Sunday, April 18, 2010

Motzai Shabbos in Jerusalem


Brachy paused, halfway down the steps, and looked up at the mirror, suspended above her head, like a modern day moon. It was placed there so that the bus driver would be able to see the back door, but now it served her well, allowing her to check that her hair was still in place, her lip gloss hadn't smudged. She felt the passengers behind her shuffle impatiently, willing her to move, and so she gave a last glance as the shining orbit, and jumped off, onto the pavement below. She was in Jerusalem.

They'd told her she could catch the 6, they'd said that would be quicker. She hesitated, when she came to the number 1 bus stop, unsure what to do. The 1 may be a longer route, but it was familiar.

There was a man standing there, leaning on the metal wall. He had a short beard, he reminded her of Avner, although he wasn’t as tall as Avner, and was wearing the Chareidi uniform of black pants and white shirts. Avner had always been wearing T-Shirts and jeans, whenever she'd seen him. She knew this man wasn't Avner, but still she looked at him. He looked back at her. Neither of them smiled. She wondered what would happen if she did. She carried on walking.

It was almost at the end of the row; she saw a 6 on the yellow sign, and stopped. A boy stood by the sign. He was tall, and blonde, and gangly. He reminded her of the students bicycling at Oxford, of a character out of an F.Scott Fitzerald book. She knew he couldn't be from here.

"Does the 6 go close to the Kotel?" Brachy asked him, in Hebrew.

"I don't know" he said.

She'd known, even before he replied, that he would speak with a thick accent, that Hebrew was not his first language. She always started the conversation in Hebrew though, just in case. Because they were in Israel, after all.

"Where do you need to get to?" His friend stepped in, beside him.

His friend used English, straight away. He was dark, against the other's fairness. He had brown eyes. Brachy never noticed boys' eyes. Shulamit always asked her, "what color are his eyes?", when she came back from dates, as if that was the most important detail. Brachy never remembered. She couldn't remember what color Avner's eyes were either. She thought a pale color. But this boy's eyes were big and brown, and warm.

"To the Kotel. To the old city" she said to him. "Does the 6 go there? Someone told me it did?"

"It's a walk" he said, "ten minutes or so. The 21 stops closer. You'll need to walk through Yaffo gate"

She bit her lip, she twisted a loose brown curl of hair around her finger. She was scared to walk alone through the old city. She always got lost, on her own.

The number 6 bus came. The doors opened, people streamed through.

"Do you reach the old city?" Brachy asked the driver. She had one foot on the step, so he couldn't drive off. Her other foot she kept on the ground, so he couldn't close the door, and entrap her inside, take her to a place she didn't want to go to.

"Shlomtzion." He called to her, between the passengers crowding on, and handing over change.

Shlomtzion street was too far. It was a 20 minute walk from there, past Mamilla and through Yaffa gate, past King David's tower and through narrow alley ways.
She put both feet back on the street, and let the bus drive off. The boys had gotten off the bus too. They were back beside her.

"The 6 takes too long" The dark boy told the blonde one. "We're better off waiting for the 21."

The blonde one only nodded, looking at Brachy out of the corner of his eye.

"So, what are you going to do now?" The dark boy turned to Brachy with a smile.

She shrugged.

She recognized his accent, the pattern of his speech. Now was the time to ask him where he was from, play "Jewish Geography", find friends in common.

She saw a bus, come up behind them, and come to a standstill. She saw a line stretch out, in front of the doors. She saw the numeral 1, in red lights, above the front window.

She turned and ran.

Afterwards, sitting on the bus, beside a bulging woman wrapped up in scarves and shawls, Brachy wondered what the dark boy's name was. But it was too late to ask.
________

The Kotel was beautiful at night. An Israeli flag waved in front of it. The sky was a perfect midnight blue. Brachy felt peace here. She tried to breathe it in, to soak it up. She tried to let go, of the thoughts crowding her mind. She tried to hold on to just one thought, the one wish she'd come here to pray about.

Praying was hard work. Brachy understood why, out of the three pillars the world rested on, prayer was the 'Avoda', the labor. The women around her seemed to find it easy to pray, easy to turn to God, and feel his presence, and cry. For her it was more difficult.

She had too much cold Litvak blood running through her veins. Around her the women cried aloud, and shook backwards and forwards, faces buried deep in their Siddurs. They pressed her close to the wall, they surrounded her, with their sobs. Brachy ran her fingers along the stones, worn away by centuries, they were cold, and yet warm to her touch, soothing. She leaned forward and laid her lips against the crevices.

She opened her Siddur to pray. She would try her best.
________

Eventually you arrive back at the same place. It was almost midnight. Only one boy was sitting on the metal bench, inside the bus shelter. There was enough space to join him there. Brachy sat, leaving a large gap between them. There was no risk of an accidental touch.

The boy stood up. He was a Yeshiva boy. He probably didn't want to sit on the same bench as a girl.

Then he sat down again. He turned around, and looked at her. Brachy ignored him.
She felt a strange power here tonight. As if she could interest men, merely by glancing their way. As if she was in control. Was this what secular girls felt, all the time?

The Yeshiva boy worked up the courage to speak.

