THE FATE SPINNER

                                                      Elisha Porat

Translated from the Hebrew by Alan Sacks

That Sabbath eve, I was compelled to make a difficult decision, whether to accept the invitation of my friend, Ami Aviram, to drive to Eilat with him and the two women, both teachers, or to decline his offer and miss the adventures it promised on an entertaining ride.  I surely did not lack for excuses, some of them even good and legitimate.  It was already three weeks since I had been free on leave or seen my little family.  My wife certainly was worn with worry, not to mention my mother.
    We won't consider the young children here.  Ami would only make fun of me if I were to speak for them.  I had a huge pile of soldier's laundry and torn uniforms in need of immediate mending.  Moreover, the time had come to replace my personal effects, which once again were exhausted.  I could see to all these matters only if I drove home on a long Sabbath pass.  So I slapped Ami on the back and told my friend, "Thanks, Ami.  That was very nice of you to think of me, but please find another partner for your wild ride to Eilat.  I am going home."
    It was only days later, when Ami returned from his pleasure trip and shut the door behind us in our temporary barracks hastily converted from an old railway carriage, that I learned he had spent almost no time in Eilat.  The moment they reached the city, one of the teachers, who had never been farther south than Eilat, asked to continue tothe Sinai.
    Ami was in an unusually generous mood and said, "Why not?  Is anyone looking over our shoulders?  We can make it to Nueba or even down to Dahab."  And that's what they did.  They skipped Eilat and zipped down the coast for Dahab until they had car trouble on the way and, afraid to take any chances, turned back to Nueba.
    Three golden days were theirs in the warm sand of Nueba.  They dipped into the green tinted water, retired to the beach and, fatigued by their forays into the sea and back, stripped off their bathing suits and cavorted naked as infants.  Even the passing Beduins mounted on their camels did not deter them from their revelry.
Brimming with excitement, Ami took me by the shoulder and said, "You would really have enjoyed yourself there. All your troubles would have melted away.  The caressing touch of sand would have erased all those mournful poems of memory you publish in the newspapers.  At last, you would have made time for the fun side of life you've walled off since the war.  You would have shed the gloom that sits on you like a stone and rested from your foolish investigations--where was this general when the war broke out, and where was that colonel the day the Syrians attacked the Golan Heights?  You would have bloomed anew on the soft sand and forgotten the names you've collected by the hundreds from the papers .  You know, we didn't even cover up at night. We lay close together, the four of us, and the girls favorably surprised me.  They were wonderful, really good companions, maybe even happy."
    Seated on a couch in the carriage, I had rejected all his enticements.  He danced around me, plied me with excellent coffee and then poured me a cognac of which I was fond.
    He pampered me in a thousand ways.  He was no idiot. Even before the first battles, I had discerned in him a healthy measure of shrewdness in his dealings with people.  I felt just like an obstinate child, flailing my legs, flinging my arm back and forth and bursting with desire for the sweet treat dangling before me while from my mouth came the cry, "No, I don't want it." I could not bring myself to yield to him no matter how much I wanted to.  And what didn't he offer me that night?  A ride in his car, lodging in a hotel and all expenses on him.  I wouldn't have to pay so much as a penny out of my own pocket.  And what, all in all, did he want from me?  Just that I keep the second teacher company, Rina or Dina, her name already escapes me.
    So far as he was concerned, I didn't have to lay a finger on her.  I could sit and pass the whole time reciting with her from my book of verse.  All he needed was a filler for the trip.  The petite teacher he was courting would leave only as part of a foursome, and he simply would not give up.  As though he had read my doubts, Ami assured me no one would know of our jaunt.  Though we would not travel in secret, we would exploit to the hilt the chaos bequeathed bythe war.
    "Don't worry, I used to arrange flings like this before the war.  We'll make it look like were driving to Tiberias for a night of dancing at a club on the Sea of Galilee, then I'll invent a crisis in Tel Aviv, urgent repairs on the car let's say.  After that, no one will recognize us in civilian clothes on the way to Eilat.  If you're afraid, we can stop at a barbershop on the road and make a few changes in your appearance.  Hey, what are you scared of?  Look, there's always a lighter side to war.  Why shouldn't we take advantage of that while we can?  Haven't we suffered enough?  Haven't we eaten enough shit?"
    We sat utterly alone in the carriage.  The rest of the platoon had left for patrol or guard duty.  Ami beseeched me with such fervor that I thought he would break out any moment into tears of supplication.  What a queer demon had taken hold of him.  He often surprised me by devising new games to pass the morning; that's how he looked now.
    But what was this perverse madness that possessed him?  What was thereabout this little teacher he had met in Tiberias?  What did he see in her?  Why was he crazy about her?
   I smiled and shook my head.  "No, Ami, it won't happen."  He nearly lost his temper.  
   For a moment, he thought that his proposal had not tempted me at all.  Nor did I know how to confide that no one had made me an offer like that before.  That was the most seductive invitation anyone ever put before me.  I yearned to be swept away with him and his pair of teachers, not merely to Eilat and the shores of Sinai but to every corner of the globe, to every posh hotel and every filthy patch of grass, for once in my life to be one bachelor among many, one random tourist among others, to cross the scarred surface of the earth in a lust-ridden, mind-numbing journey, to be bound to no one and no object, without responsibilities to my little family, to assume a careless mein among friends gathering after long months of duty, just to glide along swiftly and light as air, peeking here and stopping there, to take the young teacher from Tiberias in my arms with a sudden groan and bend to the slit in her blouse and slide my lascivious hand between her legs on the back seat of the car.
    But no, Ami, I just can't go with you.  Find someone else.  Another one ofthe guys must be dying to go to Eilat with you and the two lovely teachers, to live it up on anunexpected break at your expense, irresistible precisely because it seems so unimaginable and removed from real life as to be wholly unattainable.  Who could withstand the allure of that enchantment?

