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Authors: A. B. Yehoshua

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BOOK: Mr. Mani
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—No, just a minute ... please ... please...

—No, listen ... please...

—Later ... later...

—No, it wasn't blood. It wasn't that sticky feeling. It wasn't a liquid feeling at all. It was more like these light little legs running up and down, over my crotch and my thighs...

—Yes, like someone's legs. I called it a spider before, which made you wince, but that's what I was thinking of. Is it really so disgusting or upsetting to you, Mother, if I call it a spider? But who can I tell my feelings to if not you?

—All right ... never mind...

—No, not at all. It wasn't strange or disgusting. It was this feeling of being about to lose something oh-so-lovely that I was attached to, of ... oh, I don't know...

—A fantasy ... maybe ... but how can you know if you never miscarried yourself?

—I was scared to death, Mother. I just froze and decided not to move ... And so when the ceremony was over, and everyone got ready to go, and they all put these little stones on the grave, and Mr. Mani remembered me and came over, all contented-looking and full of his mourner's prayer, I told him that I wanted to stay and look at the view. It was such a beautiful day, I said, and I would find my way back to the bus station by myself. He seemed to have no idea how frightened I was, and he wasn't afraid to leave me there because the stone carver was staying behind to do some things too, and so he said good-bye in this casual manner, as if it were the most natural thing, maybe because he felt sure that in any case I'd come bouncing back to him like a yo-yo, and started to lead his little band of old ladies back to the taxis...

—Wait ... wait...

—Yes, all by myself ... But it was the middle of the morning, and everything seemed so quiet and safe there, and up on top of the hill, in the cemetery on Mount Zion, right below that big hotel, there were lots of Jews and tourists—and anyway, I had to wait for the contractions to stop, I had to do what I could to save a life...

—Of course I'm not in control of all that happens down there, but I had to do what I could, Mother ... and after half an hour or so it really did let up and I was just left with this terrible heaviness in my arms and legs. I looked around and saw I was alone, because the stone carver had taken off somewhere down the hill, and so I decided to take the contrary route again, and rather than head back down toward that crazily steep, narrow lane by the walls of the church, I started up toward the hotel and all those people ... and anyway, going up was better and less bouncy for
him.

—Right, right, exactly, the Intercontinental, the one with all those nice arches. It looked so close from below with the sun shining down on these slabs of white graves, much closer than it really was. It was only after I had started up the path from the old Sephardic cemetery to the Ashkenazic one above it, past all those tombstones whose inscriptions kept getting jumbled in my head, that I realized that it was a steeper, longer climb than I had thought, especially since I had to keep stopping, because the cramps kept coming back. There were still little patches of snow here and there, and I felt I might start bleeding any minute—this whole miscarriage was beginning to seem more dangerous to me than to
him.
I was getting good and frightened, Mother, and so I walked faster, using every ounce of strength to reach the road in front of the hotel where there were all these German tourists standing around a camel and a little horse decked out in bells and bright saddlebags and some children selling souvenirs. I can't tell you how exhausted I was. I must have looked a wreck too to judge from how people were looking at me, because before I had even reached his taxi, a driver jumped up to open the door for me. He stepped on the gas while I was still getting into my seat, so that by the time I saw he was an Arab we were already driving off and it would have been awkward to stop him and get out...

—No. I thought it might have to do with my being alone, but I only had to say one word to him, which was “hospital” in English, for him to nod right away, as if that were the very word he had been waiting for, and start saying “Okay, okay” to calm me down, although he drove like such a madman that I thought I would miscarry right there in the back seat of his taxi. It was just a two-minute drive, though, and before I knew it he was pulling into this inner courtyard of a church, that big, massive building the other way from Mount Scopus, I had never known it was—

—Yes, exactly, Augusta Victoria, how did you know? I can see you know your way around there ... but it's not a church like everyone thinks it is, it's a hospital...

—Right, right. The lower tower, the squat one, with those dark walls, not the tall, thin one...

—Yes, that's it. Did you know it wasn't a church but a hospital?

—Yes, a hospital. You enter this huge inner courtyard with trees and stone benches and gardens and fountains and the wings of the building all around them, just like in those TV series about the British Empire in India or Egypt, with these immense, silent corridors and these big rooms with high ceilings. Every movement that you make has this somber echo, and the taxi driver, who was falling all over himself to help, kept saying “Hospital, hospital” to prove that he had brought me to the right place despite the ride's being so short. He even helped me out of the taxi and began walking me carefully to the emergency room...

—What should I have told him? “Leave me alone, get me out of here, I don't want your Arab hospital”?

—No, tell me! What should I have told him? You want me to have told him right to his face, “Take your dirty hands off me”?

—Then what are you trying to say?

—No, I know that's not what you said, but it's what it's beginning to sound like. You always give me the feeling that if I tell you anything the least bit strange about myself, you right away think there's something wrong with me...

—Wait ... wait...

—Yes, Mother, I was admitted as a patient...

