Based on a real story.
A quiet knock on the door disturbed our tea time on Shabbat afternoon. Rachel got up to open the door. From behind the newspaper I continued reading, I couldn't see who was there. Suddenly a very familiar voice came to my ears:
"Hello, my name is Lily. I'm your new neighbor. Could I borrow some milk please?"
Lily? LILY?? I hadn't heard this name for years.
"Welcome, nice to meet you! Sure, come on in" I could hear the smile on my wife's face, happy to meet a new friend. Don't come in Lily, please, I don't want to see you, I don't want to meet you now, I can't stand it. As usual, she was able to read my mind.
"No. It's fine, I don't want to disturb you, I'll just take the milk". I could feel the blood leave my face as she spoke. I couldn't help my curiosity and I stood up to see her. I sat back again immediately. God, there she was. A little thinner than I remembered her, her once light-brown hair, now turned grey though her back turned to me. I could still see her eyes in front of me; light-blue eyes, light like the sea, like the sky…
My wife came in. I covered my face with the newspaper so she wouldn't be able to see the storm of emotions that I was consuming in. "New neighbor" she informed me "She looks nice". "Ahhm" I mumbled and continued "reading" the paper. My heart beat inside me; I could feel it almost pulsing out of my chest. Now, my mind started racing; What if it isn't really her, but only my imagination deceiving me? What if it is her and she had forgotten me after all these years? It couldn't be, I had been thinking about her every day since the last day I saw her.
"Mendy!" My wife's voice woke me up, "Mendy! Can you put down that paper for a minute; I'm trying to tell you about our new neighbor!" You want to tell me? I will tell you about her, I wanted to say, I have known her better than I know you. "Yes, I'm listening, honey." I whispered.
"OK, so, she came from Hungary, like you. Maybe you know her family, but I forgot to ask her for her maiden name" she giggled "wouldn't it be funny if you both know each other!" Yes, really funny, dear. You don't even know how sad it's going to be. "And" she continued, "she is a single mother, she has a boy named Menahem". A single mother? "Who is the father?" I guess I wasn't suppose to ask this question out loud. "Mendy!! What an inappropriate question! I wouldn't dare asking it!". Rachel got up angrily and went into the kitchen.
That night I couldn't sleep. My wife, Rachel, slept beside me, peacefully. Do I love her? Yes. But today I feel that I don't love her enough; not when my dear Lily is alive,walking, a few meters away from me.
"My Lily" I used to call her every Friday when I brought her a bouquet of Lilies for Shabbat. "My dear Lily", I used to whisper into her ear every time I could. She would laugh out loud, her blue eyes laughing with her; hug me with her gentle arms and whisper: "My dear Mendy'le, my man". Suddenly,I couldn't stop the tears flowing out of my eyes, I just cried and cried…
When I woke up in the morning Rachel was already in the kitchen, making our breakfast. Leah, our only daughter, sat near table eating a French toast. Leah, I called her after my Lily. No one, including Rachel, knew that. "Good morning dad" she kissed me "How was Shabbat? Did you miss me? "
"Oh, yes I did, sweetie! How was your Shabbat?"
She smiled "It was fun, but it's weird to be without you two on Shabbat". I kissed her again and went out to the shoul to pray the Shacharit.
On my way out I could see her in the kitchen window.She was exactly as I had imagined she would be when we were young. I want to run, straight to her arms. I want to whisper a secret into her ear. I want to go back in time to Hungary before the war. when we were young beautiful couple, making our first steps together in the big world. We thought we could make a living out of love. We thought that life was easy and fun. It wasn't easy to be Jewish those days, but we knew that we'll always be together and it was this recognition kept us optimistic.
I hope she knows that I was forced to leave her. I hope she knows that I was looking for her over two years, right up until I met Zalman, our neighbor, and he told me that Lily was dead. He promised and swore in tears, he was crying when he told me that my love, Lily, her brother Yitzhak and her parents were killed in the bombing of our small town. We cried together for a few days. Then I packed my stuff and sailed to Palestine.
I don't know how I got to the shoul. I didn't pray that morning; I just wanted to see her again. I know my new family will suffer. I know I'm breaking apart my marriage, my little Leah's entire world. But I swore that my Lily would be my wife forever. Even when I married Rachel, I couldn't stop thinking about my Lily.
On the way back home I didn't think about anything. My head was too blocked for any more thinking and my eyes were too dry for anymore crying. I climbed the stairs and reset my hand on the handle…
Don't turn around, don't change your life.
"Excuse me Mr. Ravid"
Mr. Ravid she calls me. She doesn't know who I am.
I must turn.
I could see her smiling eyes suddenly open in astonishment; her small lips tremble with shock. I closed my eyes; her beauty flashed back to me my young pretty wife from before the war. All these years flashed before my eyes.
"Yes, my dear Lily…"
“Who are you?” she was frightened, I could see it in her eyes.
“I'm your Mendy, dear.” I couldn’t stop my tears “Your man”.
“No, my man is dead. I know that for sure. My Mendy was killed in the war. My Mendy is dead”. She repeated this again and again, trying to convince herself or me. She was scared. I remember the anxiety in her eyes when the soldiers broke into our small house and took me away with them.
I stepped forward and touched her soft hair. Its color has been changed through suffer and sorrow, but it stayed soft, exactly as I remembered it. Lily stepped back.
“Remember our first Shabbat together? When I brought you a bouquet of Lilies and you forgot to put it in a vase, and when Shabbat came it was all dry” Lily smiled , and burst into tears. I wiped away her tears and looked into her eyes. “Now do you remember me? Do you remember your Mendy?” I felt like I was drowning in the blue of her eyes.
“I thought you were dead, the soldier told me. He saw you in the picture and recognized you. “
“Which soldier? What picture?” too many missing details, we were trying to squeeze 20 years into 2 minutes. I wanted to hear everything, now, to fill in the missing pieces of our life.
“I wandered around all over Hungary to looking for you. I had one of our marriage pictures that I had taken from our house before I left. One day” She continued “I met a Russian soldier that told me that he had a Mendy in his ward. He recognized you in the picture and told me that you were killed a few months before”.
We stood there in the corridor, crying, smiling, and wishing to go back to our old life. “Then, I felt that there was nothing left for me in in Europe anymore, I took my Menahem with me and sailed to Israel”.
“Menahem?” I had to ask again, now it’s an appropriate question to ask.
Lily turned white. “It’s fine Lily,” I was trying to calm her down “We both had new lives, I know that you probably got married or something...I won’t say anything bad, it’s fine...”
“No, Mendy, it’s not what you think”. Then, we sat on the stairs and she told me how a few days after I left the house she discovered that she was pregnant. How her mother and sisters hid her growing stomach so that the Nazis won’t kill her. How she gave birth in the camp, in midnight and left the child in her pavilion with an old woman only few hours after he was born.
“I called him Menahem, for you. I remembered that it was your Hebrew name and I missed you…"
"That was the reason why I called my daughter Leah…"
A sound of the creaking door disturbed us. My wife, Rachel stood there in the corridor.
"Oh, good, I see you guys know each other".
"Rachel dear, meet my wife Lily."