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Authors: A. B. Yehoshua

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BOOK: Mr. Mani
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—No. I didn't come via Tel Aviv. I came straight from Jerusalem. It was a last-minute decision. I was waiting in the bus station for the Tel Aviv bus when all of a sudden I saw this middle-aged redhead standing on the next platform. He was someone I recognized from around here, I think from Revivim, and it made me so homesick that I just couldn't wait to get back to our own darling little boondocks and tell you everything, Mother. I couldn't hold it in any longer. I was always like that. Don't you remember what you've told me about myself? I could be in the nursery, or at school, and if some child fell and hurt himself, or if the drawing I was working on tore, I had to tell you so badly that I would run outside to look for you and shout the minute I found you, “Hey, Ma, listen to this!”...

—Right. I always got away with it, because I had this knack for latching onto ... how did you used to put it?

—Yes. Right. That's it...

—Yes, that's it. To some surrogate father who would do anything I asked, maybe—it's a pet theory of mine you're sure to like—because he felt guilty that it was my father and not him who was killed. And so everyone took me in tow and passed me on, from the dining hall to the laundry, from the chicken coops to the cowshed, from the stables to the fodder fields, and on to the orchards and to you, Mother, who I threw myself on and told everything. Which is just how it was in Jerusalem today, standing in line in that station among all those wintry, depressive Jerusalemites when suddenly the bus for Beersheba began pulling out and I saw that redhead looking out the window at me—maybe he was trying to guess who I was too—and suddenly I couldn't stand it any longer, I missed you so badly that I jumped over the railing and was on the steps and inside the bus before I knew it. But the first thing tomorrow morning, Mother, I have to get back to Tel Aviv and to my books, or else it's another F for sure. You'll have to find me someone who is driving there, and if you can't think of anyone, think again...

—All right.

—No, wait a minute. Take it easy. I didn't mean this second...

—But what's the rush? I feel so cold inside. Let me warm up a little first.

—It will take more than just hot water.

—Don't be annoyed at me, Mother, but for my part I can skip the Sabbath meal in the dining hall.

—I'm not at all hungry. Whatever you have in the fridge will be fine.

—That's okay. Whatever you have. I'm really not hungry.

—If you're so starving that you must go, then go. I'm staying here. I'm sorry, Mother, but I'm just not up to sitting in the dining hall and smiling at everyone all evening. Followed by that New Year's Eve party with all its phony revelry ... I absolutely will not take any chances and dance...

—All right, all right. Go. What can I say? Go. What more can I say?

—Go...

—Go. I'm already sorry I came here instead of going straight home ... I mean to Tel Aviv...

—Because I didn't think of it as coming to the kibbutz tonight, Mother. I thought of it as coming home. To you. To tell you about what happened in Jerusalem...

—I'm not being mysterious. Stop being so critical...

—All right, fine, so I am a little mysterious ... maybe mysterious is even the best word for it ... but so what? What's wrong with a mystery? Suppose you open the door of a strange house and are so horrified by what you see there that your soul, yes, your soul, Mother, is sucked right out of you ... but the mystery, you see, isn't the horrifying part, because anything really horrifying has to be obvious and isn't mysterious at all. The mystery is in the
encounter,
even if it just seems like a coincidence. And that's what happened to me, that's what I went through in Jerusalem, even if you're not going to believe it...

—Because you're not, Mother. You've been educated all your life not to believe in mysteries, and you're certainly not going to believe in mine. In the end I know you'll tell me that I just imagined it all...

—But there isn't any quick version. There's no quick way to tell it, Mother.

—Because if I did, it really
would
sound like a figment of my imagination...

—You know something, it doesn't matter. Let's forget it, it's not important. Go have dinner, and I'll take a shower. The whole thing really doesn't matter, Mother. I was wrong and now let's forget it ... Just do me a favor and ask around in the dining hall if anyone is driving to Tel Aviv in the morning and has room for me...

—No, I'm just not in the mood anymore to tell you about it. Maybe you're even right and I did imagine it all...

—I know. You may not have said it yet, but it's not my fault that I always know what you're going to say.

—I'm sorry.

