Eddie, the mover, who moved here from Leeds 35 years ago, arrived an hour early, with five men. I haven’t had so many men in my apartment before, not all at once. He’s bald and shorter than me, and solidly built, like a bullet. Carrying sofas up and down stairs every day will do that for you. His wife won’t let him drink and will only let him eat salad, and I suppose that has some effect, too. He sent me away while he and his men packed everything I own.
Adil, the homeless man I have a sort of acquaintance with, was sitting on a bench on Bograshov, wearing a new Panama hat, a fashion hat, and talking to a cigarette as he rolled it. He always nods and says hello when he passes me drinking rosé at the Olive Korner in the evening. I told him that I was leaving, but I don’t know if he understood. I shook his hand and wished him luck. His nails were too long and too dirty, and his palm was, I don’t know, slimy, I didn’t want to think with what. I gave him all the change in my pocket, thirty shekels, or so, £7 or £8, and wished I’d had more. The other week I’d asked Guy if he’d give him twenty shekels once in a while, but he just laughed and asked why. Because he gets hungry, is the answer I wish I’d thought of.
The day was as lovely as Tel Aviv gets; warm, not hot, the sky blue, the light clear and white, and I walked around town for a while. Eddie wanted to be paid in cash and it took a while to find a bank that accepted my card. Also, I was saying goodbye to streets I know well. I felt something, but I can’t tell you what. Nothing I can name, anyway. It was the right time for me to leave, but I didn’t know to what, or where.
After two hours, far quicker than it had taken in London last October, that took all day, Eddie called to say the packing was finished, everything was in the van. I walked back to the apartment and we drove to Holon, where my things, furniture, pictures, lord knows what, was going to be stored. Why don’t you sell it all and start again? he asked. I don’t know, is the answer. I’m starting again in so many ways, perhaps that would be one too many. It seemed so important to me before I came here, but after a few weeks without it I couldn’t have cared if the ship transporting it tilted and the container slid off the side and sank to the bottom of the Med. There are photos of my family and earlier generations, relatives I never met, I’d miss those, but otherwise, well, it’s only stuff, it isn’t me, not really.
The storage cost so much less than I’d feared it would. A fifth, maybe, of what it would cost in London. Eddie drove me back and we chatted companionably, about his life, his wife and children, about me. We can be real friends now, he said, on Facebook. I don’t, and have never, had a Facebook account, but I like it when people are friendly.
Then, at a traffic light, he turned to me and said, bluntly, You should exercise. It’s the other side of people asking personal questions, which I like, but I don’t care for this commentary, and I won’t miss it. I thanked him for his advice and we went back to whatever else it was that we were talking about.
He let me out on Pinsker, in front of the launderette I’ve used once or twice a week for the last year. I waved him off and went to find Dan at the Nahat. I wanted to say goodbye him and to Yael. He was so kind and helpful in the first, difficult months I was here. I always enjoyed Yael’s company. She saw We Will Rock You three times when she was a student in the UK, and wants me to send her packets of chocolate digestives. We chatted and hugged, and I felt emotional, indeed, pulled myself away with tears in my eyes.
I walked to my smart hotel, the Orchid, where I’d stayed eight years before, on my first trip to Israel in thirty years. I’d wanted to find out how I’d become the man I was, and had thought the way to do this was to revisit the places I’d been in my youth. It was soon after my father had died, maybe that wove into it, I don’t know. I don’t know very much, sometimes. So I returned to Israel, where, when I was seventeen, I’d stayed for six months on Kibbutz Afikim, in the Galillee. I have a memory of a group of us dancing on a pontoon on the lake one Friday night that I think about if ever I need to reduce my blood pressure.
So I spent a couple of days in the Galilee. There was no dancing, but my hotel room in Tiberius overlooked the water, and, sleepless, I watched the sun rise over it. The area is still beautiful.
I took a taxi to the kibbutz, and walked around. It was scruffier than it had been, more overgrown, less looked after. The building where I’d shared a room with Olivier, who I’d gone there with, was still there. I looked around the canteen, smaller than in my memory, but the same brown food was still being made and eaten, served from the same metal containers.
When I was twenty I came to Tel Aviv with my father for a week. In my late teens I’d become quiet and distant, and it was his way of trying to get closer to me. I don’t know if we went to Keton, but I remember eating cholent with him.
I didn’t answer any of my questions, but I suppose that visit eight years ago led to me moving here. I was a mixed pleasure that time; I couldn’t adjust to all the things I’ve since, if not grown used to, then learned to ignore. But I returned the next year, and every year, until I moved here.
The hotel receptionist gave me a ticket for a complimentary breakfast. Win! I went to my room, lay on the comfortable bed, and distracted myself with Twitter. The air con was just so, the view of the sunset over Bograshov beach was perfect. I drank cold Coke Zeros and had the tv on in the background.
Later, I went to Keton for my last dinner in Tel Aviv, for cholent, an enormous portion that I could only eat half of. It was as delicious as it was unphotogenic, it looked a lot like the food at the kibbutz. On my way back to the hotel I waved goodbye to Bograshov, but didn’t stop, didn’t have a last drink at the Olive Korner.
Today’s word: mahlon – hotel – מלון