Joe stayed at work on Friday later than usual, catching up on his entire backlog and then reading parashah articles from the Web. By the time he realized it was nearly 5:00 PM, he stood up from his chair, rubbed his eyes and yawned loudly. He had never heard the office this quiet and began to worry that he would have to somehow turn off the lights and lock up for the weekend. As he poked his head into the cubicles in search of someone to assist him, he saw Mr. Siegel’s secretary walking towards the elevators, bobbing her head to music from tiny headphones and stuffing another bridal magazine into her shoulder tote. She was about to walk right by him had he not stepped directly into her path, eliciting from her an annoyed glare.
“Do you know how to lock up?” Joe asked her. “Is anyone else here?”
“Probably,” she said quickly as she resumed her walk to the elevator. Joe stood in his place, unsure whether to take her word or not. He then heard a distant phone ring and a voice answer it, so he followed the secretary’s lead and made his way to the elevators, where she was waiting and still bobbing her head to her music.
For a minute, he glanced up at the floor indicator above the elevator doors while he watched her through the corner of his eye. Seeing her in the hallway reminded him that he hadn’t run into Mr. Siegel since he suggested the shadchan nearly two weeks ago. Whether she knew she was being observed or not, she maintained a poker face, staring at the closed elevator doors until the music stopped and she reached into her bag to change albums. Joe turned in her direction and opened his mouth, prompting her to slowly lower one of her headphones and await his question.
“Do you know what’s up with Mr. Siegel?” he asked her in one breath. “I haven’t seen him in a few weeks.”
She shrugged. “Me neither.”
“So…what do you do when he isn’t around?”
“I have what to do,” she assured him curtly, returning her headphone to her ear. Joe deliberately looked away from her as they rode down the elevator in silence, save for the blaring music.
On the street he headed towards the 2 train at Wall Street amidst the usual, though somewhat thinned, downtown pedestrian traffic. Just before he got to the stairwell to the subway, he answered a call from Rob. “Hey, man of the hour. How’s everything?”
“Pretty hectic,” Rob answered quickly. “Are you on your way up here yet?”
“I just left work. Everything all right?”
“Yeah, great.” He made an exhale of relief. “Just a little change in plans.”
“You’re still getting married, right?”
Rob laughed. “No, nothing to do with that. I almost didn’t have a place for you. You were all set to stay by my father’s partner, but he flew to Miami last night last minute. Sharon just called me a few minutes ago and she arranged for you to crash by her upstairs neighbors…”
Joe groaned. “Man! Don’t you know—”
“I’m sorry, man, I was in a bind.”
“Yeah, but…” He stopped himself. He’s got a lot on his plate. He clicked his tongue and sighed. “No problem, man. Sorry for all this trouble last minute.”
“You want me to figure something else out?”
“No, you’ve got plenty to deal with already.”
“Good, ‘cause you’re eating there too tonight.”
Joe held the phone away from his ear and stomped his foot. “Just me and Sharon?”
“She said there’d be other people there…I don’t know. Look, I really gotta go.”
“Go, Rob. Anything you need?” Joe asked, but Rob had already hung up.
Joe lowered his head and hobbled down the stairs. Going to Sharon wouldn’t help his attempt to slowly break away from her, especially not after last week’s phone call. He knew that he’d surely have to tell it to her straight, but how could he do that now? He never forgot the look on her face when she found out he questioned the kashrus of a particular restaurant. “Just don’t get so frum that you never talk to me again,” she warned him coldly. It was so against her character that he never wanted to see her eyes show such venom, but he couldn’t continue living against what he knew was the right thing. Excusing himself from the whole weekend wasn’t fair to Rob, so Joe sullenly got himself onto the platform and paced. Maybe the ‘other people’ will be her roommate’s friends.
When a 2 train finally pulled into the station, he squeezed into the standing space of the crowded car, using the conventional subway-theft-prevention method of nestling the bag between his ankles. At 34th Street the car lightened its load of passengers and Joe moved to sit down. At the end of the car he recognized Nati. Running into him the first time was amazing enough, but twice in a month was no less than Providence.
“Hi Nati,” Joe said after squirming through the crowded car. “Twice in one month, eh?”
“What?” Nati asked, looking blankly at Joe.
