By Marcelo Wio
It all starts with the most banal of doubts – something in the line of whether the door was left unlocked – and then, as if it were an initial embryonic cell (or as a point of nucleation around which the uncertainties coalesce – equally minute, irrelevant) that divides and specializes, the doubt grows, acquiring metaphysical, transcendental characteristics: the doubt is by then something quite different – resembling an eternal internal juridical-bureaucratic process that increases its threatening arbitrariness with the passage of time, of the aggregation of material, of elements. It’s a process that has an almost infinite (and incredible) amount of means, of resources, to subdue the accused; or, perhaps more properly, its victims.
And, although it begins with such a simple ingredient, with such simplicity, we’re not given to know which one of the mounting doubts triggers the cascade of reactions. We only find we’re sucked into it when it’s too late, when it’s an undifferentiated mass of guilts, resignations, horridness, and, sometimes, of astonishing attraction – which leads inevitably to an unconditional compliance, to an eagerness, even, to please the dispositions of the process (perhaps, even more devoted, the more extravagant or inconceivable they are).
It never starts with a big bang. Everything starts ridiculously slow, silent, as if it’s not really happening. As if it was the quotidian sameness almost repeating itself, flowing unnoticed, like the wind (of which no one notices the precise moment it kicks off) and those very slight things it carries with it: for example, leaves, plastic bags, toupees, newspaper sheets, and moods.
Why had I agreed to come, Shimon asked himself – a sour aftertaste for that wine that some of Sivan’s friend thought was good. After all, they were Sivan’s friends. And if he had stayed home, she would have said nothing. Not anymore. But that was even worse: the empty look; the silences full of meaning but almost devoid of emotion, or hope, or zeal – just the residue of words already pronounced. He agreed because… Because what? Because he didn’t want to add anymore distance, disaffection? Anymore senseless pain? What to call that which you don’t really know, understand? And meanwhile, the conversations and the music – that seemed to have been turned up a notch – to which some were already dancing, felt like a vague memory barely surrounding him, as also the wind that made the chuppah flutter like the forgotten banner or a retreating army. He started walking towards the beach without even noticing it.
He couldn’t remember his wedding – he barely recalled some scattered, unreliable images, like fade photographs, that could well have been someone else’s. And it had taken place merely not even five years ago yet. Was I in love? Was I happy? Am I? He remembered dancing a bit. Enough not to feel too embarrassed. Or maybe that feeling was a latter addition, an effect of a previous reconstruction effort – asking myself already the same questions concerning with the same doubts? He especially remembered Aunt Ruth. That was the last time he saw her. That was probably the las time his saw many of his family members, now that he thought about it. We are all the time seeing people and things for the last time (and, for that matter, for the first one too). If we were to notice such things, it might well be unbearable. Maybe that was what those gatherings – weddings, bar mitzvah’s, and the whole lot – were for: seeing some people for the last time, counting the casualties and regrouping for whatever battles await ahead as if nothing happened, as if we’d been just partying.
Lost in those and other thoughts or rags of thoughts, he found himself wondering through some low dunes. The grey moving sky passing by from West to East with a slight scent of sea; and him, with a slight odor of wine, moving away from the music of the wedding. He turned to see the gathering; in the background lay Ashdod like a skeleton or a fake scenery forgotten by some filming crew. Suddenly, an unforeseen and especially strong gust of wind took his kippah off his head – he didn’t realize he was still wearing it, he usually took it off as soon as he could, the sole idea of being marked on the head so that the fabulous existence up there could keep track of him, unsettled him (the first tracking device, he called it, thinking it was quite a decent witticism). The black round cap rose rapidly as if it wanted to merge to the structure of thick but rainless clouds and immediately turned north along the coastline. Shimon ran after the kippah. After a kilometer or so, he wondered why was he running after it, ultimately it was just a piece of cloth that had been his father’s – or was it his grandfather’s? -; or maybe he had bought it who knows why. And, although he went through that rationalization process, he couldn’t stop running after the flying kippah. Maybe I attached an emotional value to it that exceeds the price of the fabric it is made of? He thought. Impossible, I’m devoid of superstitions – religious or emotional. Ashdod’s buildings were already clearly distinguishable when he decided that he wouldn’t continue the pursuit beyond the limits of his city.
He had long passed the city – the kippah maintaining the same altitude and bearing – when he saw this man bending over something. The clothing distinctly Bedouin (distinctly for him, that is). The man was sitting on the cold sand, his legs crossed and his back to the sea, protecting a small fire set up for heating a blackened coffee pot. That presence that would have stricken Shimon at least as odd, was now entirely normal given the circumstances (what were those circumstances, anyway?). A man from a timeless time sitting in the middle of nowhere, being abused by the wind and the unusually early winter weather.
The old man signaled with his hands for Shimon to join him. The kippah, at the same time, seemed to stop and hover over that patch of winterly desolation.
“Sit down, my friend,” the man said. “I’m Fasih.”
“I’m Shimon,” he said, while sitting on the sand to the right of the man. He welcomed the precarious heat of the small fire.
“What are you doing around here, my friend Bar Yochai?”
“Don´t know Shimon Bar Yochai, the presumed author of the Zohar?”
“Yah Allah, young people don’t know anymore their elders, their more distant history. Anyway, what are you doing around here?”
“Following my kippah – he signaled, feeling stupid – into the sky.”
The man looked and nodded as if he was witnessing a usual phenomenon.
“Have some coffee, my friend” – and Fasih offered him a glass with the dark liquid.
“Thank you so much, Esseiyyid.”
“You know, young man, there once was a case similar to yours. That was years ago, during my grandfather’s time – or maybe my great-grandfather’s, not really sure. Thing is that the wind, one very much like this one, made of the persistence and viciousness of winter blew the keffiyeh away from a Bedouin’s head, taking him on a chase all the way to Jordan – don’t know if it was even Jordan, back then – where he got reunited with a brother he had thought dead. The old people believed it wasn’t the wind that carried the kaffiyeh away, but the will of Allah. I think that it was probably his own will, or guilt or whatever emotion that took action. We are much more than our limitations, my friend; much, much more than we are aware of.”
The old man paused to sip from his small glass. His eyes seemed to be staring somewhere inside himself, as if he had seen enough of this world and now, what was left of time, he delved into his own universe, into how it had been contaminated and modified by the other, the external one.
“If yours, my dear friend, is like that man’s case, who knows where you’ll end up… But, of course, you can also forget about the kippah altogether; let it go, and buy a new one to which you can transfer the particular significance you attached to the one that now migrates….”
“I know, it’s all I’ve been thinking since starting this pursuit. I can’t even find any particular attachment to it… But somehow, I can’t stop following. Its….”
“As if you were governed by the kippah.”
“No. By something within me – though not entirely my own.”
“The kippah, then, is just your guide, one piece of the mechanism that converts the soul movement into material, physical movement.”
“Then you must follow. You have no choice. Here, take the pot and the coffee, you’ll need them.”
“Oh, honorable Esseiyyid, as thankful as I am, I can’t deprive you of the pleasure of making coffee.”
“When were you born, in the 1800’s? Take the things, lamahabat Allah, it’s just an old pot and a very cheap coffee.”
Fasih saw Shimon resume the chasing of the kippah – which slowly began to move northward again – holding the plastic bag with the pot, coffee and a lighter. He looked as he’d gone out to run some errands and that he was already on his way home. The old man wondered if the wind that was driving the kippah was Shimon’s doing: some untamable and unconscious need or desire he had that exploited the atmospheric conditions or even altered them. Are we able to do so much? he wondered, sipping from the empty glass and regretting immediately that he had given to Shimon his coffee utensils. We are indeed capable of magical, wonderful things. He lost sight of Shimon behind a dune that went into the Mediterranean just like a body under a blanket. The black dot was visible a bit longer.
Shimon didn’t think about Sivan until the next morning while he was preparing some coffee – and thanking Fasih warmly, while regretting not having chatted a little longer with him, hearing his wealth of anecdotes, teachings. What would his wife think of his unannounced absence? Well, he had a pretty good idea: probably, like himself, an unacknowledged relief. And here he was acknowledging it. He checked his cellphone; it had run out of battery. Might I have waited unconsciously till now just to make sure it was impossible to call her? Whenever he ran into someone, he intended to ask for a phone to call her and let her know about his most peculiar circumstance.
