Soon after the language lessons at the ulpan began, Rufina realised she needed help. It’s not only a new language, but a whole new alphabet, too. This is not easy. Shlomit put her in touch with someone willing to give her extra lessons, without a charge. She wrote a letter of introduction, sealed the envelope, and waved Rufina off.
However, the tutor translated the letter for Rufina, as an exercise in Hebrew. It said, Find out what you can about Rufina’s relationship with a handsome, older, German fellow. I paraphrase, and you may guess that the older fellow is Nathan, who doesn’t like girls in that way. It worries him that I knew this within five seconds of meeting him, but I don’t see why. So Shlomit’s concerns about Rufina’s waywardness were unnecessary, or, at least, misplaced.
She has a husband, ten years older than her, who works thousands of miles away, even though they made aliya together. If she wants to see him she has to fly to Kazakhstan. He hasn’t been to Tel Aviv since May, and can’t say when the project he’s working on will end. It’s something about a playground and an oligarch, I don’t know.
Rufina has a round, blank face and a spectacular figure. She dresses smartly, mostly, and stands out in Tel Aviv. Men often approach her in Tiv Tam and offer to carry her shopping. She is such a little miss sunshine, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could resist her. I joke. She is always dramatically, monumentally, Russian-ly, unhappy.
Alberto worked hard to keep her amused, but he returned to Rome at the beginning of August. I told that sad story in Nathan Loves Alberto Loves Rufina. It might make a good film, one day.
She is always late. Not five or ten minutes late, but heroically, supermodel late. She oversleeps, then needs half an hour to pull herself together, then has to look in every shop window on the way. When she arrives at the café, never less than forty minutes after us, she says a bare sorry, sits down and expects everyone to turn their attention to her. I have tried, I promise, but the only way I can conceal my utter fury at being put in my place like that, being shown that my time is so much less valuable than hers, is by taking the piss. She doesn’t like that, either. Some people, I have come to learn, don’t want to be happy.
For a few weeks after returning to Rome, Alberto would send Nathan and Rufina messages on Whatsapp, send selfies from in front of the Trevi fountain, the Coliseum, and so on, some with his attractive mother. Nathan’s crush on Alberto hasn’t faded, it pierced him that Alberto’s mother is several years younger than he is.
Even after he left, Alberto and Rufina still spoke on the phone ten or more times every day. But after a few weeks, after he’d refound his feet, I suppose, and maybe his friends, the calls trailed off. Nathan and Rufina spent hours trying to work out what had happened. They thought Alberto could see their messages on Whatsapp, but couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t reply. I can make a guess: he’d been unhappy the whole year he’d spent in Tel Aviv and wanted to put it behind him. I like to think he’s found a girlfriend, and is happier now. Tel Aviv, Nathan and Rufina, me, too, are his past.
In the Gordon pool, waist deep in cold, salty water, we talked it over. I don’t want to sound like a bitch, Nathan said, I’m glad Alberto doesn’t answer her. He continues, telling me about the fourth time he’s seen Rufina since Sunday: She’s become less fun, she never has anything nice to say, I don’t even like to look at her face anymore. I wonder what he’d have said if he had wanted to sound like a bitch. She doesn’t like that you say she’s always late, she says you should look at your own problems once in a while. One of my problems, it seems, is that I have a friend who tells me what people say about me.
By September it was hard to ignore the tension between Rufina and me. I would ask questions and she would give one-word answers. An exchange might have gone something like, How was Katryna’s wedding? Her fullsome reply would be, Good. I’d ask, Were there many guests? and she’d say, A few. I’ve just about run out of questions.
Here’s a charming story from Rufina’s childhood that she told us months ago, when we all first met. It could be the pre-credit sequence of a horror film, the early life of a psychopath, perhaps. Her father kept bees, and one day she found several of them dead. She dug some tiny bee graves, and buried them, with a ceremony. But when she realised she’d made too many, she killed some more, just so she could fill the holes.
Today’s word: le-hah-rog – to kill – להרוג
See also:Nathan loves Alberto loves Rufina