February 24, 2012

About a bucket that had been in Jerusalem

(Dedicated to, and translated for Hannie Visser)

Four o'clock of an early Tuesday morning. On her way to Jerusalem, the little girl fell asleep in the truck. Her daddy had laid her down gently at the space between the two seats and covered her with his coat. The warm coat smelled like bread. The cabin's floor smelled like motor oil. The truck driver, who was a friend of her daddy, decided to drive them to Grandma's house. "So, should I take the long way?" he asked with a rumbling voice, and her daddy laughed in relief, and the little girl woke up. Few minutes later the truck had stopped, a little man had harried into Grandma’s house with the little girl and a plastic bag, and then run back to the truck empty handed. With a little luck he'll catch the first bus to Tel-Aviv and make it in time for work. Or maybe he'll try to save the bus ticket and hitchhike.

When I got home after work my wife was laying on the couch playing the classic migraine ritual: Dark room, windows shades are shut down, the kids are quiet in their rooms and the maid is hiding at the kitchen. It must have been that stupid argument we had last night. For this weekend, we’d reserved rooms in a resort next to Jerusalem, and I've promised my daughter she can travel in my car. My wife was mad because she thinks my car isn't safe enough. In her Volvo, the middle section of the back seat can be unfolded to a build-in safety seat, in my car it's just a booster on that ‘too-small-for-grown-ups’ seat. And she just knows I'll be talking in my cell phone while driving and that's very dangerous, even with that speaker - it's still dangerous. And beside, I always diminishing her as a mother, and she was expecting some quality time with the two kids. I've changed to casual and came back to the living room to tell my wife that maybe we'll better travel in one car, and I'll drive. And we should leave soon or we'll miss dinner. My wife slowly nodded for acknowledgement, eyes close.

The Grandma had a one room apartment. That's all it was - a one room. There wasn’t a living room, or a kitchen or a bathroom, just one big square room. One wall contained a door to the stairway hall, and the opposite wall had asbestos shutters hanging from a track. While it was built, the apartment wasn't equipped with water and sewer pipes. But when the little girl got to know it there was an improvised sink at next to the asbestos shutters. The clean water arrived by a black pipe that was hanged through the wall, and the dirty water streamed into a bucket under the sink. When the bucket filled, someone had to take it to the floor's bathroom and empty it. If the bathroom door was closed, that someone would have left the bucket on the hallway’s floor and come back later, to avoid the embarrassment of meeting a neighbor coming out of the toilet.

At Friday morning I've told my wife I've got a meeting in Jerusalem. She'd told me that our son forgot his optic goggles, and she wouldn't let him go to the pool this way because he just might step on something. It took me a second to understand what she means. God knows where she found optical swimming goggles. I’ve called a taxi service to pick the goggles from our house and bring it over, and also called the maid and told her to wait outside for the cab. I asked her to put the optic goggles in a bag with few towels. Then kissed my wife in the cheek and told her the goggles would be here in an hour and that I have to go. However, she still looked annoyed.

“Grandma Vacation” said the little girl to herself. A magical Jerusalem kingdom, with odors and tastes of a far away land. You can go to Saker Garden park, where Jerusalem kids are playing Jerusalem games. You can accompany Grandma to the outdoor market, then help her prepare special meals like Cobeba and Sambosak. You can ask Grandma for some money and buy a Fire Oven Pita Bread. You can just roam in the streets and see Jerusalem stone houses, which probably have high ceiling like Grandma’s. She’ll have Grandma’s room for herself This whole month, with Grandma. And the linens at Grandma’s are always white and ironed flat. “Wonder how the linens stay so white” thought the little girl. Then she looked around to verify nobody sees her talking to herself, and whispered the words “snow-white’ with a shy smiled.

In Jerusalem, I’ve met that retired real estate agent. He was very old, and had a reputation for knowing every stone in this city. I’ve picked him up with my wife’s car and we roamed around trying to find Grandma’s house. In retrospect, it’s not clear what I would have done if we’d found the house. Maybe buying it, and then what? Yet I enjoyed spending the day with the old man and his streaming tails about buildings, streets, and the house I’m describing which he’s almost certain was demolished during that government renovation project many years ago - just look and see how fancy the neighborhood had become now. At noon we ate Fire Oven Pita Bread at a nice Jerusalem restaurant, then I came back to the resort. A message from my wife was waiting for me, saying she and the kids went back with the taxi because she had a migraine and our daughter had a stomach ache, and I should
carefully check our rooms to make sure nothing was forgotten.

The little girl liked to whisper word combinations to herself. “Transparent Words”, she called them. After repeating those word combinations, they became weird and unreal, and sometimes they had no meaning in the first place. “Homing Arrow” she thought this morning, when her daddy run back to the truck. “Sabbath Pleasure” she whispered later, when Grandma had seated her for an early breakfast. “The Mare Night” she called that awful night, when her older sister was hallucinating with fever and her parents had not way to get her to the hospital. Sometimes those words combination were misleading her, instead of “Sleeping Beauty” she said “Beauty Sleep” and wasn’t sure anymore which one is the common one.

The little girl was washing the early breakfast’s dishes. When I wash dishes I’m playing a grownups’ continuous game which is called “lets-do-it-as-fast-and-efficient-as-possible-and-get-it-over-with”. But the little girl was just happy to be part of Gandma’s Jerusalem magic. Every few minutes she halts the water stream and importantly stepping down from the stool to check if the bucket under the sink is already full. She had bent across the sink to drink cold water directly from the hose and tried to find the proper transparent words. That morning, fourteen years before she’ll become my wife, the little girl whispered what she felt: “Happiness Waves”.

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