I struggled not to obsess. I knew that I
stuck my beak too far into other people’s
affairs. I must loosen up. Mr Steinberg wasn’t
about to croak. He had Moshe. Nevertheless
I insisted Mr Steinberg find his leather gloves
and wear a woolly scarf. He did so, to humour
me. Uncle agreed to a gentler schedule. We’d
visit the London Eye, then seek out lunch in
Covent Garden. Wherever feasible, we’d hail
taxi cabs. Moshe would meet us in the hotel
lobby. Mr Steinberg wasn’t to be unduly
I shook Mr Steinberg’s shoulder gently.
He didn’t stir. Horrible memories of Aunty’s
death swamped my head. I began to quiver.
I placed Mr Steinberg’s tea besides his bed,
and called his name. At this, he stirred. A
sense of relief swept through my body. Mr
Steinberg looked dreadfully pale. He
manoeuvred his spectacles onto his nose,
and greeted me. I tried to disguise the alarm
I’d felt, but my voice still shook. Mr Steinberg
asked me the time. We were planning to visit
Moshe at his hotel, and show him the city
sights. This would involve considerable
walking. My heart quailed inside my rib cage.
It was clear that Mr Steinberg wasn’t up to
vigorous exercise. I went downstairs to speak
privately with Uncle. He frowned at my news,
and looked concerned. We’d have breakfast,
he announced, and review our plans.
We reached home late. I had eight text
messages from Eddie. He was beginning
to feel neglected. I had no time for Eddie’s
nonsense. I was consumed by Mr Steinberg’s
family woes. I was grateful we had Moshe
here. Mr Steinberg trundled off to bed. He
was ghoulishly pale. He lent on Uncle’s arm,
and hobbled upstairs. I wished Uncle
goodnight and went to hit the hay. There
was nothing I could do to sway Mr Steinberg’s
thankless children. I dwelt briefly on some
crazy scenarios. I could fly to South Africa
and demand to be heard. It was ludicrous.
I thrashed restlessly under my blanket, until
I achieved an uneasy sleep.
Aaron and Gustav had both accrued
significant fortunes. Their colossal wealth
was celebrated on the Cape. Money had
corrupted them both. Neither brother trusted
a living soul. They thought their Father’s illness
was a gigantic fabrication, designed to prize
large sums from their offshore bank accounts.
Moshe loathed what his brothers had become.
Their humanity had been leeched away, until
they were cold lizards. Moshe didn’t think
either son would attempt to contact Mr
Steinberg. Aaron and Gustav were both
married. Their wives were blonde trophies,
gilded socialites with fake hearts. There were
no children. That would have been too messy.
Moshe had very few interactions with his
brothers. They were worlds apart. Mr
Steinberg, who’d been listening intently,
groaned like he’d been knifed. Uncle was
clearly appalled by what he’d heard. His
mouth hung wide in disbelief, then his eyes
flared. Moshe took a big scull of wine, and
spoke no more.
Dinner was gorgeous. I was perplexed by
the dizzying array of cutlery, but nobody
else seemed to care, so I forked up the hors
d’oeuvres, and spooned down the vegan
casserole, it was all scrumptious. Uncle
ordered wine. I was permitted the smallest
sip, to acknowledge the special occasion.
I didn’t feel tipsy, and Uncle’s foolish smirk
was totally misplaced. Mr Steinberg and
Moshe were burning like a house on fire.
They were making up for a decade of silence.
The conversation tiptoed away from any
mention of the other brothers. I felt compelled
to ask. It was like a heavy stone had fallen
into a mill pond. I knew immediately I’d
committed a terrible faux pas. Moshe
cleared his throat noisily, Mr Steinberg
looked stern. Then, quietly, quite surprisingly,
Moshe began his story.
