Michals destiny, p.20
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       Michal's Destiny, p.20

           Roberta Kagan
 
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  Taavi sat in the empty club until eleven that morning, when Frieda finally arrived.

  “Are you all right?” She ran over to him. Frieda was a hard woman, and he had never before seen such concern in her face about anyone or anything. Looking at her now, he felt guilty for what he was about to do.

  “Yes, no need to be worried. I’m fine.”

  She cocked her head to the side, as if she couldn’t understand what he’d just said. Then she trembled slightly and her eyes glared at him.

  “Where were you last night?”

  “I’m sorry. I couldn’t come in.”

  “You couldn’t call? You should have at least let me know. This is my business, my livelihood. Have you no respect for me or for your job?”

  “I’m sorry. You’re right. I should have called you.”

  “It was a disaster here last night without you … Nobody was available to take your place. I had to step in. I don’t even know how to tend bar. It was a disaster, I tell you. We lost money and maybe we even lost customers last night. This was very irresponsible of you, Taavi. I expected more from you. I’ll grant you that you have been a pain in the ass, but …”

  “Frieda.” He cut her off in mid-sentence. “I have something to tell you.”

  Her face turned from anger to worry and, for the first time, he realized that she really did care deeply for him. In fact, she might even be in love with him. “What is it? Are you ill?”

  He shook his head. “No, Frieda. I’m all right. But, I have to leave this job. I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me--”

  “Leave? You can’t just leave? What is it that’s wrong; do you want more money? Do you need something?”

  “Frieda, let’s just say that it’s just time for me to go.”

  “This doesn’t make any sense to me.”

  “I know. I knew it wouldn’t, but I couldn’t leave without letting you know how much I appreciate--”

  It was her turn to cut him off. Her face looked as if she’d just chewed on glass. “Shut your mouth, Taavi. Shut your mouth right now. You were nothing when I found you. A poor Russian Jew with no education, no class, nothing, nothing to offer anyone. Without me, you would be laying on the street someplace and begging for food. I brought you here to my club and it was me, do you understand that? It was me who introduced you to some of the most influential people in Berlin society. And now this? You stand here and tell me you’re leaving. Just like that, no reason? Don’t I deserve more? At least an explanation?” She grunted. “I should have expected this from a dirty Jew. That’s right, a dirty Jew. That’s all you are. I gave you everything, money, everything. And … this is how you thank me? You desert me? Just like that?”

  He felt bad and, for a moment, he wished he’d just disappeared and avoided this confrontation altogether.

  “I wish you the best of everything--”

  “Take your wishes and go to Hell with them, Taavi … Go to Hell, you bastard, do you hear me?”

  He nodded, then picked up his valise and walked out of his previous life forever.

  As he headed down the street, he heard her yelling behind him, “You son of a bitch. Everyone told me not to trust a Jew. You are worthless. Worthless, do you hear me?”

  He never turned around.

  Chapter 48

  Taavi took no time off before starting his new business. There was a lot to be done. First, he rented a space, then purchased equipment and supplies. Once he’d set everything up, he asked Lev to come and work with him. Lev was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough business for both of them, but Taavi promised Lev that he would not fail. Lev finally agreed and joined Taavi in his venture. Next, Taavi put advertisements in the local paper. Michal was nervous about all of the money Taavi was spending. She had been so poor for so long, and seeing all of this money being spent at once frightened her. But Taavi was confident in his plans. When she told him how worried she was, he smiled and winked at her. Then he begged her to trust him. So, she swallowed her fears and did as he asked.

  Michal was elated that Taavi had friends in the black market who were able to get their hands on decent food. And she was even more excited that she and Taavi were able to afford the food. Tears came to her eyes when, one afternoon, Taavi brought home a warm coat for Alina. Alina tried it on; it was a little too big, but Michal assured Taavi that Alina would grow into it.

  Of course, Taavi had no idea that the apartment where they were living was the same place that Michal had shared with Otto. In fact, he knew very little about Otto. All he knew was that there had been another man when he and Michal were separated. He didn’t ask and Michal didn’t volunteer any information. But the flat was not really to Taavi’s liking. It had limited heat and hot water. So, he asked Michal if she would be willing to live above his shop. “There is a nice apartment upstairs. It will be easy for me to come and go to work. There is plenty of hot water and the landlord understands that I will pay extra for heat in the winter. Michal was glad to leave the past behind with all of its memories, so she readily agreed.

  “I will make you the most beautiful furniture for this apartment that you have ever seen,” he said, smiling. “Only the best for my beautiful wife.”

  Alina had never been so contented. The child stopped sulking because her father spent time playing games with her and reading to her. Eventually, Alina even stopped asking for Bridget.

  The apartment above the furniture store was lovely, well-maintained, and even had its own bathroom with a white porcelain claw-foot tub. As promised, the landlords were generous with the heat because Taavi paid them extra to assure that the place would be warm in the winter. No matter what time of year, they always had hot water, and every night Michal enjoyed a warm bath. She felt as if she had died and gone to straight to Heaven.

