Monday, December 22, 2014

Austerity, vi


           Arye tosssed a rubber ball against the courtyard wall.  Little Haim Levin had come home from his youth group, once again caked in mud and dirt. 

            “I planted three trees today Arye, all by myself,” he told his
brother joyfully.

            “Great,” Arye said, deflated, continuing to bounce his ball without specific intent.  “Get away from me. Go inside and eat.”  Haim, seeing the dark shadow across his brother’s brow, walked up toward the flat.

            Arye threw the ball again and again, trying to erase the sound of his mother’s soft, heartrending sobs.  She had done it again:   In her rush from home to work to the grocer the egg coupon had fallen from the flimsy ration book.  There would be no eggs in the Levin house for at least two weeks. 

            His mother sobbed less for the loss of the coupon or the eggs, and more for her own complicity in carelessness.  So Arye Levin threw the ball harder against the wall, trying to banish all thoughts of food which would never be eaten, but he could not exile Ezra Mizrahi’s words from his mind.  The boy’s mocking litany about the government, his imitation of the Romanian minister’s heavy accent, the conspicuous patting of his rounded belly, even his mocking of Joseph from the bible, formed in Arye the desire to destroy something precious and unique, to remove a keystone from the foundation of the Jewish State.  Instead, the boy let the ball drop from his hand and strode purposefully to the Mizrahi flat.

            Once the door was open, Arye quickly realized that Giveret Mizrahi did not speak Hebrew.  Arye continued to ask for Ezra with clipped words, but the woman just looked at him, her palms outward and empty, as if she had nothing to offer but an empty brown hand.  Then Arye took a different tack.  He asked for eggs.  He formed the shape of an egg with his index finger and thumb.  He made a cracking sound and pantomimed flipping in a skillet.  Giveret Mizarhi looked behind Arye and then beckoned him into the flat.  She gestured for him to stay near the door and disappeared in a back room, where a baby was crying.  When she returned she asked for one lira in serviceable Hebrew.  Arye dug it out from his pocket and handed her the money.

            He could not bring the eggs home, as he had no legitimate excuse for possessing them.  But he couldn’t just throw them away, being precious in themselves and having just spent his entire monthly allowance on their purchase.  So, Arye Levin impotently walked around the block of flats, the carton of eggs in his outstretched arms, holding them as preciously and conspicuously as a sick infant. 

            “Hey you,” someone said behind him.  “Hey boy, stop!”

            Arye turned around to see a policemen and a man in a suit behind him.  They examined Arye Levin through narrow, skeptical eyes.

            “Where did you buy those eggs?” the man in the suit asked crisply.  Arye gave the name of the local grocer.

            “Don’t lie,” the man continued, moving closer to Arye, his chest nearly crushing the eggs. “We can check that out easily, you know.  Where is the stub?”


            “The ration stub!  Stop playing games,” the suited man said, raising his voice and holding out a red tinted hand.

            “I lost it,” Arye said, the words catching in his throat. 

            “Bullshit,” the policemen in uniform answered, grasping Arye firmly by the arm.  The plainclothesman seized the eggs from Arye’s trembling hands.

            “My parents…” Arye mumbled.
            “Don’t worry, we’ll call them from the station…” and they led Arye away

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