    It goes without saying that the night of dancing ended in a brawl.  Blows were exchanged and the night club on the Sea of Galilee became a scene of mass disorder.
    The police would have been summoned but we eventually got away in Ami'scar and no one made the call to the precinct.  Some local boys pursued us for a while, then gave up and let us go.
    The quarrel came as a surprise.  It ignited in a flash and spread like wildfire.  The dance hall had been quiet and peaceful up till then, although the girls declared that they could feel tension in the air.  Ami drank too much and wouldn't let us pull him from the circle of dancers.  By then it was too late.  He bumped into a boy, who insulted the little teacher.  Like an idiot, I asked him, as I used to ask everyone, "Where were you on
October 6, you filthy swine?  Where did you hide when it all began?"
    The boy made some obscene reply.  Ami came at him and, in a matter of seconds, fists began to fly.  The teachers, screaming in panic, fled for the small tables along the walls.
    White with rage, Ami landed a couple of good punches to the boy's gut and throat.
    Ami's face had so changed that I grew fearful for him. Uncertain of what was happening, I began to tug him towards the exit. The little teacher clutched him and clung to his belt.
    A sudden sweat poured over his neck and back and his breath whistled through his teeth like a banshee as he struggled under the extra weight. All I knew was that the night of dancing had been ruined and that we had to get out as quickly as possible.
    We learned later that most of the dancers had been on our side.  Some of them had seen the boy pestering the little teacher all evening.  There had been a few minutes when Ami sat out a dance.  While he joined me for a drink in the corner, the locals had immediately set upon his little teacher.  The hot-headed boy glued himself to her.  Some said that he already knew her.
    It may be that we were chased out of the dance club, but had we stayed and fought a bit longer in defense of our honor, we might actually have won.  The boy Ami slugged was ignominiously ejected and sent flying off the premises with a kick.  But we didn't have much time to think.  We were too few, just four of us, and you can't count the girls.
    Rina or Dina, I can't remember her name, suddenly saw from the far end of the hallthat we were leaving without her and let out a wail.  When some of the dancers rushed to see what had happened to her, she put herself in their hands, said that she couldn't breath, she was choking to death, and asked them to take her out of the hall at once.
    That's how she caught up with us as we were getting into Ami's car.  She pressed close against her friend, the little teacher.
    Each of us offered an idea for our next destination.  Only Ami had no wish to go anywhere.  He wanted to return to the dance hall, part the gyrating crowd, grab that firebrand of a boy with whom he had squared off and exact brutal retribution.  Amiwasn't a violent fellow, but the sudden assault had offended him and he was at a loss to understand that we were not driven as he was by the urge for revenge.  He stopped the car on the outskirts of Tiberias and sat insilence for some minutes.  "Those bastards," he spat out at last.  "They dodge the war, then hide out in cafes and dance halls, and still have enough chutzpa left over to pick on law-abiding soldiers doing their reserve duty."
    We all agreed with him.  Each of us had a short but typical story about the gall of goldbricks.  Even the little teacher told her own brief account.  Rina or Dina or whatever her name was said we were all innocents, people working for nothing.  We need only tag along some time to a class in her run-down neighborhood school to discover just where all the young men of the city were and where they were hiding, how they had bamboozled the military authorities and evaded hard service.
    We sat jammed in Ami's little car, feeling sorry for ourselves and complaining about the hardships of our lives.  In another moment, we would have burst into sobs of infinite and unblemished self-pity.  I told Ami to start the car before we drowned in our own tears.
    "Ok, but where to?" Ami asked.  The little teacher suggested that we drive to the hotel at Kibbutz Ginosar, where the guests were far more refined and we might dance the night away without a fight.  It was a beautiful night by the time we arrived.  The moon shone in the sky and the Sea of Galilee.  None of us felt like dancing.  We walked to the water's edge and sat on the pier.  The little teacher was already entwined in Ami's arms.  Rina or Dina moved closer and pressed against my shoulder.  I draped my arm around the curve of her back and asked her, under my breath, "Where were you, by God, on that Sabbath, October 6, Yom Kippur?"
    Some tourists from the United States gathered around us.  Ami built a fire and the little teacher began to sing melancholy ballads.  The tourists unpacked guitars and cameras and offered cups of hot coffee. The excitement of the fistfight in the nightclub released its grip on us.  The insults, the curses, the blows, all was
forgotten.  The color returned to Ami's face, and I saw that he too was slowly regaining his calm.
   When stories and questions began to go around, I did not subject the tourists to my usual attack.  Nor did I ask them my customary question, "Where the hell were you onthe sixth of October?"  I suddenly realized that people could be in different places and no one was obliged to explain just where he was when the battles began.  On the contrary, I understood that if there was anything people wanted to forget, it was the first moments of the war.  We had eaten enough shit since then, and while I tirelessly compiled lists of names from the newspapers, not everyone was so obsessed.
   We were in no hurry to take leave of the lovely teachers or return to our camp.  I was content to stretch out on the shore and rock in Rina or Dina's arms until the light of day. Before I knew it, dawn was approaching. Our bones ached from sitting so long, but we let the fire die out of itself and made no move to shoo away the tourists.
    Still, they gradually scattered to their hotel rooms, senti-mentally humming the sad songs we had sung around the fire.  We too finally uncranked our frozen bones and squeezed into Ami's claustrophobic car. I dozed while we drove back to Tiberias and dropped the teachers at their apartment, and was deep asleep by the time Ami stopped at the gate to the camp and identified us to the battalion guard.

