the short story project


Nir Baram | from:Hebrew

Beit Hakerem. Jerusalem, 1985

Translated by : Leanne Raday

Introduction by Maya Feldman

In several places Nir Baram goes back to a notion by the author Mia Couto: “A time when the world was our age.” The longing for such an emotional and historical time (time lost particularly in Baram’s novel “The Remaker of Dreams,” from which this story is taken), and it's transition from past to present to future, from the real to the imaginary - are ever-present in Baram’s writing; when I read his work, it often seems to me as if there is a room somewhere in the universe where the world, Nir Baram and I are the same age. “To be a contemporary,” says Marina Tsvetaeva, “is to create one’s time, not to reflect it. Or, to reflect it, only not like a mirror but like a shield.” Nir Baram’s neighborhood of Beit Hakerem in Jerusalem of the 80's crystallizes a dazzling, precise and incredibly sensitive statement in Israeli literature, which always pays some kind of tax to the history of the state. It also recounts my own childhood to me. “To be a contemporary is to create one’s time—that is, to do battle with nine-tenths of what’s in it,” Tsvetaeva continues. And indeed, this story is both a caress and a slap in the face, not empathy but a moment in which the heart is clenched and the consciousness clears, and you feel like picking up the phone and calling the person who wrote it, and breaking the boundaries of this world.

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The stuff remakers of dreams are made of

Joel would always cherish the day he met Morris Sadovski.

Sitting in a living room whose walls were covered to the brim with colorful oil paintings, Morris looked like an ambassador from other worlds: a handsome, tall man with smooth skin and oiled hair; a slight squint in his eye that was visible only to the exceptionally perceptive; a chuckle that revealed dimples which made women melt, especially school teachers; and a greyish beard (which immediately raised the suspicion that the man was dyeing his hair black). He was the representative of a French investment company and all his living room furniture was ordered from a French designer who had furnished the houses of the company’s executives in Paris. As if to stir even more outrage, he insisted on driving a black Chevrolet that lazily advanced along the streets, tempting awe-struck children who longed for a ride, while their parents, owners of white Japanese cars, slanted dark gazes at it, muttering comments and contriving schemes to remove the evil from the streets.

This was Jerusalem’s Beit Hakerem neighborhood in the eighties: one main street, maybe just a boulevard, winding and curling like a snake, a loyal guard of dense trees rising on both sides, sheltering it from the afternoon sun. Glistening sparks lighted up among the trees, the sun beams emanating lazy flickers of light, but still it seemed as if the clear spring-like glow of the city skies that twinkled with a bright blue and the light that washed through the whole world would always remain outside the shaded street.

The Halutz was Beit Hakerem’s main street, surrounded by unseen alleys, slender passageways festooned with fruit trees and greenish-grey vegetation, wrapped in trees and protective houses, and fences, and signs warning about hostile dogs. Dozens of shortcuts and paths and gardens and stairs linking between streets that seemed entirely detached: you hop over the wall and suddenly you’re on a different street, skip up the stairs and find yourself on a street that seemed very distant. A convoluted space whose rules it took time to learn. Some children seemed to be wandering mostly among its shadows, through the main streets, the squares and playgrounds, living in a world of alleys and shortcuts and signs that were legible to them alone.

Joel crossed the boundaries of the neighborhood only very rarely. For example on Saturdays, when Morris took Amir, his son, and Joel to the Judean Desert to shoot his old hunting rifle (“It was used back in 1789,” he would brag. “Ten thousand francs I paid that beggar, the husband of General Boulanger’s old granddaughter…”). A rifle with a heavy wooden butt whose edges were adorned with real gold was reverently held by two children who believed that their little fingers squeezing the trigger were tracing the remnants of nameless heroes.

