East of Jerusalem
This is one of my short stories from the book: "Stories from Aba" . Hope you enjoy it! - Z
Check: keys, cell, sunglasses.
‘3’, his father told him thousands of times, ‘Is a magic number’. I’ve got to run!
Evyatar raced into his father's study, and stopped suddenly as if hit by an invisible wall, all thoughts of getting to work and the rush he was in - gone.
Tosca, their old dog, sat curled up around the old man's feet and looked up at him as if to say, 'What's the panic?'. He would have laughed, but for his father who was seated in his large armchair, the chair they all loved so much, and Evyatar was not sure if he was the old man was breathing.
"Aba?" he said softly, his hand lightly touching his father's arm.
The old man's eyes shot open and Evyatar stepped back and put his arm up in front of his face. His father mumbled: "Perdón hijo mío…"
"Aba! You near scared me to death! What are you now – talking - Spanish? Were you dreaming?
The old man passed a hand over his face, and then looked at his son sheepishly. "Yes, just dreaming…."
"Damn. You gave me a fright!" Evyatar said, now laughing to hide his embarrassment. "Listen, I have to go to work. I made some French toast and even left some for you. Just nuke 'em a half minute and they'll be like new. I'm late."
"Go. Thank you for breakfast".
Taking one last glance back into the study, Evyatar noticed several books, still open and carelessly left strewn about. Snickering to himself, he thought about his mother who waged a war against his father's books.
Throughout their childhood, they had lived in that tiny 3 room apartment on Ein Gedi street where the old man’s "study" was anywhere he happened to be. Books were haphazardly abandoned on chairs, in the kitchen, the bathtub, even the children's beds. It drove their mother crazy, but it provided the boys with props to play with.
Shimon, the eldest of the four boys, would take hold of a particularly large volume, set it before him, and mimic their father. He would open his eyes as big as he could, raise his eyebrows as far as he could, and point at his younger brothers, one by one:
"Nevvvvvvvvvvvver" he would roll the word out, "underestimate the importance of a number! A number is not only musical but magical in essssssssssssssence!" and he and his brothers would roll on the floor laughing until tears rolled from their eyes.
All those years, she went from room to room, collecting the volumes, muttering to herself angrily. When finally they had moved to the bigger house on Even HaEzer, and her husband had his own study, she had put her foot down. She raised her voice and shook a book he had left in the kitchen two centimeters from his nose.
"From this moment forward, Books”, she spat the word, “ – only in your study! If I see one outside – it goes straight into the trash!"
It turned out, he was a quick learner, for even now, almost a year after she had passed away, he still wouldn't take his books outside the study.
Smiling to himself, Evyatar remembered the old man reading to them, night after night, before bed, Steinbeck's "East of Eden".
Their mother would call to him from the kitchen:
"The children cannot understand a word that you are reading them!"
He would just smile and wink to them. "Of course you do!" , and they would all nod seriously.
"Timshol, was the Hebrew word Steinbeck’s character Adam could not understand", Evyatar remembered the old man saying to them in the bedroom all the four boys slept in.
"Steinbeck was no Yeshiva student maybe, but the meaning was that we all had the ability to choose. Bad, good, whatever life gives you, can never make you be or do anything – unless you allow circumstances to rule you. Man's gift from God is that he himself can decide to rule – not others, not nations, nothing but his own life. This gift" – and here he stopped his lecture to point to each and every one of them slowly – "Is the single most important message in your lives. You may grow up to have good lives or bad lives, but God gave us all”, and again he took time to point to each one of them – “the ability to rule your own life."
This lecture Eveyatar had heard dozens of times, possibly hundreds, in this form or another and if truth be told, he wasn't sure to this day if he actually understood it.
Sighing, he stopped in his tracks, returned to the study, bent down, and hugged the old man warmly.
Leaving for work, Evyatar chuckled to himself while feeling a strange quick clenching of his chest. His father had given him more of a scare than he cared to admit.