    One day, I heard Ami in an agitated telephone conversation with his wife.
    She was weeping on the phone, complaining about a vicious neighbor who had trespassed on their roof while installing a new flue.  The roof had cracked and their room filled with soot. She told the neighbor to quit but he laughed in her face.  I saw how edgy Ami was growing.  He made no attempt to keep his voice down as he scolded his wife in a voice before the whole platoon.
    "Don't cry," he shouted into the phone.  "Crying won't help.  I'm on my way.  Just stay put.  God have mercy on the neighbor, I promise you he'll be sorry.  I'll split his skull just like he cracked the ceiling on you."
    Ami was insufferably self-righteous after the telephone call.  "Have you ever seen a bastard like that?  I'm sure he's another of the those draft-dodgers.  The bastards, thousands of them scurrying down holes and now they suddenly decide to pop out and take a look around.  With someone like that, you have to chop off his head."
    I tried to calm him down.  His wife surely had exaggerated, I said, she missed him terribly.  Wives all over the country were crying on telephones now at the drop of a hat.
    They wept out of worry and despair and because they could not see an end to the situation or the day when their soldiers would come home.  My words had no effect on Ami.  He ran to our officers, obtained a special pass and headed for the parking lot on our outpost.  Then came the struggle to repair his car, which had been hit during a bombardment. He crawled under the car, vigorously cursing the neighbor.  I was afraid his uncontrollable rage would land him in another scuffle.
    It was not every day that he wrapped himself in a cloak of raging righteousness.  There had been days when he shirk his assignments, when he disappeared for hours on end and then had only flimsy pretexts to offer as an excuse.  On days when the bombs fell hard, he had refused several times to drive to perimeter positions and left to other drivers the task of delivering supplies.  He complained of mysterious pains in his stomach and aches in his joints brought on by jarring drives over pocked roads.  Night ambushes terrified him, and he vowed he would never take part in setting another.
    The officers went hunting for him,boasting to the platoon that he too would have to lie with the others among the rocks, once they laid hands on him.  But none of them ever succeeded in dispatching Ami Aviram to a night-time ambush.  I would eavesdrop on his serpentine evasions and clandestine man-to-man talks with the officers by the trenches behind the carriage, and I knew that once again he would outwit us all, the men, the officers and even he who, invisible above, spins our fates.
    When it came to merrymaking, he had no peer. For his fertile, mischievous imagination, no distance was too far and no time limit a restraint on his hunger for pleasure.
    Returning from a raiding drill in the middle of the night, we would collapse in exhaustion; he would wheel his car past the expiring platoon and gaily call out, "Well, guys, who is coming with me to Tel Aviv?"
    I once drove with him to spend a winter night in Tel Aviv.  It was a three hour trip in each direction.  The streets were deserted and a damp, doleful veil shrouded the city.
    Ami shuttled me mercilessly from his friend's cafe to the movie theater where, it goes without saying, he immediately antagonized two youths and their dates reeking of perfume.  It started when we took their seats in the center of the row.
    When they asked us to move, we refused and they angrily called for the usher.  I was humiliated by the entire incident while the girls stood to the side in embarrassment, but Ami rose from his seat and asked in a voice heard throughout the cinema, "Is this how you treat soldiers from the Golan Heights? Is this how you welcome fighting men who have left their bunkers for a few hours, for whom Tel Aviv exists only as a memory?  Shame on you."
    The audience murmured its support for us against the swaggering youths who had behaved so intolerably. "Poor soldiers.  Why don't you move aside for them?  Just look at them."  Fortunately for the boys, they were wise enough to give in.
    Swearing under their breath, they left to search for unoccupied seats.  I glanced at Ami and realized that he had been spoiling for a fight.  He had deliberately baited the boys in the hope they would fly off the handle and throw the first punches.
    It was a boring film, which we left soon afterwards.  Ami passed the boys and said, "So long, you heroes.  Now you can overrun your assigned seats.  The army is retreating from the theater."  As we stepped onto the wet sidewalk, Ami broke out into a hearty laugh and began to dance in front of passing cars and astonished pedestrians.
   We drove next to the basketball arena. Ami, who was familiar with some of the better-known players, invited me to watch them play.  I was dead tired, what with a killer day of training, the assault drill and this lark of a trip.  I yawned and yawned.  I thought, I'll just drift off to sleep in the car, and what will be will be.  But Ami would not leave me alone.  "That's the beauty of this littlecountry," he said.  "A few hours ago, we were stuck in some God-awful trench eyeball to eyeball with the Syrian army, and here we are now in the bright lights of Tel Aviv.  Don't fall asleep on me.
    Tomorrow, I'll help you dig through stacks of newspapers for your collection of names."
    He was mocking my morbid fixation.  It was months since the last battle but I carry on as though the war never ended.  I keep clipping names from the papers.
    There is no end to the names. Each time I look, I discover new names, and each new name I find casts a faint shadow over me.  Ami, who understood my grim occupation, tried hard to nudge me into his overheated night life, whether the dance clubs on the Tiberias waterfront or any place else he could reach in his thimble of a car.  To him, our term of military service seemed like a prolonged battle against dates and times.  To put it
plainly, he hoped to get through it with drunken jaunts, chance adventures with women and sleep.  One night, while we were in the dance hall on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, we met the little teacher from Tiberias and her friend.
   Ami got up to dance with the little teacher while I sat and talked with Rina or Dina, whose name I can never remember. She was curious to know what we had done during the war.  I answered curtly, for my mind wandered, her questions irritated me and I could not bring myself to give her a serious reply.  She was  insulted, of course, and complained to the little teacher. I was angry at myself for offending her without cause
and falling in with Ami's frivolous company. Ami interrupted his dance to pay me a visit.  "Be a mensch," he said with a smile. "What has this teacher done to you? She didn't start the war, did she?"
   I knew in my heart that I had done her an injustice.  Who knows, perhaps her brother's| name was among those I had collect from my newspaper files.  We had already heard of such startling cases these past months. Not long ago, one of the most widely read evening papers published the pitiful account of a woman who was dedicating her life to the search for her lost brother.  That piece brought tears to the eyes of their readers.  I mastered my gloom and invited her to take a spin around the dance floor.
   After all, who was I to divine the intentions of the fate spinner?

