”

  Taavi felt his stomach churn. Had she resorted to prostitution to support herself and his child?

  “I was with another man for a while. You can walk away from me and ask for a divorce; I will understand. But I couldn’t lie to you; I had to tell you the truth.”

  Taavi nodded his head. He took a wad of bills out of his pants pocket and placed it on the coffee table. Then he got up and walked to the door. “Goodbye, Michal.”

  “Taavi … don’t you even want to see your daughter?”

  He did. He wanted to turn back and take Michal into his arms, but she’d been with another man. Taavi felt sick to his stomach at the very thought of her in someone else’s arms. “I think it’s best that I leave. It’s probably better for all of us if I never see my child.”

  “Taavi…” he was walking down the hall towards the door to the outside of the building. Once he was gone, Michal was sure she would never see him again. “Taavi … please, please don’t go. Give me another chance.”

  He turned all the way around to look at her. She looked so small, so slender, so alone. He felt an invisible thread come from her and tug at his heart. When they were apart he was willing to accept her back on any terms. But then he hadn’t realized how hard it would be to think of another man kissing her, holding her. She was looking at him begging him to forgive her. His eyes connected directly to hers and he felt his heart breaking. Although it hurt him and he felt betrayed, he loved her. And, hadn’t he done far worse things? If he walked away now it would be the end and he couldn’t bear to lose her, not again.

  “I love you, Taavi.”

  Those words broke through and collapsed all of his resistance like rushing water through a hole in a dam. Taavi couldn’t move. Instead, he stood and stared at her. Then, in a whisper, he said, “I love you too, Michal. I loved you from the first time I saw you and I’ve never stopped.”

  “Forgive me, Taavi. Please, I’ve made so many mistakes.”

  She ran into his arms. Tears slipped down her cheeks as he held her tightly. “Michal, I have sinned too. I have sinned plenty. But if you are willing, maybe we can start over. We can both find it in our hearts to forgive.” He could no longer hold back; a single tear fell upon her hair.

  “Thank God, Taavi. Thank God you’re here. Thank God you have forgiven me and we are together again.”

  He kissed her lips and sighed. “I have longed to hold you like this.”

  She gripped him tighter. For several minutes, they stood in the hallway of the apartment building, until a man came out of the door of his flat. He was carrying a lunch pail and looked as if he might be on his way to work. He stared at Michal and Taavi. Then they both realized that they were standing outside in the cold. Michal was only wearing a thin housedress, but until now she hadn’t even felt chilled.

  “Can I come in? I would love to see my daughter.”

  She nodded. “Yes, I think it’s a good idea. Come in, Taavi.”

  Chapter 46

  That night, Taavi stayed for dinner. He went to his friends on the black market and bought plenty of food. Michal prepared the meal, while Taavi sat on the floor and entertained Alina, whose laughter filled the small rooms with joy. It warmed Michal’s heart to see Alina smiling, and not hungry.

  After Alina went to sleep in her own bed, Michal took Taavi’s hand and led him to her bedroom. It was awkward at first. So much had happened in the time they were apart.

  “Taavi, our breakup was my fault. I know that now. Here, sit down on the bed.” She sat beside him and took his hand in hers. “I want you to make love to me. I know now that this is the way it should have been before,” she said. “And, I am sorry. I wasn’t ready. The rape during the pogrom had damaged me. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”

  “I know that. That terrible night when I forced you. God, Michal, I’ve regretted that night. But I only did it because somehow I believed that if I could just make love to you once, you would be all right. You would see that what we shared was love, and it was nothing like what happened to you with the Cossack. And then, I guess it turned out to be just like what happened with the rape. I made mistakes too. Believe me, Michal, I didn’t want it to work out that way.”

  “We were young and inexperienced. I know I had too much pride and I had to overcome that before I could be a good wife to you. But I believe that God has given us a second chance. This time I want us to have a real marriage. I’m ready.”

  “Is this something that you came to realize when you were away from me? I mean, is this something that you learned in the arms of another man?” He swallowed hard.

  “Does it matter? Does it really matter, Taavi? Is this what you want or not?” She looked up into his eyes. “I don’t want to tell you what happened; it would only hurt you. And it’s over now. If you want me, if you will give me another chance, from this day forward I will be the best wife you could ever imagine.” Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes.

  “I just want to say that if it was another man … then as hard as this is for me … I have to thank him. He has given me my wife.”

  “Taavi, you never stop surprising me. I love you. I really love you.”

