Read Mr. Mani Online

Authors: A. B. Yehoshua

Mr. Mani (6 page)

BOOK: Mr. Mani
3.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

—To the Russian Compound, where the courts are.

—There you go again...

—I hear you ... I just wish you'd say something original for a change...

—Fine, suppose you're right, Mother, and that I'm always looking for a father, which is the psychological, the trivial, the
technical
way you've been taught to think of everything, always looking for some simple, superficial, dumb little subconscious motive to get your hands on and criticize. So what? What made me choose him, of all people? Why this Mr. Mani and not someone else? I swear I could find myself a thousand fathers a day, there are middle-aged men just waiting from morning to night—not all of them even want to go to bed with a girl, Mother, some of them aren't even capable of it, all they want is a few hugs and kisses in return for being warm and protective. Why go all the way to Jerusalem to end up with a depressive Mani? What does he have that anyone else doesn't? I'm sorry, Mother, but you'll have to do better than that...

—Incredible! You're bringing that up now? And all this time you've been saying it was just my imagination...

—But what does that have to do with Father? Now I really don't get it...

—I don't get it...

—I still don't get it.

—Now you're frightening me...

—Fine, but later, later ... I'm begging you, give me time before you start bombarding me with all your interpretations...

—Okay.

—Okay.

—Okay. Later we can talk about everything—all evening, all night, as much as you want, but first let me finish my story, all of it, to the end. That comes first. Because I'm still back there, Mother, in that place called Abraham's Vineyard...

—Right.

—Yes, down the hill from that army base, Camp Schneller. Do you know what it once was?

—No, before that.

—No. A German orphanage.

—Exactly, off to your left—which is from where, instead of taking a bus to the station and from there back to Tel Aviv and the university, I set out in the opposite direction, contrariwise...

—Contrary to what I should have done, which is gone back to Tel Aviv and studied for my exams instead of taking a bus back into town to the Russian Compound and walking through the cold and the rain past all those old court buildings with their long, dark corridors full of people in black robes—who were actually very kind and helpful when it came to giving directions—until I found him, our Mr. Mani, sitting in the courtroom of the justice of the peace, which was such a tiny room that I had to laugh at first, because I never knew that courtrooms were so small. It wasn't any bigger than this room, Mother, with three or four benches facing a big black platform, and there he was on it, sitting in his black robe with his back to a big arched window sunk into the stone wall and judging away. He was so flabbergasted when he saw me come in, slipping into the room with my head down and moving some wet coats to clear a place for myself on the last bench, behind the defendant and his lawyer, that he blushed, took off his little reading glasses, and looked around to see if anyone else had noticed me. Right away, though, he recovered, and for the rest of the morning he ignored me completely and went on presiding with this kind of stern humor that I hadn't realized he had. Mostly, he teased and scolded the lawyers. When the defendants took the stand he was much more patient, shutting his eyes and playing with that little mourner's beard of his, which he still didn't seem to be quite used to...

—Yes. I sat there for a couple of hours, until noontime.

—It can be very interesting, Mother. It's very dramatic when the defendant stands up to be identified, and the prosecutor reads the charge against him, and he has to plead guilty or not guilty, but there's also a lot of haggling with the lawyers about all kinds of petty little details that didn't mean a thing to me, and all this coming and going to the judge's bench with documents until he'd lose his temper and call a halt to the proceedings and go off with the lawyers to his office, which was right off the courtroom, leaving me, Mother, all alone with this Arab defendant accused of stealing a Jewish ID card, who suddenly turned around and began talking to me...

—I don't know what kept me there ... But this time too, Mother, I had this sinking, frozen feeling that wouldn't let me move. And of course, the weather outside was awful, you could see the rain getting worse all the time through the window and the sky getting grayer and lower. And nobody seemed to mind me, because nobody knew I was there to keep an eye on the judge, who seemed very lively and energetic and so far from suicide that I began to think what you're thinking right now, that everything that happened the night before was just a fantasy of mine...

—Wait ... just wait...