Sadovski senior – who was puzzlingly generous and liked flaunting his wealth – used to give Amir enough cash to buy his lunch (and that of two-three other children) at the shopping center. Not that there was too much at the center: pizza; bulging, dripping sandwiches; a new hamburger joint which, despite not being a Burger Ranch or McDavid branch but an independent mutation, roused great enthusiasm among the children and yet, nevertheless, quickly disappeared. The owner, taken up by the serene, moralistic community, employed a marketing tactic that was misguidedly tailored to suit the local sociology, offering everyone deferred payments on hamburgers. Two months after the official launch, eight and ten-year-old children roamed the streets with debts they could doubtfully repay before they turned eighteen, and the owner went bankrupt.

Sadovski junior was the first to be expelled from the children’s company.

The fathers of Jonathan, Uri and Udi – the ex-kibbutz trio – descendants of Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim and the administrators of innumerable committees that the community had established, had determined that Amir Sadovski was corrupting the children by buying them free meals, encouraging them to go to the city center to play video games and letting them hear strange music that included bad language and insults; and, on Saturdays, he and his father lured some children (in all honesty, Joel was one of the few who joined the trips) to get in to their rented jeep and drive at reckless speed through the Judean Desert and, all this, in order to shoot a rifle or fly a model airplane that cost a few thousand shekels.

The event that had sealed Amir Sadovski’s fate took place before the school race. Sadovski, the best runner in class – a freckled kid whose thick hair, always combed back with baby oil and glistening even after a football game, was visible from a far greater distance than his small head and boisterous cat eyes – wondered if he and Jonathan could run together. Joel, as one of the onlookers, couldn’t really understand afterwards why Sadovski’s suggestion made Jonathan’s father, Joshua Oren – a socialist Hashomer Hatzair man in the past and the owner of an aluminum factory in Givat Saul at present, and a leader of the community – lose his inhibited, menacing calm, which always struck the neighborhood children with terror. To be precise, it seemed as if Sadovski was renouncing the principle of competition and instead stretching out a sweaty, friendly hand.

That was the stated reason for his expulsion.

The hidden reason was that the parents were very anxious that their children – who took on the bourgeois way of life the moment they were out of their mother’s womb and knew no other life – would be spoilt, hedonistic, free of worry and moral baggage and completely estranged from the tribal history, just like Amir Sadovski. This fear was the main reason why occasionally, on Saturday afternoons, parents and children would meet in one of their increasingly accessorized living rooms to listen to an academic lecturer who was acquainted with one of the community members. The lectures always focused on the inauguration of the state of Israel. The best remembered lecture was by Prof. David Lokmanov whose title was: “Lenin-Berl: A Zionist Reading of the Creation of Israeli National Socialism” and it provoked nothing but tedium in the children at the time. Every time the professor sacrificially called out “B-e-r-l” it sounded to them like “Be-ll… Be-ll” rolling off his meandering tongue. In response they made the sound of a bell.

Anyhow, it was well-known that Morris Sadovski’s name was eternally blackened in police files: Sadovski senior managed the investments of a few kibbutzim and at the same time was a behind-the-scenes consultant for a construction company that won two housing complex tenders in Ashkelon and Ashdod, making its stocks rise. In the early eighties he would walk through the neighborhood streets wearing extravagant Italian suits woven from the finest materials, offering stock market advice to men who nodded coldly in response. In winter, he boasted cream-colored stiff-collar cashmere coats that swayed like a cape in the local supermarket. Sometimes, he appeared in a white riding outfit (though he had never ridden a horse), and he changed wives very often. But in 1983 the stock market plummeted, plunging down a slippery slope, and with it went the stock of “L.A. Southern Constructors”. The kibbutzim suddenly began making complaints about Sadovski senior’s double dealing and he was convicted of insider trading. It was unclear how he got off with nothing but a light sentence. How could the community avoid regarding such a questionable character with suspicion?