“That I’ve run into you on the subway,” he clarified.
“Isn’t that funny?” he said absently. Nati didn’t seem to share in Joe’s amazement.
“You on your way home?”
Nati nodded. “Yep. Work around here?”
“Wall Street. You?”
“Yeah, right around Madison Square.”
“That’s cool. Get to any games?”
Nati made an amused smile. “No, not really. You?”
Nati’s smile waned and he turned to stare out the windows at the dark tunnels. When the silence felt oppressive, Joe called him on it. “You seem out of it, Nati.”
He continued looking out the window at the subway tunnel. “You could say that.”
“No, just…” he breathed in deeply, looking down and then up at the lights. He breathed deeply again before staring Joe straight in the eyes, but only for a moment. “Just kind of down, I guess. My friend Jessica’s making aliyah.”
Joe widened his eyes. “Wow, she’s moving to Israel? That’s great.”
Nati huffed. “It is,” he said unconvincingly. His mouth twitched before he said, “It’s really great.”
At 42nd the train stopped, and a mass of people clotted in front of the door. Joe and Nati pressed together to make room in the already-stuffed standing space. “When is she leaving?” Joe asked.
“A month, just before August,” Nati said blankly.
“That soon?” Joe exclaimed. Nati became all startled and shushed him, as if what Joe said offended the Koreans standing behind them.
The doors closed, and the car became silent, save for the sound of the air conditioner. “To be fair,” Nati said as they started moving, “she only decided two weeks ago, when her job offered her a position in Tel Aviv, but I thought, of all people, she would at least tell me she was thinking about it. Out of the blue she tells me yesterday.”
Nati sighed again and returned his gaze to the subway tunnel. The express train slowed down as it passed the local station at 50th Street, and Joe saw Nati’s eyes rapidly shifting back and forth as they tried to focus on the tiles of the walls. It was a phenomenon he and Sharon noticed one day, and as he thought of Sharon, Joe recalled Nati’s strange comment from the last time he saw him. He went out on a limb. “You don’t seem too happy for her.”
He continued gazing out the window, but he slowly nodded his head to the clanking of the train against the tracks. It reminded Joe of how Rebecca leaned her head against the bus window on the way to the airport. Unlike Rebecca, though, Nati turned and looked straight at Joe with sorrowful eyes.
“I am,” he said simply. “It’s just hard losing a friend.”
Joe examined Nati’s face, watching his cheekbones quiver.
“How long have you known her?” Joe asked him gravely.
“Since freshman orientation,” he answered, almost in a whisper. “They split the class into different groups, and we were the only religious Jews during that shift. We ate our kosher microwave meals together…” He laughed hollowly. “She was scared, you know. She was warned about college, didn’t want to deal with guys. We became friends, though, because we shared that first nervous orientation.” Nati bit his lip and Joe thought he was going to cry, but he didn’t. “Time went on; she loosened up, got a boyfriend…then another when she broke up with the first…but I was still her friend. I had a girlfriend too for a while, but Jessica…” He paused and took a few deep breaths. “We got really close after we graduated and moved up here…now she’s going.”
The train slowed down as it passed another local stop, and it felt as if the entire car had silenced, pensively listening to the clacking of the train and empathizing with Nati. Joe could only think one thing: he loves her. He felt like giving Nati a hug but held back.
“Are you going to tell her?” Joe asked him.
Nati looked up in alarm. “Tell her what?”
Joe chose his words. “That you’ll miss her.”
He said nothing, then stood up straight when the conductor announced the next stop. “I don’t know,” Nati eventually said. “I’m getting off.”
“Don’t get too down,” Joe said hastily. “I mean, I’m sure you’ll be all right.”
Nati smiled for a moment. “Have fun on the West Side.”
“Give me a ring if you need someone to talk to,” Joe said. He reached over and gave Nati a quick hug, which was accepted but not returned.
“Thanks Joe,” he said and started to go when the doors opened. Nati then stopped in the doorway and turned back. “I don’t think I have your number.”
“I’ll get yours from Sharon,” he told him, and with a nod of his head, Nati got off the train.
Nathan wishes all his readers a Happy Chanukah and reminds them that Outdated, either in Hardcover or ebook, make great gifts! Order yours now at www.nathanwolff.com or Amazon!