There’s a man, eighty or so, maybe older, and very unsteady, at the Gordon Pool every time I am. His lower back has an abstract artwork across it of sticking plasters that exactly match the dazzling amethyst of his swimming shorts. He brings with him a book six inches thick. I really don’t want to make fun of him, but I hope he lives long enough to finish it.
He takes a glacial age to walk to the edge of the pool and longer to get in and out of it. He puts on goggles and a snorkel, moves his arms in a sort of doggy paddle, and floats the length of the pool without taking his face out of the water. I don’t know if he pictures coral and exotic fish where there are only blue, ceramic tiles. As he gets to one end he slowly turns, like an oil tanker, and floats, face down, back again. Somehow, this feels like a metaphor for my year in Israel.
I’m at the pool with Nathan for the last time. His passport and driving license have arrived, he has achieved what he came here for, but feels as rudderless as ever. The air, at 27C, is growing cooler, and it’s beginning to feel like the end. I’m beginning to be nostalgic for a life I’m still living.
I feel the way I did exactly a year ago, just before I came here; anxious, unsure of everything. Sleep is fitful. I had an unsettling dream about my brother last night; he was inside the house we grew up in, with me locked out. It’s mine, he screamed, you’re not getting it. It’s not difficult to unravel, it’s hardly cryptic.
Nathan and I sit in separate places, he on a sunbed, me in a sun chair, if that’s what they’re called. One of us will go to the other to talk, or we meet at the edge of the pool, me waist deep, him sitting cross-legged on the side. Standing in the corner of the shallow end of the slow lane is my favourite place in the city. We chat companionably, talk about the handsome men swimming, in ways that make us laugh. I’ll miss this, he laments, all the beautiful men. We’ll both miss the other’s company.
He tells me a story that begins two nights earlier, as we parted after an hour at the Olive Korner. A slim, attractive man with a bike stares at him, then follows him, then bumps against him, jostles him, even, and they fall into conversation. The man is married, of course, with children, and can they go to Nathan’s apartment? Nathan, ever cautious, says no, he lives with someone. This is true, but in another country, on another continent.
The man wants them to use the bathrooms at the Deborah Hotel on Ben Yehuda, but Nathan imagines they’d be caught and, besides, the man may be a serial killer, so suggests the cruising park behind the Hilton, instead. Much safer.
Under a tree, in the park, the man touches Nathan’s arm, and frustratingly, depressingly, instantly, finishes. He pulls up his trousers, picks up his bike, he came and went, is gone in six seconds.
Then Nathan tells me Rufina has been calling and texting twenty, thirty times a day. What does he think of this? Will he meet her? Why won’t he answer? He doesn’t know what to say to her. The truth is she’s like those noise-cancelling earplugs, but for happiness. She is unfun. She sits, with a face like a wet weekend, drinking tap water, and complains; about this, about that, and, sometimes, often, possibly, about me. Why doesn’t he look at his own problems instead of telling me I’m always late? I can’t give you an answer to that, or tell you why Nathan thought he should tell me, but she is always forty or more minutes late and hates it if I point it out. Perhaps, in Uzbekistan, seven means eight and eight means nine. Maybe lateness is a sign of respect, like flatulence after a meal in Bahrain.
We ponder it all, the pick-up, how unhappy the man must be, how Rufina has changed since we first met her, nine months earlier. We sigh, and swim a length or two, saying hello each time we pass each other.
Both of us have started to disengage from Israel. From living here, anyway. We’ve begun thinking about our lives after we leave. Nathan flies to Palma on Sunday, ten days later I go to London for a week, then to flatsit for him in Frankfurt. At fifty-five he has stability, money, two homes, a partner, and loving parents. He retired a year ago and worries that his life will be empty. Israel was his project, and now he’s completed it. I, on the other hand, at fifty-nine, will be starting again, for the second time in two years, but without any of those things that he has. We are equally nervous about our futures.
Today’s word: chatich – beefcake – חתיך