Joshua Oren, the Mukhtar of the neighborhood – his aunt living in one of the northern kibbutzim whose name had been dragged through the affair – refused to shake his hand at the PTA meeting and gave him a cross look which Sadovski senior shot down with two rows of straight teeth, whitening towards him cheerfully with good intentions. In the PTA meetings, Sadovski always brought up various proposals for improving the elementary school. Astonishingly, the proposals were pronounced with a heavy French accent that could not be traced back to the time before his dealings with the French companies (he proposed, for example, to build a large cafeteria, renovate the basketball field, install air-conditioners in the classrooms and extend the recess to twenty five minutes instead of ten). All these proposals enraged the parents at the PTA meetings, especially the ex-kibbutz trio, who saw them as part of the nouveau-riche, contagious indulgence that corrupted the Sadovskis.

Thus, Amir Sadovski’s generous gesture regarding the joint running was rejected along with the other gestures he had thought up with a sort of heart-breaking desperation in his efforts to invalidate the immoral persona he had in the eyes of the community, which viewed these efforts as nothing but another brick in the rising tower of his deceptive, diabolical nature. “He’s not only corrupt,” everyone said, “but also deceptive”. By then, Sadovski junior had become a kind of zombie. He existed, but not really. He was no longer seen in friends’ houses. He wasn’t invited on Friday nights. Some of the children were not allowed to hang out with him and the others imitated them without understanding why.

But Joel was actually fond of the Sadovskis. Unlike other parents, Sadovski senior liked contact with people, be they less or more familiar. Every time he met Joel, he used to embrace him, pulling his little face up against his fragrant shirt, forcefully messing his hair up, pinching his cheeks. Joel liked his heavy arms and sturdy body, his rough touch. The Sadovskis were always wooing him, asking him to stay for dinner, sleep over, join their trip the next day. He was always invited to something more. He and Amir became close friends.

In the 1985 school committee meeting, which in retrospect was seen as the requiem of the Sadovskis’ days in Jerusalem, he and Sadovski  junior sat in the basement floor and eavesdropped. Amir had insisted that they be close to his father. Toward the end of the meeting, Sadovski senior asked permission to talk. He said that his son was no longer invited to Friday nights, or gatherings or birthdays, and that when they play football they usually don’t pick him; and only very few children came to the Independence Day party they had held in their house, “And a lot of real pricy pork steak I bought in Paris and Persian rice from restaurant spectaculaire, the cats all ate…” he insisted on trying to gratify them with a joke that didn’t manage to soften the reproachful tone. “Mes amis, not good, mmm… My small boy here, they don’t give him, the other children, amm… respect. A good boy, a bit shy, loves to mers around and play.”

“Loves to mess around and play,” Mrs. Hershkovitz, a head of department at the Jewish Agency, corrected him.

“Your topic has nothing to do with the current agenda!” the voice of Joshua Oren, the chair of the committee, bellowed. “If you’d like to state your opinion regarding the bicycle rack near the north gate, go ahead.” There was something mesmerizing about the moderate tone, the precise diction that emphasized every syllable but was sure to incorporate some colloquial carelessness in the language. It was clear to even the two young tag-alongs in the basement: this was the tone becoming of a father.

“You don’t understand…” Sadovski senior’s hoarse bluesy inflection suddenly cracked, suspending the traces of the accent, it seemed. “I bought a house here because I wanted my child to have a quiet suburb… gardens, playing fields… no danger walking the streets in the evening… Now I tell you that my son is in distress, suffering. He wants to leave this place because your kids behave to him the way, mmm…. Europe humiliated the Jews…!” A hysteric twitch dulled the voice. Joel and Amir listened in shock to Sadovski senior’s puffing in the silence that took over the basement. They stood up as one, as if their souls had united in a mutual sensation: they didn’t want to witness the weakness of the powerful, haughty man they had clung to in these past few months.

They crossed the dark playing field with steps that were slumped with insult, their gazes hanging on to the orange basketball hoops and the cypress trees whose sharp tops quietened in the dark. Sadovski junior gave one last look at the barred window on the right end of the first floor, and while they squeezed through the gate bars, Joel realized that Morris Sadovski had also been beaten tonight.