Finally, feeling himself alone, he moved his body to a more comfortable position, and let out several deep breathes. Closing his eyes, he did his own technique which he used to clear his brain from clutter. Years of focusing on what he felt to be important, what he called “the flame of life”, gave him the ability to do such things. While others may have seen him from the outside to be "absent", inside, where it truly mattered, his life was like a pulsing sphere of pure fire. Even his wife and children did not have a clue. How could they? It was his, not something you could explain or teach another. Even so, this fire had kept him alive for 85 years. It could keep him alive for more – many more if he wished it to be, but Time, he knew, was just the smoke of life, a machine of Man, and nothing more. Life was not time, Life was not movement. Life was energy, Life was intensity.
Allowing himself to meditate on this for scant moments, he then began what he called The Sequence.
First numbers, then letters, and finally, the formulas began to run across his inner vision. Like the score of a symphony, he could hear the music they made. The numbers themselves did not matter. The formulas did not matter. The music did not matter. Not really. It was the process. It was the focus. It was the fire. It was….
Sitting in the Bistro, he put down the coffee and looked across the street. Tourists walked by slowly, charmed by this quiet Madrid avenue built with cobblestones which winded to and fro along the bank of the man-made lake and it's lush garden.
He looked at the small art supplies store across the way, it's white door, and the bright colored sign that said "Fatima's". Looking down at his watch, he sighed.
At two minutes past four, just a tiny bit overdue, the white door of Fatima's opened. Two young women were leaving the small store, one blonde, one dark. The dark one shivered in the winter air and looked up to see if it would rain. The older sister, her fair hair dancing in the wind, locked the door, and they crossed the road, entering the bistro.
He had sat purposely in this chair. He knew from past experience that they would sit in the table in front of him, as they did.
Chatting together, they asked for tea and a cake, and he looked at the blonde who sat with her face to him. She didn't notice him, so he could look at her candidly. The younger sister, he knew, the dark one, didn't have the same set of eyes that her older sister had. Nor did she have the heavy eyebrows bridged above her nose that accentuated her hazel eyes. She couldn't have.
He now looked deep into those eyes, with her blonde hair shimmering around them like a halo. They widened and darkened as she listened to something her sister was telling her, the same eyes that stared back at him each time he looked into the mirror.
'Aba!" Evyatar yelled, glancing through the front door window at the scene outside.
He quickly put the food he had bought on the kitchen table and went for the study.
"Yes. Why are you yelling?"
"Did you see what is going on outside in the street?"
"It is full of news reporters, full teams with sound trucks and cameras! I was almost mugged on the way in here!"
"Oh, shit!" the old man sighed.
"Aba – they said you had won the Nobel prize for mathematics!"
"They said that?"
"Yes! –they did!"
The old man laughed. "Well, that proves how stupid they are. There is no such animal as a Nobel Prize for Mathematics. I gather they meant the Field Prize."
Evyatar looked at him with his mouth open.
"Wow! Aba, that is great! Congratulations!" and stooped to hug the old man.
"Finally I get a hug out of you, but congratulations are not needed, my son. I’m not planning on accepting it ".
"Won't accept it – why not?"
"Think boy!” he exclaimed and brushed off his chest imaginary crumbs, “If I accept it, I will have to buy a new suit – and then, I will have to wear it! I will have to make a speech. You will all have to come. Are you going to wear a tie?"
"Me? Why would I have to wear a tie?"
“Precisely! And that is just the beginning! After that, they will expect me to travel around giving talks. Do you think these "prizes" come for free? People will call, they will all want to take me out, to take our picture together. I have too many important things to do!"
"Oh yes", his youngest smirked. "Like sitting in this monstrous chair with Tosca at your feet type of important?"
His father looked at his son and smiled. Evyatar knew from this smile that his father was about to say something 'out of the box'.
"I have an idea! We will tell them that it was actually your work that deserved the prize. That I only put my name on it. Then they will ask you to make all these speeches and photo ops!".