  If Taavi had been in love with Michal before, his love had grown ten-fold in the time they were apart. Being reunited with his wife brought Taavi a sense of purpose and stability that he’d begun to believe he’d lost forever. For a long time, Taavi had been feeling lost. Now he was on the road to becoming the man he had always known he was meant to be.

  Michal and Taavi were like young lovers. They wanted so much to make up for lost time, to please each other in ways that they had never even attempted before the breakup. Michal went to great lengths to prepare Taavi’s favorite foods, to surprise him when he got home for dinner. After a long day at work, Taavi often stopped at the florist and bought a bouquet for his love.

  It was only one month after the couple had reunited that Michal felt her breasts begin to swell. She was sick in the morning and again in the evenings. Her menstrual flow was late. There was no doubt in her mind that they had been blessed with another child. That night after dinner, when Alina had gone off to bed, Taavi took Michal in his arms and pulled her gently onto his lap.

  She giggled. “I have some news for you.”

  “Oh?”

  “I think you are going to have to build a crib. I’m having a baby.”

  He hugged her tightly, taking in the sweet floral scent of her hair. Michal had been happy to have laundry soap to wash her hair, but Taavi insisted on buying her the finest shampoo. It had the faint smell of a rose garden. When Taavi had first given her the shampoo, Michal had tried to save it for a special occasion. But Taavi told her that every day since they had reunited was a special occasion and he insisted on indulging her. As he took in the fragrance, he felt overwhelmed with love.

  “Michal … another baby?” Taavi asked.

  “Another blessing.”

  “You know, when I was young and arrogant I used to doubt the existence of God. But it took a miracle to bring us back together. It was not a coincidence. I am sure of it. Only something as powerful as God could have made such a miracle.”

  “And now we will have two children, Taavi. We are so blessed; we have a wonderful place to live and plenty to eat. People are starving.”

  “I know that. In fact, I’ve begun to giv
e thanks every day.”

  “Have you ever wished that we had enough to help others?”

  “I have wished that. And sometimes I give to the poor who beg on the street. I don’t know if it makes a difference in their lives, but I would like to think that it does.”

  She snuggled into his chest and they sat like that for a long time before he lifted her in his arms and carried her to bed.

  Chapter 49

  It is said that word of mouth is the best advertising, and it was through this method that Taavi’s business began to flourish. He became known throughout Germany and Austria as an amazingly talented carpenter. He paid Lev well, and together they built a thriving shop, but they also built an even deeper friendship. When Taavi first opened the store, he was worried that he would not be able to earn as much money as he’d earned at the bar. He never told anyone of his concerns, especially not Michal. He didn’t want her to fret. But he was wrong to be afraid of that failure. There were still plenty of wealthy people who loved his pieces, each of which was a work of art with plenty of attention to detail.

  Taavi and Michal were not rich like the Fogelmans had been, but they had everything they needed, and, most importantly, they were happy. There was nothing Taavi would not do to make Michal smile. Whenever he went to meet with his friends from the black market, he always brought special gifts for Michal. He brought cookies filled with apricot jam and real coffee. For Alina, he always brought lumps of sugar and once he came home with a baby doll with two changeable outfits.

  Chapter 50

  Gilde Margolis decided she was ready to make her entrance into the world in the middle of the frigid December of 1926. It was the fourth night of Hanukkah, right after dinner, while Michal was cleaning the kitchen that her water broke. Alina, as she did every night of Hanukkah, carefully set up the menorah and filled it with candles on the kitchen table. This was Alina’s favorite holiday and she was eagerly waiting for Taavi to say the prayers and light the candles, because every night for eight nights, Alina knew that she would receive a beautifully wrapped gift.

  “Come on, Papa, let’s start the prayers.”

  “Yes, Alina, we will.” He smiled. “I know you’re excited, but I’m waiting for your mama.”

  Michal did not come for a long time.

  Taavi went into the kitchen, but Michal wasn’t there. Then he looked around the apartment for her and found the bathroom door locked.

  “Michal?”

  “Taavi … I’m in labor,” Michal whispered. “Get the doctor.”

  “Open the door.”

  She did.

  He saw the liquid on the floor. “Is everything all right?”

  She nodded. “I need the doctor.”

  Taavi ran out without his coat and raced down the street, slipping on the ice that coated the sidewalk. He almost fell, but caught himself, skinning his knuckles against the bricks of a building, but he didn’t stop to look at his injury. When he got to the doctor’s office, there were patients still waiting.

  “I need the doctor.”

  “We’re trying to close the office. As you can see, we have a lot of people waiting, so we aren’t taking any more patients tonight. Come back in the morning.”

  “I need to see the doctor now,” Taavi said.

  “I’m sorry; that’s just not possible,” the nurse at the desk answered.

  Taavi pushed the door to the office open. When Taavi extended his chest and stood tall, he looked like the human version of a lion. He walked right into an examining room, where he found a man sitting on a table with the doctor studying a red boil on the man’s chest.