It would be tempting to conclude that after the Sadovskis cleared off to Ra’anana – a region where the proud, refined bourgeois, not the abashed and apologetic imitations, would probably know to appreciate the Piérre Veblan living room – Joel had become the new neighborhood zombie. Soon enough he became known as “The Swearer”, one who swears more than is commonly accepted, and in school the complaints piled. Everything vexed him: the hurried obedience with which the children left the playing field in the evening and went home, just on time; the tedious Saturday trips; the Scouts, the line ups, the songs, the awkward, scratchy uniform; the fact that the children didn’t tell Rotem Oren, who always failed the spelling tests, the bitter truth – you’re an incorrigible idiot. And he couldn’t understand why his friends lived in such impressive houses but were allotted such small sums for their little indulgences by their parents. Why did buying a slice of pizza in the rundown shopping center have to include endless deliberations and discussions? The extravagance of the Sadovskis, who saw capital as a means to fulfil any desire the impoverished shopping center had to offer, enchanted him. Certain events, though often coincidental, accumulated in the communal memory: an exchange of blows at the football game; being expelled from the scouts; yet another of his father’s visits to the school; and, of course, his close friendship with the infamous Sadovskis. All these sketched his portrait in the eyes of the community.

From then on, he mostly tried to live up to their expectations.

Their expectations? To him they would always be “them”. Ostensibly, the community was part of the Jerusalemite world outside, but the children, who saw its boundaries as the world’s boundaries, learned to tell the difference between strangers and kinfolks, between the children of the community and immigrants who sought to establish themselves in it. And as is often the case in associations of this sort, without a guiding hand, people whose biographies coincided grouped together here. At PTA meetings, weddings, Brits or social gatherings, often, by chance, joint roots were uncovered in Russia and Poland, Hungary, Romania or Austria: Amnon Wakschlack’s father was the idolized teacher of Daniella Kovarski’s mother at the Tarbut School in Levov; Joshua Oren’s Viennese cousin rented a room in a building  that was owned by Alona Oron’s parents; Weinstein and Tzaban’s grandparents were among the mass of strikers who stormed Nikolai’s winter palace in the Sunday of 1905 (and were still among the living).

Most members of the community had academic degrees, many of them were from the kibbutzim, shifting between the boundaries of the upper and middle classes; purchasing paintings, buying antiques, loving to write (Joshua Horesh wrote the book “We Were There” that told the tale of the Horesh dynasty in Vienna), and always venerating the kibbutz. But in the eighties, Beit Hakerem was far from being a kibbutz. Israel’s new economy had shattered the childhood dreams of the parents’ generation – their singing in loud voices about equality and justice at youth movement ceremonies and social get-togethers – crumbling the old world into small pieces that could not be put back together again.

All of a sudden they learned the rewards of dissolution.

They still had something of that moral stance, the way of life that children and adolescents had learned from their socialist parents, from newspapers and MAPAI and MAPAM political party journals, stubbornly reading Berl, A.D. Gordon, Alterman and Shlonsky, the translations of the great Social Realists; but the country had changed on them, the natural, spontaneous joy of shopping severed the tightly clenched MAPAI fist and buried it, probably for good.  They learned the pleasure of buying items they didn’t really need. After the cars came the color TVs, VCRs, stereo systems, new fridges, car speakers, espresso machines, electric shutters, small computers, smaller, smaller still. The kids wanted Nike, Nike Air, Nike Air Jordan, Levis 501; to gallop through the streets of London, see New York, the Ewings’ Dallas, the Carringtons’ Denver. And the parents, against every prediction and the decree “we’ll burn the bourgeoisie’s houses down” which they devotedly roared on May 1 rallies, were, for the first time, quite welcome to enter the gates of the bourgeoisie.