The old man looked at him for a few more moments, smirked and then waved his hand.
"Be a good son and just go out there and tell them I left for Spain two days ago. Make a good show of it, will you now?"
Gad, his third, purposely let the front door close with a bang, and then waited a moment for an answer.
Tosca sauntered in from the study and greeted him with his tail wagging lazily.
"Aba!" he yelled once again, and entered the study.
"Do you children have nothing better to do than coming into the house yelling 'Aba!' His father asked getting out of his chair to greet his son. They hugged and looked at each other.
"I get it”, the old man sighed. “Evyatar asked you to come and check up on me."
"Aba”, Gad ignored him, what was surely a DNA trait in the family, and went straight to the point, “Why didn't you just accept that prize? It made such a big stink!"
He moved out of the study and walked to the kitchen.
"Make me a cup of coffee, Gad, and your Father will give you His Blessing. So – how's Rivka?"
"Her name is Sarah, Aba, and you know it. You are just trying to fluster me and keep me away from the issue."
"Issue? What issue – and if we are already discussing “issues”, women are a much better “issue” that some stupid prize."
"Aba – that stupid prize is worth a fortune! You need to start thinking about saving for your future!"
They both laughed. How refreshing it was to be able to laugh in this modern world about money. His sons, like himself, had never cared about money, even when they didn't have any. The old man mused for a moment on how hard life was sometimes, how much time people spent doing things they detested in order to bring some sort of order to their lives.
As usual, one musing led to another, and forgetting his son, he recalled that conversation with Flavenka and Darko, deep in the forests next to the Piva River. They had finished yet another cold, tasteless dinner in some God-forsaken forest which no human being should have to suffer; sitting huddled as close as they could together, camouflaged and silent as the grave. Axis soldiers were in the vicinity and they could take no chances. Flavenka, her face blackened like theirs, sat between the two men and made a trinity. Having been fast friends from the university who had put away colossal amounts of beer together while discussing the theory of mathematics, they now fought and killed, slept and ate, and then fought and killed some more. Just as the trinity had excelled in their studies, they now excelled in slitting throats, shooting and setting mines.
"Why?" Darko whispered. Both of them looked over at him.
"Why what, my dear", Flavenka asked.
"Why do people live?" He looked at Flavenka and then across her to Darko.
"I mean .. why, when life is so hard, do people insist on living? Why don't they just give up? Even without war… you grow up, you study, work, love, fall, fall and fall again. If it's not one thing, it is another. Why don't we see people killing themselves? Why don't we wake up each day and find masses of sad, stuck, crippled people who have taken their own life?"
The three sat without moving for long minutes that dragged out, as only time under camouflage, sitting wet, cold and forlorn can be.
"The answer to that is simple", Flavenka whispered and both men turned to her.
"One moment of happiness can outweigh years of suffering. Once you have had such a moment, even though you may suffer, you still yearn for that to happen again. No – you are sure it will."
Both men looked at each other, and then, as one hugged her. There they sat, holding each other, wet and cold, looking out into the gloom, and smiled like children.
"Aba!” Gad called, “ – are you ok?"
"Hmmm? Yes, of course I am. I was just thinking about something."
"Well, here's your coffee. Where is my blessing?" he joked.
The old man looked up, and Gad’s smile disappeared.
"Come here my son. Please, kneel down before me".
Hesitantly, he did as his father asked. Putting his head down, he felt his father's large wrinkled hands set down on him.
"Many will love you, but you will love only one. Many will tempt you, but you will never forget your inner fire. Many will force you, but you will never lose yourself. Many hardships may come, but you will never forget the light that feeds your life. Care for it like a jewel, never betray it, and all hardships will seem like small waves, lapping at the shore."
He felt the hands leave his head and he looked up and tried to say something, but ceased when he saw the tears in his father's eyes.
Later that afternoon, sitting in his huge arm chair, alone but for Tosca who wagged his tail, laying happily at his feet, the old man breathed out, and passed his hand over his face.