—Wait ... just a minute...

—No. Just until the evening.

—I wasn't out of my mind at all. I still had these cramps, I felt weak, and something down there was still moving and walking around. I was afraid I might start to bleed any minute. You have no idea how exhausted I was, I had gotten up exhausted that morning, and so the minute I saw some beds in this room the man brought me to, which wasn't the emergency room at all but just an empty room belonging to some ward that he took me to by mistake, all I wanted to do was to flop down on them. It was so quiet under those high ceilings and those big, arched stone windows that I felt not only back in my story, in that movie or book that went wherever I did, but that the story had ended and I was now being shown or read, which fit perfectly with all that had happened since the minute I arrived in Jerusalem. And so I took off my shoes and lay down on a bed, and the taxi driver, who was wearing this bright cap and seemed to like taking care of me, put a pillow beneath me and covered me with a blanket and went to look for a nurse...

—What's the matter?

—What was crazy about it? It was actually rather nice to be lying there quietly under that warm blanket, facing this huge stone window that looked out on the Wilderness of Judea. It was like being outside the world. The driver took a while to find a nurse, who realized as soon as she came that I was an Israeli and not just some tourist and gave me this disapproving look. I began to stammer something in English, but that taxi driver was driving me crazy, he wouldn't leave and just went on standing there—I tell you, it was like out of some comedy, the way he listened without the least embarrassment ... and the worst part was that after all those years of studying English I couldn't get out the simplest word like “pregnant” or “miscarriage” or “bleeding,” so that soon the driver began butting in and explaining things in Arabic, which made the nurse even madder at him for bringing me uninvited instead of taking me to Hadassah...

—Yes, exactly. I could see that she didn't even want to examine me. She wanted me out of that bed and back into that taxi and out of that hospital. But since her English was no better than mine she had to use sign language, saying “Hadassah” over and over while pointing to the driver, who began making these big, desperate gestures himself, because by now he was frightened of what he had done and kept urging me in this excited voice, “Hadassah, Jewish hospital.” Except that, suddenly, Mother, I had this need to stay put and absolutely not to move, because not only was I exhausted by that whole adventure in the cemetery, I felt that I might start bleeding any minute and musn't get up if I wanted to keep my baby. And so I just shook my head and curled up like a fetus myself beneath that blanket, holding onto it for dear life...

—Yes, they would have had to tear me away from it, why not? And besides, my feelings were hurt too. Why not? If I had landed up in their hospital, the least they could do was examine me and see what was wrong. What were they so afraid of? That they might have to take care of a Jew for once in return for all the Arabs we take care of in our hospitals...?

—But what kind of complications, Mother?

—But how? That's ridiculous...

—That isn't so. There was nothing disturbed-looking about me. Don't try defending them, they just didn't want to ... Anyway, when that nurse saw I wasn't budging, she stalked out of the room with the driver, who had this hangdog look. She must have gone to get someone else, but in the meantime an hour went by and there still was no bleeding. I felt cold and fell into this really delicious sleep, opening half an eye now and then to look out the window at the desert, off which this dry eastern light was glinting, while thinking that the worst was over with. I even decided to go to the bathroom to see what had happened down there, maybe there was some sign, and out in the corridor I saw the driver looking depressed. God knows what he was waiting for, maybe to take me to Hadassah or for his fare—and so I went back to the room and brought him some money to cheer him up, after all, it wasn't his fault, “It's not your fault,” I said to him with a friendly pat on that bright cap, and he understood what I said and even gave a wave of his hand. From there I went to the bathroom, which was very old and big and full of light. It was incredibly spic-and-span, with these gleaming copper faucets and giant sinks, and I went into a toilet to check my underpants, and there wasn't any blood but there was this scary stain, Mother—it was black with something smeary in it, maybe some part of
him,
and I felt so desperate that I began to cry inside of me. I wrapped the underpants in an old newspaper that I found there, and then I put the dress back on and returned to the room. The driver was gone. There was just the echo of his footsteps down the corridor, and so I got back into bed and lay there in despair, dozing on and off, until the nurse shook me a little to wake me. She had a dark young doctor with her who spoke a little Hebrew, and he began asking me questions in this dry manner, and I answered everything and took out the newspaper and showed him the stained underpants, and he glanced at them without a word and took them to the window to get a better look while I went on telling what I felt. All the time he didn't touch me or write anything down, he just interrupted me once or twice to ask—I couldn't tell if he was angry or laughing—“But what makes you so sure you're pregnant? Who told you?” No matter how much I explained it to him, the dates, and missing my period, and everything, he wouldn't believe me. Not that he was an extremist like you, Mother. He never said it was only my imagination. But he kept aloof and didn't even take my pulse, although I would have been happy for him to examine me, I knew he was thinking, these Israelis, they only come to our hospitals to make trouble, even if he wasn't sure yet what kind of trouble I was making. Whatever it was, he was going to avoid it like the plague—and so when I asked him again about the stain and did he think it was dangerous, I saw he wasn't taking it seriously, “It's nothing,” he said, “it's just—“ and I knew he wanted to say “dirt,” but he didn't, he caught himself and said “mud,” he was so pleased he could say it in Hebrew that he said it over and over...