   Following his return from that pleasure trip to the shores of Sinai, Ami shut himself up with me in the carriage barracks on the little platoon post.  We sat on the closely-spaced couch while Ami chided me for what I had missed.  "You're a real jerk, astick in the mud.  You let all that slip through four fingers.  Now I have to tell you all about the trip.
   You'll be sorry for a long time to come that you didn't have the courage to go south with me and the two
lovely teachers."
   He did tell me all about it, as I though I had commissioned a full report from him.
   "And we met all sorts of terrific people there, Jewish soldiers and civilians from all parts of the country.  Too bad you didn't see your fellow countrymen for what they really are and how they're pulling themselves together so quickly from the terrible shock of the war.  You wouldn't believe the ridiculous lengths they go to to avoid their grief and depression."  I listened to his account in wonder.  I did not know whether he was telling me what he actually had seen or only what he had wanted to see.
    Or perhaps it was what he thought I would have seen had I accompanied him and the two teachers.  No matter, it was difficult to rely on anything he said.  He had a natural bent for exaggeration, and his descriptions always varied, intentionally or not, from the way things truly were.
    "We didn't spend all our nights on the coast at Nueba.  We went looking for a place to stay in Eilat our last night and found the soldiers' hospitality center.
    It was already very late when we reached the city, and then it got dark right away.  We kept driving until we stopped at the airport.  The girls were worn out, what they reallywanted was a hot shower and the comforts of home.  You can imagine how they felt after three straight days and nights of hot sex deep in the sweet sands of Nueba.
   In the end, we changed our minds about driving through the night.  No one was waiting for us back here or knew we were in Eilat, not the families up north, the guys on the base or the students at the grade school in Tiberias.  If we wanted, we could extend our fling again and again.  We could stretch it out forever.  And believe me, we wouldn't be punished for this.
   "When we arrived at the hospitality center, we realized that we could not sleep together but would have to spend the night in separate rooms, the men in ours and the girls, who looked like soldiers on leave, in theirs. The teachers weren't sorry about that. I saw in their eyes that they had had their fill of lovemaking under the desert stars.  Still, after all the uninhibited fun we had enjoyed those past days, it felt strange suddenly bumping into the army's rigid rules of conduct in the soldiers' home."
   "Why are you telling me all this?" I asked him.  "Patience," Ami replied.
   "Just wait and you'll soon find out.  We began settling in and what does fate want of me?
   In the room next to ours, I met someone I knew.  You could call him a neighbor who is also a friend.  I would never have imagined that we might meet there. From what I had recently heard from his family, he had been stuck for months across the Suez Canal.
   "There was an awkward moment of uncertainty. He was surprised to see me and I was amazed to come across him in Eilat.  Everything became clear only after we sat down and had a drink in the club.  Just like me, he was involved, almost against his will, in a fine little escapade.  Forget the false reports in the center'sbooks and the misleading articles in the unit's papers.  He had no respect for those.  But what had he said at home? What did he tell his wife? What story did he give his children pining away for him? Even a heart of stone can break with longing."
   "Who's talking?" I said.  "Look who's talking." Ami laughed.  "You see?  I'm not even the worst.  At least I don't deprive my children.  You think I'm the most perverted guy out there?  There are others as disgusting as I am.  You should have seen him blush and stammer.  We sat and drank and laughed at ourselves. A pair of sly, cheating lechers, that's how we saw ourselves.  Just like the movies.
   "Tea and cake were served after dinner. A local singer, accompanied by some volunteers, tried to entertain the soldiers but everyone was too glum to join in the singing.  Later, the men crowded around the television set to watch a soccer match against the French team.  Then we heard a commotion in the common room.  The little teacher and her friend had come from the bath all scented and made up, and wearing almost nothing. 'Where are your uniforms, girls?' someone shouted.  There was a moment of confusion until I broke in, 'Let the poor things be.  If you only knew how we've suffered traveling these last days.  That grueling route from the canal really killed us.'  The guy apologized and the girls breathed a sigh of relief.  My little teacher looked stunning.  I think I'll drive to Tiberias to meet her again soon."
    I sat, shriveled, across from him on the narrow army couch in the antique carriage barracks.  It was cold. The heaters had flickered out and a savage wind howled outside.
    Rina or Dina or whatever they call her undoubtedly had feasted her soft, trusting eyes on the fellow whom Ami had found for her as my last-minute replacement.  I had refused, because I. . .I have morals which I would have violated had I thrown in my lot with that band of vacuous fun-seekers.
    Yes, though I yearned in my soul to loll with them on the warm shores of Sinai, one bachelor among many, cut off from everything that ties me to my life, isolated from my family, far from the stacks of newspapers I hoard and pore through again each day to see if some name has been omitted from my list.  One tourist among others passing through life, or across the reflection of it, in one fluid, easy motion.
    Why does he abuse me, the hidden spinner of fates? He entangles me in webs of morals from which I cannot escape even in the brief instant of nothingness that is war and withholds from me the blameless teacher from Tiberias whose name I can never remember.
    "But wait," said Ami. "That's not all. After the soccer game, a small group of us remained in the club.  One soldier who had come from the sector where the Third Army was trapped began to tell us, in a hoarse voice, what he had seen and felt, things he remembered and would never forget.  His plain, quiet words made our jaws drop.  We had been this close to disaster, all of us, and hadn't known it.
    The girls cried like babies, they didn't seem to notice the make-up streaking their faces.  And what about me? I was my usual self and tried to comfort the young soldier with my usual jokes.  But he was in another world.  That's when I thought of you, pathetic, cautious and careful, and how you hadn't dared come with us on
the joy ride which, by the way, was my treat.  Even the soft drinks we bought the soldier mourning his buddies, and the snacks at the center and the breakfast we ate there in the morning before heading north.
    "We sat in the empty dining room. All the soldiers had gotten up early to leave for the airport.  They were all hurrying home or to their units.  Only we had nothing on the burner.  The teachers were still upset by the stories the sad soldier had told the night before.  But I bucked up their spirits. If we all sit around crying or pawing through piles of papers like you, who would screw in Nueba's sands of love?"
    I thought to myself that there was always, always something surprising in Ami Aviram's stories, something left untold and that perhaps had not even happened.
    It's very much like each time I find neglected names that the unseen spinner of fates has sown in the bundles of newspapers I clip.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