Another man might have wondered to himself, did he do the right thing? Should he have spoken to his son like that? Was this some reaction of a man who had recently lost his wife, trying to bond with his children?
The fact is that he was not another man. He had never thought like that, weighing his actions overmuch. He did what he felt was needed to be done, and never gave it a thought afterwards. Self centered? Maybe. Yes.
No. He was not thinking of telling his son to kneel before him, to receive his blessing as if he was a patriarch from the Bible. He was stilling himself, calming himself, getting himself ready. What had gone on just before between himself and Gad was gone. He thought about his own flame, burning inside. This firmly in his thoughts, he then broke off and pictured a city, far away. Concentrating on a specific street, he let his mind empty itself of anything and everything.
Numbers, formulas, music; a crisscross of melodies he would never ever remember flashed and flew through his consciousness. Tosca looked up, whined and brushed his large nose against the old man's leg. He never noticed.
It was raining on and off that day in Madrid, but now the sun was shining. Sitting on a bench in the park, he held in his hands today's El Pais, and watched as children played football on the grass. He noticed her come into the garden. Slowly she walked, looking up to the sun, and at the flowers, as if she had absolutely nothing but that in her life to do.
Almost, as if he willed it, she walked by his bench, looked at him for a moment, and then, another moment.
"You are him… I mean that man from the bistro, aren't you?" She asked.
He smiled at her and moved over to the side. She sat down next to him, but sideways, as if she would soon get up again and leave.
"Yes", he said in accented Spanish which felt strange in his own ears.
"I was telling my sister about you. I have seen you there several times. You seem to .. have some interest in us. Why?
He smiled at her.
"Interest? Why indeed would an old man like me have any interest in a young woman like you, be as may be, a beautiful young woman such as you?"
He laughed when he saw her surprise.
"Please”, he said in order to calm her. “I mean no harm. I am an old man who has left himself prone to whims. I used to fight them, to tell myself I should not allow myself to act this way. Now, I feel myself old enough to do whatever I please."
She laughed, and then looked at him straight in his eyes.
"You are lying." She said seriously." You seem to me to be they type of man who has always indulged in his whims."
He bowed his head. "You have found me out. I stand before you naked."
She looked at him again, and then burst out laughing. He loved the way she held her head back and howled, just like Fatima would have done. Two elderly women, sitting on a bench nearby, looked disapprovingly. Seeing them, she laughed louder.
He sighed, just bit dramatically. "Once… me being naked did not get that exact response. My name is … well no matter. Call me Costa. Please."
She held out her hand. "I am Alma. Nice to meet you!"
They shook hands. "Alma…. What a beautiful name. It means soul", he said wistfully, more to himself then to her.
"Yes", she answered with a smile. "My mother was a bit of an artist type".
He looked at her, but she had the feeling he was looking past her, somehow.
"Yes. I dare say she must have been."
Sitting together in a Belgrade bar, the two men drank bad brandy and spoke softly, sometimes stopping to scribble to each other formulas back and forth.
"You cannot be serious! Even for you this is preposterous!"
"I know. I know it does not make sense to you, but I tell you it is possible!"
"Possible, my ass! You keep coming up with these theories. Why can't you be more realistic? Where will you get with these theories?"
"More realistic? Like…” he said with a grin, pausing dramatically, “…your computing machines?"
"Yes! You know they will work. Let's finish this war once and for all and then we will work together on this project, instead of dreaming about something that is more magic than science!"
They looked at each other, and Costa put a heavy hand on his friend. "Darko. I understand you. I even agree that your project and these machines could change the world. We will work together. But mathematics … Darko, numbers are music – yes! They are magical! I don't want to do with them the possible. I want to do with them the impossible!"
