Yigal realizes he’s heard his voice rarely, this man who comes weekly with the rolls. He’ll bend down, stroke Yigal’s rough scarred cheek gently and guide his hand to the gift basket of bread and say “I’ve come to see you again. I hope these are to your liking, Sir.” And then gone ... gone until the next week. He looks forward to these visits, if you can call them such, as they last only minutes and sometimes he thinks they are but lovely visions existing in the dementia of his mind. But how he loves the feel of flesh on flesh. There are none around who touch me these days and none who call me sir, a mensch, a gentleman.
His eyes have been closed to the colors of light, closed to sight altogether through a horrid disease that taunted Yigal with “ Tag, you’re it!” years ago in the camp. It leeched not only the sight from his eyes, but the joy from his heart. He has not seen this visitor or anyone else who might pass his way, for that matter, and he is told only that the man is just a friend who cares. But, oh the rolls ... the delightful nosh of those rolls. Morning fresh, scent of heaven, soft as angel skin, light as gossamer wings, the butter still warm and liquid enough so that my tongue can swirl lazily in its pool.
It is a mystery to Yigal how the man knows that his mouth is all gum, absent of teeth except a single molar that is not functional and complains regularly of its agony. Should someone slip him a pair of pliers, he will be only too happy to relieve it of its misery. But he must know ( of Yigal’s toothless hole, that is) for the rolls he brings require no hard chewing. He is reminded of Heidi and the special soft rolls she brought to her blind grandfather in the Alps. Heidi was a favorite when he was a child in the nursery of his home in Austria and read of her loving and kind character. Somehow childhood heroes and heroines set his expectations for human behavior, but the people in his life did not play them out; faulty examples to say the least. None have loved him as Heidi did her grandfather. She tended his goats, left the comfort of a city home to climb treacherous mountain peaks in the freeze of winter to sit with him and serve white rolls. This man who could not see her blonde braids and sweet smile! None take my gnarly hand in theirs and rub the cold discomfort from them as Heidi did for grandpapa. Am I not less difficult to visit than to hike up snowy mountains? Or does the problem come in selecting appropriate conversation to conduct with a blind, dying old man?
All Yigal knows is that they come once a year, his old friends, business acquaintances ... even the Rabbi. They cough, uncomfortable with their guilt and then lean towards his ear and shout into it. Mishugamas, do they think my blindness has affected my hearing? They shout long sentences, paragraphs of excuses and promises they’ll not keep; going on and on with encouragements, false sympathies and weather reports. They insist how they’d visit more, if only their lousy lives and busy schedules permitted. Kretsches! And never once offering to fill my need for closeness of affection or feed my gnawing hunger.
Yigal pulls tighter his oversized blue sweater, crocheted for him by his wife, now dust in some hole on concentration camp grounds. Geula, my lovely wife, always doing for others, praying for their souls to a Messiah I never came to know. Were she but here to share my rolls. As the sleet torrents against the thin walls and the wind wraps around the house making the thunder of speeding trains, Yigal turns his head towards the creak of the opening door. He is here, and this one man whose quietness is voluminous, who appears week after week, a consistent chime of the clock on the hour, touches Yigal’s face and guides his hand to bread that satisfies deeply. The stirring of joy begins once more in his heart as the man’s hands wipe dry the wetness caused by tears of gratitude and whispers one solitary, but pure sentence.
“I am Penuel and I hope these are to your liking, Sir.”
Yigal: boy's name meaning "He will be redeemed"
Geula: girl's name meaning " Redeemed"
mishugamas: crazy people
Penuel: boy's name meaning "Face of God"
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