All the while, Jaffa could be hinted at the whitish dirty horizon, as if worn out by an improper use or a negligent care. He feared that the kippah would be hard to discern in that mediocre sky.
It’s a good season to be depressed or to follow a piece of cloth, he thought. And it wasn’t meant to be some kind of irony or jest. Just a thought that left him the second he finished thinking it. Like the kippah. Or his salary.
“Hi Sivan, it’s me… I’m calling from a public phone… Can you believe they still exists, at least one? Anyway, my kippah flew away during the wedding. My father’s. Or grandfather’s. I don’t know. Do you remember, by any chance? Nu, I’m talking to the voicemail… Thing is, Sivan, I’m running after it. I’m in Jaffa, by the way… I guess the wind won’t last much more. Never seen it last so long actually… I know this will sound like some unbelievable kind of excuse or cover-story. But it’s not. It’s the truth… Pathetic and small as you can get it. Well… I’ll be back soon….”
He was thinking whether to say “I love you” when the credit ran out with a metallic and anachronic clank. The phone decided, he thought. The wind decides. Everybody and everything decides but me, apparently. That’s one very bad koan, he said out loud.
A woman that was sitting close by, on a step of a stone stairs, a notebook on her lap, a pen in her left hand, asked him: “Which one?”
“Which one what?”
“Pardon me for intruding into your mind. I never do so. Or almost never, as you can tell. But I’m into koans, that’s why I ask which one is the very bad koan.”
“It’s fine. I can’t remember now… It was probably some silly digression, I don’t do the others, the interesting ones.”
“We all do both.”
“I suppose… Wait… The wind decides, everybody and everything decides but me, that’s what I was thinking. That was the bad koan. But as you see, it doesn’t even remotely resemble a koan.”
“It doesn’t. But I’m intrigued now about the wind and the decision.”
“Oh, it has no interest at all. The wind has been carrying my kippah away from Ashdod, and I’m following it. I don’t know any more why I follow. But I can’t stop. See, there it is – and he pointed somewhere up – suspended in the air, almost as if mocking me.”
The woman followed the direction of Shimon’s finger and found that a black piece of cloth was indeed hovering up there.
“That’s something you don’t see every day – and I deal with the unusual almost on a daily basis.”
“I’m what people usually, and vulgarly, call a fortune teller or psychic. But what I do is more related with the arts of the astronomer, the historian, the psychologist, and the intuitionist. Probably, something like a pythoness….”
Shimon, looking at the notebook, asked if she was working on some oracle.
“No,” she said, and closed the notebook and stood up. “This is something else. Would you like to walk with me for a while?” – then she immediately corrected herself: “Would you mind if I walk with you while you chase your kippah?”
“I’d appreciate it, but I depend on the kippah moving, and it’s motionless….”
Actually, it was not entirely still, but gently swaying in the inner currents of the wind, taking advantage of them to hover over Shimon and the portion of city that contained him.
“Maybe it is just you who must follow it.”
“Maybe… I don’t know – I’m a neophyte in these issues – Anyway, I can use some rest,” and he sat on the place the woman had been sitting on. She sat beside him. A gust of wind came through an alley at their back. Shimon checked the kippah. It was still there, levitating over him.
“Can you talk about the consultations you’ve had, or are you bound by professional secrecy?”
“No. Mainly because my trade is not regulated. And because if I were to tell you about a case, the most that I would be talking about would be the process to give an answer to that specific consultation. And, of course, it would suffice to change names; it worked for Sigmund.”
“Your wording suggests that you won’t tell me anything.”
“I won’t, but because the case I’m working on is not close to being completed.”
“It doesn’t have to be this one. Anyone would do.”
“This is the only one. “
“Oh, I don’t know why I assumed that you have been doing this for a long time. I apologize.”
“No need to do so. Actually, I’ve been doing this for seventeen years. But I’m still working in the very first consultation I had.”
“That’s… a long time….”
“Indeed. But you can’t predict or advise just like that. True prediction, like any serious analysis, is done bearing in mind a large number of different outcomes for a series of calculations, for which it is necessary to gather an incredible amount of data. In other words, it is imperative to know as much as possible about the client (his personal and family biography, his psychological development – that is to say, the most outstanding features of his personality – one must reach his true desires (those never turn out to be the ones the person postulates with a certainty one must immediately doubt); his unconfessed fears (above all, to himself); also medical records, as well as the school, high school and higher education ones; and much more relevant data. Only then one might be able to venture a serious prediction, or prognosis, if you like, on what the outcome will be most likely…. Because, at the end of the day, everything comes down to probabilities.”
“I would never even have imagined it was so difficult.”
“It’s more than that. The universe plays with dice – some very dubious ones -, despite what some sustained, and men arrogantly think they are the ones throwing them (you see what a pathetic comfort that is, to submit, to cling to chance – and chaos). We are immersed in a huge mess.”
“So, you don’t make a living with divination.”
“Right, sorry; not just for the confusion, but for meddling in your economy, too.”
“Don’t worry. I intrude first. And no, I evidently don’t make any money out of it. That’s why I do something more banal, but more lucrative, of course, for a living: I make up interesting, funny or touching stories or anecdotes for actors to tell in interviews or as material for their biographies or autobiographies. Most of what you hear them tell in interviews and film presentation is apocryphal; and most of it was created by me and my two associates. You cannot believe how much studios and representatives pay for this stuff – she said tapping with one of her fingers the notebook she was holding with both arms against her chest – almost as much as for a decent script for a passable enough sitcom. She stopped talking abruptly and she stretched out one arm to point upwards. The kippah was slowly moving, as if it as if it were laborious to set in motion – its mass, larger than that of a train.”
They stood up.
“Thank you for keeping me company,” said Shimon.
“You’re welcome. Want to hear a piece of unsolicited advice?”
“Always, that’s usually the only good advice.”
“Follow the kippah until it touches ground.”
“I’ll do so,” he said with more conviction in his voice than in his mind. He couldn’t help felling silly running after his kippah. He pictured briefly Jacques Tati.
He didn’t realize he never asked her name until some three of four hours later. He thought that without a name it would be as if that encounter never happened. Names were necessary to tie, to link events, voices and images to reality, thus giving them the status of undisputed facts: in essence, to validate their existence.
Evangeline, he said out loud sometime later, when night was already ruling that part of the world. That would be her name when I tell the story of my meeting her. Evangeline from Jaffa, the woman determined to find every piece of information that defines a person and his little arrow of time just to tell him – or her, she didn’t mention if it was a man or a woman, or did she? – an irrelevant portion of the future (it’s always some version to will someone love me? Will I get that? Will I be rich or poor? Or, will I be cured? – ask a doctor, for crying out loud).
Walking behind the kippah, he kept thinking of what Evangeline had said: Follow the kippah until it touches ground. Why would he do so? And, above all, what does she know? After all, she can’t even make the slightest prediction, an educated guess on what is otherwise a trivial matter – other than gathering what it looks like a paralyzing amount of information…. And, even so, it made sense. Not because she said it, but because he already had made that decision – or, more precisely, obeyed an order that wasn’t formulated in the usual terms; actually, that wasn’t formulated at all.
Sometime along his thoughts – it wasn’t much a train of thought as the same train passing endlessly – night fell like a dense paste that linked all the screams and silences together. He continued to walk, believing in the progress of the kippah, just as he knew the Earth was rotating on its axis: invisible forces pushing objects and wills, attracting and rejecting, tending towards a balance (or an ultimate chaotic state?). Thing is, he pondered, to what balance am I tending towards.
Why I am so determined on this extravagant, absurd chase? Shimon had been wondering for the past few hours, without being able to venture an answer. He just went on, ranting against the wind or thinking whatever thought rescued him temporarily from that question…
Maybe he didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that he feared that if he stopped running after the kippah – and at that, that if he weren’t able to end up catching it – some calamity would befall him; as if that dull life of his (according to his own understanding, that is), were not disgraceful enough. Of course, one gets used to the most painful or unsettling things without even realizing it. Anyway, there was obvious a penchant for superstition; or, in other words, a tendency to assign fantastic motivation and possible consequences to an affair that actually invites more real interpretations, for much evident and intimate motivations and effects.