—Yes, that was all. He wrapped the underpants back up in the newspaper to take them for a lab test and pointed to the west and snapped rudely, “Why don't you go back there? Go back to your mother, go back to your father, go back to your health fund, you people have
health funds,
” he pronounced the word, Mother, with this really weird hatred, you would have thought that the whole trouble with us was our health funds, and not even them but the word for them. Afterward, though, he became a little kinder. He said I could stay and rest a while if I wanted, and then he said something to the nurse in Arabic and they left, and a while later she came back with some lunch...

—I don't know. I wasn't in any rush. I wanted to rest some more, and I had already warmed up the bed so nicely, and outside that arched window was the desert with this lovely blue patch of the Dead Sea, and I knew that I'd never again in my life have such a private view of it...

—Yes, Mother, the desert, of all places ... the good old desert ... I've always loved it and I always will, take my word for it. And now it had this fabulous patch of blue right in the middle of it...

—But I was under a blanket, Mother, taking in a desert just like the one we have here, with this extra scoop of blue that we always used to dream about, and all of a sudden it had this flock of black goats in it too, a huge flock of them on a hilltop flowing on and on, you couldn't see the goatherd for the goats, they kept moving toward my window and disappearing beneath it as if they were entering the hospital...

—Around five or six. It was already getting dark. Some patients began drifting in, these elderly Arab women, and I hurried to put on my shoes and get out of there. I walked to the street, which was dimly lit by a street lamp, and there on that fading horizon, Mother, were the blurred, jagged skylines of the two cities, the Arab and the Jewish, all jumbled up with each other, and men were selling vegetables and groceries from stands, and I saw them all look at me and point to someone who was calling to me from an ambulance that was taking some hospital staff home, and it was the same nurse who had taken care of me, she had just come off her shift and was in her street clothes, wearing makeup and all spiffed up. She must have felt guilty for not wanting me in her hospital because now she offered me
a ride, or maybe she was worried that one of those men might start up with me. But anyway, she said she would be happy to take me “to Jerusalem”—as if we weren't in Jerusalem already but somewhere else, on our way there, and there were no other place in the world I could hope to get to. And really, right then and there on that hill, looking out on those two cities stewing in the same twilight, Tel Aviv, Mother, seemed as far away as could be, it seemed unreal, and so I started back down into Jerusalem from the opposite direction, and it was the most wonderful ride, Mother, through all these places you've never been in, all these Arab neighborhoods and villages inside the city. We kept crossing these empty wadis that still had bits of snow in them and coming out in these dark streets full of potholes and puddles that suddenly opened up into these lively little village centers full of people and children and shopping baskets and donkeys. It all looked so nice and cozy, Mother, as if they really had themselves a good life, and had maybe even gotten used to us, and the driver, who was driving as slowly as he could up and down these narrow streets, kept sticking his head out the window to talk and joke with all the people. He brought all the passengers home to their front door, making this big circle until he dropped the last nurse off by Jaffa Gate. I thought I would get off with her, but he said he would take me to the Jewish part of the city, he even asked the address to show me he knew his way around there, only I didn't want him to have to look for it, so I said, “It doesn't matter, just drop me off by the Jerusalem Theater,” and for the first time in three days I felt that I wasn't going against the current anymore but flowing right along with it. We drove through the same streets that had been so empty early that morning, and now they were full of life. And even though there wasn't a snowflake left in them, Mother, you could see that the memory of the snow was making everyone happy, it was as if they had survived some great ordeal of nature. And so I was back at the Jerusalem Theater again, and at the exact same time of day too, because it was exactly six-thirty. But this time the theater was all lit up and people were waiting outside it, and without thinking twice about it, Mother, as if it were something I did every evening, I cut across the field behind the parking lot by the old leper hospital like an ordinary person going home. The day had made a real Jerusalemite out of me, an old-time Sephardi with a touch of Arab! I wasn't even thinking of his suicide anymore. I only wanted to say good-bye and make sure he hadn't been hurt by my leaving him so abruptly that morning. As soon as I turned into his street, though, I saw there was a power failure there. Everything was blacked out, the houses, the streetlights, everything—and so I climbed the stairs in the darkness and knocked on the old door, and as usual, Mother, there was no answer, but I thought, he's just forgotten how to open it, and so I took out the neighbor's key that I still had and opened the door, and this time the apartment wasn't hot, it wasn't dark either, because these little candles were burning everywhere, and I saw him come out of the bathroom, all pale and frightened in his pajamas. He was holding a big razor blade and his face, Mother, was shaven. The beard was gone from it, but it was all cut up too, and he was bleeding from the throat...

BOOK: Mr. Mani
8.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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