He tilted his head back to take in the full scope of the giant escalator that rose steeply before him. Itzak Eisenstein had just walked through the electronic ticket turnstile at Town Hall Station. He was surprised that he was so far underground.
He had not seen such a high and long escalator since the Moscow underground, the Metro, those many years ago. As a Naval Commander during the Soviet era, he had been a regular, privileged visitor to that city. Sadly, those visits ended abruptly when his superiors found out that his brother had left the Soviet Union to emigrate to Australia. The ultimatum put to him was unequivocal: receive the pay of a junior officer, or leave the navy. He chose to stay. What else could he do with a family? And he still loved the navy. But it now meant that he would rarely leave Odessa, his home city, and the famous port on the Black Sea.
Like many of its Russian Jews, he loved Odessa. These residents honestly believed it was the finest city in the USSR. He would have been pleased to again walk along its seaside, to join the people as they walked with friends and families, and in summer ate the creamiest ice cream, and drank soda water sweetened with natural fruit syrups. It was a very important port, but towards the end of the eighties its most valuable and most frequent export was people like him who made aliyah (to return to Israel) or left for other lands.
The steps of Odessa were immortalized in the film 'Battleship Potemkin', directed by another Eisenstein. Anyone who saw it could never forget the image of a runaway pram, child inside, careering down the steps. Itzak's mother told him how she used to wheel him down those same steps in his pram. She told him she never let go of it.
But those connections with Odessa were now to Itzak as distant and tenuous as the memories of his communist youth.
Confidently, but a little shakily, he stepped onto the escalator, and began to ascend. He hoped his son and daughter-in-law would be waiting for him at the top.
Gazing at the countless steps above, he was relieved that he did not need to walk. He took out a handkerchief, wrapped it around his hand for added hygiene protection, and firmly gripped the moving black handrail to steady himself.
Itzak was looking forward to spending the remaining years of his long life in Australia. Israel had become too difficult for aged Russian Jewish immigrants. He was grateful that his brother had called him and his wife to Australia. It was a sharp blow when she died of cancer soon after they arrived.
His memory once supported a formidable intelligence, but it had become unreliable. Arriving at the halfway point of his ascent reminded him of the joke he had heard about the elderly man who stopped halfway up the stairs he was climbing, looked around at something, then forgot whether he had been going up or down.
'Thank God the escalator remembers!' Itzak assured himself.
Living solo was bearable, but this erstwhile hero feared falling while alone in the house. But lately he had gained confidence, even in his footing. He had been attending meetings of Jews who believed that they had found the Jewish Messiah. They gave him a Bible and he enjoyed reading it every morning. He marveled how, at times, he felt a power, a strength and confidence coming from the words he read. them Even from the Torah , which he used to think was only a list of rules, spoke to him of the loving care of a God who was alive. Only this morning he read: The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms' (Deut 33:27 ESV)
He arrived at the top and immediately saw his son, Arcadi, and daughter-in-law, Lena. They waved to him. A huge smile lit up his face with joy. He quickly returned the wave. Then he saw his small granddaughter, Sonia, alongside them. He bowed slightly, and looking directly at her, pointed to her, and called out "Haha!". She ran up to him and grabbed his hand.
"Dedushka, we are going for a trip on the Manly (an iconic beach in Sydney) ferry today."
Itzak put his hand on her head and hugged her to his thigh. "And we're never coming back?", he laughed.
"Of course we are, Dedushka!"
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