  “I want our marriage to work. I want you. I want you more than I’ve ever wanted anything. Whatever you did while we were apart is over now. I did some bad things too. All that matters is today, our future together … we have each other now. And this time we have a better understanding of how to love each other. I am willing to lay down my heart, my soul, and my pride to make this work between us, to build a family with you.”

  “And so am I,” she whispered.

  Taavi kissed Michal and then slowly and gently he made love to her. At first, he felt clumsy, his hands trembled, and sweat formed at his brow. He didn’t want to make a mistake and repel her again. Even with all the women he’d made love to in the past, there was something inside of him that assured him that this was different. This time, every move he made really mattered. And, truth be told, Taavi was nothing like the arrogant man he’d been five years ago when he demanded that Michal be a wife to him. Taavi had learned; he’d learned the value of true feelings, and he’d experienced enough empty sexual encounters for a lifetime. He wanted a family, a home, and a woman who would be his best friend and his partner in life. Although he’d been surrounded by people while he worked at the cabaret, he’d always felt a deep emptiness in the pit of his stomach. When he saw Michal, he knew that she was the only one who could fill that void inside of him, and he didn’t want to lose her again. For Michal, the Cossack was forgotten. That had been Otto’s gift to her. And no matter what else he’d done, he’d saved her from a life of fear and haunting memories. Michal was grateful. She had always loved Taavi, but they had begun with a dark cloud hanging over them. It was time to begin again. Michal allowed herself to be swept up with emotion; her lovemaking with Taavi was more magical than anything she’d ever experienced with Otto or Avram. For Taavi, the joining together with his wife erased from his heart and mind any trace of the years he’d spent living a life of debauchery. They were like two pieces of a puzzle that had been lost for ages, and were finally united together. Now they had cemented together and were indivisible.

  Chapter 47

  Taavi knew that he had to leave his job at the nightclub if he wanted to be a good husband and father. The only way that he could change his life was to completely break free of Frieda, the alcohol, the drugs, and the endless sexual encounters with nameless, faceless people who he hardly recognized in the morning.

  At least he’d saved a nice sum of money working at the bar. If he took that money, he would be able to open his own custom carpentry shop. There were still plenty of rich people who would admire his craftsmanship and purchase his hand-made pieces. He’d become accustomed to his nocturnal, overindulgent lifestyle, but he also knew that it was taking a toll on him. And, if he continued, he had
a good chance of dying young. But most importantly, he loved Michal. And the moment he saw Alina, he knew that she belonged to both of them. She had his nose and his smile, her mother’s hair and tiny hands. Taavi was in awe. He couldn’t believe the miracle that he was a father. A father had responsibilities. He planned to take good care of his family. If he had to work day and night as long as he lived, his wife and daughter would never want for anything again.

  Taavi had missed a night of work. He knew Frieda would be looking for him, so he returned to the club the following day to collect his things and tell her that he was quitting. There was a possibility that Frieda had slept in his bed awaiting his return. It would be terrible if that were the case. If she was there waiting for him, he would have to tell her his plans before he had a chance to pack up his belongings. He was glad he had not told her where he was going when he left, because he was sure she would have scanned his rooms until she found the cardboard cigar box in his drawer filled with all of his savings. There was no doubt in Taavi’s mind that if Frieda found his money, she would take it. Not because she wanted or needed it, but as long as he had no money, she would have control over him. Taavi turned the key to the door of his rooms and silently went inside. Quietly, he peeked into his bedroom and was thankful to find that Frieda was not there. The next thing he did was look for his money. And he sighed with relief to find it just as he had left it. After placing the piles of bills in the bottom of the old suitcase he’d brought when he’d arrived five years earlier, he began packing the things he’d acquired while he’d lived in these rooms behind the club. It was early in the morning and he’d come early on purpose. From what he knew of her, Frieda would have just gone to sleep. Once he was all packed and was ready to leave, he went into the empty club. It was silent. All of the chairs were stacked up on the tables. The bar was clean. He wondered who had worked it the night before when he hadn’t shown up for work. Taavi assumed that she’d probably gone to check his rooms, but he wasn’t sure if she was angry, worried, or both. It was possible that Frieda could have called the police and reported him missing. Taavi sighed. One thing was for sure, Frieda was going to be angry when she found out his plans to leave forever. If he was a coward, he would walk out right now without another word, without even an explanation. But that wouldn’t be fair to her. She had been kind to him. And even though he was sure she would be wild with fury and shout obscenities at him, he would do right by her. He would wait until she came in and thank her for everything that she had done for him before he left.

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