But what kind of fate awaited those who had joined the bourgeoisie with a sense of shame and guilt? Those who spent a significant amount of time denying their new identity? The economy of the eighties had indeed satisfactorily cushioned them. However, the tense, ill-tempered facial expression that used to be directed toward those who avoided work in the kibbutz remained their identification card in the new world too. They played at (and with) the new economy, but numbly, as if they had no other choice. America crept into their lives with intolerable determination, conquering more and more strongholds in a space that was gradually being emptied of its past symbols: elaborate TV shows; movies; the commercials before the movies; the Aridor economy; the bright-colored posters that hung on the walls of their children’s rooms; a demanding shopping list that was pushed into their seemingly humble jacket (usually made by Bagir) pockets when travelling on holidays. They insisted on denying the existence of a new world, believing that you can create a sort of suspended world in which the past and present meet and formulate a compromise, some kind of non-paper between America and the kibbutz values: the cheap Japanese cars; the watchful bestowal of money to the children, the insistence that they work during the summer holidays; the objection to brands or restaurants; the prohibition against watching “depraved” shows on TV; the cheap, locally-made furniture; sofas they had inherited, covered by sheets; and the arrogant loathing of those who didn’t follow the rules.

Yes, their “morals”, their rules, the values (a favorite word in Beit Hakerem) that the grandparents passed on to the parents, and they to their children, the vague concepts that manifested themselves, for example, in the fact that it was a rare spectacle to see a person surrendering his body to the sun on one of the balconies on a weekday, or sitting in a café and reading a book. The people were vigorous, hard-working, the days were busy, Saturdays too were meticulously planned out. Even the elderly usually seemed busy with something, without any spare time for trifles. The parasites, the unemployed, the madmen were all known and labeled, every child memorizing the name of the sinner and his sin (for example, the mad Moshe Laserovitz: lives in his mother’s garage; didn’t marry; isn’t studying; has never worked; has no friends; spends his days at the shopping center).

The children were careful to come home at the appointed time, go on nature hikes, especially on Saturdays, when the city’s skies stained the horizon with a bluish glimmer, as though painted on with a paintbrush; never throwing garbage on the streets, either by accident or on purpose; never shoplifting in supermarkets; never cheating in football games; sidestepping any hint of pretentiousness, any sign of exhibitionism, determined to keep up a pursuit of justice and arrange their public life in an appropriate moral framework that could be drawn out at any given moment. The community’s way of life, though loathed by Joel, seemed noble to him. Since he couldn’t become accustomed to this way of life, he assumed that the price he was paying in the children’s company was justified. Their ability to adhere to the rules, to cling to them even when unequivocal observance didn’t pay off, aroused in him a sense of respect towards them. It seemed to him that he was a disbelieving child in a highly observant world.

A few months after the Sadovskis had left, Joel called the Arab cleaner in Uri Grossman’s house “little Arab fucker” for sending them out of the corridor while they were busy playing football. The rumor raced through the light-flooded living rooms like water through the sewage pipes. Only two days later, a group of parents had resolved to get together and fill his father in on the details of the affair.

In retrospect, the meeting was catastrophic as far as his future with the children was concerned. He was sitting in the living room when they appeared in their house and only later learned that the meeting had in fact been scheduled as required. They stood in the heart of the living room, the dusty chandelier, which had been passed down among his mother’s clan members and marked the heart of the house, was hanging above them. They removed their coats theatrically and exchanged respectful whispers about the house’s splendor, which in his ears translated to the shrieks of cats scratching each other in backyards at night. It wasn’t easy for them to digest the invasion to a region they had viewed as the abode of the Mephistophiluses in the post-Sadovski era (and still, they quickly recalled – the house of the enemy is ultimately also their territory). When Joel saw them unload their righteousness, padded with the honest will to better, in the only space where he had hitherto felt protected from the children’s company, from their parents, from the place they had allotted him in their world; when he saw them there, scheming and forming opinions, no longer in the faraway houses whose gardens were brimming with germanium plants, rosemary bushes,  provisory dog kennels standing by the gate, but in his own living room, he immediately understood that throughout this whole damned community there wasn’t a single safe place. His thoughts abused his childish body, which insisted on remaining stable, and his breathing became heavy and clearly audible. Despite the cold outside, it seemed to him as if the living room was hot, as if sweat was pouring between his body and his clothes, and was probably visible to them. They insisted that he stay and listen – it was part of their general conduct, sharing the problem with the child while his imagination was busy contemplating various escape routes. Even the grove at the edge of the Shakhar Street, which at nights was veiled by an ominous racket – growls, howling, heavy breathing – and which the children pictured as the devil’s home, seemed now like a worthy shelter. He constantly searched for reinforcement in his father’s eyes, but the latter insisted on ignoring his existence and focusing his generally limited attention on them.

