Nerves

Nathan applied for his permanent passport and looked on, horrified, as the woman took a big pair of scissors from her desk and snip! the te’udat ohleh, the blue, immigrants’ ID that we were given when we first arrived, was in pieces. It will take a month to send the full passport and he can’t leave the country without it. I don’t really know why his German passport isn’t enough, but there is so much that I don’t understand.

What if something happens? he says, worried, over and over. He makes a joke of it, and laughs, but it is not happy laughter. It is a curious tic that I’ve seen many times in the months we’ve known each other. He repeats and repeats until, I guess, his brain is empty of the thing bothering him, and then it’s replaced by something else. He once told me he’d been diagnosed as neurotic, which didn’t come as any sort of huge surprise.

Rufina called to asked him to pay for her flight to Khazakstan, but that makes him nervous, too. He worries his name will go on a list somehow, connecting him to somewhere, marking him out as something to someone. He is in Israel ‘in case’, and I know that the case he’s most nervous of is Muslims taking over Germany. Israelis, as far as I can see, think that’s something that’s already happened. When you tell them otherwise they look at you sceptically and ask if London’s mayor is actually a Muslim. Even though you protest that Sadiq Khan seems like a good guy and that Britain is certainly not overrun by Muslims, they think their point has been proven and the argument is done with.

Nathan meets Guy at the Olive Korner several times a week to practise speaking each other’s language, an hour in German, then another in Hebrew. I asked Nathan what they talked about all afternoon. Oh, nothing, was his answer. It must be exhausting.

After they’d finished they came out to chat to me. Guy is going to stay at Nathan’s flat in Frankfurt before me, to study German every day for three weeks. His English is excellent and he taught himself a good deal of German in just a few months, more than the Hebrew I learned at the ulpan, anyway. His name is, maybe surprisingly, one of the most popular to give a son in Israel.

He teaches maths at the university and is clever, I guess, and handsome, which is evident. He looks like he’s always surprised by the world, his big eyes constantly looking around for something, and smiles a lot. I found his straight, white teeth fascinating. He is slight, but not skinny, exercised, but not muscly, Israeli, but hairless. He’s lived in Tel Aviv all his life yet has never been to Jerusalem, which is forty minutes away by bus. He has a dark, broad-shouldered boyfriend called Tomi, who works out for three hours, five evenings a week, and a taste for the German policeman look.

I’d had two glasses of rosé and was telling my stories. Nathan had a bit of the cod about him, he doesn’t believe in self-revelation as much as I do. Sometimes I picture inside his head as a sort of pink jungle, him hacking his way through it, jumping at the sounds of unseen beasts. It can’t be the easiest place, and must also be exhausting.

Today’s word: rosh – head – ראש

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