The Resurrected

 Elisha Porat

Translated from the Hebrew by Alan Sacks

    Once, while I was waiting at the central bus station in Jerusalem, a woman of about 60 came up, said hello and wished me well.  I returned the greeting but wondered how she knew me. She drew closer and said that for all the years that had passed, she remembered me as if we had parted only yesterday.
    "When was that?" I asked her.  "Just who are you, and how do we know one another?"
    She clapped me on the back and said that I had not changed a bit.  The gray in my hair merely added to my charm and vitality. How was it that I did not remember her, Sarah, the brave Yemenite woman from the Jerusalem ETZEL battalion?  After all, it was I who had crouched below her while she scaled the wall to set the explosive charges. Had I forgotten that as well?  Did I not remember the mad, panicked flight from the wall when so many had been wounded?  And the damned cease action order, the cause of all that grief, had I no memory of that either?
    I was stunned.  More than once, people had mistaken me for someone else and hailed me to say hello.  Out of politeness, I had returned the salutation.
    Later, I would crack my head half the day trying to recall, who was that, when had we met, where do I knew him from?  Of course, I cannot speak of their forgotten names and discarded noms deguerre.  But a sapper in the Jerusalem ETZEL battalion?  Nothing in the world could be easier to disprove, for I had never served in the Palmach or in the Hagana. I had been but a boy then, and called into the Israel Defense Forces only in the 1950's when I reached the age of induction set by the Defense Service Act of 1949.  While in the army, I had served in a rear echelon unit of which I prefer not to say very much.  To this day, I am somewhat ashamed of what I did in that unit while the cream of our youth spent their days in trenches on the border.
   Here was another case of mistaken identity . Besides, she had aged me by a full decade.  I forgave her for that. Many people wrongly think me older than I am.  But where did she come up with these bizarre recollections? Breaching the walls of the old city--I?  A bitter rear guard action and bloody pull-back --who me?  The fallen comrades, the damned order--was I in all that?  The slim volume of our history surely included the whole story. But what had I to do with any of this?
    As often happens to me, my thoughts came too late.  I wanted to answer her, but she had already vanished into the crowd of travelers waiting in the station.  I edged out of the jam-packed line. Although I knew that I was wasting my time and delaying my trip to the coastal region, I had to lean against the station wall.  I had to survey the passengers' faces and gradually tame the turmoil that Sarah the courageous Yemenite had visited on my peace of mind.
    I remembered a similar incident that had occurred some years earlier.  I was walking on a street
in Tel Aviv on some petty shopping errand when a man my own age suddenly accosted me and insisted that I was a long-lost friend.  For all my protests that I was neither hisfriend nor the friend's cousin, indeed, I had never heard of them, the fellow beseeched me with a desperate loss of faith that I found deeply touching.  "It's not possible, it just isn't possible," he repeated.  "The same thinning hair, the same stubble, the same two-day growth never touched by a razor."  When I tried to convince him that similar faces can be misleading, especially if you hadn't seen them for many years, he burst out," It isn't just the face or the body.  You speak just like him.  The same hissing diction, the very same hoarse voice.  The same twitch on your face and exactly the same twist to your curling lips."
    I was neither his friend nor the friend's cousin, indeed, I had never heard of them, the fellow beseeched me with a desperate loss of faith that I found  deeply touching. "It's not possible, it just isn't possible," he repeated. "The same thinning hair, the same stubble, the same two-day growth never touched by a razor."  When I tried to convince him that similar faces can be misleading, especially if you hadn't seen them for many years, he burst out," It isn't just the face or the body. You speak just like him.  The same hissing diction, the very same hoarse voice. The same twitch on your face and exactly the same twist to your curling lips."
  I had felt very uncomfortable then.  With difficulty, I separated from my misguided admirer. Had we not entered a shop where I was known and one of my old friends worked, I would not have managed to shake him off.  He was so dependent on me, he begged so for me to recognize him and share with him the distant years of our friendship, that it felt awful to break away and tell him again and again, "I don't know you.  We've never met. I don't know what you want from me."  I was truly sorry for his pain when I saw on his face how he gradually bowed to the truth and began to admit to me and to himself that a sad mistake may have been made.  In the end, we became such good friends that we exchanged addresses and telephone numbers.  Smiles, slaps on the back, some words of encouragement.  "It's nothing, these things happen.  No one these days is immune to mistakes. This was a sad, little mistake.  There are much more painful errors."
    But the words of Sarah the Yemenite went straight to my heart, kindling a storm that could not quickly be calmed. A man finishes a grueling week of studies in Jerusalem, then rushes to the bus station for the trip to his house on the coastal plain to make Shabbat with his wife and his children and the oaks in the yard; how is it possible that while he is hurrying home, and his mind is already somewhere between the lawns and the red tiled roofs, a plain Jerusalem woman stops him, cloaks him in an imaginary past and wrongly takes him for an ETZEL lad who crouched below the wall to the old city and boosted to his shoulder the brave sapper who would toss an explosive charge above the barricaded gate?  Why didn't I hasten to answer her, "Sarah, you are mistaken.  I am not the boy you knew back in '48.  I'm not even from Jerusalem.  I'm from the plain, from a village near Hadera. I'm finishing my required subjects, that's all. Don't turn my world upside down.  Let me go in peace to my little house among the orchards."  It seemed to me that I saw the shadowy image of the Jerusalem woman slipping away like a furtive gust of wind through the bustling station's teeming

