Michal's Destiny, p.24Roberta Kagan
On April 6th, 1938, Elias turned fourteen. His voice had begun to change and was starting to notice how pretty Gilde was becoming. Although Gilde was only twelve, she was already beginning to develop the body of a young woman. She had begun to menstruate and Alina and Michal had both explained to her where babies came from and how important it was for a girl to respect her own body. With her father’s golden hair and amber eyes, it was easy to see she was destined to be a beauty. Shaul, who had turned fourteen in February, noticed too. Gilde enjoyed all of the attention, but still had the heart of a child. She much preferred to climb a tree or shoot marbles with her friends, rather than trying to stop the boys from fighting. They’d started a ridiculous competition for her attention that sometimes caused them to hit or punch each other.
Meanwhile, Alina had begun dating the boy who brought cases of food each week to the orphanage. His name was Benny; he was a strong quiet boy who came from a religious family. Every week, he and Alina saw each other when he made his delivery. At first, Alina had no romantic interest in Benny. But one day he jumped off the side of the delivery truck and walked over to her carrying an apple.
“I’ve been noticing you when I come here every week. Are you a teacher?”
“No, I’m a volunteer. I’m just finishing school.”
“My name is Benny.”
“We just got this shipment of apples. They’re very sweet. I thought you might like one.”
She smiled and took the fruit. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I hope you like it.”
“I’m sure I will,” Alina said, looking down at the apple in her hands. She’d never been alone talking with a boy close to her own age. She felt clumsy, awkward, and had no idea what to say. But she could see that Benny felt the same way.
“Well … I’ll see you next week?”
“Yes. Next week.”
And so, each week they spoke a little more until finally Benny asked Alina if she would like to have dinner with him. She agreed and they went on their first date. Michal and Taavi were glad that Alina had finally shown an interest in a boy. She was eighteen and, before Benny, she had never paid much attention to the opposite sex.
After Alina said she had a nice time on her first date with Benny, Michal invited Benny for Shabbat dinner on Friday night. Afterwards, Benny and Alina went for a walk. It was late June and the weather was beautiful. The sky spilled over with silver sparkling stars. They walked quietly for ten minutes, neither knowing what to say.
“It’s a beautiful night,” Benny said.
Again, they walked in silence. “Look at all of the stars that are out tonight.”
“They are beautiful,” Alina said.
“So, what are you going to do now that you are done with school?”
“I’m going to the university next year. For now, I’ve applied for a paid position in the kitchen at the orphanage. I’ll earn a little extra money over the summer.”
“I’m attending school part time at the university now. I can’t go to school full time because I have to work. My father’s business hasn’t been doing well. He had many Gentile customers who stopped coming to his store when the laws went into effect about Gentiles being forbidden to shop at Jewish stores. So, I went out and got a job with a steady paycheck to help the family.”
“Do you have sisters or brothers?”
“Both, two younger sisters and a younger brother. I’m the oldest.”
“It must be difficult for you.”
“Yes, I suppose it is. I want to have my own life, but I can’t just walk away from them and leave them to fend for themselves. We’ve always been a close family. They need me now, so I can’t abandon them. At least not until my father’s business improves.”
Alina nodded. “What are you studying?”
“Accounting, my parents are convinced that, as an accountant, I can always earn a living.”
“I suppose that’s true. Although, with all of the laws discouraging people from doing business with Jews, it’s hard to say what we can do to earn a living.”
“Yes, it is hard to say. For now, all we can do is hope that things will get better for us soon. So, on a brighter note, what do you want to study?”
“I want to be a teacher. I love working with children.”
“I can see that. The children at the orphanage love you.”
“I love them. They give me a sense of purpose. Does that make sense?”
“Of course. You know that they have no parents, no families, so you are their family. It’s a beautiful thing. You have a beautiful heart, Alina.”
She shook her head and looked away, “You embarrass me.”
“I was wondering if maybe you might have dinner with me again on Wednesday night?”
“Yes, I’d love to.”
From that night on, Alina and Benny went out for dinner every Wednesday, and every Friday he came to Shabbat dinner at Alina’s house.
Michal and Taavi discussed Alina’s relationship and they both agreed that they liked Benny. He was a quiet, studious boy, who was always respectful. It was easy to see that he came from a good family who he was devoted to and he never came to dinner without bringing a basket of fruit or a box of candy.
