Sunday, September 25, 2011

I’m Sorry: A short story for Yom Kippur

Just as Michal opened the front door the phone began ringing. Apparently none of the children were home and she managed to grab it on the sixth ring. It was Dina, from the office, but her voice was not breezy as usual.
"I called to find out if Chaya is okay."

"What do you mean?" Michal asked guardedly.
"You didn't hear?"

"Didn't hear what?" Michal spoke sharply. For a full forty-five minutes she had been in her car listening to a tape, blissfully cut off from the rest of the world. What had happened?

"I'm sorry to be the one telling you," Dina seemed reluctant to continue. "There was a shooting on the number six bus, the one Chaya usually takes. I thought you would know since you're such good friends."
Were such good friends, Michal thought with sorrow. She was able to drag few details out of Dina who was uncomfortable being the bearer of bad news.

The phone rang again and Michal lunged for it. It was Natan making sure that she was safe. Somehow Michal could not bring herself to say a word about Chaya and cut the conversation short. Biting her fingernails she entered into her post-terror-attack mode. On went the radio and the internet. Out came the book of psalms. Only this time she was having a hard time concentrating on the words of the psalms.

"I thought you would know since you're such good friends" She repeated Dina's phrase over and over and blinked back tears.

For twenty-five years they had been best friends, ever since high school. Chaya, quiet, little, and blonde, had been considered the class beauty while Michal, redheaded and freckled, had been known for her outrageous sense of humor. Chaya's cautious nature had done a lot to calm Michal's adventurous temperament. Still, Michal had been able to get Chaya involved with harmless school pranks and the teachers were pleased to see Chaya become more outgoing.

Chaya married a few months after graduation but her change in status did not affect their friendship. In fact, it was Chaya's husband who introduced Michal to Natan five years later. Chaya's only disappointment with the match was that the couple would not be making their home in Jerusalem, but rather in a new village in the Etzion Bloc.

"When will we ever see each other?" Chaya had grumbled.

"I'm not moving to Siberia," Michal had laughed. "It's less than an hour away from Jerusalem. You'll come for a Shabbat and see how nice it is. Who knows? Maybe you'll decide to move, too."

Chaya, her husband, and two toddlers did come for a Shabbat. And the idealism, the view, and the fresh air had charmed them. They might even have decided to move out also, if the first Intifada hadn't started. Quiet Chaya was terrified of being hit by a stone and it was over two years, long after protective plastic had been put on the bus windows, that she and her family came for Shabbat again.

As their families grew, getting together for Shabbat became more complicated. Phone conversations between the two friends grew longer but they missed seeing each other. And then an opening came at the office Chaya worked at. Michal decided to apply and within a few weeks she and Chaya were working in cubicles right next to each other. They had not seen each other so much since they had been in high school. Every morning they ate their ten o'clock sandwiches together. Things were going great until the day after Chaya received the invitation to Michal's son’s Bar Mitzvah party.

It was in the elevator that Chaya had remarked how nice the invitation was. Michal had beamed and looked at her friend expectantly. Chaya had nervously cleared her throat.

"Moshe has to teach that evening. We won't be able to come."

"Oh," Michal did not bother to hide her disappointment. "What about Shabbat?"

"Michal," Chaya cried out. "I'm afraid!"

"You're afraid! The buses are bullet proof."

"But not the houses. What if there's an infiltrator?"
"And what if the bus you're on tomorrow is blown up?" Michal did not wait for an answer. She flounced into her cubicle and began slamming papers around on her desk. At ten o'clock, when Chaya cautiously poked her head in, she saw that Michal was still fuming.

"Should I come in?" she asked warily.

Michal impatiently motioned for Chaya to sit down.

"I thought you'd want me to be honest with you," Chaya said simply.

Michal did not respond to that; instead she asked a question in a biting voice. "Do you remember when you made Benny's brit on Friday morning and the weather was horrible?"

Chaya nodded not understanding what Michal was implying.
"I was afraid to come in case we got snowed in and would not be able to get home to the kids for Shabbat. But we came because our friendship is important."

Chaya bit her lip. "I'm sorry I'm not as brave as you," she said softly.

Michal just shook her head sadly.

She really did not mean to be hateful. In the beginning she was using all her break time to do errands for the Bar Mitzvah. Afterwards she took a week off work and when she came back Chaya did not come in at ten o'clock with her sandwich. Perhaps she was afraid of rejection. Maybe she was angry. Michal did not know and she had too much pride to ask. In the past three months the two women had probably not said more than ten words to each other. And now Chaya might be hurt or worse from a terror attack in downtown Jerusalem.

Michal's hand reached for the phone and automatically dialed Chaya's mobile phone number. No answer. Taking a deep breath she dialed Chaya's home. Chaya's oldest daughter answered.

"Hello, Liat, it's Auntie Michal. Is your mother there?"

Michal was hoping against hope that Chaya had gone to an appointment after work and taken a different bus. The quiver in Liat's voice assured her that had not happened.

"She's at Bikur Holim Hospital. She was in the terror attack and is in surgery now."

"Oh, Liat. I'm so sorry." The tears slid down Michal's cheeks unchecked. "Do you need anything?"

"No, just say Tehillim. My friend and her mother are here and Abba's with Ima."

"Please call me as soon as you hear from your father."

Liat promised and Michal opened up her book of psalms again. She was still reciting them when the children began trickling in. It was only when Natan came home, though, that any of them knew Auntie Chaya had been hurt.

"Go, to the hospital," Natan told his wife. "I'll take care of things here."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

With sobs and sniffles Michal told her husband the whole story of why Michal had not come to the Bar Mitzvah and how she had reacted.

"Listen," he spoke firmly when she was finished. "You two have been close friends for twenty-five years. You've been angry with each other for three months. That's nothing. Go see her."

Michal shook her head stubbornly. "Chaya doesn't want to see me."

Liat's call finally came just as Michal was putting supper on the table.

"Well?" Natan asked.

"She was 'lightly' injured in the shoulder and with prayers, therapy, and time she should have ninety percent use of it. Liat and the others are on their way to visit her now." Michal spoke mechanically.

"What about you?"

"We'll see."
Later, when the house was somewhat quiet, Michal sat alone at the table struggling with pen and paper. after more than a dozen false starts she finally wrote something she was happy with.

 Dear Chaya,
I am sorry for all the bad feelings and I hope you will let me be your friend again. I miss you and I am praying for a full recovery for you.
Love, Michal

As she sealed the envelope, Michal suddenly remembered the oft-repeated story from Tishrei. The story took place right before Yom Kippur and in the story a man struggled over writing a letter, just as she had struggled. First he wrote lines like "I'm sorry, but you…" or "It wouldn't have happened if…". Each time he wrote a line he was dissatisfied and tore the paper up. Finally, surrounded by piles of torn paper, he simply wrote, "I'm sorry" and put the letter in an envelope just as she had done. Only, in the end of the story, the man did not mail the letter as she was planning to do. Instead he took a walk to the cemetery and laid it on the tombstone of his friend.

Closing her eyes, Michal offered a prayer of thanks for her second chance. After a few word to her husband she threw her letter in the trash, headed out of her house, to her car, to Jerusalem, to the hospital, to her friend.     
Brit: circumcision ceremony
Tehillim: psalms
Tishrei: the month of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah


Ariela ben-Eliezer said...

It's a beautiful story written by a beautiful neshama. Love, Ariela

Ester said...

Thank you, Ariella

xl pharmacy said...

What a great story. The most interesting is this has happened to all of us at least once in our lives, so we feel indentified with story.