    One night, I was invited to a party at the home of a well-known Jerusalem editor. She greeted me warmly and served exotic dishes she had learned to prepare during her years abroad.  While we enjoyed the food and drink, she introduced a young woman, no beauty yet quite bewitching, whom she praised as the best rewriter on her editorial staff interested in more than just the pages she recast.  Like the editor, she had kind words for a story of mine the paper was going to publish. Why, she had fallen in love with entire passages in it and was eager to discuss it's innovative structure with me face to face.  In this way, our hostess politely but firmly maneuvered us together, cheek to jowl at the little table in the corner of her cramped salon where we might whisper oblivious to the buzz and hum of the guests around us.
    The rewriter asked my name and inquired into my age and line of work.  She was amazed that a man like me would forsake an established life in the plain to dart between Jerusalem's yeshivas and seminaries in search of balm for the wounds festering in my soul.  Still, the story I had submitted was very fine and she believed I ought to continue writing despite the demands yeshiva society made on my time.  She found in my story something protean yet powerful.
    "Now that we meet in person," she said, "I see in you the same contrasting qualities of putty and steel.  Your appearance bears an astonishing resemblance to the language of the story."  For my part, I was more than a little surprised by the familiar tone she adopted.  Dumb with confusion, I sat across from her and felt the first twinges of a powerful and mutual attraction.
    After a long conversation battered by the surrounding din, we left for the bus stop below the house.  She was going to her home on the edge of Jerusalem while I had to return to my little dormitory room.  The volume I was studying lay open on my desk, beside it the notebook in which I scribbled thoughts my reading provoked and observations drawn outside the confines of the volume's densely printed pages.  We boarded the late-night bus and sat side by side.  As if by chance, her shoulder brushed me, then she half swung her body to me and her thighs pressed hard against my own.  I don't know where I found the courage, but I took the plunge and wrapped my arms around her shoulders.  It was clear at once that we were headed to her small apartment on the city's outskirts. The volume open on my desk and the notebook at its side would await my return, perhaps that night, perhaps at dawn, perhaps not until the following day if things went well between us.
    We got off at the last stop and, locked in passionate embrace, made our way to her door.  How astounded I was by her request to make love in deathly silence.  How I marveled at the efforts she made to choke back her moans.
    How sweet were the fingers she placed on my lips so I, too, would not cry out when the final ecstasy possessed me. Afterwards, we rose and dressed and returned to the building doorway, where the hot-blooded copy editor showed me a little hutch of white rabbits the tenants permitted her to keep.
    She drew me behind the building, to the small inner yard where some flower beds she tended gave the Jerusalem night a sharp scent, and a few vegetables, mangled by the neighborhood children, eventually fed to the rabbits.
    I asked her to explain the silence on which she insisted in bed.  She had a roommate, she said, a fine young woman studying social work at the university who was about to marry her sweetheart and leave for a job in one of the development towns in the south. Out of a deep sense of pity, she would not sully for this splendid young woman whatever life in the big city had not yet spoiled.  For some reason, I remarked that I understood all the nonsense if that was the case.  Her explanation justified the strange precautions she had taken to assure our silence, even if we had been forced to make love like mice.  But I never imagined that she would ask me to slink out of the building without a sound.  Nor did I know that she would beg me to postpone the shower I craved till a later hour or, better yet, until returning to my cubby-hole in the dorms.
    Her final words enraged me, just as her efforts to preserve the hush of her bed had roused in me a secret fury. I rose from the bed, dressed hastily and told her, very loudly, that one could hear the same thing in the other tiny apartments in that crowded building.  I was no longer a boy, it was years since I had indulged in one-night stands. I had long since wearied of ridiculous affairs like these.  Her behavior reminded me of an incident buried in my youth.
    Rising to her feet, the copy editor seized me and implored me to lower my voice.  But I was drunken with anger you might say and loose with my words.
    "Listen," I persisted like a stubborn child, "I once went for a walk with my girlfriend in the hills of Jerusalem. As darkness fell, we arrived at a small, forgotten kibbutz called 'Ma'aleh HaHamisha.'  It was almost off the map, so it seemed to me.  The houses gripped a cliff to avoid sliding down the steep slope. Encountering the kibbutz chairman, were quested a room for the night.  'By all means,' he replied, 'we have a guest cabin. Here is the key, here the water pitcher, there the kerosene lamp in case the electricity is off.'  He led us to the cabin and opened the door to the middle room.  Then he wished us good night and went on his way.  The two of us, hungering for love the same as you and I, did not even wait for the echoes of his footsteps to die on the pavement.   We fell on each other at once, sank to the ratty mattress spread on the floor beneath us and rolled around to the sound of our cries of passion.  We utterly forgot where in the world we were."
    The rewrite editor watched me with darkening eyes.  Had I not been so big and strong, she would simply have taken hold of me and sent me flying through the window. I already heard the voice of the pure social worker calling,  "Who's there? What's all that noise?  Ilana, is that you?  Do you need help?"
    "Just a moment," I shouted across the door to the unseen mob that no doubt had gathered outside to hear my tale.  "One moment, let me go on with the story.  Suspicious rustlings stirred on the other side of the cabin's walls. My beloved thought we should peek outside, perhaps mice were nibbling on the thin wooden slats.  But I was brave lad in those days and said, 'Give me the lamp, I'm going outside to look.'  I grabbed the lamp and flung open the doors to the rooms on either side of us. None of you will believe what my eyes beheld."
   "Ilana, is that you?  Ilana, has something happened? Do you need anything?" the roommate called to us. The copyeditor answered, "No, no, everything's OK.  You can go back to your room."
    I raised my voice like a street corner preacher, turned to the window, opened it wide and shouted, "You won't believe what my eyes beheld.  The two other rooms were full of drunken kibbutz workers sprawled nak_d and sweating, all of them squinting through cracks and holes in the splintered partition.  They were panting with desire to glimpse my girlfriend lying n_de on the tattered mattress.  'You damn perve_ts, what stinking corpses you are,' I waved the lamp at them.  'You dirty Peeping Toms, you vermin, you filthy swine.' I choked on the fury lodged in my throat. I kicked their sweating bodies and threatened the surprised workmen, in a voice not my own, 'I'll burn this cabin down on you!'"
    Suddenly, I was baffled by my boisterous behavior.  I burst half-dressed out of  Ilana the rewrite editor's apartment.  To her stunned look, I streaked past the fine young roommate and down the stairs.  The chilly air outside lashed at my chest.  I stopped in my tracks, sniffing the scents of a wadi and the resin aroma of a copse of pines close by.  The block was pitch black, swathed in wisps of mist and low, sodden clouds, and the night breeze carried distant sounds.  I completely lost my way.  I didn't know how to get out, which direction led to the city and which to the road.  Cursing the absurdity of my situation, I began to walk briskly along an unfinished street until a gap suddenly yawned beneath my feet.  I saw that the road and the street had come to an end, with the city nowhere in sight.  I craned my head heavenward in search of help, but the low wisps of cloud obscured the stars. I was forlorn, I had no idea where in the world I was.
   Then I saw lights in a window nearby.  I gave up, knocked and asked for help.  The door opened and Miss Sarah, the courageous Yemenite, appeared at the threshold in some sort of night gown.  She recognized me at once and said, "A Palmachnik like you lost in the night?  What about those scouting courses you took years ago? What about those those long nights you spent on orientation hikes? We didn't go astray like this back in '48."
   I told her my strange account.  "Its nothing, Palmachnik," she laughed.
   "Everything will be just fine."  She took me back to the street and directed me in the clipped manner of those early years.  "Turn right here, left here, then go straight and you're back on the main road into town. You can get a taxi there."  I thanked here and vowed, "Miss Sarah, we will meet again.  Meanwhile, many thanks. But I was not with you there, in the Jerusalem ETZEL battalion. It was not I who kneeled down so you could throw the
explosive packs."  She laughed again.  "It's nothing. Each of us must hide from someone.  And each of us must mold his past anew with his own hands.  I wish you good night."  Then she vanished into the blanket of fog.