—All right. I'm sorry, Mother.

—I said I'm sorry.

—No, I really thought you didn't feel like hearing about it now...

—Are you sure?

—But maybe you shouldn't miss the Sabbath meal in the dining hall. It's a ritual you're so attached to...

—Are you sure?

—Well, then, Mother, if you think you can skip it, how about doing it properly, so that we can sit here in peace and quiet? Let's draw the curtains to keep the light in, and let me lock the door for once ... Where's the key?

—Please, just this once. I beg you, Mother, let's shut out the world to keep it from knowing we're here, so that no one comes and bothers us. We'll put some water up to boil ... and turn the heater on ... but where's that key?

—Later. I said I'd take one later ... I'm bursting too much to tell you my story to take time to shower now ... Why must you always make such a fuss about showering?

—So my dress is a little sweaty ... it's no tragedy...

—Fine.

—No, Mother, it's the same.

—Maybe a little nausea now and then.

—No, it's the same.

—Is that what you're still hoping?

—But why? I've already told you, Mother, I knew right away it was real. I'm absolutely certain. I can feel it encoded inside me...

—This thing ... the embryo, the baby ... whatever you want to call it...

—You can do the arithmetic yourself. My last time was on the nineteenth of November. I'm exactly two weeks overdue ... there's nothing else it can be...

—But what do I need some doctor poking around inside me for? What more can he tell me? And anyway, I already saw a doctor in Jerusalem...

—An internist.

—I'll get to that.

—Soon, Mother. Why can't you be more patient?

—He did ... just a minute...

—No. Just a quick checkup.

—Just a minute...

—Don't kid yourself. It's not psychological. It's absolutely real ... and I
am
pregnant. You've been so brainwashed by all those courses you've taken that you think everything is psychological...

—Right now I'm not doing anything. I already told you that. There's plenty of time to decide.

—First of all, for Efi to come back from the army.

—In ten days. It's not just his decision, though.

—There's time ... there's time...

—It's not up to me whether he wants to be a father or not, Mother ... as far as I'm concerned, I can have the child without him, if that's what I feel like doing...

—Because the defense ministry, I already told you, helps out in such cases, even if there's no legal father. You'll be surprised to hear that they're very liberal...

—Well, they are about this kind of thing. Maybe they also have guilt feelings ... who knows...

—Irees told me. Irees knows. She checked it all out.

—She knows everything, Mother. She's become an expert on our legal rights. She keeps going back to talk to more officials, and each time she comes up with some new right. There are all kinds of rights for war orphans that you and I never even heard about...

—I know it annoys you terribly, but what can I do about it? It wasn't me who raised the subject.

—Revolting? That's going a bit far. What's so revolting about it?

—But so far I haven't asked anyone for anything and I haven't gotten anything. What are you so worked up about?

—But I've already told you. It's all in my story. You simply aren't letting me tell it.

—No. Yes. It's as if you were afraid of it and didn't want to hear it. That's why you've kept putting me
off
since I phoned that morning a month ago to tell you that I'd gone to bed with him ... that I'd gone to bed with somebody ... I mean that I'd finally done it. It's as if something had snapped in your trust in me. You seem, oh, I don't know, confused like, up in the air, as if you'd finally lost the reins to your pet colt...

—Yes, the reins. You always held me by these subtle reins...

—Subtle. Invisible.

—It doesn't matter.

—Of course.

—Don't get angry again. I really didn't come here to anger you.

—Fine. Let's suppose that what alarmed you, Mother, was not what happened but the hurry I was in to tell you about it the next morning. What was wrong with that? What was even so wrong about paging you from the orchards to break the news? Ever since then, Mother, it just kills me to see how threatened you are by all kinds of things that you used to like hearing about. I've even begun wondering if it's fair to burden you with them and to tell you everything I've been thinking and doing without keeping anything back, as if we still had to obey that lady, that ridiculous psychologist sent by the army when father was killed, who said that you had to get me to talk, that you had to make me get it all out. How did she put it? To
keep the pus of repressed thoughts from festering,
ha ha. Ever since then, Mother, I swear, I have this fear of pus in my brain. That's why I keep blabbing away and you have to hear it all ... because if you don't, who will...

