Nosson punctured an onion until his fork hit the plate beneath it, and slid it absentmindedly through the thick, sweet oil surrounding the single piece of herring he had prepared for dinner. The fish in Radzyn was well known for being prepared sweeter than most, and he could not bare the thought of touching it to his lips. Now, more than ever, he craved the kind he grew up with.
Like most nights, he dined alone. He sat at a round table in his room, accompanied by the candlelight and the muffled chattering from a radio in the distance. He typically would have tried harder to not allow himself the pleasure of indulging in his own despair, but he had already exhausted his spiritual capacity for the day reciting Psalms inside his shop.
How nice it would be, he thought, to have a friend tonight. How nice it would be to have someone by his side, to whom there was no need to explain his deepest secret.
Nosson had known solitude before, and in fact sought it in the forests each morning when he meditated. Nosson had known isolation before, while enduring the remarks of his family and friends regarding his move to Radzyn. But loneliness? This was entirely new for him.
Nobody here danced the way he did, nobody here woke up early just to talk privately with their Creator in the forest, and nobody else knew the tunes to the songs he hummed when he walked. Every day, and long into the night, he labored in his workshop, and then came home to his small, cramped, room in order to crawl deeper into his prison of separateness. It was feeling more and more like a mistake to come to this shtetl, a misinterpretation of a series of signs he never understood but followed nonetheless.
When Shmuli came into his shop to tell him the Rebbe would like to use his kiddish cup, Nosson had thought that maybe, maybe, he finally found the answer. He had given up everything to come here, and the stones along his journey seemed to be coming together to create a path he could now look back on sentimentally. His walk home that day was brighter, the hills less steep, and the sweet fish tasted more like home.
“It cannot be, Nosson,” he reminded himself now. “It cannot be.”
His friends advised him never to come to Radzyn in the first place, and now he wondered how they’d advise him to approach the most popular man in his new neighborhood, to accuse him of stealing the only material object in this world he cared for. Should it be done publicly, so all could hear his lies? Privately, so maybe he would tell the truth? Not at all, and head straight back home?
He looked through his window at the moon shining brightly over the forests of Radzyn. “It cannot be, Nosson” he reminded himself once again. He refocused himself on eating, and forced a bite of the herring down into his stomach, but spit it out before it ever got there. It landed on the floor smoothly, its oil darkening as it dripped into the dirt.
“Master of the Universe,” Nosson whispered between sobs, "you sent me here, and I followed your path faithfully. So, why have you abandoned me now? The uncertainty. The grief. The loneliness! I can find purpose in overcoming them. But, the lies? The theft? The difficulty I have collecting zloty each Erev Shabbos? How? How can I find their purpose? What purpose could they possibly have for you?”
Nosson opened his blurry eyes and asked again, this time screaming.
“Please, show me just a little bit!” He banged his left fist on the wall, causing the glass window to shake. "I want to know!”
He remained staring outside in silence for a few more moments, before he recognized a figure not far away. It was a rare sight to see anybody passing by, as he was the last house before the forest began, and the way this man stumbled was all too familiar.
Koppel must be especially drunk, Nosson determined. How else could he find the courage to venture into the wilderness alone?
Nosson looked up to the sky and smiled. It would have been impossible to confront Koppel under normal circumstances, but maybe if they were isolated, far away from the shtetl, he could ask this man why he’d taken his kiddish cup.
He wiped his eyes, jumped up, and placed a small knife in his belt before running out behind Koppel.
He had travelled a long way to get here, and he knew the forests beyond Radzyn were no place to be caught without something sharp.