“Shimon,” Hillel answered, making up a tiny little lie for the sake of keeping peace between Tevye and his daughter. For in truth, the wagon load of tomatoes had been Tevye’s idea, and if she found out, she would be furious with her father for interfering in her life.
“Who else is coming?” Hodel asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Without other helpers, this will take us all night.”
“I suppose that it will, but I don’t have anything else on my schedule this evening. Do you.”
“Yes,” Hodel answered, though she really had nothing at all to do once her child went off to bed.
Hillel started pulling tomatoes out of the wagon. They were big, hard, and red – sure to bring a good price at the market.
“Do you ever get lonely?” he asked.
“Lonely?” she repeated, embarrassed by the question.
“Well, I have a child to take care of, and my work.”
“Yes, I know. But an adult person cannot really talk with a child, and certainly not with tomatoes.”
“I can talk to my sisters and friends,” Hodel said.
“Yes, I suppose so. I have no family here in the Holy Land, and the friends that I came with died in the plague, except for Nachman, but he’s busy with his studies and teaching. Before your father got married, we used to live together in the barn, and I used to talk for hours on end with him about everything under the sun. But, of course, I can’t blame him for wanting to get married, can you?”
Hodel was silent. She tried to concentrate on her work, but she felt that something was happening beyond her control. “Can you?” he asked once again.
“Can I what?”
“Blame your father for marrying again? As the Bible says, ‘It is not good for a man to live alone.’”
“Who am I to disagree with the Bible?”
“Don’t they seem happy together? It’s a match made in Heaven. Even though, on the surface, you might never think it possible. I mean she’s from Yemen and he’s a Russian Jew. And of course, their ages are very far apart.”
“My father is young at heart.”
“I feel young at heart too,” Hillel answered. “Look.”
He picked up three tomatoes and started to whistle. It was a familiar tune about being constantly happy. At the same time, he juggled the three tomatoes in the air. His hands moved so fast, Hodel could hardly follow their speed.
“Don’t bruise them,” she said. “Nobody buys bruised tomatoes.”
One by one, Hillel caught them and held them out for her inspection. Not a blemish could be found.
“Playing the accordion makes one’s fingers very nimble. Here, have a look.”
Hillel playfully held out his hands and wiggled his fingers. Thinking he was going to touch her, Hodel gasped and pulled away.
“Don’t worry,” Hillel said, grinning. “I wasn’t going to touch you. After all, this isn’t Paris.”
Hodel blushed. The lantern-light picked up the reddish glow of the tomatoes and cast it over her cheeks.
“You have been to Paris?” she asked.
“No, but I have read several classics of Hugo which unfold in the enchanted courtyards of the city.”
“You have read Victor Hugo?” Hodel asked in surprise.
“Why certainly. Do I look like an ostrich that has his head in the ground? I love literature as much as I love music. In fact, other than the Bible, I think that The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my favorite book. Have you read it?”
“Yes, I have,” Hodel confessed. It was one of the books Perchik had given to her, to show her how the peasant class must be freed.
“Quasimodo is my favorite character,” Hillel said. “You can understand how a lame musician like myself could identify with a hunchbacked bell ringer. Tell me, do you think that Esmeralda came to recognize the inner beauty of his soul?”
“Yes, I’m sure that she did,” Hodel answered. “I’m sure that she realized that he was someone entirely different inside.”
“I found the end especially poignant. When the Hunchback and Esmeralda are discovered buried together in a grave. Of course in Judaism it’s unthinkable, but I felt that Hugo found the perfect metaphor to reveal that in the real world of souls, beyond the fleeting imprisonment of our bodies, they were truly a match made in Heaven.”