What people ultimately look for in superstition, is the pretense that will and responsibility are canceled or does not exist in the first place. And not only that, there are other perks to it, since when the extraordinary is brought into a matter, then the impossible can be expected to happen, while real outcomes might – at least unconsciously – be deemed as unreal. And even if the unreal consequence is not to the liking of the user, it can also be altered, after all, at the end of the day the believer, if you prefer, decides when and how to doubt certain elements of his own faith – only true believers accept the dictates of fantasy that, in the end, may result in a source of greater emotional pain than real events can provoke.
A vision which at first, he had to consider, if not unreal, then unlikely, appeared at Shimon’s left. Well, the thing did not materialize; the thread of his thoughts, suddenly vanished and simply allowed him to see what surrounded him. What startled him was an old military tank – no cannon, no machine-guns, just a rusty tank – located between the sea and the path he was taking, almost where the beach ceased to be beach but was still shore. He thought that it might well be a remnant of a war (1973, probably, he said to himself, just for the sake of saying something, of guessing, because he had no idea about tanks or anything to do with the military), a persistent piece of a long overdue event.
And immediately after noticing the derelict tank, he saw an old man standing by it, facing towards the see and throwing what he thought were newspaper scraps against the wind.
The man was called Nachmiel – he was in his seventies or eighties (since he was forty, he stopped telling people his age), thin grey hair, and an equally thin, grey and shaggy beard. He drives that old war tank not as a sign of belligerency or as a substitute for some deficiency linked to his masculinity – nothing could be further from both easy and trite interpretations – but as result of his pragmatism. To the first common interpretation, he answers:” I’m a pacifist, in fact, always have been; I’m an old-time conscientious objector.” To those who suggest the second one or openly state it as a joke, he simply composes the facial expression of someone who has heard the nonsense many times and says, patting the tank as if some mascot: “There’s simply nothing like this to drive around. It’s smooth. It’s safe – for me, of course, not for the other drivers. The only setback is that I can mostly drive in in the beach or very secondary roads.”
But nothing like this conversation would take place between him and Shimon. Nachmiel was doing what he was doing and Shimon was just passing, and, besides, he had other queries that made any conversation about the tank absolutely irrelevant – how can a tank, no matter how out of context it might be, compete with a flying kippah in partnership with the wind.
When Nachmiel saw Shimon approaching out of the corner of his eye, he said, anticipating the question about what he was doing: We live in the world of possibilities, of probabilities, they say to us. Pure statistics. We, ourselves, mere gene carriers and transmitters
“Who says so?”
“Scientists – the new theologians.”
“I don’t think they say that….”
“Oh, they do. And I’m proving them wrong. It doesn’t matter how many times you try this chimeric enterprise” – and he threw a handful of scraps of paper against the cold and wet air; some pieces hitting both their faces – “it will never happen. Thus, impossibility as an absolute exists.”
“That’s it… But, besides my empirical refutation of that theory, what are you doing around in this unholy weather?”
“Following my kippah” Shimon pointed to the dark kippah flying in the turbulent air not without a hint of déjà vu or of eternal return. Probably something else, he added, more than anything else because he thought the man would take the comment as an excuse, as his cue to offer him some kind of allegory, some parable – by then it was clear to Shimon, or at least seemed to him extremely likely, that he was going through a series of stages involving meetings that would serve him in one way or another. Apparently, that’s the way revelations for spiritual transformation work.
But instead, Nachmiel said: “There’s no such thing like fate or good or bad luck, it’s one own’s actions and passivity that build up momentum, effect. You are the wind, if you like. But that is a most idiotic metaphor. Because there is no kippah up there. You see what you want or need to see; because you want or need to go somewhere.”
“You don’t see the kippah?” he asked with panic in his voice, face and body.
“Of course, I can, but that’s not the point. To resolve your issue – whatever it is -, you need to ignore the kippah and put yourself at the center of the action as a volitional agent.”
After a pause that could have seemed long or not, depending on who measured the lapse with no other instruments than his present state of mind, Nachmiel threw the last bunch of paper scraps without even watching, and said: “Virtue and clarity increase with wandering…But bear in mind that virtue rejects ease, the frivolous comfort of avoiding that kind of spiritual challenge; so, if errancy is not such, but is instead flight, evasion, then we are left we neither virtue, nor clarity, nor the epic of flying kippah. And by we, I mean entirely you, if I included myself it was just as a rhetorical form.”
“You can wander without even moving.” he added. “It’s all inside ourselves. It’s all about inquiring. Maybe you should ask yourself your unspoken and feared questions. Concrete wandering is just a catalyst for that other amble. People who don’t ask questions wonder.”
Nachmiel sat over the tank’s left track, leaning against the trad wheels. With a nod he invited Shimon to sit next to him. Then he took a pack of Noblesse cigarettes from his shirt pocket and offered Shimon one. They smoked in silence, as if the cigarette smokes had something interesting to say.
“I’m sure of what I haven’t read, but absolutely unsure of what I did read,” Shimon said out of the blue, exhaling a cloud smoke that he surmised was barely less dense than the one that the tank would release.
“Simple. What I haven’t yet read still remains untouched by the unreliability of memory, by its propensity to deform, to distort. Therefore, I can be certain of its content – regardless the obvious fact that I do not actually know it, besides a thorough summary, I can trust that it will not be altered except by the passage of time, which erases the pages in the same as everything else, even time itself.”
Again, the silence. Or the absence of words, because there were plenty of sounds: the wind, the sea, the sound of the wind confabulated with other surfaces (like the sand, the tank, their own bodies), the seagulls.
“In which group are you?” asked Nachmiel, taking two cigarettes from the pack, lighting both and offering one to Shimon.
“What do you mean?”
“In which human group?”
“I don’t know what you mean by that… Jews, Maccabi Tel Aviv fans?”
“Of course, you don’t know. Because I haven’t explained to you about the trinitarian division of humanity. Briefly: There are those who look for reasons to live, those who look for them to die, and then there’s the rest – who barely think about what to have for dinner. The first two groups do not even represent the ten per cent of the whole, but are the ones that matter, the ones who act upon the world: some philosophers and artists – rather few -, the scientists, the enlightened and the tyrants, emerge from these two groups almost indistinctly (it is long and cumbersome to explain the particularities).”
“I don’t know… Probably part ‘the rest’.”
The conversation, or whatever that random arrangement of words was (Shimon even wondered whether that order of words was assembled in that precise order sometime before), died as it started. Probably men can’t be with each other without the mediations of words, of sounds. As if they were afraid of communicating through silences, stares: in short, the interpretation of the other’s emotions and feelings. No way. Words permit to disguise intimacy, reality. Language, then, he conjectured, is really an obstacle, a strategy that we adopted (or accepted), to surrender other skills, other possibilities.
And he thought that maybe Sivan and himself had rediscovered the power of silence, its benefits. But he couldn’t believe in that – not entirely: not that deep inside he knew he was fabricating a disguise of words to reinterpret reality according to his own needs. You cannot think language through language: The consistency of its axioms cannot be proved within its own system. We, as intricate systems, he guessed, simply cannot think about ourselves… He suddenly missed his big plasma tv and the immense choice of evasion it offers.
Nachmiel’s mumbling brought him back to the beach, to the feeling of the cold hard surface of the tank, to the cigarette smoke.
“What?” Shimon asked. “I was kilometers away.”
“What do you carry in that plastic bag?”
“A pot and some coffee.”
“That’s great. I have some newspaper left in the tank, I’ll get you, you go over there, by the road, I saw some pallets the other day. Bring some wood boards. Will light a fire and prepare some coffee. I have a can or something somewhere that we can use as a cup.”
While Nachmiel arranged the paper and woods to light the fire, he started talking.
