On the plane I had the seat by the window. A middle-aged, English woman sat next to me, and said, I’m sorry, I brought a screamer with me. I thought this was an odd way to talk about her husband, especially as he was quiet the whole flight, unlike her grandson, who was as loud as an air raid siren.
Over the loudspeaker, the captain said, I would appreciate if you were mentally present while the safety instructions are being demonstrated. I looked down, as the city became the sea, and said goodbye again, mentally barely on the same planet. Exactly a year since I’d arrived in Tel Aviv, I was leaving it.
Here’s something: every time I’ve returned from Israel, every time, a Planet of the Apes film has been shown on the plane. The first time it was the original, the next one of the sequels, and so on, until the last few years when I’ve seen the new versions. This time I was flying Easy Jet, and they don’t show anything, so I’d downloaded two to watch on my iPad. They took most of the flight, distracting me from my thoughts. I wasn’t anxious about crashing, but about landing.
Before disembarking, I checked my emails. My mother’s solicitor told me the sale of her flat had fallen through that morning, on the day he’d expected to exchange contracts, so the details of her estate still couldn’t be finalised. My shoulders slumped, I started worrying again about something that should have been done by now. My future depended on it. I had no money and nowhere to live, I was flying on fumes. But, while shuffling towards the exit, I had an idea; why didn’t I stay in my mother’s flat until it was sold? This cheered me up, and I tried not to think about how obstructive my brothers are.
My life is like a board game. I have to get to the next square and discover if there’s a snake or a ladder, before throwing the dice again. It is nerve wracking.
An hour after I landed I was waiting for Amanda outside Farringdon Station. I breathed London in. Oh, it was good to be home, the noises unlike Tel Aviv’s, and good to see her, too. She took me to the Spanish place we like, and we talked and talked until the waiter started putting chairs on tables.
The next morning I woke up in the tiny bed I’d slept in, in Naomi’s sheltered accommodation’s guest room. The room, sorry, ‘suite’, is how I imagine a cell in a low-security prison might be, where they try to readjust prisoners to normal life before release. Israel felt distant, like it was in the past, not somewhere I’d lived less than twenty-four hours earlier. I didn’t know how I felt about that. I replied to the solicitor, asking for the keys to my mother’s apartment, but a week later he told me there was no furniture there, so I couldn’t stay. I supposed I had to believe him.
Amanda’s mother, Naomi, took me for a full English at Côte. I posted a photo of the meal on Instagram and quickly received a message from an Israeli, How can you eat that after Israeli breakfasts? Oh, just watch me.
Naomi is eighty-six, and as bright and interested in the world as a teenager. I loved getting her texts while I was away, hearing about the plays she’d seen that week. Since I met her, two or three years before, she has been kinder to me than my own mother ever was. We’re going to see Murder on the Orient Express on Monday, the new one, with Kenneth Brannagh. I saw the last one at Golders Green Odeon when it came out, a thousand years ago.
It was a glorious day, the sky clear, the leaves, yellow and red, still clinging to the trees. It was good to feel cold and to be able to see my breath. I walked to hipster heaven, Fix, on Whitecross Street, the sort of café where young people spend all morning looking at their computer and making one hot drink last. I fell into conversation with an affable man of about my age at the next table. He, Michael, is a lawyer, and, cheekily, I got some pro bono advice, about my family problems.
Later, Huw cut my hair. I’d booked the appointment weeks before, partly to prove to myself that I’d be in London again. I sat, happil, as he worked, telling me about his family and I don’t know what. He kept saying I must come to dinner, and I kept saying yes, but a date was never set. It was a nonvitation, I suppose.
I went to the big Watersons on Islington Green, a bookshop larger than any I found in Tel Aviv, and I was dizzy from the choice. I bought new books I’d been looking forward to, and swung the bag as I swanned around Islington.
I sent an email to the letting agent of my last London apartment asking why my deposit still hasn’t been returned, over a year after I’d moved. This is a long and tedious story that, I promise, you are happier for not knowing. Then I went to Waitrose, where my bank card was refused. I was even shorter of money, closer to the abyss, than I’d thought. But an hour later the deposit was in my account, I had enough for a few weeks, maybe it would last until Christmas.
I met Richard at seven, in the nice pub, also on Whitecross Street, the Two Brewers. I’d forgotten how genial decent pubs are. On the way to Kennedy’s for fish and chips he noticed twenty or more taxis parked. He asked, several times, like I’d have an answer, What are they doing, why are they there? He is 67, and yet to reach adolescence. All the cabbies were in the shop, eating the same meal as us, and we chatted to them as we ate our supper, which Richard paid for. My friends were generous all week. I didn’t pay for a meal once while I was in London.
Back in the room all my fears about my future surged forward in my mind. I’d timed my return so I could attend my mother’s stonesetting. My brothers, such lovely men, had refused to tell me when it was, but other people had let me know. I’d been worrying about it for four months, since I knew when it was to be held, which was in two days. I didn’t know what was going to happen there, how I would be received. Indeed, it was possible my family would try to turn me away. I’m going to repeat myself, I don’t know what I’ve done to offend them. I slept restlessly.
Today’s word: uh-chuh-ray – after – אחרי