Darko looked around. Just two days ago, they had attacked a German convoy which was transporting young recruits to the east. Just the three of them and two others had taken on a convoy of over 120 German soldiers. Of course, they were five which had gotten information from a German officer they had tortured, and dozens of very well made and very well placed explosive devices. The convoy never had a chance. They were now “living it up”, taking a couple days rest in a flea-bitten hostel drinking terrible liquor, relishing every minute of it, talking about computing machines and – magic.
"She should have been back by now."
"She is with Miro. Let her have fun. You aren't jealous, are you?"
"Jealous? You know what I think of such bourgeois feelings!"
"Come on Darko! We both have sex with her, and now she goes off with another, this Milo… are you sure you don't have any problems?"
"Darko. I love her. I won't deny it. But the three of us may never live past this war. There is no time for jealousy. Besides, even if we do – I am going to Palestine."
Just then, the door of the hostel opened, letting in a gust of winter air, and Flavenka entered, shaking her head to get some of the rain out of her long hair. She was blond like a Viking, but for war, she kept it colored raven black.
She came to their table smiling, and Costa pulled back a chair for her.
The three looked at each other, and Darko's eyes lit up. He put into her hand a cup with brandy, and then lifted his own. Smiling his lopsided grin, made a toast: "To Milo!"
"Yes! To Milo!" they laughed and drank and then called to have their cups re-filled.
During the war, money was hard to come by, but even harder to spend. Brandy, appalling as it may have been, was one of the only things they spent their money on.
Flavenka smiled affectionately at them while they drank.
"Costa here has been trying to convince me once again of how mathematical formulas can allow men to travel in space".
Flavenka put down her glass and took his hand and looked at him with that intense seriousness that she had. "I think that Costa can do whatever he puts his mind to do." And she brought his hand to her lips.
"Yes." Darko drank. "I dare say he can. He will first win this war for Tito, then go off to Palestine and build the first Jewish state since Bar Kochva. And I will build computing machines which will revolutionize the world!"
They all drank again.
Costa looked at Flavenka, this woman he loved so much. This woman who his best friend, Darko loved. How could it be otherwise?
"Friends." He said with his glass full and in the air before him, "I wish for a moment of seriousness, for something that should have been done a long time ago." The two looked at him and he stood before them dramatically.
"Flavenka. You have been at our side since we were young. We both love you. Everyone who gets near you loves you. They love you not only for your ravishing beauty, but for the salvation you send to us all.”
“Hear, hear!” Darko called out.
“For long years”, he continued, “we have called you by your given name, Flavenka. Everyone around you has a nickname. It is an unwritten code of war that you must have a nickname. From this day forward… I will call you… Fatima! Fatima, after the Virgin of Fatima who brought salvation to all she came in contact with."
Flavenka stood up, and Darko after her. She held both their hands and smiled.
"Fatima. I shall call myself Fatima forever!" Laughing, they kissed, and hugged as only comrades in war can do and sat down again.
"Tell me Costa", Fatima said in a Marlene Dietrich accent, "Your formulas will let you travel. That is not so impressive, we have machines that do that. My question is, will they let you travel in time?"
He looked at her and smiled. "Why not?"
"Evyatar! What's happening?
"Ok. Working like crazy, and finishing soon the course. At the same time. Day and night. You can imagine."
"How are you dealing with that?"
"Terrible – but I have to do it. Payback for being so lazy".
They laughed. Evyatar spent years doing nothing much but smoking hash and now he was playing "catch up".
"Listen. You are coming, right?"
"The birthday? Yeah, sure. We'll be there".
"Ah… good. I am calling everyone to make sure."
"How is the old man?"
"That's just it. He sits in his study day after day. Just sits there! If I ask him what's up – he tells me he is working. To tell you the truth, I'm worried."
"Hmmm.. try to take him out for a walk."
"What is he – a dog? Ok, I get what you mean. But, you know, it's raining, not the weather to get out and take a stroll. Or: it's too hot"
"I'm sure you’re just imagining things. You are like mom."
"You think so? I went into the study the other day and he freaked me out! He was sleeping, but I swear I thought he wasn't breathing. When I touched his arm, his eyes flew open and he spoke to me in Spanish".