Moshe needed to rest. He’d barely shut his
eyes for the entire duration of the long-haul
flight. He would take a shower, draw the
curtains tightly, and hit the sack. Uncle
agreed that we’d return later and take dinner
together in the hotel. Mr Steinberg looked
ragged and spent. As he donned his overcoat,
his hands trembled violently. Moshe
enveloped his Father in a great hug. He said
something I couldn’t catch, it sounded like a
foreign language. Mr Steinberg smiled a wan
smile. Once we’d said our farewells and
processed from the room, Uncle proposed
we get take-away coffees, and freshen up
at home. This sounded swell. Mr Steinberg
could take his nap, sort out his complicated
medications, and be revitalised for a convivial
evening. I was entirely, absolutely satisfied.
Father and son were beautifully reconciled.
Moshe was booked into some swanky,
high-price bracket hotel. After a hearty
airport breakfast, we drove that way.
Moshe and his Father sat in the back seat
nattering like old pals. Moshe had this
endearing way of tilting his head back
and roaring with laughter. Once he’d
checked in, we all went up to Moshe’s
suite. He had some top-notch South
African brandy he wished to share with
his Father and Uncle. I was treated to
a juice from the mini bar. Moshe regarded
me as something of a heroine. Aaron and
Gustav weren’t spoken of at all. Moshe
was married. Mr Steinberg was a Grandfather.
Father and son crooned over some snapshots
Moshe extracted from his wallet. The boy
was six years old. I gazed into Mr Steinberg’s
dark tear-stained eyes and felt proud for him.
There was a throng of people in the arrivals
hall. They all had expectant faces. I kept my
eyes on the information board. It flicked over,
showing Moshe’s Cape Town flight. The
crowd surged towards the gate. Mr Steinberg
was crushed in the swell. Suddenly he
appeared. Moshe was a tall man. He had a
deep scar on his left cheek. He wore thick-set
glasses and was smiling broadly. Father and
son embraced, patting each other’s backs
vigorously. I couldn’t help thinking that Mr
Steinberg looked like a little wizened dwarf.
It was an emotional moment. Uncle took
Moshe’s hand luggage. We sought the
baggage carousel. Uncle proposed breakfast.
Moshe stooped over his Father and clutched
his leathery hand tightly. I glowed inside.
Moshe would be landing at Heathrow
the next morning. Mr Steinberg had been
told. The elation shone in his eyes like a solar
flare. Soon it turned to complete nerves.
What, after all, could be said to sweeten
a decade of silence. Uncle and I would come
to the airport for moral support. It’d mean
an early start. It was pitch black when we
rose. Mr Steinberg had barely slept. He’d
dressed himself in a sombre black suit
and silk tie. It made me think of funerals.
As Uncle pulled the car into the street,
I could hear Mr Steinberg softly speaking
a prayer. I looked at the arrivals information
on my phone. Moshe’s flight was on time.
Mr Steinberg adjusted his tie nervously.
None of us spoke a word. I could see Uncle
glancing at his friend in the rear-view mirror.
As we raced down the motorway, the sense
of foreboding grew stronger. I bit my nails
Moshe had always been his Father’s favourite.
They’d had this special connection, and Mr
Steinberg had spoiled his son rotten. The
other boys knew their lesser worth, and
sulked at this injustice. In his letter, Moshe
spoke tenderly of his Dad. He regretted the
dreadful rift. He was so sad to learn that Mr
Steinberg’s days were drawing to an end.
Moshe would do anything to heal the divide.
In fact he’d booked tickets to fly to London.
He would email me all the details. I told Uncle
at once. He warned that it was too early to
share the news with Mr Steinberg. Uncle
advised extreme caution. Until we knew
Moshe’s plane had touched down, not a
whisper should be spoken. This was terribly
frustrating. But I knew Uncle was right. I’d
need to keep my excitement bottled up.
Not a murmur should pass my lips, until
we were quite sure. I wrote a hasty reply to
Moshe, expressing my delight. I felt certain
he’d not let us down. My mind dwelt on
emotional reconciliations. Mr Steinberg
was going to be so thrilled.