Because Lotti’s father had forbidden it, Lotti had not seen her family since she married Lev. She missed her parents and her younger brother. However, the day Lotti married Lev, Lotti’s father said that she was dead to her family and she was never to come near her parents or her brother again. He’d given her several chances to divorce Lev and come home, but when she refused, he’d completely disowned her and stopped trying to bring her home. She’d always feared her father. When he didn’t get his way, he was known to have a violent temper. In fact, when she declared that she and Lev planned to marry, he slapped her across the face several times, sending her head flying. But Lotti didn’t want to widen the gap between her husband and her family, so she never told Lev that her father hit her. Instead, she just told him that her parents did not approve of the marriage, but she said that she hoped they would change their minds. They never did. And Lev felt guilty that she’d lost her relationship with those she loved due to her love for him. But every time he mentioned it, she insisted that this was what she wanted.
One late afternoon at the orphanage, Alina and Lotti were helping the children with their homework. They sat on long wooden benches. Behind each of them, the children who needed assistance formed a line. One by one, they tried to give each child at least a few minutes of individual attention. Lotti was just finishing an explanation of an arithmetic problem to a seven-year-old girl, when a full grown man in his mid-twenties slid onto the bench beside her.
“JOHAN!!!!” she cried. “How are you? It’s been so many years.” Lotti hugged him tightly, smiling broadly. “Let me look at you. My God, you are handsome. The last time I saw you, you were just a teenager. Look at you now. Oh, Johan, I really have missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too. Papa went crazy every time I said that I wanted to come and see you. And you know how mean he can be.”
“I thought about secretly disobeying him and coming anyway, but Mama has been so sick that I didn’t want to upset her.”
“Is she all right?”
“She’s very sick. But, I actually came to tell you about Papa. Lotti, he had a sudden heart attack last week. He has passed away.”
Her mouth fell open. “Papa is dead?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. Well, sort of sorry.”
“Yes, well his death has freed me. For years, he dominated all of us with fear.”
“Oh, Johan. I know what you mean. He was a small-minded man full of hatred and anger. The threats of his beatings were a terrible part of our growing up. He hurt all of us, you, Mama, and me. Then when I met Lev, I think I fell so hard for him b
“He wouldn’t let you come anywhere near him. It was his fault, not yours.”
“I know that in my head, but my heart mourns. I guess it mourns for the man that I wished he had been.”
“Lotti, you have always been such an optimist. And no matter what, you’ve always found a way to see the good in everyone. I always admired that about you.”
“Does Mama want to see me?” Lotti asked.
Johan shook his head. “No, it’s best that you don’t come to see her. I’m afraid that she has lost her mind. Sometimes she doesn’t even know who I am. There is very little that she remembers, and most of the time she is very angry. Sometimes she throws things or hurts me or herself.”
“So you are caring for her alone?”
“I’m trying. But she is becoming impossible to handle. Last week, she started a fire on the stove. She was just sitting there in the living room and the whole kitchen was ablaze. It was a good thing that I got home in time or she would have burnt the entire building down with everyone inside. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m going to put her into an old age home. I have to work. I can’t watch her constantly. At least when she’s there, someone will always be around so she won’t be able to hurt herself or anyone else. Can you forgive me?”
“Johan, of course. There’s nothing to forgive. I understand. There’s nothing else you can do. It’s what’s best for her too. She’ll be safe there.”
“I hope so,” Johan said.
“Please, come to my house tonight. I want you to meet my husband. You and Lev have never met. He is a good kind man, and I am so happy to have you back in my life, my dear, dear brother.” Lotti hugged Johan again, then she called across the room to Alina. “Alina, come over here; I want you to meet someone, someone very special.” Lotti had tears of joy running down her cheeks as she pushed the hair out of Johan’s eyes the same way she had done when they were growing up together.
Alina walked over.
“This is my brother, Johan. Johan, this is my very good friend, Alina.”
A light flickered in Johan’s eyes. He looked away. How could he be thinking about how beautiful this girl was when he had come to deliver an important message … a somber message? He had come to tell his sister of the fate of their parents.
“Nice to meet you, Johan.” Alina smiled and the flame that flickered in Johan’s eyes lit a flame in Alina’s eyes as well.
Lev and Johan sat in the living room of the apartment, while Lotti prepared dinner. They drank dark bitter beer from heavy glass steins. At first, Lev didn’t speak much. The conversation was stilted and uncomfortable. Johan wasn’t sure how to relieve the tension, but he thought it might be caused by Lev believing that he had the same feelings towards Jews as his father had. Johan wanted to make sure that Lev knew that he was a different man than his father. Johan wanted to say that he had never disapproved of the marriage. But he was just a teen when his sister got married, and he didn’t have the courage to stand up to his father. Even now, as a man, Johan was ashamed of his fear and weakness when it came to his father. He hated to admit it even to himself, but until the moment that his father had taken his last breath, Johan had been intimidated by him. It was strange because by the end of their lives together, Johan had grown taller and stronger than his father. Yet in the old man’s presence, Johan still cowered, and when his father raised his voice, Johan was once again the child who had been beaten with belt buckles and hairbrushes. It was wrong to be joyous over someone’s death. But his father’s death had freed him and he felt light and hopeful for the future.