"Spanish, are you sure? He doesn't speak Spanish!"
"I know – but he did!"
There was a moment of silence.
"Ok. I hear you. Well, we will be there. Don't worry on our end."
"Thanks a lot… for taking care of the old man. You know how much he likes having you around".
Darko and Flavenka sat between the trees with the other cadets as he brought them some hot tea.
"Isn't that sweet?" called out Savo, a large cadet sitting near. "Now you are doing something useful. Serving tea. Maybe you should ask Tito to let you work in the kitchen!"
The cadets all laughed, and try as he might, he could not think of a good answer, gave up, and sat down next to Darko.
"So", he said to his friends, trying to ignore Savo completely. "When do you think we will be sent out? This training seems to have reached it's end".
"I agree", Darko murmured. "Our commander seems to have hurt me in every last bone in my body."
"Yes", he said rubbing his arm. "It's about time to take it out on someone else," and gave a tight lipped look over at Savo.
Flavenka put out a hand and touched him. "Don't even think it", she said under her breath.
"What? Him? No – I meant Nazis!"
They continued talking among themselves, sipping hot tea and trying to feel more comfortable, something so simple that proved quite difficult while sitting on tree stumps with snow lightly falling on them.
Savo got up with a snicker, holding his cup and started to move past them when he suddenly tripped and fell, in doing so spilling his hot tea all over Costa.
In a flash, Costa got up and lashed out at the bigger man, hitting him across the bridge of his nose. The man fell backwards and he was on him while the others cried out. He began to pummel Savo's face while several cadets, including Flavenka, jumped on him, trying to drag him off.
He got up struggling against their hold, yelling, his commander standing before him.
"Take this maniac over there. Tie him to a tree!"
Once this was done, his commander sent all of them away, and approached the tied man, who struggled against the ropes. He took out a water bottle and poured the water over his head. In the freezing weather, it shocked him, and after sputtering and shaking his head, he calmed down.
"You will stay here until I decide you have learned your lesson, or you will freeze to death, whatever comes first! A less smarter man than you would have thought of a better way to get back at that bully."
Later that night, still tied to that tree, shaking uncontrollably, a figure came from the darkness towards him.
"The commander asked me to bring you a blanket". Flavenka said and put the course, but warm material around him. She then held him close to her for long minutes without saying a word. Soon he was feeling the warmth, and began to cry softly into her shoulder.
"You are not this person", she whispered. "You do not have to be this angry person".
He wanted to say to her, 'With you, I am not this person', but couldn't come up with the courage to say the words.
Lior, the youngest of the family took a look around the entrance of the home he had grown up in, throwing his jacket on a chair in the kitchen.
"Abba?" he called absently, going over to the sink to heat up some water.
Standing there, he felt Tosca nudge him with his nose. He turned around and stopped down to pet him.
"Hey Tosca! How's my mate? Mmmmmmm". He hugged the dog, but Tosca moved out of his grasp and whimpered.
"What's wrong boy?", he asked and then felt panic.
It was a brisk day as he walked on the path to Kalemegdan Park. His heart beating fast, he began, as much as his 80 year old body could manage, to walk faster.
There at the chess table, under that weeping willow, Darko sat with his back to him. He took a moment to collect himself, and looked at his old friend from afar. Bald, with a shock of white hair from the sides. Glasses. Reading something, probably a scientific journal. Concentrated.
Darko and he had kept in touch, all those years. During Tito's rule, it was difficult, but sometimes, they managed to meet one another at International conferences. The last time was in Paris. Now, with Belgrade out of the Iron Curtain, and the Internet, it was much easier.
Well, he had promised him, and now he was about to deliver!
Feeling a bit giddy, a bit young, a bit like on one of their daring missions, he walked up and faced Darko.
Darko got up and they embraced. They held that embrace for a long time, as only older men can, knowing that this could very well be their last.
