Staggering, he flailed his way out of the marsh. Blinded by the mosquitoes and their bites, he flung himself onto shore. Choking and crawling on all fours, he scurried away from the bank. Standing, he ran blindly forward, but the cloud of mosquitoes stayed with him. They bit him ferociously, over every inch of his flesh. Screaming, he flung himself to the ground and rolled over and over in the sand. Settlers ran over and swatted the mosquitoes away. Hands slapped Tevye on the head and the back. Munsho pulled him to his feet. A horse and wagon clattered to his rescue.
Elisha yelled out, “To the ocean!”
Hands lifted Tevye up into the wagon. Carmel raced over. Seeing her husband, she gasped.
“My God,” someone said. “He’s all swollen!”
“He looks like he’s been eaten alive!”
Carmel climbed up into the wagon. She reached out to take Tevye’s hand. But it wasn’t a hand anymore. It looked like a chunk of red meat. His face was puffed-up, two times its normal size. His eyelids bulged like a frogs. His nose was incredibly swollen.
Ariel whipped the horse, and the wagon bounced off toward the ocean. Tevye still couldn’t see. He couldn’t open his eyes. He opened his mouth, but his tongue couldn’t speak. It had enlarged to the size of a cow’s.
“You will be all right, my darling,” Carmel said. “You did it! You succeeded! You’re a hero!”
Tevye didn’t feel like a hero. On the contrary, he felt like a shmuck. All he could say was “Ahhhh,” as if a doctor had put an examining stick in his mouth.
The settlers ran after the wagon. Other raced forward on horseback. It was only a kilometer and a half to the ocean, and everyone was in jubilant spirits. Their work on the canal was completed! They had triumphed over the monster! They had battled nature and won. Mosquitoes would no longer make a nightmare of life, and the dreaded fever would no longer visit their tents.
Reaching the sea, Ariel and Yigal lifted Tevye and carried him to the water. Stumbling under his weight, all three of them fell into the ocean at once. The water revived Tevye immediately, but his arms and his legs couldn’t move. He managed to unglue his eyelids and squint. Ariel held onto his head, and Yigal had hold of his shoes. His body floated on the waves like a goatskin inflated with water. Elisha pulled off Tevye’s clothes so that the salt water could bathe him completely. Out of modesty, he left on his undershorts, in consideration for the women who were arriving on the beach. Slowly, the tormenting itching was soothed. A sensation returned to Tevye’s fingers and toes. He opened his mouth and whispered, “Water.”
Quickly, a canteen was fetched. Elisha poured a few drops onto Tevye’s tongue.
“Do you want quinine?” he asked.
Tevye shook his head no. Ariel guided him back to the shallows. His body floated on the incoming waves like a whale washed onto shore. Other settlers splashed happily into the ocean. Suddenly, cries of joy and celebration came from the beach.
“Water!” Shimon screamed. “Swamp water! It’s coming out of the pipe!”
Everyone ran over. Sure enough, up the beach, a trickle of black water was dripping out of a pipe onto the sand. Settlers cheered and started to dance. Men embraced and swung each other around. Woman danced in a circle, a modest distance away. Children happily ran into the ocean to bob up and down in the waves.
“Let’s let him see what he’s done,” Elisha said to his son.
They lifted Tevye and set him on his feet in the ocean so that he too could have a glimpse of the miracle. Pushing them away, he staggered up the beach. The sight of Tevye in his underwear brought shouts and giggles from the women. Embarrassed, they scurried away down the beach.
Tevye staggered up to the pipe which jutted out from the beach embankment. Already, a small pool of swamp water had formed at its mouth. A trickle began to run in a riverlet through the sand toward the ocean. Before long, the swamp would be drained. In its place, a field would be plowed. Seeds would be planted. In time, the land would give forth its fruits. Because of the sacrifice of the pioneer settlers.
About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon.
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