Simon Appelfeld was a good boy. He went to school each day. He obeyed the Sabbath. He did his homework. He brushed his teeth. He loved his parents and they loved him. He did not know how unusual he was.
One day on his way to school he saw that someone had left a book on the empty seat beside him on the bus.
The X38 bus ran from Cropsey Avenue, near his home in Bensonhurst, in Brooklyn, all the way to Madison Avenue and 57th Street, in Manhattan, where he got off each morning and walked from there to his school, which was not far away.
When school was over he took the bus home. Some afternoons when it was cold or raining he stopped first at the Ess-A-Bagel shop for a warm everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and a coffee with milk and sugar. On some warm sunny days he sat on a bench in the park before going home.
On the bus, he looked out the windows. He watched the riders getting on and getting off. He looked at the people the bus passed walking along the way and those who sat on the sidewalk with Dunkin Donut cups and signs asking for help and praising God, and how some people stopped and others walked by. How there were no people sitting on the sidewalk with coffee cups in front of Fendi or Cartier or Breitling, or the Trump Tower, which was just down the street.
He watched the same people doing the same things at the same time each day just like he was doing and he thought that they might be thinking to themselves, while they were hurrying to the office or shopping, that every day they see same kid with the curly red hair on the x 38 bus looking out of the window at them and he thought it must have made them feel good.
The book on the seat was a paperback with the cover taken off. Like in the olden days when that’s what they did with used paperback books. He wondered what they did with the covers of all those books.
This book had that soft, thick feel like a lot of people had touched it and read it and so it must have been a good one.
He could not remember who had sat next to him last and so he put the book in his backpack and on the ride home and then the next day he asked each one who sat down if they might have left it there by mistake.
That evening he read a few pages. And then he read more on the way to and from school each day, and asking who ever sat down if it was theirs. No one said it was. He did this every day for a week with the same results. And so he kept reading it until he finished the whole book.
The book was The Golem of Prague, about a rabbi in a city in Europe when the Jews were being treated very badly and the rabbi conjured a big and powerful creature out of clay to help him protect his people and their synagogue. There were some very scary parts and in the end some really bad things happened.
As he got off the bus the day after he finished it, he left the book on the seat.
And then, on the X38 the next morning there was another paperback back on the seat next to him.
This time there was a note attached. It said: If you liked that book maybe you would like this one too. Just like at the Amazon Store. This one was another story about golems. One by Isaac Bashevis Singer. He loved it. This happened four more times. Every time he left the book on the seat, another one appeared the next day.
Then one evening when he got home from school his father sat him down and said, “Simon you seem troubled. What is it?”
“Nothing really,” said Simon. And then he told his father that he thought there was a golem on the X38 bus. And he told his father all about the books and the notes the golem had left for him.
“And why do you think the golem has left the books for you,” his father asked.
And Simon said, “I don’t know. Maybe to protect me from something bad that might happen to me.”
“Well, maybe,” his father said. And then he said, “I like books about golems too and have one for you to read. I love it. I’ve it read many times. And when you’re finished with it you can leave it on the bus for your golem to read.
And so Simon read Frankenstein in one week and on the next day he tucked it into his backpack and he ran to make his bus, which he saw had left only a moment ago.
He was terribly disappointed because that was the bus with the golem’s books on it.
And so he waited for the next bus, which was very crowded.
There was only one seat left. In the very last row. Next to an old-looking woman with a wise and grizzled face who looked a little like Nancy Pelosi might look when she got older, wearing a flat-brimmed dark blue Yankees cap and with a pair of cross country skis sticking out of her grocery cart. He sat down beside her. And she smiled at him. He smiled back. He thought about giving the book to her.
And then, lo and behold, while Simon was looking out the window, with nothing new to read, even before he could reach into his bag to take out the book that he read that his father had given him, right there, squeezed into the narrow groove next to where the woman had been sitting, was a copy of the exact same book, identical to the one he had in his bag, except that this one was thick and soft had the cover torn off and a note scribbled in pencil on the first page of the book which said, “I missed my bus too. See you next time.”