“Rabbi Yeshua basically taught to take care of the soul (and this was to be understood a metaphor or a sort of summary of behaviors, states of mind, et cetera) so that it would not arrive at its destination too diminished, in a very bad state let’s say (without much agitation and alteration). But the destiny was not eternal after-life – which is a later and clumsy invention or interpretation -, but the collective memory; or posterity, as we so pompously call it (and that it’s a lot like the kitsch version of eternal life, life after death and all those desperate concepts we make up to console ourselves unsuccessfully of our despair)…” - and Nachmiel sat back next to Shimon over the tracks of the tank. “Interesting guy must have been this Rabbi Yeshua. By the way, he didn’t die. Let’s say, in fact, he did, but not in the usual sense, that is, not in the usual way. He disassembled, or uncoupled, or disintegrated, I don’t know how to put it. Anyway, it wasn’t his doing that process, whatever you want to call it; it was nature’s doing, a rather particular set of conditions that, as far as I know, haven’t occurred again. He ended up being a consummate featureless disorder. And that’s how the “and He ascended to the heaven” came from. What else would the simple people who witnessed this increase in entropy interpret? How would they explain it? And thus, what was pure physics (a phenomenon easily explained by the second law of thermodynamics and the atmospheric conditions on that very day), ended up being religion.”
Shimon stood, stretched, and turn towards Nachmiel.
“Do you have some more time?” Nachmiel asked, his look like the one kids’ get when a playdate is over.
“The kippah is moving forward, I must follow.”
“What a pity, I would have told you about a theory I have: there was no Greek culture. It’s probably a 1600’s-1700’s European invention to oppose some old culture to the Eastern ones. They even built the ruins. They wrote the texts – most of them, thefts from Levantine cultures…” – Nachmiel went on and on, but Shimon was already hardly visible. “Not even Sparta. Nothing. All a big fictional story. Their logic is a disguised plagiarism (through time they came with something almost different from the original) of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Sefer Hahigayon and Derech Tevunoth.”
All the while, through that last part, Nachmiel had been climbing the tank. His voice was muffled once he got through the hatch.
Suddenly, there was a sound of something like the worn roar of an old ship’s engine, and that of a thunder of metals and chains followed. Immediately, a dark plume of smoke rose, moving away from the beach.
Everything ends up melting into air.
Shimon stopped. Not because he was startled by the noise of that relic pushing its way through the sand, but because of an idea that assailed him: disintegration. Did the balance he was entitled to, or of which he was a part, involve his disintegration – like Nachmiel’s Yeshua? Not a literal decomposition, of course, but psychologically: his detachment from his affections, his inability to understand his own emotions (unless it was through elementary, momentary interpretations detached from his biography of states of mind, of mood).
Why did he allow himself to be influenced by those extravagances that seemed to follow him as an inevitability of his life?
And why did everyone seem to know or hint what he was after or need to do?
Night and day were the only elements that differed and established a sense of transition, of course. Because not even the encounters he had had – so equal to each other that they seemed to be just variations of the same event – offered Shimon a thorough method to elaborate a discontinuity between one day and the next, between the identical succession of landscapes and thoughts. Even the kippah and himself could be no more than a stamp fixed in a past instant and reproduced as a postcard that ends up in every souvenir store.
He waited all day for the appearance of a figure in the middle of the deserted beach. But he went on without meeting. At midday he went to a small market he saw near the beach to buy some things. Had he eaten anything since Ashdod? Yes, he said to himself. In Jaffa he had bought falafel that had lasted a couple of days. Was it days? The time seemed to have melted or deformed like one of those Dali watches. He prepared a sandwich that he ate sitting on the cold sand of the beach. Meanwhile, the kippah moved back and forth, reminding him of a dog he had had as a child, who ran wildly on the beach or in the woods, but who, as if a long invisible rope were suddenly pulling him, stopped and returned anxiously. He was tempted to throw a piece of pastrami to the floor to see how the kippah reacted. But he didn’t – out of a sense of shame or something similar. He continued his journey – if what he was doing could be called that way.
Suddenly, he knew… No, he sensed that the kippah (his absurdly persistent trailing of it) was leading him to Sivan, meaning, to a past that may not even have been – who knows what memory does with facts in a twenty-year span. He barely remembered with any certainty about his high school years in Haifa. He hadn’t even looked at a photograph of those days in years: the faces were like unreliable emotional blots, while the recollection attached or belonging to them, something so uncertain that it was not too distantly related to fiction.
He was caught up in these ramblings when he saw him. A guy who, dressed as an anachronic, looked like an extra from a mediocre Western movie abandoned on the film set on a brown horse, his hands holding the rides and leaning on the horn of the saddle. Shimon could almost guess the intense but relaxed look, of squinting eyes – that have already seen a lot, too much perhaps – hidden by the brim of the hat and the sharp shadow that it projected. Maybe, thought Shimon, he should shout “Cut”, to liberate the poor man. And would do him that same favor?
The horse turned his head morosely as Shimon approached slowly – he expected a more nervous reaction: some movement of its legs (like a threat of buck), the hovering of its head; he didn’t know a thing about horses, but nowadays everybody is entitled to his opinion (that more and more tends to look very much like the truth; a personal truth, that is, but truth non the less). The man, on the other hand, kept his eyes focused on a point on the beach towards the north.
“Hi there,” Shimon said.
“Hi,” said the man now turning his head towards Shimon. He took his hat off and introduced himself: “Jonathan Blumenthal, originally from Montana, US.”
“Shimon Tal, originally from Haifa, now from Ashdod, ISR.”
“No. Just following my kippah,” and, as he by now was used doing, he pointed to the cloth up some twenty or thirty meters in the air.
“Something that, if you think about it, probably doesn’t differ much at heart from your… activity… I’m herding these imaginary cattle from Merom Golan to Yotvata for the winter… Oh, yes, don’t give me that look, I’m crazy, or play to be crazy – whatever you want to call it – but not that much (yet, anyway). Although, I must confess that I aspire to be able to actually see the cattle, that one day it will show up – and he snapped his fingers – just like that.”
“What do you mean, that you’ll imagine it thoroughly or in a way that will end up replacing reality?” Shimon ignored the inadequate comparison between his activity, as the man had called it, and that of the cowboy
“I wouldn’t say replace. If you like, you can say reformulate it. It would become reality, indeed, but as a part of it. And so, of everybody’s reality, whether they can see it or not: like an atom or a virus.”
While he spoke, he unsaddled, and took a gas burner from one of the saddlebags.
“Join me,” he said or begged; the tone was so monotonous, that it could have been any kind of emotion attached to two brief words.
The cowboy prepared a coffee that looked like dirty water and tasted barely of coffee and more like neglected solitude.
“That’s a risky aspiration …,” commented Shimon. “As allegedly controlled the altering reality may be, it always has too many alien elements… One can end more trapped, more overwhelmed there….”
“Not riskier than reality itself. That’s for sure.”
The cowboy didn’t sound too convinced. Or maybe he was convinced enough but uninterested or tired of giving the reasons for his resolution; having probably repeated the arguments and notions for himself so many times in the process of designing that escape plan. Because that’s what it was – besides the fact that everything we do can be, in short, some form of evasion.
Maybe, Shimon mused, reality was hiding from him; not like an atom, but like something much more evident, as a person trying to avoid him or as an incontrovertible truth that everyone knows but oneself. It certainly concerned him, but at the same time he enjoyed, he relished that idea: it gave his existence an inordinate relevance; the proper treatment given to the – although dumb – son of a god (even if minor, even if apocryphal).
The night was approaching like an army executing the pincer movement; an old maneuver in which men kept falling. And Shimon was going to end up falling to, because the kippah was floating still up there, and the man was already preparing some kind of stew that looked too much for just one person.
“Would you be my company for the night? Hope you don’t mind me asking. I have apneas, and obviously I can’t connect the machine I use for sleeping around here. I’d really appreciate it if you could watch my breathing while I sleep. If I stop breathing, you just have to shake me slightly. Simple as that.”
“Yes. I mean, as long as my kippah doesn’t move forward, I have no problem,” Shimon new when to recognize his defeat.
“Thank you. Just let me know if you have to leave.”
The cowboy named Jonathan unpacked some thin blankets from the saddlebags. He already had unsaddled the horse.
