Unconsciously, Tevye squeezed his friend’s arm until he cried out in pain.
“If you don’t want her, tell him no.”
“I don’t want to injure his pride,” Tevye said.
Elisha nodded his head. “That’s true. Muktars have killed people for less.”
“They are waiting outside,” Tevye said.
“Let’s go and talk to him.”
“You go. I’ll stay here. Please. I’ll do anything. Just get me out of this hell.”
“All right,” the Yemenite agreed. “You stay here and have a drink. There’s some wine in the cabinet. You look like you need it. I will see what I can do.”
Tevye found the bottle. He himself had put it there, so that a proper “L’Chaim” could be made on every happy occasion. With trembling fingers, he pulled out the cork and drank straight from the bottle without looking for a glass. But the wine only fueled the fires inside him. Outside the doorway, he could see Elisha talking heatedly with the Arab. “Please God,” he prayed. “In the name of the Torah; in the name of our Forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; in the name of my father, and his father before him; in the name of the Covenant of the Brit which I bear on my flesh; in the name of Your never-ending mercy, please spare me from the fires of Gehenna, and let me return to my simple life in peace.”
Looking up, Tevye saw the Arab girl in the door of the synagogue. Not knowing if it were truly her or a demon, he threw himself at the ark where the sacred scroll of the Torah was housed. Wildly, he opened its doors.
“Rise up, O Lord, and vanquish the enemies of Your people!” he called.
When he looked back to the door, the apparition was gone. Elisha appeared in its place. Distressed at the paleness of Tevye’s face, he shut the doors of the ark and sat his friend down in a chair.
“The matter has been settled,” he said.
“Settled?” Tevye asked. “What does that mean?”
“It means that Abdulla is taking his daughter home and giving you time to make up your mind.”
“Make up my mind about what?”
“About whether you want to marry his daughter or mine.”
“Marry your daughter?” Tevye asked.
“I had to tell him something,” the Yemenite said. “How else could I say that you were not interested and yet not hurt his feelings? So I told him that you were already engaged to my daughter.”
“Engaged to your daughter. Yes!” Tevye said with a breath of relief. “That was a wise thing to say. Elisha, my friend, you are a genius.”
“At first that didn’t bother Abdulla in the least. He said you could marry them both. Just like the great King Solomon had harems of women, so should his friend, Tevye.”
“That was King Solomon, while I am only Tevye, the milkman turned farmer.”
“That’s what I told him. Kings were kings, and farmers have dung on their shoes.”
“Now there is only one problem,” the Yemenite said.
“What problem is that?” Tevye asked.
“If you don’t marry my daughter, he will surely come back.”
Tevye looked at his friend to see if he was kidding, but the dark face and eyes were unflinchingly earnest.
“Marry your daughter!” Tevye exclaimed. “You must be joking?”
“Does a father joke about marrying off his daughters?”
“Certainly not,” Tevye said.
With seven daughters of his own, Tevye knew from experience that the matter was one of the most serious things in the world. Suddenly, he felt surrounded by demons wherever he looked. Not that there was something wrong with Elisha’s daughters. One was more beautiful than the next.
“What about my age? I could be a father to your daughters,” Tevye protested.
“Experience in life is a great treasure,” the Yemenite said. “Besides, it’s time my eldest got married.”
Once again, Tevye started to sweat. What had happened to his constellations in heaven that his fortune was being spun round and round like a wheel. He had lived a full life already. He was a grandfather several times over. Who had the strength for more new beginnings? And Golda. How could he ever face his Golda? When they met in up in Heaven, how could he ever explain? Not only that, if he were to marry again, and if he got to Gan Eden, which one of his wives would be his? If there were such things as pots and pans in Paradise, Golda would be waiting with one in her hand to give him a crack on his head.