    Our final encounter was the most surprising.  Taking a break from important matters, I was plodding through the stalls of Hadera's little market.  As I walked, I glanced at the heaps of fruit and flopping fish already beginning to stink.  Suddenly, I saw two women, their faces aglow with delight, flapping their arms at me.  Very properly dressed and made-up they were, and carrying handsome purses.  Just as I was, in rough sandals and shorts, I came closer and greeted them, wondering all the while who they were.
    "Hello, Palmachnik," one of them approached me, "have you already forgotten?  I'm Sarah, from Jerusalem." I rushed to her in joy. "Hello, Miss Sarah," I said, "what brings you down from the lofty mountains of Jerusalem
to the low plains of Hadera?"  Sarah explained that she and her sister were attending a family wedding in the Nahali'el quarter of town.
    In all her years in Israel, however, she had never been to our hamlet and was especially glad to run into me as they had just lost their way in the streets.  From many kind people, they had learned how far the Nahali'el section was and feared, much to their sorrow and shame, that the moment of the ceremony had nearly passed.
    I gave them a hand, slowly leading them through Hadera's narrow streets north to the Nahali'el quarter.  "You and your sister have nothing to worry about," I told Sarah.  "Heaven was smiling on you when you found me.  It is my pleasure to guide you on my free hour right to the hupa."  The two overdressed Yemenite ladies from Jerusalem trailed behind me like a pair of infants toddling to the playground.  Sarah extolled the virtues of Jerusalem in disparagement of the villages of the plain, which were not only a journey of many hours from home but also as alike as twins.  From Nahariya to Kiryat Gat, the same avenues, the same shops, the same bus stations.  Suppose you close your eyes, surrender yourself to the swaying of the bus and catch a short nap; if you wake up and find yourself riding on the main street of town, you simply cannot tell whether you are in Gadera or Hadera.
    I laughed in agreement, then I reminded her of old memories, of that night when I had wandered bewildered and lost in her neighborhood floating within an oasis of clouds.
    She nudged her sister and asked, "Do you remember?  Do you remember how I told you about the strange young man I met one night?"
    "Is that him?" asked the sister.  "The one you said seemed risen from the grave to bring back to life the days of the siege and the battle for the city?"
    "What's this, Miss Sarah?" I jumped in.  "Are you so quick to kill off your acquaintances?"
    Sarah went pale and stopped. Some things were not to be repeated before strangers, she instructed, just as there were matters better left unsaid even between sisters.
    Her sister, humiliated by the indiscretion that had slipped through her lips, tried to make up for her blunder. Unmoved, Sarah begged my pardon.
    Anyway, what was my name?
    Here we had chatted politely all this time and they had yet to hear my name.
    Soon we would arrive at the wedding and she still would not know who I was before I disappeared again.