“What do you do about the apnea when there’s no one around? “
“I don’t sleep. But that doesn’t usually happen many nights at a time. There’s always someone empathetic or someone that needs to atone for a guilt.”
“No, you are a different type.”
“Which one is it?”
“I don’t know yet. Maybe I never will.”
“For a second, I thought you were going to say the good type.”
“You are not the bad type of people. But that doesn’t make you the good type. There are so many grays in between.”
“I guess so. Not like the gray the sky had to offer lately.
“Not like that, no.”
Only the waves breaking on the beach and wind could be heard. And, from time to time, the deep, heavy respiration of the cowboy that, so far, was as smooth as you would like it to be in a man that age – what was it? Fifty-five? Sixty? And he suddenly ceased breathing. Five. Ten seconds. Fifteen. Shimon shook him slightly.
“I had one, right? Of course, why would you wake me up. How long did I sleep?”
“An hour, maybe an hour and a half. I don’t know, really.”
“You know? You are no type. No yet. You can’t be, because you are moving, following your spirit or that thing inside you that is troubled. No, wait; you move so that your spirit is still, so that you can find it. Yours is what has become an almost trite and vulgar definition: a spiritual voyage. When you finish, you’ll become a type. But I won’t get to know which type. You, most probably, neither.”
“Me… There was one day in when I decided to stop devoting myself to the tribulations of repression. And I simply let that what I rejected, what I shunned as if it were a fate or a shame, finally come true. And here I am, playing or living as maturely as I can – depends on who judges. I, too, move. But I move to shake the repressor in me, to distract him. And now that he’s distracted enough, I should go back to sleep, if you don’t mind; I haven’t had a decent sleep in three days.”
It was still dark when Shimon and the cowboy said goodbye. Shimon stayed put in the beach because he had to wait for daylight to see where the kippah was – if it was still hovering over that part of the beach, or if it had advanced and he had to hurry after it. When the light of dawn finally allowed him to see, he noticed that it was still up there – as if waiting for him, because it immediately started to move again to the north.
The first year or so of marriage there were enough novelties to keep them distracted, abstracted from the fact of being married: that is, from the series of daily commitments that this implies, from the routine it becomes. When novelty ends, marriage ceases to be a sort of amusement to become a kind of structure that is never even close to being completed and that’s constantly needing recalculations and modifications, which means that one’s self needs to adjust continuously as one does his or her part in the common duties. Inevitably, the labor one does on oneself gets confused with the work done on the shared existence and with that done by the other one. One, one, one. It’s never one, one, oneself, one’s, one, one….
Shimon was lying face up on the cold sand. The wind just a couple of feet over him, passing like a liquid flow dirty smog linen scrap. He didn’t want to think about that anymore, so he closed his eyes. He was tired and slowly fell into sleep. He dreamt – or might have dreamt – that he flew the kippah as if it were a kite attached to a very thin string. First, barely shaken by the air, close to the ground, as if flying up was an improbability, mostly a promise of the inevitable fall. But, against all odds, it steadily went up. And equally gradually, he realized that that string actually came out of his navel, as an elongated umbilical cord; and the kippah went up, up, stretching the cord, until it collided with the strict layer of greyish clouds – like a metal full of impurities and carelessness. At this point, when the kippah was trying to push its way through the dense mass of clouds, he woke up. He did so without the obvious scattered sweat signs of nightmare, nor the trite shock – with the amazed or scared, and at the same time, relief look. None of that. Why should he? It was a dream like many others: just the subconscious entertaining itself with the elements so generously provided by reality, adapted by means of a Bosco or Bacon technique. He just sat there staring blankly, still dazzled by the light of winter.
He was doing a lot thinking, or at least, he was much more aware of the act of thinking. That’s what he spent the hours on. He pondered about everything: trivialities and what are usually considered profound issues – among these, mainly about his own circumstance, that what had been troubling him for long, albeit without him knowing what was motivating that molted state of mind, not even what that state was made of.
He finally was able to make out some questions of that long unattended muddle: What was the purpose of everything? Well, of most of the things? His insignificant and mundane job (what was the point of designing logos, what difference did it make to embark in such frivolous occupation?) But, more frequently, he would inquire about Sivan. Not about her, really, but about his feelings towards her and how she made him feel. Was he in love or whatever that means? Conversely, was he in love at least when they got married? He feared that it all had just been one more constituent, or an unavoidable stage, of the ones that one has to complete without knowing really why, as if with those kids’ sketchbooks in which one has to follow numbered points with a pencil to obtain an image (its contour) that was already quite evident anyway – and that, besides, couldn’t be anything but one of the known outcomes.
He thought and thought. Almost to the point of reducing his existence – and everything around him – to an abstraction, virtually to the inexplicable result of a too elementary mathematical model. As he pondered, things and their definitions lost their meaning: there remained an indistinguishable tumult of uncertainties, of meaninglessness that somehow – albeit briefly and evasively – made more sense than the chaos of assigned connotations and descriptions with which people ultimately didn’t say much about of the world – as they pretend – but about themselves, of their desires, fears, arrogance and limitations.
But, did I love her? he asked himself. He looked around, his right hand shading his eyes, not because the light could dazzle him, but as an unconscious (nervous) gesture, perhaps remains of childhood with which he convinced himself that he could see further than his eyes would allow.
There was no one to rescue him. No encounter at sight – what did it mean? Although, why did it have to mean anything at all? No one to say something like “There once came a man looking for his wife’s lover. That was long ago. Before and after him many came by after someone or something or other.”
He would then respond with some falsely profound vagueness: “Maybe this is the country of lost things, of lost people, of lost dreams.” And he would immediately unwind any trace of responsibility in that string of words by saying, “It’s probably the same everywhere else, but this is what I know – and, for that matter, know it imperfectly.”
No, there was no one to pull him out of the tangle of thoughts he had created. Even when they might say some truth or something that could expose a small part of a truth. The person he had imagined just now would say something in the line of: “It’s just those who chase, seek, pursue, search for whatever or whomever, who are really lost – to themselves and to everyone else. Looking for something is the first (desperate) step to find themselves. Though few achieve that…”
And it wouldn’t really touch him because it would not be a novelty – perhaps, at most, it would offer another angle of vision, another perspective. Besides, such a person would immediately jump to some anecdote: “Once, there even passed by a man that was looking for his long-lost erection. He told me he found it one night in Cypress, but he lost it again as soon as he came back. That was years ago.” Something in that line: a most probably apocryphal story that works as a device to prevent the other person from drowning in the revelation that he or she believed to have made.
No one. But it was irrelevant: he managed to save himself quite decently. And the kippah was already moving forward. It seemed that it wasn’t its intention to sink into his own internal disquisitions – only what was necessary.
The high-level aqueduct, to his right, was barely visible, incorporated to that monotony that composed the winter landscape by the mean and mediocre light, thus concurring to manufacture the tangible sadness. He wondered how long it would take for the infamous alliance between sand and wind to wear that structure completely down, to turn it into a matter of doubt, of fraudulent, cynical skepticism.
He had been there once before in summertime. But it was unrecognizable, almost an entirely different place. As if the scenery was downgraded, or as if the memory was a mystification of the sum of the many ordinary places and vacations.
Who knows what wounds or comfort were inflamed by the memory of that place in that distant and now unlikely summer? Or if it was the evidence of a way of seeing things he suddenly realized long gone or unrecognizably worn out – like a pair of shoes or an age.
What was wrong with him? Was he falling out of the world? Or had he fell already? If not, why did it all seem so banal, so inconsequential: only someone that was detached could sense things that way. Like suicides and Marxists: sad people like himself that have given up even before the problem, the dilemma, the obstacle, the offense (mainly imagined ones; but also, real), the impossibility arose – the dialectics, the activism, the cries for help is all but a screen for the numbness, the passivity.
Someone was kitesurfing in the sea, not too far away from the beach. A figure in a black neoprene suit that appeared and disappeared behind the waves and that, from time to time, suddenly rose as if it were not the kite and the wind that raised it, but the gravity that released it. There was something playful, reckless and intimate (a courageous intimacy, which chooses solitude only to face its fears), considered Shimon, being unable to avoid feeling terribly diminished: like a fraudulent reflection image of the kite surfer, standing there with his personal “kite”, which drags him safely through some sad, equal to each other and excessively wintry beaches. He thought: Now, that is a man, that is a true existence. He refrained from wondering what he himself then was.
