EVEN THOUGH the manager of the human resources division had not sought such a
mission, now, in the softly radiant morning, he grasped its unexpected
significance. The minute the extraordinary request of the old woman who stood in
her monks robe by the dying fire was translated and explained to him, he felt a
sudden lifting of his spirits, and Jerusalem, the shabby, suffering city he had
left just a week ago, was once more bathed in a glow of importance, as it had
been in his childhood.
AND YET the origins of his unusual mission lay in a simple clerical error brought to the companys attention by the editor of a local Jerusalem weekly, an error that could have been dealt with by any reasonable excuse and brief apology. However, fearing that such an apology which might indeed have laid the matter to rest would be deemed inadequate, the stubborn eighty-seven-year-old owner of the company had demanded a more tangible expression of regret from himself and his staff, a clearly defined gesture such as the one that had resulted in this journey to a distant land.
What had upset the old man so? Where had the almost religious impulse that drove him come from? Could it have been inspired by the grim times that the country, and above all Jerusalem, were going through, which he had weathered unharmed; so that his financial success, as other businesses foundered, called for vigilance in warding off the public criticism that now, ironically, was about to be aired in newsprint of which he himself was the supplier? Not that the reporter whose scathing feature article would break the story a political radical and eternal doctoral candidate with the restraint of a bull in this intimate china shop of a city was aware of all this when he wrote the piece, or he would have toned it down. Yet it was the papers editor and publisher, loath to ruin a colleagues weekend with an unpleasant surprise that might spoil their business relations, who had decided, after taking a look at the story and its accompanying photograph of the torn, bloodstained pay stub found in the murdered womans shopping bag, to let the old man respond in the same issue.
Nor was it really such a shocking exposé. Nevertheless, at a time when pedestrians were routinely exploding in the streets, troubled consciences turned up in the oddest places. And so at the end of that particular workday, when the human resources manager, having promised his ex-wife that he would leave the office on time to be with their only daughter, had tried to evade the owners summons, the old mans veteran office manager had refused to let him. Sensing her bosss agitation, shed hastened to advise the resource manager to put his family duties aside.
ON THE WHOLE, relations between the two men were good. They had been so ever since the resource manager, then in the sales division, had unearthed several Third World markets for the companys new line of paper and stationery products. And so, when his managers marriage was on the rocks, in part because of his frequent travels, the old man had reluctantly agreed to appoint him temporary head of the human resources division, a job that would allow him to sleep at home every night and try to repair the damage. Yet the hostility engendered by his absence was only distilled into a more concentrated poison by his presence, and the chasm between them at first psychological, then intellectual, and finally sexual continued to grow of its own accord. Now that he was divorced, all that kept him from returning to his old job, which he had liked, was his determination to stay close to his daughter.
As soon as hed appeared in the doorway of the owners spacious office, where the elegantly muted light never changed with the time of day or year, the article due to appear in the local weekly was dramatically hurled at him.
© 2004 Abraham B. Yehoshua
English translation © 2006 by Hillel Halkin
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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