   "Abshalom," I said.  "My friends call me Avsha for short."
    The two sisters gasped in surprise. Clinging to one another, they stared at me in fear.  "Abshalom? Are you sure?  How can this be, Abshalom?"  Sarah demanded.  "Tell the truth, what do you know?  Tell me the truth," she suddenly raised her voice, "enough of this strange game you're playing with us.  Who are you really?  Were you or were you not in ETZEL's Jerusalem battalion?  Did you or did you not stand below me the night we broke into the old city?  Is that you, Avsha, from the battalion's sapper platoon?  Tell the truth, are you Abshalom who was killed later in that battle on the hill near Bet Shemesh?  Are you Abshalom the living or Avsha the dead playing tricks on us?"
    "But Miss Sarah," I squeezed her hand hard, "I am Abshalom, but most certainly not the one you and your sister believe I am.  I've already told you I was a boy during the War of Independence.  I was drafted into the army only after the Sinai campaign in 1956.  I can show you photos and documents.  What is it with you two ladies?  Have you stuffed your heads with superstitions?  Whoever heard of the dead rising from their graves to stroll at liberty through the Hadera market?  Look at me, ladies, come a little closer; do I really have the face of the resurrected?  Now let's go a bit faster, or you'll miss the wedding in Nahali'el."
    They huddled still more closely, clasped one another by the hand, lowered their gaze and followed me like docile sheep.  From time to time, they threw me a suspicious glance, evading my face but studying me from my balding head to my sagging belly.  I could not restrain myself and asked myself aloud, "How is it possible to make such a mistake?  How can someone, right in the middle of the street, suddenly take another for a young fellow who died so many years before?  Had he aged exactly like me?  Tell me your opinion, ladies, did his hair turn white like mine?  Was he losing his hair like me?  Were his muscles going slack like mine? Look, he was a fearless sapper in the first wave of attackers, not a goldbrick like me wasting his time in the army behind stands of waffles and soft drinks.  Had anyone ever heard such a crazy story?
    And the similarity of our names?   There are a thousand ways to account for that, and another thousand to explain the resemblance of our nicknames.  So what if every Abshalom in the country is called Avsha by his buddies?"
    We passed between the little houses of Hadera and soon heard sounds of rejoicing rising from a yard in
Nahali'el.  I directed the wayward sisters to the garden gate but refused their invitation to enter and join in their relatives' celebration.  "This is it for me," I said.  All in all, it was I who should feel indebted to Miss Sarah, for rescuing me from a tough spot that night.  Sarah pressed my hand and said, "Enough, Abshalom.  Don't mention Jerusalem, say nothing of that night.  Every word you speak only makes me more confused.  And my sister is of no help in clearing up the mystery.  You see before you a foolish woman.  On those nights when the ETZEL battalion went into action, she clung to our parents' legs, may they rest in peace.  Every shell exploding in the city scared her out of her wits."
    I bade them farewell.  I saw how Sarah urged her sister to hurry along so they could inform the celebrants of their arrival. But her sister, not to be rushed, halted at the latch to the gate.  Then she glanced back at me to see if I was still striding to the sidewalk or would suddenly spread secret, dormant wings and soar to the foot of Jerusalem's walls, beneath the old city's barricaded gate.

Reprinted by permission of the author.

More works by Elisha Porat here.

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