"How good to see you!" Darko told him. "But why here in the park? If you would have told me, I would have come to the airport, or your hotel!"
"Sit down, Darko", he told his friend. "Please let us sit down".
They both sat next to each other, Darko sat looked at him, and he couldn't help but smile.
"I didn't ask you to meet me at the airport. I didn't come by plane".
Darko shook his head in confusion. "You came train?
"No. Not in a train either. "
Darko looked at him and tried not to understand. Understanding meant something he was afraid to know.
As if he was twenty years old again, the old man beamed stupidly.
Darko took his friend too seriously to think this was a joke.
"My God", he murmured, "Costa - what have you done?"
Evyatar rushed in the waiting room. Lior, Shimon and Gad were already there.
"What’is wrong?" he almost yelled, and they all stood.
"Nothing." Gad told him. "Apparently."
"Which means what, exactly?"
"Calm down! It means that he is in some sort of coma", Lior told him. "I went to see him this morning. I found him in his chair in the study, and .. at first I thought he was asleep. I was going to leave him alone, but Tosca kept on whimpering. I tried to wake him, but his body was … shit! I thought he was dead!”
He and his brothers looked at each other.
"I freaked, called emergency. They asked me if he was breathing. I hadn't even looked! When I did, I noticed he was breathing, just barely. They came quickly, and I called you all".
Gad put his hand on Evyatrs shoulder. "The doctor says he will be fine. He himself cannot find any reason for him to be like this. He said it was "like" a coma, but not a coma. He's never seen anything like this before and he one of the top experts in the country!"
Darko searched his eyes.
"What are you saying?" Costa couldn't help himself and burst out laughing.
"You know exactly what I am saying!" and laughed again when he saw Darko's mouth open.
"My God!” he murmured, “ this cannot be true!" but after a few more moments of shock, Darko began also to smile. Then, laughing out loud, the two embraced.
The four brothers continued to sit together in the waiting room. Sara, Shimon's wife, and Noa, Gad's, were also there. There was nothing really to do. Some reporters had come. Lior had spoken to them and sent them away.
"Again they asked me why Abba refused the prize. I didn't want to get into it, so I told them I don't know."
"Do you?" Evyatar asked him, and the four started to laugh.
"Damn him!" Lior said. "He can't die!. I still have too much to give him shit about!"
"Leave it alone, Lior."
"Leave it? Why? We have to talk this over with him!" Lior looked from one to the next. Noa and Sara looked uneasily at each other.
"I, for one, need to tell him how I feel. I love him, I do! But that bastard hurt us all!"
"Listen", he told Darko. "I don't have much time, and I need you to do some things for me."
"Not much time?"
"No.. I. .. I cannot hold on for too long. Each time I do it, I can for a bit longer, but after a while … I need to go back to my body". Just listen”. Darko looked at him, all business. His hand patted his friend's and he kept it there.
"I have already emailed you my papers on the subject. There are all written out clearly. I seriously do not think anyone will be able to make use of what I have found out. It is not just "how" you do it, but it needs a terrible amount of understanding, concentration, and a lot of practice. I hope you can. I hope you can follow."
"Follow? What do you mean?"
"In a minute" the old man went on. "My children", and here his voice broke, but he took a deep breath and continued. "My children. I sent you a letter. In it I have to explain a few things, and to ask for their forgiveness for others. You know what I am talking about."
"So tell them!"
"No . I can't, damn it! I… can't. You know me. You know what I am. You know how and why. Damn it! Darko – I am going back to her!"
The brothers all sat back.
Moments later, the doctor came in and all six of them jumped to their feet.
"I have no real news for you", he began. "My tests show a one hundred percent healthy man, at least for his age. I have called in Dr. Tzweing. He will be here soon. Sometimes, your father moves, and has even mumbled a few times, but I can make no sense from anything. I told Dr. Tzweing my findings and frankly, he doesn't believe me, but he will be here soon. We will update you. In the meantime, you can sit by him in his room, if you'd like. Maybe you can make some sense if he says anything."