He tried (in vain) to rescue some of his dignity by telling himself that the guy had that gadget that he can control, so when he’s tired or bored of this stupid entertainment, all he has to do is just maneuver his way back to the seashore and that’s that. I, on the other hand, am adrift, drawn by the yarmulke, which is ruled by the wind or whatever is taking it away. And the worst thing is I can’t still remember if it was my father’s or my grandfather’s, or neither.
The kite surfer whom he had supposed was a man, was a woman, a very young one. She brought the kite down into the beach and walked out of the sea with the board under one arm. It was then that Shimon really noticed Esti. Or, more precisely, a feminine figure and a wet blond hair falling like docile snakes or something in that line. Shimon thought of Medusa, obviously – well, not that obviously; not many would have made that connection.
Esti saw him, waved and approached wringing out her hair with both hands. The cold damp wind kept hitting his face like an enraged or desperate boxer, and she was painfully beautiful and young and retrospectively (and, obviously, currently) unattainable. She was the hard realization that there were different strata of life – like a geological sedimentary structure, but composed of characters, decisions, chance, accumulated biographies, etc. – and that his belonged, as a particle, to the lowest, grey, strata, were ordinariness was soothed, disguised by small elements of purported intellectual dignity, of effect less witticisms. She, instead, lived the kind of life where one doesn´t need to wonder about life meanings, nor worry about the future: it’s a comfortable present that fits with immediate wants, needs. It’s not just the looks, it’s a built in self-confidence that, far from being arrogance, is mostly like an organ that responds to the sympathetic or para sympathetic nervous system. The looks might just be an externalization of this condition. He would have been attracted to her years ago, but now he just felt a sad and resigned form of envy (is there any other form of envy that is not sad and resigned, and resentful?). He would also have consoled himself by saying that his life was more meaningful, or profound. Some of our vital scripts are unknowingly written by our own minds (and to a lesser extent, by other structures of our bodies) – and we seldomly become aware of some of the consequences of that autonomous whim; and when we do, we have the boldness of calling it the products of our will.
She was kind enough to offer him a small element of pride, comfort or encouragement: “At your very own way, you are doing what I do,” and she pointed to the kippah that was strangely floating some 50 feet up in the air like a ridiculous tiny kite. “Difference is, you don’t have any lines to steer it. Not a small difference.”
And she said so even without him having to tell the usual explanation of the kippah. There are people who, apparently, have a different relation with reality: they don’t need words to link events, phenomena. And when they establish the connections, they don’t judge, he considered, idealizing the young woman.
She left – with a slightly pronounced word and a light and graceful hand gesture that Shimon didn’t understand – towards the kite and the board that laid on the wet sand. She hurriedly folded the kite and placed the board under her free arm and started to walk towards the road; as she passed in front of Shimon, she said, “Come, there’s a bar over there, I’ll buy you a beer.”
He accepted as if he were under a spell (and he probably was, under a quite lamentable one): he could not conceive of any other decision than that. It was a small bar, almost like a hut. A few young people were inside. Kite-surfers, conjectured Shimon (it wasn’t that difficult: who was going to be out there in the middle of the winter, but those who thought that those precise and horrendous weather conditions were optimal? And, of course, a couple of them were still wearing neoprene suits). They said, “Hi Esti”, and Shimon was certain they gave him censorial glances – that most probably were mocking or pitiful.
He suddenly had the impression that it could all be a delusion, or a hallucination loosely based obviously in Nabokov’s novel. No, it wasn’t like that, because he had no sicalyptic intentions, and if there was any desire at all it came from the past (the teenager he had been) and thus could only be realized in the past, that is, in the realm of a retrospective imagination where a young himself seduced her or was offered the piety of her brief attention.
However, what kind of hope (related to the present) was encoded in that delusion, then?
Esti wasn’t sitting at his side at the bar anymore. She was dancing between the few crooked tables. A very young French female voice was singing, “Moi je m’appelle Lolita. Lo ou bien Lola, du pareil au même. Moi je m’appelle Lolita.”
Shimon left the bar saying a goodbye that neither Esti nor anyone else heard.
Dark clouds faked a mediocre night – but equally as effective for those afraid of the darkness; that is, afraid of the ideal environment for one to be able just to project and see what’s inside oneself.
The kippah was circling as if it was reproaching him for that abandonment, that neglect, the recent disobedience.
Did Esti count as an encounter? Half an encounter? Or was it just an element, an event from which a shame, a guilt, a reproach would be built? “Give me the wisdom to know the difference,” he said looking at the kippah.
Thank heavens it didn’t answer.
As Haifa appeared before him, Shimon wondered if perhaps it was some deep need or desire of his that was pushing the kippah, but that it were Sivan’s deep fears or insecurities struggling to materialize (in spite of herself, or in response to a cruel urge to be right), like a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, a fiction that becomes real: pushing him, after the kippah, towards… what?
Oh, who was he kidding? If anyone was pushing him, it was himself, that is, his sense of avoidance: it was undeniable that for long there has been brewing a sour mood between himself and Sivan that was more a void than anything else. And, of course, there is no better place to run to than the past: actually, to a scenario based loosely on real events (and even these might be uncertain, at best).
The kippah crossed the saddened brevity of Megadim – it was as if winter had reduced the moshav only to the vulgar materiality of the materials with which the houses were built – irremediably grey like the sky that passes at full speed over it.
He remembered the house – how wouldn’t he? And the stories it once contained, or the sensations it made him evoke. The woman who opened the door – he didn’t recognize her – told him that Tali had moved years ago, that now she lived in Tel Hanan, with her family. The woman said many other things, but unrelated to his needs: a story about how the greengrocer was cheating with the weight of the goods, she was sure that the scale was tampered, just like in the casinos and with the taxes. “Because,” she said, “it’s not how much you make, but with how much you can do a decent living without turning against the government, the rest, they take it away from you; everybody cheats, dear, everybody, even me”. And so on for about half an hour.
They recognized each other under the mask of years and circumstances. He though she was cold, distant, not showing much emotion. But then, why would her? They were complete strangers. The only link between them were two seventeen-year olds that didn’t exist anymore – and, for that case, could have not existed at all; at least, not as he remembered or misremembered. He felt compelled to invent a clumsy, obviously fallacious excuse to justify he’d been there, at her door: a sort of I was in the city, I found myself evoking my youth here, and logically I remembered you and somehow, without much thinking, just following an impulse, I found myself ringing your doorbell. Perhaps, moved by a strand of nostalgia or pity, she invited him in. The living room was a mess, toys were scattered everywhere, a strong smell of food impregnated the air and the couches. The voices – or shouts – of at least two children could be heard, coming from somewhere in the house – although it seemed to be coming from everywhere, even from outside.
She asked trivialities without stopping to do things that seemed to have no particular purpose, other than to avoid sitting in front of him. He answered in the same elusive way and, in turn, asked his own share of banalities. But he also asked about the past. Something that amounted to a “how do you remember us?”
“Oh, Shimon, memory is like a movie that changes slightly (or even dramatically) every time you watch it… Actually, you don’t watch it, you tell it – to others, to yourself, and it is the telling that changes it. And you and I have told what we shared many times since, and we’ve done it without each other’s presence. What I want to say is that we’ve not only become a different present, but a very different past. Who knows what or how it really was? It doesn’t really matter anymore: there’s no way of recovering it from the material we now have. So, I don’t know what you are looking for, but it’s not here,” said Tali.
He noticed, or surmised, that the nostalgia or pity that had moved her to invite him in, had quickly worn off after the few vague things they told each other about their lives, about the vagueness’ of the past – the ones which are more or less fully remembered, and the obvious discrepancies (the ones that for someone end up building an idealization, and for someone else, the particles around with forgetfulness aggregates). Quite suddenly, she told him that she had to prepare dinner for the children, bathe them, you know, the whole daily family drill.