—No, he never acknowledged my existence, not even with a glance. You might have thought he didn't know me. I went on sitting there until noon, feeling like a stone. Finally, he disappeared with the lawyers into his office for such a long time that the last remaining defendant got tired of waiting and walked out too, leaving me all by myself in that little room, looking out at the rain, which had turned into these icy pellets of hail bouncing off the window, and I thought, damn it, Hagar, what on earth are you doing here when you could be back at the university, on a campus full of life? But just then, Mother, the bells began ringing in the Russian church, pealing away in the courtroom ... it was so solemn and primitive ... and once again, Mother, I had the same strange sensation I had had the night before, on the stairs to his apartment, like I told you...

—Yes. Exactly. That someone was standing off to the side and writing or filming me...

—Right. It was the weirdest feeling.

—What's so funny?

—What kind of delusions of grandeur? As a matter of fact, it wasn't that at all. This wasn't my own
personal
story. It was other people's too. I wasn't being asked to go off to some corner with my own little self but on the contrary, to have patience for everyone—for Efi, and for the baby, and for everyone—so that they could all make some sense of it...

—Wait ... just wait ... why are you in such a hurry tonight...

—You needn't worry, nothing bad happened to me. Anyway, when I finally got up and peeked into his office to see what was doing there, all I found was a neat, quiet room. His coat and briefcase were gone, which meant that he had given me the slip again, this Mr. Mani of mine. But I didn't give up this time either, Mother. I hurried back out into those dark corridors and began looking for him, asking all the black-robed people if they had seen him, until finally I found him standing in a large entranceway, bundled up in his heavy coat with his robe folded over one arm while having a friendly chat with a young prosecutor who had argued a case before him. He must have been waiting for it to stop hailing, and at first I didn't know if I should approach him, but as soon as he saw me he turned to me warmly and even took my hand and said, “Well, Hagar, how was I?” He wanted to know what I thought and if I liked it, he even introduced me to the young lawyer standing next to him as his son Efrayim's girlfriend—and I, Mother, don't ask me what came over me, I actually had tears in my eyes. Maybe it was his calling me Hagar and maybe just his being such a darling, but I wanted so badly to cling to him and snuggle up against that big, hairy coat of his that if there actually was a minute, Mother ... I mean a moment when maybe ...
maybe
the thought crossed my mind ... yes, I admit it ... that he could have ... just for a second ... maybe...

—I mean ... that he could have soothed that deep sense of loss that maybe I really do go around with all the time...

—Yes, like a kind of father ... but it was only for a minute, no more than that, believe me...

—But he didn't. That was the confusing part, Mother. Because all this time I had the feeling that he too was sending these hidden distress signals, as though he were whispering to me,
Yes, you're right, what you saw last night was no mistake but something that almost happened, don't leave me,
while at the same time I had the feeling that he wanted to get rid of me. Anyway, he offered to drive me to the bus station again—it was
as
if he wanted to make sure that this time I really left Jerusalem. He walked me under his umbrella to his car and opened the door for me like a gentleman to make up for jilting me and even stopped in some little street in the marketplace and took me to a tiny joint where he ordered this special Jerusalem hummus for me with a hard-boiled egg diced into it and behaved really sweetly, even if he did fade out from time to time as though the lights had gone out inside him and there was a power failure there. But each time they came on again and he asked some new question, whose answer didn't really interest him, about Efi, who he seemed to think I knew more about than he did. There was a point in all that noise and winter weather when I had an urge to tell him what was in store for him in this little stomach of mine that he was stuffing with hummus, but I controlled myself and didn't. And when we left the restaurant, he not only drove me to the station, he went out of his way to buy me a ticket and bring me to the platform and stand me in line as if I were a retarded child—and even then he didn't say good-bye but waited patiently until I got on the bus and it began to pull out, which was actually very nice—I mean, all that being taken care of and being chaperoned, especially since I really did want to get home and out of the cold and the rain, even if it was also a little humiliating to see how he was manipulating me back to Tel Aviv, as though I were a mental case that had walked into his life instead of a perfectly innocent messenger on a mission of good will...

—Wait.

—No, just a minute, Mother, wait...

—Yes, it was two days ago, on Wednesday afternoon. I actually did leave Jerusalem...

