Two days before Rosh Hashanna, Rufina, despite being Muslim, albeit without religious feeling, decides she doesn’t want to be alone for it and invites us for dinner. For weeks, Nathan and I have been planning to spend the evening at the gay centre in Meir Park, but, alas, he is a people pleaser and one of those gay men who finds it hard to say no to a pretty woman. I, on the other hand, find it easy, but add that she should join us.
She meets us at the Olive Korner late, of course, worried that she isn’t gay or Jewish, nervous she’ll have to pretend to be both. I don’t like to lie, she lies. We, wearily, reassure her and cajole her to come with us.
We arrive five minutes after the start, and every table looks to be full, but a helpful man finds us space at the edge. We say Shalom and Shana tova to our neighbours, none speak English, and start eating. There are plates of delicious cooked vegetable dishes, and big, soft cholla rolls to mop them up with. Nathan and I pour ourselves plastic glasses of wine and fill our boots. He eats four times as much as me, then complains, with good humour, about how full he is. He does this every time he eats.
Rufina is on my other side and has decided to be harder work. This is really good, I say of a cooked carrot dish. I prefer raw carrots, she says, nibbling one. I continue, trying to buoy her along, but she doesn’t want to enjoy anything. She drags in the water, holding everyone else’s fun back. I say, See, everyone’s nice, I told you there was nothing to worry about. She looks dolefully at the three women opposite, in their seventies, too much makeup, their hair either too black or too blonde, their tops too tight, too low cut, too sparkly, and says, almost quietly enough, Not them, though. Really, I am in some despair.
At the end of the table, just a few chairs down, is the man I met on the street after a picnic in the park behind the Hilton, months ago, when Rufina sulked because she couldn’t see the sea*. He keeps looking at me, but I don’t notice, Nathan has to point him out. He’s more recently shaved than the time I’d met him, and, if anything, more handsome.
After eating apple wedges dipped in honey, the symbol of a sweet new year, the three of us stand and take some air. The guy from the table comes over. It embarrasses me, really, to show interest in someone in front of people I know. This has always been the case and I wish it hadn’t. It has cost me, at least, some lovely experiences. And so silly to be like this in front of Nathan, who I’ve told more about my intimate life than anyone. Anyway, we talk for a minute, he remembers everything about me, where we met, where I’m from, where I live, even though we had the briefest acquaintance. I wish I could remember his name, but perhaps I never knew it. He says I should come back to the table and talk to him more, and blows me a kiss. I wink at him, like a playboy.
Nathan, of course, frets that the guy doesn’t remember him, even though he’d spent ten minutes trying to brush him off one night in the cruising park. Rufina says, Maybe he has to kiss me, too? She looks blank and miserable and says she has to go home to pack. She’s flying to Kazakhstan for Kostya’s 40th birthday tomorrow. It’s a surprise, and I won’t go into it, another bubba marsa, because I think it would send me into a coma from which I’ll never recover.
So the two of us return to the table and I chat to the guy. After a few minutes he looks at Nathan and says he thinks they’ve met. He has an excellent memory, wouldn’t you say? Nathan, who also has an excellent memory, is happy to receive some attention, and says they’d met on the street, even though it had been in the cruising park, but it doesn’t really matter. The guy tells me there’s a few events in Tel Aviv at the beginning of October he thinks I’d like. We agree to see each other at one and it seems like the right moment to leave, my tail wagging.
We stop at the Olive Korner again. It’s busy, with extra tables out, probably one of the few places open in the city tonight. Before I sit down, a French woman accidentally tips a glass of water over my legs. I’m in a good mood, I can’t be angry, indeed, I’m pleased to find I can speak some French. I say there’s no problem, everything is good, Shana tova. Vous êtes très gentile, she tells me. Who could argue?
My good karma is repayed almost instantly. The handsome, new waiter in a new, red t shirt brings my rosé, and, holding a glass of ice cubes, asks if I want him to put it all in. Even with the fun of the event, the joy of Rufina’s gloom, the excitement of reigniting a flame, I still don’t know why I answer in the way I do. A lifetime of watching Carry Ons, maybe. I’m embarrassed, mortified, actually, to tell you that I look him dead in the eye and say, Yes, I want you to put it all in. He sniggers, and does just that, with some aplomb, and plouf! my glass is full of ice. Nathan and I laugh for an hour at my smuttiness, like schoolgirls. It’s been a good evening.
Shana tova, everyone. I wish each of you a peaceful and happy new year.
Today’s word: sob-la-noot – tolerance – סובלנות
*I apologise for my non-linear narrative, I’ve yet to post this story. I don’t know what I’m saving it for, but I think it’s a good one.