That was short, pondered Shimon. And he thought about what he would have done in her place if an old acquaintance, and old teenage girlfriend popped out of the blue: he would have pretended to have some meeting or any other pretext to avoid any conversation.
While he waited outside for the kippah to move on – fearing that Tali would suspect that he was lurking -, he wondered if all his assurances and those weak securities – or his belief in them – that he thought he had, had degraded, eroded like everything else. “Who knows where they have ended up, piling like sediments to maybe form other soul structures?” he said looking into the sky, unable not to think that Tali by then was certain of his psychological instability, to put it mildly; or even, of his downright stupidity (the one of that who refused to mature, who decided to stuck in a particular point of the past were, he is convinced, certitudes existed – even happiness).
When at the height of Yad Binyamin, the kippah turned eastward. “Where else but Jerusalem could it be heading to,” mumbled Shimon. The platitude disappointed (and even hurt) him once they entered the city on Mount Scopus, because somehow, he had hoped until the very last minute, that it would surprise him with an unthinkable destination.
He was tired and bored of all that following and absurd encountering. The novelty was exhausted with the repetition of events that were becoming clichés. With this almost annoyed mood he arrived to the Kotel as if he were no more than the distorted shadow of the flying kippah. There were very few people there. It was like a still scenery. Like a meadow or the skin of an old man’s back laying face-down in the beach. The kippah stopped and stayed in suspension. Shimon walked towards the Wall as if he was approaching a certain, but mild punishment – almost like when he was a kid and he was sent to the director’s office at school: it was not so much the fear of consequences, but the suspicion that those who had known it was him possessed some special abilities; there was the germ of the conjecture that one was watched by others without the need of their physical presence: a side effect of religion, he thought.
He leaned against the Wall, his forehead resting against the cold stone. It was soothing, just like Ibuprofen or, better still, like Valium.
“Why am I crying? And here of all places.” His hands over the stone – glossy after so much imploring touch – as if trying to find grip, support. But who supported whom? Was he holding his part of the covenant? Or was the Wall (as an intermediary, as a symbol) straightening his spirit or his bearings? Or none. He was just a man crying – crying, yes, while pretending not to know why – where such a practice goes by unnoticed: devotion, emotionality is expected in that of all places. We need those emotional trenches, those “free-zones”, you know, something resembling the concept of the duty free shops at the airports, but for the souls, where we can exercise our irresponsibility, our desperate childlike sorrows without the shame that we think brings the consequent externalization of our weaknesses or most primary intimacies – perhaps the only truthful ones we are capable of, or even the only ones we have – and our amazed or surrendered way of giving ourselves away to the utter suspension of reason in order to believe the fiction we elaborately created and sustain with the repetition of this very same process.
Or maybe he was just exhausted…
Anyway, his hands and his forehead were against the cold stones. That was said. But it wasn’t said that he then realized he didn’t have his wedding ring on and that he didn’t know when he took it off… “Oh, don’t play stupid,” he said to himself, and he would have liked to believe that it was a heavenly voice the one that said so. He felt utterly stupid, pathetic: what had he been thinking when he took his ring off at the bar, he went to with Esti. He didn’t even have any intention in that sense. Did he? At least, that was what he had assured to himself at the time. But there it was, the incontrovertible piece of evidence of…? Of what?
Another thing that wasn’t said was that there was a man next to Shimon reciting a murmured prayer – something that, Shimon thought, with time would end up meaning nothing, or just whatever the reciter wanted it to mean. Well, he considered, just like everyone else reinterpreting their fears and dreams, adulterating memories and taking their rings off. The pious looking man and a couple others that were a little further away were wearing tight tefillin, some in a way that made Shimon wonder if that was the origin of the capes of some superheroes; having most of them been created by Jewish cartoonists. That was his last heretical thought – a mere and clumsy way of denying that he was there like everyone else, looking for answers to questions he refused to ask; that is, to ask himself. So, he couldn’t help but start his introspection with a mild, silly (coward) satire. But where or how things start, it doesn’t matter, if they end up leading into the issue at hand, the nucleus of the problem, and if they at least untie one of its knots. Just one – and not even entirely, just loosen enough.
“If I am standing here, who will be in Ashdod. And being here, what am I? – and who am I when in Ashdod? And more pressing, what am I doing? So, now what? I can’t be time and presence at the same time – history, community, or the universal history of gregariousness: I’m absolute, as absolute a man can be (ludicrously temporary and pathetically uncertain),” was some of Shimon’s incongruent murmuring, of his solemn request or introspection, one that wants to be uncovered and resolved by an alien (higher) instance – which might have been the reason why the problem was posed in such an abstract, incomprehensible way, or because he didn’t want to voice it, to make it inevitably part of reality, or most probably because he had unsuccessfully tried to remember some of the religious texts he learnt to be more in tune with the place and the circumstance.
“Come on, brief genetic strand, move on,” he thought the stones ordered. He looked up in the sky, looking for the kippah. No sign of it. He worried with a feeling very similar to a loss. But the kippah was on the floor, at his feet – had his prayers (or whatever that was) been heard or dismissed? Like a lost and scared dog, or, more properly, like the piece of cloth it was. So, there would be no more going after. At least, not after the kippah. He put it in his left pants pocket. When he did so, he touched his ring. He took it and he put it back on. What a metaphor, he thought. A metaphor of what? he further inquired. But he decided that it was enough. It was what it was, and that was it: metaphors are sometimes mere attempts to poeticize the most trivial, the inexplicable, what one wants and needs to avoid.
He had one more thought – of those that could be defined as profound; or at least, as not-your-everyday-thoughts – before leaving the Kotel: maybe he was destined (or willing) to waiting that every circumstance was a precursor for happiness or completeness or whatever all of that is. As if life itself was a foreword to that elating state – when was quite clear that it barely was an anomaly, a brief moment before death. But that was an absolutely inelegant procedure to refuse responsibility over his own acts. Not that he cared that much, really. Not that anybody cares about these minutiae much when one’s emotional well-being is at stake.
So, he started back to Ashdod. Actually, he went straight to a bus stop: enough of walking. And enough of pondering. Besides, he couldn’t make anything at all of the last few days: whether impossible to decipher or laden with nonsense, it was useless material, he judged. Everyone, or almost everyone he spoke to, said things mainly about themselves. Maybe it’s what always happens: we talk, we say about what we need to; conversations, whatever they are about, are just opportunities for us to fit in those necessities.
At the bus stop he noticed that the few who were waiting moved notoriously away from him. It didn’t take him long to realize why: he hadn’t bathed in at least four days – and hadn’t even tidied himself up a bit. He conjectured that surely no one would sit next to him on the bus – “every cloud has a silver lining,” he murmured to himself. But he immediately wondered what Tali would had probably thought of him – at the very least, that things were going south for him. And he also surmised that Esti most probably had invited him as one invites a homeless, hopeless guy: out of pity. “Well, that was that,” he consoled himself, and noticed that he still had the plastic bag with the coffee pot in it – no more coffee left, he was going to throw it in a trash can, but he stopped short of doing it. He felt a strange attachment to that old and burnt piece of metal. He had to think of a reason for that; but later on. He was absolutely tired of thinking about every last detail and thing.
And yet, he did something very similar once he was on the bus. Probably more related to fantasizing. “Maybe”, he imagined, “in the future someone might start a religion with my journey as a divine inspiration, as divine narration and as the foundation of its dogma. And thus”, Shimon said, “no man has ever yet been half devout enough, because he hasn’t begun to think divine himself.” He recalled reading something like that in some book or another. And he thought that if they would want to start a religion with his telluric experience, they’d have to do a lot of fabricating. That’s the thing with religions that start long after their main characters have died and that reproduce or represent hearsay events. On the other hand, that’s probably the only way to start a religion: you would want to be able at some point that certain things are mere metaphors. Possibly many different things, ingredients are needed to build up a religion; except a god – in any case, a real one.” And the wannabe god or prophet fell asleep.
“What took you so long?” she asked when he appeared before her in the living room. She was sitting on the sofa, watching something on the tv. She didn’t stand up – all she did was pause whatever it was she was watching. He stood in the middle of the room looking like a child who has been caught red-handed in some trivial mischief.