—I really did leave it. It was storming outside, and everyone in the bus kept talking about how it was going to snow ... about how it just
had
to snow ... and I thought, well, that's it, it's over with, what do I care, maybe I really did just imagine it, and anyway, I have to go home, I can't spend the rest of my life chasing after him. The bus was already speeding down the mountains toward the coast, there was nothing but fog all around, and right outside the city we drove into such a thick cloud of it that you couldn't see a thing ... at which point, the bus suddenly turned off the highway into a side road. Mr. Mani, it seemed, had been so eager to get rid of me that he had put me on the local instead of the express! We started winding through the fog, in and out of all kinds of villages. Everything was dripping wet outside, it was all so green and damp, and every now and then some hillside popped out of the fog into the window. It was sleeting too, and I thought, if it's like this halfway to the coast, there must be snow in Jerusalem—the same snow Mr. Mani warned me about but was also looking forward to, maybe because then he could lock himself up in that railroad flat, and switch off all the lights, and turn up the heat, and take off his clothes, and open the blinds box in Grandmother's room, and take the belt off the pulley, and knot one end of it, and kick away the stool, and bye-bye Mr. Mani...

—Yes, Mother. I couldn't stop thinking about it. The more we drove in and out on those roads outside of Jerusalem, the more it haunted me, so that when the bus finally rejoined the main highway and picked up speed again on the soft curves of those woodsy hills near the bottom of the mountains, and I knew that in another minute we would be flying over the coastal plain, something rebelled inside me, Mother, and I stood up in my seat...

—Yes. What rebelled was my desperation at having been made to leave Jerusalem against my will. I stood up all at once, and something propelled me to the front of the bus, and I said to the driver, “I'm very sorry, sir, but I'll have to ask you to stop and let me out, because I'm pregnant and all this speed is bad for me and the baby...”

—Yes, the baby too. Don't ask me what made me say it...

—I'm telling you, I did. What's wrong with it?

—But what did I say?

—No, he was very nice about it. He slowed down a little and suggested that I move to the front of the bus, because it's not as bouncy there, but when he saw that I was determined to get off, he didn't argue. He stopped right at the bottom of the mountains, near that gas station there, and opened the door and said “Watch your step” and drove off into all that rain and fog. There was this total silence all around, and without thinking twice about it, Mother, or knowing what made me do it, I crossed to the other, the
contrary
side of the road, and headed for that old ruined building there, you know, the one where the road starts climbing back into the mountains...

—Yes. Someone once told me it was an old Arab khan where travelers to Jerusalem stopped to rest their horses. Anyway, there they were, waiting for me in the stillness ... I mean that author or that director with his big black camera. Apparently, I had forgotten that we had arranged to meet there, and they were sitting on a stone terrace next to some dripping-wet trees, their heads in their hands just like yours is—don't look at me that way, Mother, I promise you I'm not going crazy ... Shhh ... shhh ... someone is knocking ... don't move...

—No.
Don't move.
Who can it be?

—It doesn't matter. Never mind. So you won't answer for once in your life ... so what?

—No, don't get up...

—Would you rather I stopped?

—But what's the matter?

—No ... no ... don't be so worried ... it's just that I keep trying to explain this new feeling to you that I've never had before, which is that I'm not so alone anymore but part of a much bigger story that I don't know anything about yet because it's only beginning, although if I'm patient, I'll find out. It was simply a way of calming myself, Mother, and I was even beginning to enjoy that old ruin, which everyone sees from the highway but no one ever bothers to explore. There was a sound of running water all around me, and I began to imagine all the travelers who must have stopped there on their way from Jaffa to Jerusalem, because a hundred years ago it was the place in which they all spent the night—and all at once, Mother, I had this feeling of great peace inside me...

BOOK: Mr. Mani
3.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Devil Has Dimples by Phillips, Pepper
Made In America by Bill Bryson
THE 13: STAND BOOK TWO by ROBBIE CHEUVRONT AND ERIK REED WITH SHAWN ALLEN
Grown Men by Damon Suede
Full Disclosure by Thirteen
Djinn and Tonic by Jasinda Wilder
The Last Renegade by Jo Goodman