Illustration of Sayed Kashua and family
Illustration of Sayed Kashua and family Photo by Amos Biderman
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Friday morning was unseasonably warm. I drove my son to kindergarten and he cried. Then I continued with my daughter downtown to buy my wife a present. It had to be a good present, an amazing present, something that would bring a smile of love to her face, a look showing that the request for forgiveness had been accepted. Everything's going to be all right, I whispered to myself, and squeezed my daughter's hand hard as she tried to keep up with me as we walked down Ben Yehuda Street. 'Daddy!"

"What?"

"That hurts a little," she smiled.

"Sorry, sweetie," I said, loosening my grip a bit.

Everything's going to be all right. No, it's actually for the good. It's actually for the good of the family, it's not because of me, in no way is it because of me, it's her decision, only hers, and I respect her decision. Everything's going to be all right. I will be able to provide for the family by myself, I think, I hope, I'm not sure, I don't know, but everything's going to be all right. Absolutely all right. We had no choice, really we didn't. So she sacrificed her job - her decision, not because I'm a bastard.

"So, what will you buy her, Daddy?"

"What? I don't know, I really don't know."

What will I buy her? Maybe a ring? A dress? There are some nice ones in the store windows. Even though the store windows in Jerusalem look horrible. And they look especially horrid when beggars are leaning on them.

"Daddy," my daughter pulled my hand and indicated delicately with her eyes a beggar who held a porcelain cup in one hand and a cane in the other. "Isn't it true that his clothes are good?" she asked, trying to convince herself that things weren't all that bad for the city's beggars, that they do it with pleasure, maybe as a hobby. Possibly she heard in school that some of them aren't really poor, just greedy.

"It's heartbreaking," I heard myself tell her without giving it much thought. "It's so sad."

"Then why don't you ever give them anything, Daddy?"

"I don't know," I replied, instead of saying that it embarrasses me so much to stop next to a beggar, poke around in my wallet and deliberate for hours about the appropriate amount. How much would I give him, this beggar whom my daughter pointed out and who appeared to be middle-aged? Would NIS 10 be too much? I don't give, I wanted to tell my daughter, because I don't have enough to fix his life.

"Is it true that if he wanted, he could find a job?" my daughter asked, persistent in her belief that life is good, that it's a matter of choice.

"I don't know," I told her. "Now we have to find a good present for Mommy."

"Why did she quit her job?"

She quit because she had no choice. She quit because she realized that if she didn't the family might fall apart. Because I'm tired and don't care how tired she is. Because when I return home from the production company I go straight to my study. We are both so tired that neither of us had time and patience for you, I wanted to tell my daughter, or for your brother. We are both fed up with not really being there. Fed up with this crazy rat race, in which if you don't stop for a moment to think, it ruins your life.

So she made the sacrifice, she paid the price. She made the sacrifice even though her work is far more important. She, who studied for 20 years, had to leave a job she loves because in the end it all comes down to money, I wanted to tell my daughter, it's all money, how much you bring home, how much you contribute to the war, and what can we do if holy work in the service of the state isn't properly rewarded? What can we do if the state pays its social workers, teachers and psychologists starvation wages?

"Mommy left her job," I lied to my daughter, "because she wants to focus on her studies."

"So maybe you'll buy her a book?" she suggested.

"Maybe."

Even though I'll have to be more careful with my spending from now on, we went into jewelry stores, then bookstores, stores specializing in gifts for women, clothing stores, shoe stores, perfume stores, cosmetics stores, handbag stores, appliance stores, home decor stores, bedding stores, furniture stores. "Daddy!" my daughter shouted, stopping at a candy store. "Not now," I said. "I'll get you something later."

"Look," she said, pointing to chocolate hearts, wrapped in red with labels0 such as "I love you," "My one and only," "Together forever." It was exactly what I'd been looking for. I kissed my daughter and we went in.

"Come on," I prodded her on the way to the car, holding a bag containing the right present. The radio played a happy song that suited the atmosphere, I honked at a slow driver who was keeping me from getting home quickly. Home - is there anything more important?

On the way I stopped at the kindergarten. It was Friday, so my son would finish earlier than usual. I wanted him to be there, too. To be with us when I handed the heart-shaped chocolate to Mom. So he would see her smile, the love, and understand that we're a supportive, loving family, that we'll always be there for them.

"Daddy bought Mommy a present," my daughter whispered into her brother's ear, even though I had asked her not to say anything, because he might spoil the surprise. They flew up the stairs. "Mommy, Mommy," they shouted when she opened the door, "Daddy bought you a present."

"Really?" She smiled.

"Really," I said, and gave her the bag. She took out the present. The chocolates had turned into a dripping, brown mess.

"Oy!" the children cried out. "It's ruined."

"Never mind," she said. "We'll put it in the fridge and everything will be all right."

"Me, too," my wife said, giving me a kiss, even though the "love you" had been erased and all that was left of the inscription was "I."