Freyda Klein came home from the clinic with her baby Eliezer,
at a quarter to five one afternoon. Thank G-d, apart from an
ear infection and a stomach bug which ought to pass within a
week, the baby was fine. As she started going up the stairs
with the whimpering child, she thought she would put on an
extra spurt, 'just three flights of stairs and I'll be home'.
And then she saw itåagain.
She had hung countless notices at the entrance to the
building, complaining about the waste of electricity. She had
begged the person who was sticking toothpicks into the light
switch so that it wouldn't go out, to desist. The house
committee would once again present the inhabitants with an
enormous bill because of one pampered person who was too lazy
to press the light switch on the next floor, after the light
had gone out.
They had considered installing long life bulbs on the
staircase. It was expensive, but they would eventually get
round to it. She could not even begin to guess who the
culprit might be. All the neighbors were pleasant, honest
people who wouldn't dream of misappropriating the electricity
shared by others. They all paid for the shared garden and
other communal bills promptly. It had to be someone, but who?
She would have to hang a stronger and more explicit notice in
the entrance, pointing out that whoever was doing this,
making the light of the staircase burn day and night, was
stealing from others. Oh well, no doubt the new notice would
follow its predecessors into the waste paper basket and show
the world that directives were one thing, and reality was
another. The only other choice was to play detective and try
to discover who the culprit was.
Not an hour had gone by when Freyda heard a sound from the
entrance hall. It was momentarily quiet in the house as the
tape she had on as background noise while folding the laundry
had stopped. Standing on tiptoe, she peeped through the spy
hole at the door. She couldn't believe her eyes. A dark
haired boy with a velvet kipa was doing something at
the front entrance to the building, then the lights went on.
She flung open the door but there was no one there. Oh yes,
there was the toothpick in the light switch button.
It couldn't be! There was only one boy in their building with
dark hair and a velvet cappel. If you were asked to
point out the best child you knew, Binyomin Frank would be
your first choice This boy — with a pure, innocent face
and perpetual smile, who ran to catch his school bus at 7.30
each morning and then sat inside patiently while the
stragglers arrived? This child — who wouldn't dream of
throwing a candy wrapper anywhere except in the garbage? This
perfect boy? Did his parents know that he was the one who was
boosting the electricity bill?
She stood rooted to the spot. When she recovered, she quickly
pulled out the incriminating toothpick and went back inside.
Now at least she knew who the culprit was, but what was she
to do with the information? For the next few days, Freyda
watched the staircase and entrance hall. Binyomin didn't
come the next day, and she began to think that she had made a
grave mistake; perhaps she had just jumped to conclusions
about an innocent boy and his family. But the day after that,
at almost the same time of day, she heard the same suspicious
noises. Looking through the spy hole, she once again saw
Binyomin sticking the toothpick into the switch. While she
was still thinking about whether to open the door and
confront him or not, he disappeared. Every morning after
that, she saw Binyomin catch his bus in the morning and
tamper with the light switch in the afternoon. After the
second week, Freyda had more than enough evidence, and waited
for Binyomin at six o'clock. As soon as she heard the
scratching round the light switch, she flung open the door.
The sweet-faced boy glanced at her apprehensively, and
disappeared in a flash. One single toothpick was lying on the
floor. Freyda picked it up, and felt relieved. As she closed
her front door, she understood that Binyomin knew he had been
found out, and would have to find some other form of
Around eleven o'clock that night, Freyda had finished
preparing next day's dinner. Her husband had gone to an
out-of-town wedding and would be home late. She sat down for
a few minutes before getting ready for bed, and froze.
Someone was trying her door handle. The door was locked, but
the person didn't leave off. Over and over again, the door
handle was pushed up and down. Freyda was petrified: it was
too early for her husband, and her father, who had always
felt free to come and go as he pleased, was not alive any
more. Nobody else would just walk into the house. She wanted
to scream, but, first of all, was afraid of waking the
children, and the scream stuck in her throat.
It seemed as if the person had gone away and Freyda thought
of ringing her husband. As she got up from the armchair to
get the phone, she saw the door handle moving again. Common
sense prevailed over fear, and she crept up to the spy hole
to see who was there. It was pitch black outside, and she
couldn't see a thing. She was sure that the would-be intruder
could hear the pounding of her heart, so she moved away from
the door. For a full hour she stood leaning against the wall,
watching the door, till she heard a familiar knocking. At
laståshe opened the door wide.
"You look pale," was the first thing her husband said, "Has
anything happened?" She related the events of the past couple
of hours, and her husband listened sympathetically. He
frowned, trying to make sense of the frightening
"Did you see anyone on the stairs as you came in, Dovid?"
"No, I didn't see anyone."
"Maybe downstairs in the entrance hall, or the lobby?"
"Not a soul. Only Elyokim Frank was sitting there. He looked
as if he were waiting for someone."
"You're sure you didn't see a stranger?"
"There was no one."
Freyda took a deep breath. She was a practical, down-to-earth
woman, not used to delving into the occult. But now she
thought it seemed as if this mystery was trying to tell her
Dovid Blau went into the kitchen for something to eat and she
joined him for a cup of tea. He was just helping himself to a
slice of cake when he heard it, too. The door handle was
moving again, and then silence. Dovid walked to the door
softly, and looked through the peep hole. He pressed the
inner switch which lit up the staircase and breathed "Elyokim
Frank." "Elyokim Frank is trying to open our front door?"
gasped Feyda. "He certainly is," replied Dovid as he went
outside, closing the door behind him. She wasn't frightened
now and waited by the untouched cake. Five minutes, tenå..
where was Dovid?
He came in with a bemused expression on his face. "Have you
ever asked yourself why we haven't seen Elyokim for a while?"
he asked her.
"What do you mean ... yes, you're right. I used to see him
every morning when I took Eliezer to the baby sitter, but
haven't seen him for a long time."
"I used to meet him in shul every morning and I am
ashamed to admit that I hadn't missed him till this evening,
when I saw him sitting downstairs with a strange look on his
"Perhaps you'll tell me what happened?"
Dovid took a deep breath, "Elyokim has suffered a minor
"I don't believe it."
"I didn't believe it either. They never said a word. This
happened some weeks ago. He was discharged from hospital and
since thenå Maybe you don't know what a stroke can do to
"I don't know exactly how much disability he is left with,
but I do know that he can't see in the dark, not even to
locate the light switch. Nor can he remember exactly on which
floor he liveså."
Freyda felt a wave of pity. This strong energetic likeable
man, knocked down in the prime of life by a stroke.
"He doesn't usually come home alone, or someone sees to it
that the stairs are lit up. He walks very slowly, so that the
light is off before he can reach the next floor. Tonight he
was alone and the stairs were dark; after one flight he
"So he tried our door instead of going up to the next
"He did, indeed, but he wasn't sure if he was one flight
above his own house, or below. He was completely
Freyda's fingers slid along the table, picking up the wooden
toothpick which the best boy in the whole world had dropped
in his fright. They would install long-life bulbs which burnt
day and night. It was a well worth investment, for now and in
the long run.