“Did you get the newspaper? It should be here by now.”
“Not today, my love. You were so tired.”
“I’m never too tired to read to you.”
In sixty years, Jakob had never won an argument with his wife, and he was sure he wasn’t going to win this one either. He went to the front door, opened it, and picked up the daily newspaper from the mat.
A generation prior, Jakob’s and Leena’s parents came from Uglich, a small town in rural Russia. The two families had lived just three streets apart, yet were still strangers the day Jakob first met Leena at a movie house in Brooklyn.
Jakob, sixteen at the time, spoke with a heavy Russian accent. He had only been in America for a little over a year and had no time for school, as he had become the primary breadwinner for his family. Leena, on the other hand, had spent all of her fifteen years in America and spoke perfect New York City English, a fact made evident when Jakob tried to park in front of the theater where Leena worked taking tickets.
“What’s the big idear? You can’t pahk ya cah here.”
Jakob was instantly taken by the pretty young girl who put r’s where they didn’t belong and removed them from where they did.
“I am Jakob,” he said with a smile. “I not be here long.”
“You mean you won’t be here long.”
“Yes, that’s what I said.”
“No, you said—nevermind. Just move your cah.”
Jakob did nothing of the kind. In truth, dropping off the daily paper to the newsstand should not have taken more than a minute, but on that day, he dillied and dallied as long as he could, all the while smiling at Leena.
“You’ll be here tomorrow, yes?” Jakob asked as he walked back to the delivery truck.
“Tomorrow is Monday. I’ll be in school,” Leena answered with a huff. She was annoyed by the handsome young delivery driver, but something about his smile made it harder by the second to stay so. “I only work on weekends.”
“Then Jakob will see you Saturday.” With a tip of his cap, he was gone.
When Saturday finally arrived, Leena wasn’t sure what she was hoping for. She was intrigued by the boy who always smiled. He was rough around the edges, not the kind who could normally turn her head. So why had she thought about him nonstop for a week?
“This is for you,” Jakob said, handing the daydreaming teen a newspaper.
“What? Why are you giving me a newspaper?”
“Because paper has all the news of the world—anything you want to know is in there.”
“Thank you, Jakob,” Leena responded with an unexpected smile.
“You very welcome….” Jakob leaned forward, hoping the pause would have the desired effect.
“Leena. My name is Leena.”
“You very welcome, Leena. I see you tomorrow.”
And thus began a tradition, every Saturday and Sunday, Jakob would bring Leena the newspaper and they would talk. Very early on, they discovered the coincidence of their families’ hometown. Leena loved to listen as Jakob told her of the cobblestoned streets and brightly colored buildings. Leena, in turn, would read him stories from the paper. In the beginning, she did this because Jakob hadn’t yet learned to read English. Over time, she read just because Jakob loved the sound of her voice.
One day, Jakob asked Leena a question.
“Leena, what can I do for you?”
“What do you mean, Jakob? Yah don’t have to do anything for me. I just enjoy your company.”
“You don’t understand, pretty Leena. Your reading brings me joy. I want to bring you such joy.”
Jakob didn’t know that reading to him did bring Leena joy, and she looked forward to their daily conversations. Without giving it much thought, however, she answered him.
“Yah see that woman over there?”
“The one with the packages?”
“Yeahm, she seems to be struggling. Go help her.”
“As you wish,” Jakob said, with his trademark smile. In no time he was carrying the old woman’s bundled, a kind deed he would often repeat.
From that day forward, Leena would read to Jakob and he would help one of their neighbors in any way he could. Sometimes he would fetch groceries while other times he’d walk dogs. He even became proficient and small household repairs. Before long, the young couple became a fixture in Flatbush. Stories were passed around about the girl who read and the boy who helped.
Four years after that first day at the theater, Leena read the most important news article to date. Jakob had proposed and without telling him, Leena had put their wedding announcement in the paper.
“Jakob, look at this,” Leena said, showing him the picture.
“It is us—we are in the paper!”
“Mr. and Mrs. Irving Copin have the pleasure of…” before Leena could finish the announcement Jakob kissed his bride to be.
“Everyone! You know it’s true. I am marrying Leena. It says so in the paper!” Jakob ran to the flower vendor on the corner to buy a beautiful bouquet.
He turned back to Leena, who gave her fiancée a wink and pointed to a young girl walking with her mother. The little girl’s father, a soldier, had fought in Europe, but had not come home. Her name was Susan, and Jakob had become a father figure to her. Leena cried happy tears when Jakob handed Susan the flowers. It was Jakob’s greatest gift to Leena so far
🜋 🜋 🜋
By the time he and Leena were married, Jakob had long since stopped delivering papers. Jakob now owned his own newsstand while Leena taught English at a local high school. The young couple moved into a modest apartment, not far from the movie theater where they first met.
Each day was busier than the last, but every night, Leena would read the newspaper to Jakob. When she was done, he would replace a lightbulb or do some other small favor for a neighbor or a random stranger. On the warm summer nights when the sun stayed up until past nine, the two would sit together on the same bench in Prospect Park. Leena would read the paper while Jakob, always the gentleman, would tip his hat to the ladies as they passed and stand to shake the men’s hands.
When the weather was too cold outside, Jakob and Leena moved inside to their favorite chairs for the nightly reading. As the years passed, so did history. Leena read to Jakob when Hitler invaded Poland and when Truman dropped the bomb in Hiroshima. She read to him on the day the war ended and the day President Kennedy was shot. It was during these readings he learned of Apollo 1’s unspeakable tragedy and Apollo 11’s historic victory. Even after Jakob learned to read himself, he never read the newspaper. That was Leena’s job and her greatest joy.
🜋 🜋 🜋
Sixty years can feel like forever, but for Jakob and Leena there was never enough time. The last night that Leena read to Jakob, she only completed a single article before she fell asleep. The next morning she was gone.
There would be no great memorial, or public service; instead, as a last tribute to his beautiful bride, Jakob placed an obituary in the same paper Leena had read to him for all these decades. He wasn’t a man given to soaring rhetoric, so the announcement of his wife’s death was understandably short. For the first time in over sixty years, Leena wasn’t there to read to him and Jakob’s eyesight was failing.
The next day at four o’clock, Jakob, out of habit, moved to his favorite chair. Leena’s chair stood empty. Since there was no paper to read, his only companion was silence until the knock at the door. Jakob slowly rose to his feet, walked across the room, and opened the door.
“Hi Jakob, do you remember me? It’s Susan”
“Of course I remember you, I gave you flowers. What can I do for you?”
“You can let me read to you.”
“But, why would you want to read to me?”
“Because I won the drawing.”
“Yes. The drawing. Look out into the hallway,” Susan answered. Jakob leaned his head out the door where a line of friends and neighbors stretched so far he couldn’t see the end, each one with a newspaper under their arm.
“I know you feel alone, but the truth is you’ll never be alone. None of us are Leena, but we will be glad to read to you everyday. Today is my day.”
“Come in, Susan,” Jakob said, wiping tears from his eyes, “Come in and sit.”
After Jakob found his way back to his favorite chair, Susan opened the paper and began from the obituaries:
Your voice was the story of our lives. I await the day when you will read to me again.
“Now that we have that out of the way—let’s turn to page one.”