Joel’s father listened to the first lecture given by Uri Grossman’s psychologist mother, a delicate-looking woman full of mannerisms, her short hair bouncing with meticulous mischievousness, her face made-up with “simple elegance”. Her Anglo-Saxon parents owned a ritzy hotel in London. Her movements poetized Victorian grandeur. Her conduct and attire exposed her contempt for the simplicity of the Beit Hakerem women: their rural coarseness, the jeans and buttoned-up shirts, the suits made of cheap, thick cloth, the fading cotton dresses in the fashionable Gypsy style, or boasting a mix of tacky colors (purple, red); whole wardrobes that were passed down from grandmother to daughter and granddaughter, who had also inherited the concern that they might stand out with an overly lavish piece of jewelry or dress. People excused the psychologist’s tendency to beautify herself. “She’s from England,” they would comment sympathetically, “She’s a Londoner.” And despite their understanding, it was clear that she stirred a hidden jealousy in the women of Beit Hakerem.

Mrs. Grossman’s “driving disease” was notorious: there she was speeding down the winding streets again and, after each drive, the astounded gazes gently scolding her. But, only a week later, the white Subaru would be twisting at numbing speed down the Halutz Street again upsetting the elderly, children, noontime nappers and street cats with its beeping.

Unfortunately, his father was impatient, and came back home from work every night tired and irritated. Mrs. Grossman, for her part, insisted on weaving analyses of his “little Arab fucker” statement, alluding to the “moral point of view passed on from parents to children”. But the innuendos were so courteous, so cushioned with annulling formulas that their relation to the case at hand was made vague, leaving almost no impression on the listener.

“And in this case,” she reported, deep empathy in her eyes for the father and his son, “It seems that we can detect… something of that classic format which I often come across in my work… and I am, of course, not familiar with the details… only a disturbed onlooker… I can’t include it as part of that group… yet I would still like to present the general structure… and carefully think together where it fits… and I would already like to insist that we question it… and still, should use it in this discussion… even if we do later decide that it is out of place…”

When she had finished and sipped her coffee, it was clear that his father still hadn’t understood the extent of the disaster. He excused himself to make a work call, twice, apologized and locked himself up in the toilet. Every time his father left the living room and he was left alone with them, they were friendly towards him, showering him with questions about school and football class and inviting him over to their houses, but he was too anxious to respond. The memory of Sadovski senior’s insult breathed within him.

He whispered indistinct replies and, in the meantime, interpreted the meaning of the evening: an official expulsion from the children’s company. He had been expecting it for quite a while, and here it was. An expulsion that was full of social graces, not delivered willingly and even regretfully, but still an expulsion.

It was clear that his father was unaware of the fatal significance his son had assigned the meeting. When he returned to the living room, after pointlessly dragging his feet down the corridor, killing another moment or two, he sounded a sparing hum of understanding. Finally, he settled into the rocking chair and rocked his body defiantly, like a scolded child. Joel observed his conduct with an anxiety that was instilled with a fleeting, restrained belief that he might still manage to turn the verdict in his favor. The parents didn’t seem to be eager to make their ruling, still open to motions regarding a plea bargain. After all, he was their kith and kin, unlike those Parisian invaders. But to reach a compromise his father needed a degree of cunning, manipulative decisiveness that would give them a sacrificial offering in the form of a severe denunciation and, at the same time, accentuate his son’s worth and good qualities. The father must also be answerable for the deviant son’s behavior in the future. But his father didn’t like obligations. His language, mostly illustrative but not rich, became astonishingly restricted when some sort of obligation was discussed, not only financial obligations, but also those concerning future trips to Europe, visiting friends, giving someone a ride. Most people juggled the gap between binding words and the actual obligations they entailed, but his father saw every obligation as irrevocable. Even if an acquaintance on the street would conclude a random meeting with the words, “I’ll give you a call next week and we might meet up,” he would gravely reply, “Regarding next week – I don’t think it’ll be possible. I’m going to be quite busy.”