—Efi? We'll have to wait and see ... who knows? What really do I know about him ... and now, after this trip to Jerusalem, I seem to know even less...

—But I did mention him to you. Didn't I mention him to you?

—How could I not have told you that two weeks after the semester began two of his classes were suddenly canceled? And I certainly mentioned him at the beginning of the semester when you asked me about my teachers and I told you how I liked him the minute he stepped into the classroom. He stood there looking hardly any older than we were, all flustered and curly-haired, and it was almost touching how hard he worked to convince us that we really needed his course in Hebrew expression, because some of the students were up in arms and even insulted at having to take it, as if we were some kind of disadvantaged children ... so that when they told us that two of his classes had been canceled, I decided to go to the office and see if he was sick, because I thought that if he was I might visit him, and they told me that his grandmother had died in Jerusalem and that he had gone there to be with his father for the week of mourning. That's when ... but how could I not have told you...

—Well, to make a long story short, I wrote down his father's address and went that same day to Jerusalem to pay a condolence call or whatever you call it in the name of our class, although “our class” is not exactly a feeling you have at the university. You can imagine how startled he was to open the door and see this four-week-old student of his whose name he hardly remembered coming all the way from Tel Aviv to express her sympathy for his grandmother, Once he got over his bewilderment, though, he got the point right away, which was that my condolence call wasn't exactly a condolence call but a little signal I was putting out. And since he wasn't used to being pampered with signals from women...

—Because he's not especially good-looking or anything ... just a plain-looking guy who's nice inside ... and he was so thrilled by the rope I had thrown him that he decided—after I had sat for a while, feeling like a fool, next to his father, who really did look pretty mournful, not like all those middle-aged people who become so much lighter and livelier the minute their parents die—to return with me that evening to Tel Aviv. As soon as we were on the bus we began to talk, and after he had asked me all about myself and my plans and the kibbutz and the Negev and seen how open I was, he began to open up too and tell me about himself. At first he told me about his dead grandmother, whom he really had loved, and then about being worried about his father. It seemed nice to me that he was, because his father had been very attached to his mother, I mean to Efi's grandmother. He had lived with her since he was a child and had been saved by her during the war...

—Just imagine, they lived in Greece then. On that island, you know, Crete...

—Really?

—Of course I know about that trip you took with Father ... it was before I was born...

—No, Efi's parents were separated long ago, after his bar-mitzvah. He and his mother moved to Tel Aviv and she married again. He has a younger stepsister, but they've all been living in London for the past few years and it looks like they're on their way to settling there for good. He lives by himself ... he told me all this on the bus ride, although mostly he talked about having to serve soon in Lebanon. I could feel how frightened that made him, and how angry he was at the university for not helping to get him a deferral...

—No, he's just a plain reservist, a corporal at most. He's a medic ... And that, Mother, is how we began getting close on that bus ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I found myself liking him more and more, and I could feel myself falling in love again, but this time so much more sensibly. By the time we reached Tel Aviv I knew that if I didn't find some way of hanging onto him then and there all the effort I had put into going to Jerusalem that day would be wasted, because we would lose touch the whole month he was in the army, after which the semester had just one more month, and it was only a one-semester course, and he didn't have any more grandmothers left to die for another condolence call. And so, although it wasn't that late at night, I asked him to see me home, I mean to Grandmother's apartment. Maybe it was the difference between the two grandmothers—one who had just died at the age of sixty-eight and one who had just flown off to France at the age of seventy-four like a young lady—that made him curious to come upstairs. At most I thought we might neck a little, but suddenly we grabbed hold of each other, and he was so gentle and yielding, even if he did undress in this awful hurry, and it was all so natural and hardly hurt a bit that I asked myself, Mother, what was I waiting for all this time? What was I so afraid of? Unless maybe there was just something special about him, although to tell you the truth, you'll see what I mean if you ever meet him, he's not at all handsome or anything, just this slim, curly-headed type with glasses and nothing spectacular about him. But anyway, that's why in the morning, as soon as he left, I ran to the telephone to tell you...

BOOK: Mr. Mani
13.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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