London. My last full day in the city I’ve lived in all my life.
I hadn’t shaved for a month, so I went to a barber. It cost £12 and wasn’t worth it. He used, I swear, a blunt Stanley knife to shape the beard left on my chin. It was painful, and I left looking like a Mexican porn baron.
I went for a haircut, but, Huw, my friend, who has cut my hair for nearly twenty years, hadn’t seen my appointment and left just before I arrived. My photo is being taken when I land at Ben Gurion, for my ID card, and I will look like a porn baron with scabs on his chin and Philip Green hair.
I saw my mother, maybe for the last time ever. She was, too predictably, awful. Just horrible. I think she’s been saving it up. It felt like I was with her for hours. You should have got over it by now, she said, of the thing she did. But I can’t, I can’t. It still wakes me at 4am and keeps me turning for the rest of the night. It is serious enough to have kept me away for eighteen months. She did something in secret more than two years ago, secret to me, anyway, that let me know my place in my family. That is a distant last and this will cause me pain for the rest of my life.
She asks why I’m moving to Tel Aviv. She wants to check, I think, that I’m not going because of her. Her first concern, always, is to cover herself. Putting some solid miles between me and my family seems like a sensible idea, but I tell her it’s because I think I’ll be happy there. This is the answer I’ve been giving to people. It is the answer I give to El Al security, at Heathrow, the next day, but my genuine reasons are complicated and obscure, even to me. Also, circumstances seemed to make it inevitable; I was asked to leave my flat the day before I had a first meeting with Nefesh B’Nefesh, who promised me many wonderful things if I made aliya, not all of which were delivered, I should tell you. So I said yes. It was all easy as, really, probably too easy.
I must have said something that threatened my mother in some way, because her face darkens, and she becomes defensive and nasty. I only see the worst in her, I only want her for her money, I’m just waiting for her to die, which, of course, she wants to do. Psychotherapists, take a number, if you can bear to.
I push her in her wheelchair back to her flat, where her live-in helper is waiting. My mother kisses me and tells me she loves me. Maybe she does, but it doesn’t feel like it. I’m 58 and feel ridiculous that I still have ‘issues’ with my mother. I walk back to the station, saddened by it all, and glad it’s done.
I see Camilla later, for dinner. We have eaten together more times than I can tell you. You may think it fitting that we meet at Bleeding Heart Yard, to share our bleeding hearts. It’s just around the corner from where my father worked for over fifty years. We want to talk about everything, everything we won’t be able to talk about, either side of a table, when I’ve moved, my stuff and her stuff. We laugh a lot. She suggests I name her as my next-of-kin on forms. More tissues.
It’s time to go, time to leave. It’s all been too drawn out and taken too long. It’s been a month since I moved out of my flat, and a month of goodbyes has been quite enough. I’m not going to say it again. I’ve cried too often. I’ve said goodbye to places and people I love. There has been too much emotion. Maybe I should have just left, and waved from the plane.
Everyone has been amazing. Friends and strangers, everyone I don’t share a surname with, that is. I’ve heard nothing from either of my brothers, or their wives or children, not Goodbye, or Good luck, nothing, not even Good riddance.
I’ve decided to start saying Hello, instead.
After not having my haircut I go into Ottolenghi, in Islington. I once lived a hundred metres from it, and ate breakfast there every day for some years. The people who work there chat to me and smile sweetly and bring me nice things to eat. When I leave they stand in a line, wave, and call Hello.
Naomi, who is eighty-five and as alert and beautiful as anyone I’ve ever met, and her daughter, my friend Amanda, played a sort of leapfrog with each other, each wanting to be the last to see me. I’d say goodbye to one, and an hour later the other would remember something, and find me, drink one more cup of tea with me, and say goodbye again. When the taxi arrives to take me to Paddington, Naomi is sitting outside the door of the air b’n’b where I’ve been staying, just one more hug, so she won. Amanda won’t like that at all.
And now I’m really about to start to say hello. To my new home, to the friends I’m going to make, to new experiences. I’m not going to drown, I’m going to wave, vigorously. So I say Hello, to everything and everyone I don’t yet know. Hello.
Today’s word: hut-chul-uh – in the beginning – התחלה