The Package


 The Package


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A Short Story

by Abraham Makofsky

I had been speaking Yiddish with him because I welcomed the chance to see how much of it I remembered. But now it was getting serious and I switched to English. So did he. "It looks like you entertained me royally these past few days just to persuade me to carry that package for you into the States," I said

Hershel, fiftyish, his hair already white, answered nervously. "No, No. I only learned a half year ago that you were my cousin, and was given your address. I invited you here because I wanted to meet you."

"What's in the package?" I asked

"Just some things my daughter in New York needs: some papers, a little gift for my grandchild, things like that."

"Why don't you mail it to her?"

"The mail in Mexico isn't reliable. The package could just disappear."

A little nothing, I thought, just a few grams or pounds of what, cocaine? heroin?

"I bet you're not my relative, " I said, " Someone gave you my name and address. You've got drugs in there and you think you can get me to smuggle them into the US. No thanks."

He sighed. " Aaron, we are relatives. I'll show you a picture." He went over to a desk, took a picture out of the drawer, and gave it to me. "That's a picture of three brothers in the old country. One is my father, and one is your father. Look at it."

It was an old picture, frayed at the edges. There were three young men, and they did look alike- dark hair, dressed in holiday finery--and the man in the middle was unmistakably my father.

"Why did you get into this dirty business?" I asked. "You own a store. Can't you make a decent living out of that?"

He gave me a hard look. "Don't preach to me," he said. "You and I are about the same age. Think what life's been like for you and for me. I fought in the Warsaw Ghetto. My wife and 5 year old son were killed there. I escaped and met up with partisans and spent the rest of the war fighting, killing, always on the run.. And you? Just enjoying the good life in your golden country. I want to get my share of that good life"

There was a soft knock on the door. His wife, Anna, came in She was much younger than Hershel; her bronzed skin and high cheekbones showed Indian heritage. She told him there was a man downstairs who wanted to see him. He left, but she stayed.

After a few pleasantries, I pointed to the package. "Are you in the business too? "

She stared at me. "I told him that any relative of his would be too smart to believe that story." She spoke slowly. "I hate the business"

"Why don't you make him quit?"

The door opened and Hershel came in, He said that he had closed the store--siesta time. She told him that I wanted her to make him quit drug dealing.

Hershel's laugh was harsh. "Aaron, you'll never understand me. My father was pious, upright, incorruptible. He probably ended up in a gas chamber. My wife and son--Oh, god, why explain. I have given up believing there is any good in this world. You're wasting your time talking about quitting the business."

I wasn't sure that I should pursue the matter-- but I did. "Do you ever think about the people who use the drugs that will support your happy years? If they keep it up long enough, their lives become nightmares- maybe like being in the gas chamber waiting for the end."

"Why should I think about them? You knew you had family in Poland; did you think about us in those terrible times? We were not real, living people to you- and the drug users are too unreal for me to worry about. My life has been full of things a human being shouldn't have to stand," He was silent for a minute. "I did have some good things going --and then they were wrenched right out of my life." He held her hand. "And now I wonder when they will take you away from me."

"Can't you see that the big threat to staying together is that the law will be coming after you-or us- at anytime?" She asked

"We don't have any choice." His voice trembled a bit. "Your father lets us manage the store--and it's only a front for the business. We can't live on what the store makes." There was a knock on the door and a man came in, dressed in police uniform, and wearing side arms. My heart missed a beat, but it was clear that his presence did not bother my cousin or his wife; the package remained on the table in clear view of the newcomer.

The officer looked at me intently. "Who are you?" He asked, in Spanish.

"He's my cousin, a gringo from up north," Herschel said. "I suppose you're here to do business with me. We'll go downstairs." He and the visitor left the room.

I looked at Anna quizzically. "Payoff time, "she said. "How can he stand it! Drugs and payoffs. This is what he says will bring us the good life." She covered her face with her hands.