  “I need you. I need you right now. My wife is in labor.”

  “Take her over to the hospital.”

  “I can’t get her there. I need you to come to the house.”

  “I’m sorry. I have an office full of patients. It’s Hanukkah and I want to go home to spend some time with my own family. But I can’t leave until I’ve finished here. You’ll have to find someone else.”

  Taavi pulled a thick wad of marks from his pocket and threw them down on the table. “I am willing to pay you very well.”

  The doctor looked at the pile of money. Then he turned to the patient, handed him a tube of cream, and said, “Use this twice a day for a week. The swelling should come down. Then drain it with hot towels. Come and see me to recheck it.”

  “Let’s go,” the doctor said to Taavi, as he grabbed his coat.

  Chapter 51

  Alina was worried about her mother; she asked Taavi over and over when she would be allowed to go into the room to see Michal. Taavi tried to remain patient with her, but he was on edge with worry and snapped at her, telling her to please be quiet. She started crying and he immediately felt guilty and took her into his arms and held her.

  “Mama will be all right. But please stop asking me when we can go in and see her.”

  Alina nodded, slipping her thumb into her mouth. Michal had broken her of the habit, but when she was nervous, Alina still sucked her thumb. She lay quietly in her father’s arms for almost an hour before she asked again.

  “When can we go in to see Mommy?”

  Taavi shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know.”

  “I’m hungry, Daddy; can we have something to eat? Please.”

  Taavi was exhausted and didn’t want to leave the house, but he reminded himself that Alina was only a child and her needs must not be ignored. He went to the kitchen and found that there was nothing to feed the child.

  “Stay here and be very good. I’m going to run down to the store to get you something to eat.”

  “I want to go with you, Daddy. Please don’t leave me here alone. I’m afraid.”

  Taavi was frustrated. He was anxious. It would be so much easier if he could just go and get something for Alina to eat, instead of dragging her along with him. He wanted to get back as quickly as possible. But when he looked at his five-year-old daughter, he saw that she was trembling. Taavi took a deep breath.

  “All right, all right,” he said as calmly as he was able. “Don’t be afraid. I’ll take you with me.”

  Taavi took Alina’s small coat, hat, and scarf down from the hook on the wall and dressed her calmly. Then he mustered a smile and took his daughter’s hand. Everything was closed except for the newsstand. He would have to purchase some snacks like crackers there until the regular stores opened in the morning.

  Alina held fast to her father’s hand as he waited for the man at the newspaper stand to give him change.

  “What’s that, Papa?” she said, looking down at what looked like a cartoon. Taavi glanced down. At first, it didn’t register in his mind, because his mind was too filled with worry about Michal. But then he realized that what he was looking at was not a cartoon at all; it was anti-Semitic propaganda.

  That was when Taavi realized that it was a newspaper with the words Der Strummer printed in black letters across the top of the front page. Under the heading was a picture of a doctor with a large exaggerated nose and thick hungry-looking lips. Sitting on the examining table was a young innocent looking blonde female. The caption below read, “A German virgin girl at the hands of her devious Jewish doctor.” Taavi picked up the paper and opened it to another page. There he saw two youngsters being lured by a man wearing a yarmulke and pe’ot. The caption read, “We must protect our children. The Jews are our misfortune.” Taavi had endured anti-Semitism all of his life, but seeing it in black and white newsprint was even more unsettling.

  Alina was eating the crackers and holding her father’s hand as they walked back home together. Taavi was trying to control his desire to pull Alina along more quickly. He wanted to get back in case Michal needed him. But as much as he tried to shake the memory of the newspaper he’d just seen, he was haunted by it. Taavi could not help but remember something a rabbi had once told him. Unlike the other boys in the settlement where Taavi grew up, he had not taken many religious classes, but the one he did attend was
given by Rabbi Rothman, a German who had moved to Russia to marry and start his congregation. Rothman had told the boys in class, “When people see something in print, they tend to believe it is true, regardless of whether it is or not.” Taavi wondered what kind of effect the Der Strummer had on the Germans who saw it and what kind of hatred it would bring upon the Jews.

  When they arrived back at the house, nothing had changed. But at least Alina had something in her stomach, so she was willing to sit quietly beside her father and wait.

  Eight hours passed this way. Alina drifted in and out of sleep. Each time she awakened, she asked Taavi the same question.

  “Can we go in and see Mommy yet?”

  “Not yet, sweetheart,” he would say and pat her head gently. It took all the patience he could muster to give her the same answer. Then in the early hours as the sun was rising, they heard the hearty cry of an infant. Taavi jumped to his feet.

  “Stay here … I’ll be right back,” Taavi said to Alina.

  “I want to go with you.”

  “No, not yet. Stay here.”

  Taavi knocked on the bedroom door. “Doctor?”

  “Yes, she’s fine. You have a daughter. Give me a minute in here and then you can come in.”

  Taavi paced in front of the door like a panther in a cage until the doctor came out of the room.

 
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