“I’ve missed my sister, and I just want to say that I am truly glad that you are happy together.”
“We are. I feel like I have loved Lotti forever. In fact, I can’t remember what my life was like before her.”
“I just want you to know that I don’t feel the same way about your people as my father did. I am not a Nazi … I am not involved with the Party.” Johan took a gulp of beer.
“It’s good to know that. You are my wife’s brother and I want you to know that you are always welcome in our home.”
“It’s good to be here, to be reunited with my sister.”
That night, Johan left with a promise to return for dinner on Sunday. As he rode the train back to his apartment, he thought about the serious, quiet, girl with charcoal-colored eyes. Alina. He whispered her name under his breath. She was Jewish. He was sure of it. The laws forbid relationships between Aryans and Jews. Lev and Lotti were walking a tightrope with the new laws. Was he as strong? Or was he a coward like his father always said he was? Johan took a deep breath. He hated himself for being weak and always afraid, but he knew it was best to forget the whole thing with the pretty Jewish girl. There were plenty of non-Jewish women that he could keep company with. Besides that, the Jewish girl was much younger than he and she would probably not be interested anyway. But she had such a mysterious way about her. She wasn’t outgoing and free-spirited like his sister. She was dark, quiet, and brooding. Alina, he thought, What goes on in that mind of yours? He wondered what she thought of him. Did she find him attractive or was he nothing more to her than Lotti’s brother? Perhaps she was married or had a serious boyfriend. Still, Johan could not forget her. In fact, he thought he saw a tiny spark of interest in her eyes when she looked at him. Had he imagined it? Maybe he was attracted to Alina because he was finally free of his father’s heavy hand and his mother’s needy illness? He didn’t care about his father at all, but Johan was riddled with guilt over his decision to put his mother in a home, but he couldn’t take it anymore, he had to be free of them. At twenty-six, he was handsome. There were millions of women all over Berlin. Finally, his life was his own. He was a fool to be thinking about becoming involved with a Jewish woman. Although he had no issues with prejudice, there was no reason to tempt the fates. It was his time to go to the beer halls and meet girls, to live, finally to live. Still … those dark brooding eyes of Alina lit a fire in the back of his mind.
Michal and Taavi assumed that soon they were going to hold a wedding for Alina and Benny. Michal tried to talk to Alina about her future and her feelings. She tried to offer her daughter guidance, but Alina just brushed her mother off. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be close to Michal, it was just that she had a hard time talking with anyone except Lotti. Lotti understood her. They had been friends since she was little, and when Michal and Taavi were first back together, Alina felt like a cement block had fallen between her and her mother. She loved Taavi, but before he came, even though Otto and Bridget were a big part of their lives, Alina and Michal were inseparable. Her father was kind and generous; she really had nothing to complain about. But, as she was growing up, sometimes she would lie in bed at night and wish that her parents would split up again. She adored her sister, but Gilde had added another cement block between Alina and Michal. Besides that, Gilde was so different from Alina. Gilde had no problem openly speaking of her emotions and asking for things she wanted. She complained loudly, declared her love loudly, laughed and cried loudly. Alina could never confide in Gilde; Gilde would never understand how twisted up she was inside. There was no doubt that Alina liked Benny, enjoyed his company, but her feelings for Benny were not strong enough to sustain a marriage, at least not with all the trials that she’d seen her parents face. She knew her mother wanted to know if she planned to marry Benny. But how could she explain what she really felt? What she wanted to say was, I don’t want to have a marriage like the one you had with Dad. I don’t know why you two broke up in the first place, especially when you were pregnant with me, but I don’t want to be like you. I refuse to have a boyfriend while I’m still married. Then, a
Johan came to visit Lotti at the orphanage several times over the summer. Every time he came, Alina noticed his eyes following her when he thought she wasn’t looking. There was no doubt that Johan was handsome, but she was still seeing Benny twice a week. And Alina had vowed to herself that, because of what happened with her mother and Otto, if she was involved with someone, she would be faithful. Predictable, reliable, Benny. He was kind and gracious, always considerate. If things between them continued on the course they were on, she and Benny would be expected to become engaged. So, why didn’t she want to marry him? He hadn’t proposed yet and she was glad that she didn’t have to give him an answer. Because if he had proposed today, with the way she felt, she would have to say no, and then her parents would be upset. They would ask her a million questions … questions that had no answers.
Michal's Destiny by Roberta Kagan / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes