THIS, SAYS YA’ARI, holding his wife tight, is where we have to part, and with a pang of misgiving he hands her the passport, after checking that all the other necessary items are tucked into the plastic envelope—boarding pass for the connecting flight, return ticket to Israel, and her medical insurance certificate, to which he has taped two of her blood-pressure pills. Here, I’ve put everything important together in one place. All you have to do is look after your passport. And again he warns his wife not to be tempted during the long layover to leave the airport and go into the city. This time, don’t forget, you’re on your own, I’m not at your side, and our "ambassador" is no longer an ambassador, so if you get into trouble . . .
"Why get into trouble?" she protests. "I remember the city being close to the airport, and I’ve got more than six hours between flights."
"First of all, the city is not that close, and second, why bother? We were there three years ago and saw everything worth seeing. No, please don’t scare me just as you’re leaving. You haven’t slept well the past few nights, and the flight is long and tiring. Set yourself up in that nice cafeteria where we parked ourselves the last time, put up your feet and give the swelling in your ankles a chance to go down, and let the time pass quietly. You can read that novel you just bought . . ."
"Nice cafeteria? What are you talking about? It’s a depressing place. So why for your peace of mind I should be cooped up there for six hours?"
"Because it’s Africa, Daniela, not Europe. Nothing is solid or clear-cut there. You could easily get lost or lose track of time."
"And I remember empty roads . . . not much traffic . . ."
"Exactly, the traffic is spotty and disorganized there. So without even realizing, you could miss your connection, and then what do we do with you? I beg of you, don’t add to my worries . . . this whole trip is distressing and frightening as it is."
"Really, that’s too much."
"Only because I love you too much."
"Love, or control? We really do need to decide at some point."
"Love in control," her husband says, smiling sadly, summarizing his life as he embraces her. In three years she’ll be sixty. Since her older sister died more than a year ago, her blood pressure has gone up a bit and she has grown scattered and dreamy, but her womanliness continues to attract and fascinate him as much as she did when they first met. Yesterday, in honor of the trip, she had her hair cropped and dyed amber, and her youthful look makes him feel proud.
And so they stand, the man and his wife by the departure gate. It’s Hanukkah. From the center of the glass dome, radiant in the reddish dawn, a grand menorah dangles over the terminal, and the light of its first candle flickers as if it were a real flame.
"So . . . ," he thinks to add, "in the end you managed to avoid me . . . We didn’t make love and I didn’t get to relax before your departure."
"Shh, shh. . . ." She presses a finger to his lips, smiling uneasily at passersby. "Careful . . . people can hear you, so you’d better be honest, you also didn’t try too hard in the past week."
"Not so," says the husband, bitterly defending his manhood. "I wanted to, but I was no match for you. You can’t escape your responsibility. And don’t add insult to injury: promise me you won’t go into the city. Why is six hours such a big deal to you?"
A twinkle in the traveler’s pretty eyes. The connection between the lost lovemaking and the layover in Nairobi has taken her by surprise.
"All right," she hedges. "We’ll see . . . I’ll try . . . just stop looking for reasons to worry. If I’ve gone thirty-seven years without getting lost, you won’t lose me this time either, and next week we’ll treat ourselves to what we missed. What do you think, I’m not frustrated too? That I lack desire, the real thing?"
And before he has a chance to respond, she pulls him forcefully toward her, plants a kiss on his forehead, and disappears through the glass door. It’s only for seven days, but it has been years since she left the country without him, and he is not only anxious but also amazed that she was able to get what she wanted. The two of them made a family visit to Africa three years ago, and most of today’s route he knows well, but until she arrives, late at night after two flights, at her brother-in-law’s in Morogoro, she will have plenty of dreamy and absent-minded hours alone.
Copyright © 2007 by Abraham B. Yehoshua
English translation copyright © 2008 by Stuart Schoffman
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