“Come,” she whispered to me, after grandma tucked me in, turned out the light and went to watch TV.
A Car passed, and thin strips of light came in through the slats and climbed the wall, stretching to the ceiling, disappearing behind the bookcase.
I didn’t answer. Don’t talk to her, I kept telling myself. Don’t ever talk to her.
Every time I slept at Grandma’s, the little girl asked me to come.
“I want to show you something,” she said. “It’s very important. Your grandmother left it here, when she was little.”
“Mom said I can’t talk to you,” I lied.
She kept looking at me, her hand stretched.
“The truth is,” she said, “it’s not something I want to show you; it’s someone.”
“Who?” I asked in spite of myself.
“It’s your grandma’s little brother, Tuvia.”
“That’s not true, Grandma doesn’t have a little brother,” I whispered, not wanting grandma to hear me from the other room. “Tuvia stayed over there, where there once was a war.”
I waited for her to answer, but she took her time. I stared at the climbing strips of light and I listened to Tel Aviv fall asleep. The sign on top of the newspaper building blinked in red and little dots peppered the walls around me. Next door stood the little grocery, where grandma and I will go in the morning to buy half a loaf of her favorite rye bread. Then we will come home and she will cut me a thick slice and slather it with butter. Eat, she will say, you have to put some meat on your bones. But morning was hours away and the little girl kept urging me.
“You must come,” she said, her tone getting angrier with each time that I slept at grandma’s house. “Tuvia is there, in the forest, all alone. You have to go get him, or something bad will happen.”
I looked at her, standing on the path in the big picture on the wall opposite the sofa. The bumpy texture of the upholstery, felt through the clean sheet, gave me goose bumps. The path on which she stood disappeared into a forest. And the forest was deep and black, and it swallowed all the stars in the sky above it. The girl stood there, alone in her white dress and long, black braid, but I couldn’t see her eyes. Why was she walking into the forest by herself? I worried about her every time I slept at grandma’s, and I always tried to see her eyes. But she was too far away, standing on the path.
“Come,” she whispered to me, her eye sockets black and empty. “We need to go. There’s no one else to bring Tuvia out of the war.”
I stared at the wall, trying to make up my mind. The house was quiet. Grandma must have fallen asleep with her glasses resting crookedly on her face. The street was quiet, and all the nice people were inside their nice apartments on Rothschild Avenue, where everything was always nice. No war, no forest, just the happy avenue trees that shone with a million happy leaves.
“What if there are bears in the forest, or bad people?” I asked her, barely getting the words out my mouth.
“There’re no bears,” she said.
But I knew the truth. A long time ago, I overheard grandma tell mom that she hid in the forest. I wanted to ask her how she could leave Tuvia behind, all alone in the forest. And what if he was still hiding, waiting for her to come back for him.
I looked at the strips of light climbing in white straight, lines, progressing like rows of soldiers, disappearing behind the black bookcase. I listened to the sounds of Rothschild Avenue, to a car passing every once in a while, nice, everyday sounds. I waited for grandma to wake up abruptly, and come check on me.
“I will go with you,” I tell her now, as I cross Rothschild, zigzagging between cars, trying not to get run over. The newspaper building is long gone, as is the little grocery store. Rothschild Avenue has changed. It stays awake all night now, and the nice people that lived here are mostly gone. Rich people move into their apartments, renovate them and make real estate prices go through the roof. And every night, the many pubs that keep sprouting on Rothschild, fill with music. The restaurants pour gallons of excellent wine and the avenue fills with people. Thousands of people stroll through the middle part of the Avenue, and the trees of my childhood still shine their million happy leaves. Couples walk hand in hand, and single people sit on benches, waiting for someone to sit next to them and make them feel less single. And traffic jams fill both sides of the road as if night is just another part of day.
As I cross the treed middle, I look at the apartment building where my grandma used to live, up there on the third floor where the blinds are gone.
“I will go get Tuvia,” I tell her and head towards my car.