This was the reason why he sought to fully understand what sort of demands these people were making. When Joshua Oren intervened and firmly explained, “We don’t view Mohamad as a ‘little Arab’, and certainly not as a ‘fucker’, but as a respected grownup,” his father only nodded with a tired rhythm that could have been interpreted as scornful. Twice he nodded accidentally when no one was actually addressing him. Every so often his profile was exposed to Joel, looking like the profile of a grumpy child sitting against his will in a boring classroom while outside the window an exciting game was taking place. At this point exactly, Jonathan Oren’s mother joined the discussion – she was a tenured lecturer at the University’s Literature Department – and mentioned that they had invited their Hassan to Kinneret’s wedding. His father marked his delight at hearing this fact by lighting yet another cigarette, the fourth one. When Udi’s father interrupted his good friend’s wife and explained that, regretfully, Hassan couldn’t come “on account of the curfew” and everyone was silent for a few seconds, respecting the curfew, his father’s eyes lingered on the turned-off television, seemingly summoning some magic that would fill it with life.

Joel didn’t expect any help from his mother, who was locked up in her room and asked them to say she was suffering from a severe cold. His mother avoided the company of the neighborhood women. Her friends were mostly from the office. She had always disliked the mannerisms of the Beit Hakerem women. One day, when he was eight, Uri Grossman was supposed to spend the night at their house, and Uri’s mother appeared with him in the evening. She sat in the living room, drank coffee and chatted with his mother, probably asking too many questions about the household members. When she finally cleared off, his mother said scornfully, “Wanted to check us out, the psychologist lady, put me to the test, to see if I was good enough for her son to spend the night here…”

In cases like these, his mother could actually do more damage than his father, because she didn’t like false appearances and was careful to be honest with everyone. She always preached “steer clear of deceit”. She certainly could have offended them, even thrown them out, only making things worse.

After about eighty minutes, the group realized that his father refused to see the severity of the affair and the farewells were executed on bad terms and accompanied by wondering, cross glances. After that meeting, the child was associated with the father. The guilt was shared between the two. After all, he was just a child, and how could you expect the son not to be careless if the father was a taciturn, strange person whose position was indecipherable to everyone. Here is the validation of our suspicions – there is something unsavory about this clan. The child isn’t an accidental deviation from the norm – in a house like theirs a boy like that is the norm. You could still bring children back to the straight and narrow, but parents were a lost cause. The matter was sealed: these people are not our kind.

Two months later, when he had grown tired of being ostracized by the children, he tried explaining to his father that his conduct at the meeting hadn’t pleased the parents and suggested to summon them for a clarification. His father sternly replied that that was indeed very unfortunate, but in life you have to distinguish between facts and occurrences. An occurrence is something that is still taking place. A fact was evidence, historic truth, which may be accompanied by a conclusion, pertaining to an event that had taken place and was over. The meeting with the parents had taken place and was over, like the Battle of the Chinese Farm; like that underground movement which killed Portuguese in Mozambique, he had read about it in a history book that week; like the incredibly strange fact that the enlightened Roman Empire was wiped out by a faltering gang of Germanics. And the Chinese Empire, the inventor of gunpowder, the kite, iron bridges, it too was wiped out. A bunch of hairy, reddish sailors from Europe.

Never read poetry.

Robbed the ports.

Obliterated an empire.


*This story is taken from: “The Remaker of Dreams” by Nir Baram, Keter publishing house, 2006.