He barely showed her the kippah taking it out of the right pocket of his pants- squeezing it tight as a remorse or resentment – as if it was an irrefutable proof that exculpated him, a substitute of any explanation.
She looked at him and just pressed play, turned up the volume on the TV and told him: Midsomer Murders. That was all she said. As if he’d gone out for cigarettes a mere half an hour ago and lost track of time while chatting with the tobacconist – some talk about football, some politics; the usual ceremony of nothingness.
It seemed to him that all that running around may had been just a means to give reality time to come out of hiding. But, had it? Or, to put it another way, had everything fallen into place – whatever that means (is there an objective way to weight this?). But was he in that place, or again, off centered? Was it even possible to be in the center of things? Maybe it was a matter of creating favorable conditions that outnumber the others, those that twist projects and wills. No more and no less than the pretentiousness of reformulating the total numbers to alter the probabilities – ultimately, with the arrogant (and most ignorant, imbecile) intention of nullifying the occurrence of stochastic processes.
At night, in bed, he asked her if she didn’t want to know where he’d been. Although unconscious, it was the inept way he came up with to introduce words in that quiet moment – and then, yes, perhaps to be able to formulate a question that, as almost always, would be addressed to himself.
“Why would I?” she asked.
“Because I was away for almost a week…”
“One hour. Half a day. Four days. It’s all the same. Whatever a man can do in four days – that’s actually how long you’ve been away – he can do it in half an hour, even less. And the place doesn’t matter much either.”
“You don’t care even why…?”
“You’ll tell me eventually when you are ready or want to, and when I’m too tired or distracted to prevent you from doing it… But I really don’t want to play the hackneyed role of the scorned wife with an unfulfilled vocation as an interrogator. And, by the way, I’m neither your therapist.”
“I was running after my kippah…”
“Shimon, please. Stop with the bullshit. Since when, in the first place, do you care a thing about a fucking kippah?”
“This is my father’s… or my grandfather’s; can’t remember.”
“That kippah is from Yuval’s son bar mitzvah four years ago,” she said, laughing, and getting out of bed to get the kippah form the dining table in the living room, where he had left it. Back in the room, she turned on the light on and showing him the inside of the kippah, read and pointed: “Bar Mitzvah, Aaron ben Yuval, etcetera, etcetera…”
“I might have mistaken it with the other…”
“This is the only kippah in this house. You kept for that very reason. You said you would never buy one.”
“I… I swear to you… I thought…,” he said notoriously dismayed.
“I know. You believed whatever you needed.”
“I didn’t need.”
“You were four days allegedly…”
“Four days, then, running after the suddenly very important and significant kippah…,” she stopped and just sighed abated and went back to bed.
He had no way of knowing that during his absence Sivan had led pretty much the same life: she went working, read, watched some tv series. The only significant changes were that she had talked to their Labrador (Odi) a bit more than she usually did with Shimon, and that she had slept better without his novel snoring sessions. He had no way of knowing that, despite so little changes, she had felt as if a weight had suddenly been lifted from her shoulders, as its usually said. Well, not that much. But as if routine was not so – almost as when one goes on vacation, and that although one does more or less the same (because one cannot change habits that much, not even during holidays), the feeling is different, of fluidity if you want, to the point that what goes wrong, up to a certain point of course, just because of its purported novelty, it appears to have even some positive quality, even some graciousness. Sometimes, it seems, you don’t need to go away to find well-being, something resembling peace of mind; it’s enough for someone else to leave – a fact that at first glance it would seem easy to realize, but in millennia not much progress has been made on the subject, so those who should leave persist in staying, in loitering around other existences.
Sivan was fast asleep while he kept turning around in bed, unable to sleep. He felt as if he was being drag by the wind (like the kippah) and, at the same time, hauling himself… A devilish loop that could take him nowhere but that, even so, by reproducing briefly the recent itinerary, somehow served as an aid to believe that Sivan’s disinterest hadn’t been entirely sincere, and to conceive a certain hopefulness… Of what? Well, of not having to really explain what he wanted to explain her (the loop again): he conceived the idea that if she hadn’t asked him where he had been, it was because she already knew – as if it was as simple as entering their shared bank’s account in the web and checking his credit card statement. And not only where, but she would have known almost to the smallest detail (oh, the ring) what he’d been doing. But of course, it was impossible (out of the loop). That much he knew. She was a proud woman, and with a much stronger character than his. She wouldn’t run after nothing, he thought. She wouldn’t beg for him to tell her where, what, why…
He went to the past again – practically as one who goes to a temple to hold another responsible. He went not so much to get answers, but as a way to anchor himself to the reality of their life in common and to his own self. But the past, even the one that seems almost part of the present, was elusive, almost extraneous.
And in spite of that, he thought that the past was all they had in common – although, having come to doubt about the past, he couldn’t be sure about those shared narratives and myths that couples (that people) come up with to…. That’s why he kept trying to remember places, names, events, dates (at least, seasons). Not so much to make sure of their accuracy but of their plausibility, in order to have minimum basis of (his) validity, of the reality.
But at some point, at dawn, he realized that ultimately, the past was whatever they wanted it to be. Yes, facts were facts, but at the end of the day, interpretation was everything or, at least, most of it. Who really cared about precision when life was so random, so driven by chance? “Present is, at best, an uncertainty,” feared Shimon, suddenly feeling they were two strangers who were caught up in the decisions of two others who bore a passing resemblance to themselves. Past, he thought or dreamt, is just the ceremony the present needs to unfold as if there were a thread, a bond, a further justification for our actions. That’s how he finally lied or numbed himself into sleep.
Sivan was reading in the living room reading when we woke up.
“Let’s have breakfast someplace by the marina,” she proposed when Shimon entered the room. “It’s a nice day.” Indeed, it was, kind of a sample of what spring might look like. She didn’t wait for him to answer: “Come on, get something on.”
When he got back, she was standing bag in one hand, keys in the other, and wearing a foulard she seldomly used – not because she didn´t like it, but because unconsciously she saved it for special occasions. As they were leaving the building, he promised himself he’d check the foulard’s motif, which has always escaped his understanding. The air wasn’t the damp cold substance that prevailed before; it was fresh and carried the smell of a sorrowless sea.
They sat at a café at the seafront by Oranim beach, engaging in very light conversations barely composed of words, of meanings – a bit like the stuffing of old mattresses – scarcely noting the obvious: the brightness of the day, the calmness of the sea, whose waters seemed to be like a set made of synthetic materials. The breeze suddenly picked up and blew the paper napkins away and made the fabric of the parasols flap like ill-fitting sails. Her foulard, barely crossed negligently around her thin neck, also flew away. She stood up with determination, almost violently, and ran after it, her arms stretched up and forward as those of a kid preparing a hug for his mom or dad, or to catch a balloon. The foulard gained height rapidly and easily, moving like a stingray through the air. If you weren’t the owner running desperately behind the cloth, it was a nice thing to watch – nicer than that horrible plastic bag in that movie with that actor and that other actress. Shimon didn’t make the slightest move. Something kept him sitting in the metallic uncomfortable chair, watching how Sivan ran after her foulard.
She was, more and more, a brief existence shrinking towards the north, the foulard no longer visible. “When will she be back?” he wondered in his way home. “Will she be back? Have I really come back myself?”
Sivan’s foulard had more pragmatic ways than Shimon’s kippah. It would lead her to Ben Gurion airport, and it would – through flapping and contortions- instill her the idea of a destination (Corsica, of all places, can you believe it?). What was the point of having her running behind it, when she could actually fly and drag her doubts, vacillations, renunciations, and the remnants of hope she might still have? Besides, the weather forecast predicted conditions not very conducive to the occurrence of wind – the foulard (or was it a pashmina? Bah, technicalities), like any other piece of fabric, needed wind to fly, it couldn’t create lift by itself, though it could, once in the air, draw its flight plan (not restrained by the monotonous will of the wind, unlike the leaves or certain ideas).
Was it his doing? Was it hers? Maybe it was his turn to experience the flying from the perspective of the one that… That what? Stays back? Doesn’t play? What?
© Marcelo Wio