"How old are you?"

It was a good first question. Brachy was impressed. She didn't have much experience, at this sort of thing.

"How old do I look?" She smiled at him. Was this what they called flirting?

"Um. I don't know." He looked shy. "Over twenty."

"I'm a lot older than twenty" Brachy said. She smiled again. She was enjoying this.
"How old are you?"

"I'm almost twenty" he said proudly.

"Almost". She wanted to laugh. It was a long time since she'd used "almost" before her age, and tried to sound older.

"I'm twenty three." She said.

"Oh. Whoa."

Then Brachy remembered that she was twenty four. Tonight was her birthday. That's why she'd come here, to go to the Kotel, to pray on her birthday. She couldn't be bothered to correct him though.

There was silence.

"So…want to talk?" He wasn't giving up.

Brachy did want to talk. She wanted to ask him what it felt like to be nineteen still, what the world was like, before you started Shidduch dating. What it felt like to be a boy, and not a girl. Maybe he would tell her the truth.

But he was nineteen. Too young for her. And the bus arrived.

She examined herself in the window's reflection, as she stood on the step holding a bus ticket outstretched, waiting for the driver to punch a little star through it. She was no prettier than she'd been at nineteen. No boys had talked to her then. Maybe her body language had changed, the years of dating had paid off, and given her a patina of experience. She no longer looked away, no longer blushed. What was talking to one more man, following the hundreds? Maybe that's why now the bus stops, lining Binyanei HaUmah, suddenly seemed full of potential, more than she'd ever found in a hotel lobby.
________

At home Ima was waiting up for Brachy.

"Mrs. Sheiner is upset. She's still waiting for your answer."

"Why is she upset?"

"She's been waiting to hear from us. The boy is waiting to hear from us."

"Can't he wait some more?"

Brachy closed her eyes. She saw a dark face with warm brown eyes. She saw a Yeshiva boy, with shy eyes. She saw Avner's eyes. She remembered now, they were a greenish grey.

Then she saw a figure, in a black suit. He was sitting opposite her, in a lounge chair, in a hotel lobby. She couldn't picture his face, she hadn't met him yet.

But she would have to. She wanted to get married. This was the only way to do it, through blind dates, Shidduch dates, arranged by others. She couldn’t marry somebody she met directly, they would never be suitable.

She opened her eyes.

"I'll go out with him." Brachy said.

14 comments:

  1. Your material is always fun to read.
    I hate to sound critical, but "modern day moon"? Has the moon changed in appearance since the "olden days"?

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  2. lol, I wasn't sure about that line either. I meant since it was metallic and shiny, which is a modern style, but still round and perched up high, like a moon.

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  3. Sigh. Is all your writing this depressing? I like the writing, don't get me wrong. I just find the message to be that of resignation rather than of anything positive.

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  4. You don't have to resign yourself to the coldness of a shidduch marriage. Just last week a friend of mine got married, to a girl he met when the two got stuck in the Gare du Nord train station in Paris for Shabbos. Very yeshivish families both, the two met and clicked.

    Btw, I find this hard to read, as you write too many short sentences, and it doesn't flo smoothly... Sorry!

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  5. I did enjoy it but I can't say I like the message here. You write well--my only criticism is your misplaced commas which divide the sentences incorrectly and make them hard to read. But I still enjoy your writing.

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  6. O.K, that's the last time I write a story right after reading Amoz Oz. I was still in the mood of his simple, Hebrew-style, sentence structure, but obviously I can't pull it off.

    Scraps- this is going to fit into my novel later, and I do plan on a happy ending!

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  7. I like these works, they're relatable. So many times it seems that some random guy on the street has more to him then the one seated across from you.

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  8. Not sad at all - full of spirit,strength & hope. I found this one hard to get into at first. Not because of the short sentences, but...I don't know. Something didn't ring true for me about the descriptions. But when the time I read that wonderful sentence: Eventually you arrive back at the same place. WOW. now you're writing!from there on its wonderful, powerful, gripping. its interesting that the bus line story parallels the meeting men story - Brachy is aware that there are many different routes/choices, and she chooses, in both cases, to remain true to her original route.

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  9. So that you know later the 6 bus has a stop right outside Mamilla, it is like a 8 minute walk, assuming you know the alleyways, and it is even faster if you just walk through the arab quarter.

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  10. I think this my favorite chapter so far. It's just like real life, a really spot-on portrayal. I've had similar experiences/thoughts (not along Israeli bus routes, though).

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  11. I disagree (with some of the comments), I found this one of the better-written pieces actually. I mean they're all pretty good, but I thought was more professional writing, a little more slick. I think the short sentences work very well here - reminds me a little of Chuck Palahniuk's writing.

    I also disagree about the mood of the piece. I found this more hopeful than resigned.

    Keep up the good work.

    But I do always get the sense that these are more non-fiction from your own life than a pure creation of your imagination (?)

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  12. Hmmm I actually like the short sentences! It seems like your style- you've done it in other posts as well!

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  13. I think this was a great, realistic piece! and im just so glad your back and writing...

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  14. I totally disagree about the short sentence criticism. Shorter sentences are far superior to longer sentences. They are easier to read and understand.

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