Putting aside his phobias, Sayed Kashua agrees to take a summer holiday
My wife left me no choice. She said my fear of flying was holding us back, that everyone else was going away on vacation except us.
Two kids knocked on the car windows at the eastern intersection approach to Tira. Kochav Ya’ir, Tzur Natan and the new community of Tzur Yitzhak were to the right and Tira to the left. “Dad,” cried my son, who was buckled up in the back seat, enjoying the air-conditioning and looking at the two kids his age that were approaching our car, “what are those kids doing?”
“They’re um ... they’re ...” I found myself stuttering as I searched for coins in my wallet, “they’re ... giving out blessings for Ramadan in return for money.”
I took my son to Tira at the start of the week because his summer camp was over and he wanted to spend some time with his grandparents and cousins that he admires, before we went on our family trip. This is the first time I’m taking the family on a trip outside the country. This is the first time I’m putting my kids on an airplane.
My wife left me no choice. For months she’d been talking in front of the kids about how she was tired of going on vacations in Israel, about how we’d been to Eilat and Tiberias a million times already. She said that my fear of flying was holding us back, that everybody else was going away on vacation except us, that the kids can sense that my fears and anxiety are exaggerated, and I shouldn’t be depriving them just because of my ridiculous phobias.
So that’s it. I’ll have to somehow overcome the terror that has gripped and paralyzed me since the moment I ordered the plane tickets. I can’t concentrate on writing. One moment I find myself surfing websites about airline disasters; the next moment I’m scrounging for every possible scrap of information about the charter company we’re supposed to fly with. Poring over the company history, scrutinizing its fleet of planes, the manufacturers, the engines and the pilots.
Traveling has always scared me. I can remember my grandmother pleading with my parents before every family trip not to take all the children along. I remember her clutching me by the arms and pulling me to her as she wept. “Leave me just one,” she cried, “in case, God forbid, something should happen on the way.” And I remember her sitting in the yard, swaying and gazing up the street and waiting to see the family car returning home safely.
Worried waiting that I emulated each summer of my childhood. Every summer my parents would go on a 10-day vacation. My mother looked forward to the summer vacation even more than we did. She said it was this vacation, after another school year, that kept her alive, that gave her the energy to be a teacher for another year.
She appeared to live for this little trip she took with my father each summer. I remember her waxing effusive about what a pleasure it was to have 10 days without cooking, without cleaning, without doing anything. And I vividly recall the key phrase she always repeated: “Ten days without children.”
If my parents only knew what I went through every summer because of their traveling. If they only knew the anguish I endured. How I couldn’t get to sleep at night; how I cried and couldn’t understand how my brothers could look so happy, given the chance that we might never see our parents alive again. I would draw charts to mark off the days of my parents’ absence, and wait until dark to cross another day off the list. Sometimes I cheated and crossed the day off when it was still afternoon, in the hope that it would hasten their return.
Those days of my parents’ summer vacation were always long, endless and exhausting. During those 10 days I got a real taste of insomnia, of the agony of waking in the night, and the frustration of discovering that it wasn’t yet morning and there were still many hours to go before I could cross another day off the list.
My parents never returned from their summer vacation before the evening. But early in the morning of the long-awaited day, I would go sit with my grandmother in the yard, start swaying and fix my gaze on a point up the street and wait to see the bus that was supposed to bring them back home. Hour after hour I sat there waiting, my anxiety growing, until at last the bus turned into the neighborhood and I felt like my heart would burst when I saw my parents getting off. First Dad and then Mom.
Every summer I wanted to run to them, to cry, to hug them and beg them never to do this again, to never leave us alone, to tell them how scared I was and how overjoyed I was to see that they were still alive. But that same look of disappointment that I noticed on their faces each time they got off the bus, that depressing feeling of having to get back to ordinary life again, kept me from saying a word. It took them a day to adjust to the idea that the vacation was over, and one more day for that same look of yearning for next year’s vacation to appear in my mother’s eyes.
As soon as I parked the car, my son ran to his grandparents’ house, where his cousins were waiting for him. My old and tired parents were sitting quietly in front of the television, watching a channel showing news from Syria. “Don’t worry,” said my mother when I left my son with her. “I’ll watch him with both eyes, you can relax.”
I went into one of the kids’ rooms, which had since been turned into a playroom for the grandchildren, and asked my son once more if he was sure he wanted to stay with Grandma and Grandpa. “Yes,” he answered impatiently. “Dad, I’ve already told you a million times that I want to stay here.”
“Okay,” I said, getting ready to leave. “But if you get homesick, you just pick up the phone and call and I’ll come right away. You understand?”
“Fine,” he said, nodding. And then he called, “Dad!” He paused for a moment before he went on. “Dad, I already know what a beggar is.”