I hesitated to offer advice-- but, after all, they had dragged me into their lives. I spoke up. "Why not tell him you can't stand the way things are and you're going to leave? You want him to come with you, but if he decides to stay, you'll go without him."

"He needs me," she said, with tears flowing freely.

Just then, Hershel walked in. He saw her crying, walked to her chair, went down on his knees, and put his arms around her. "Please, sweetheart, please don't cry."

She stopped crying and kissed him. Then she said, " I listened to you and Aaron argue and I suddenly understood why you don't want to change. You do not really believe that things will ever different for you. Your life has been a holocaust, and you expect it will always be that way, that this is your fate."

Herschel stood up. "You're wrong," he sounded troubled. "Would I have dragged you into the business if I felt that way?"

"Then why do you twist and turn in bed at night?" Anna asked. "You get up in the dark, dress, and walk the muddy streets. You sit in a chair and I can tell your mind is a million miles away." "I have been that way ever since I can remember," he said. " Could I sleep peacefully in Warsaw when I knew the Nazis were coming?" He stared at her. "It's only when I hold you that I know I am still alive, and maybe, maybe.."

"No," Anna said. "You really don't believe it will happen. There is a voice inside of you saying that the good times will never come. And, like Aaron said, that voice is telling you it is wrong to make life a holocaust for other people." She was quiet for a few moments. "I am giving up, Herschel. I must get away from here."

Herschel put up his hands as though to pacify her. "Okay, sweetheart. Let's take a vacation. We can go anywhere you want…"

She shook her head. "That's not what I mean. I want to go away for good. No more drugs, no more business."

"A little compromise," he pleaded. "Can't we wait a year? Just a little time to make more money to live on."

"No" she said.

He looked at me. "I bet you talked her into it, Aaron, preaching meaningless virtues. You didn't need to dirty your hands to have a good life. I do." Herschel turned to his wife. "Whatever you want, Anna. I need you. You are my life." That night, around the dinner table, and with her husband avoiding looking at me, Anna said that she had told her father that they were leaving town and giving up the store and the business. It would take them a few days to tie loose ends together, and they would then leave for Mexico City. She was certain they would both find jobs easily. Since I was to leave for home early the next morning, we sat around after dinner and assured one another that we would keep in touch. I expressed warm feelings about our several days together, and made it a point to tell Herschel how happy I was to learn we were cousins. There was no warmth in his responses to my overtures.

About two months after I returned home I was delighted to receive a letter from Anna. The long letter first told me that they had found an apartment in Mexico City. They had many friends there. She and Herschel had first become acquainted there about five years ago, when he worked as a translator in an import-export business. The letter then turned to what had happened since they returned to the big city.

I found a job quickly in a car business owned by a friend but Herschel has had trouble getting a job. He went back to the export place but they did not need him. The boss where I work took him on as a car salesman, but on the first day he yelled at a customer who then walked out of the store. The boss asked Herschel why he argued with the customer, and Herschel quit the job. I am very discouraged.

I felt I had to respond quickly to this disturbing letter. I remembered that I had once met a curator at the Mexico City anthropology museum. A few calls to friends and I recalled his name, Carlos Diaz. I sent a letter to Anna suggesting that Herschel call Diaz at the museum and use my name to get an appointment and see if there might be a job. I also wrote to the curator, using school stationery, telling him that I was referring a friend in search of a job and emphasizing Herschel's command of many languages.

A few weeks later, a second letter came from Anna.

Dear Aaron,

I have sad news to report. Herschel has gone back to the village and the store. After he quit the car job he would not look for work. He read you letter and tossed it aside. He said you were the last person he would turn to for help. He said my father wanted him to come back He packed his bag, kissed me, and left. I am heartbroken.

Your friend.


I wrote to her, expressing the hope that after a brief separation, he would decide to go back to her. That was not the way it happened. Another letter from her came in a week's time. Anna had returned to the village. She wanted, above all, to be with him.

The author is a retired professor of social work and anthropology who writes stories dealing with social issues. This story is written with the assistance of a small grant from the Puffin Foundation


from the February 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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