"What do you mean… you are going back to her?"
"I saw her!"
"She is dead!"
"I know! I meant.. I saw her.. daughter. I went to Madrid! Several times! Damn it – she's mine!"
"Who is? Yours? Oh my God. How do you know?"
"How do I know? I know! She is not ugly enough to be yours, and not stupid enough to be his!"
They laughed, Darko feeling stranger and stranger. They had talked this over. The three of them. In school, and in the forests; the two of them in later correspondence. Both Darko and Fatima understood it, in theory, but told Costa it would be a waste of time. It wasn't.
"She has my eyes, Darko", he said and a tear fell on his cheek. "If you saw her eyes, you would know. She is mine."
For a minute or two, they both just stared at the weeping willow.
"Will you tell her?" Darko asked.
"No. You will. You will also explain to my sons. You have to!"
"Why? Why don't you?"
"Because", the old man exhaled. "I won't be here. Read my papers and you will understand. To do what I need to do, I – I just won't have time."
It was cold, but it was more than cold. It was dark, but it was more than dark. He was all alone.
Darko and himself had left for this mission alone, without Fatima. She had told him that she was leaving. For Italy, or maybe Spain – with Milo. Costa, in her wake, had made his decision. After this mission he would go to Palestine.
"Go, my love" she had told him. "It is your fate, you true destiny. You may love me, but when your people call you –love is such a small and petty thing."
Dead bodies lay all about him. He would check them later. He would look for Darko, even though he was almost sure he wouldn't find him there. Darko had separated from him and had gotten away.
It was a shock, especially to a young man who because of his experience in the war, thought he was older than he really was. It was a shock at how many years they had been together, and now their lives had been torn apart within seconds. Like a long distance train going full speed, nosily charging down that track that all of the sudden, disappears into a whisper, into thin air. Time was such a sham.
He kicked and nudged at the dead bodies, making sure there were no other survivors.
He was all alone.
Before the mission, he and she did as they always did before each danger they would go to face. He held her close and whispered in her ear: "I will always find you. In the end, I will."
And she answered him, as she always did, breathing into his ear: "You will. You are that person".
"You won't be here? What do you mean?"
"First – promise me! I sent you all you need to know, you must go to see my daughter. Our daughter. You must go to Israel and see my children. They will believe you. If you don't – they will be not understand. I would do it myself, but I don't have time! That is, I do not have time here!"
"What do you mean? Time? Here? In Belgrade?"
He smiled sadly at Darko. You will see. In a moment. I will leave here whether I wish to or not. Just promise!"
"Ok! Of course I promise. But explain to me, I do not understand!"
"Ok… but I may .. leave any minute now, so listen. All I tell you is written down in what I sent". He breathed deeply the brisk Belgrade air.
"I can travel.. not only in space."
"What do you mean"?
" mean that I am going back. In time. To her. I will"…
Darko jumped up and held his hand over his heart. Suddenly he felt he could not breath, he looked about himself in panic. He was all alone.
Dr Tzweing came out of the room, and the brothers and wives circled him.
He spoke carefully.
"Not only have I never seen anything like this before, but I have never read about any such case. I am .. stumped."
"Stumped?" Lior almost shouted. Evyatar went in the room and sat down by his father.
"Yes.. I … Listen. His vital signs are perfect. I might say too good. He is not in a coma. I don't know what is happening!”
"Hey!" Evyatar called out. "He moved his hand!"
The boys rushed in and circled the bed.
The old man's hand was on Evyatars and twitched.
"His lips!" Sara told them and pointed.
Evyatar, and the rest bent close over him. "Shhh!"
His lips opened just a bit and a long breath came.
One word. He knew nothing more would come. He had to say it.
They looked at the man, each son had heard. Each were now trying to fit the word into the puzzle of his own life, when the impossible happened.
The old man… his body … was .. disappearing.
"Doctor!" they called out. "Doctor!
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