The hunt for the red Beyblade
Why I met with wild applause at the airport
"I'll miss you very much, too," I told my son and hugged him tightly before leaving for the airport.
"Please stop crying," I begged, barely managing to stifle my own tears. "No, you can't come with me, I'm going for work. Enough, sweetie, just two days and I'll be back, please stop crying. I'll get you whatever you want. What would you like me to bring you from Berlin?"
"A red Beyblade," he said, rubbing his red eyes with his fists.
"Okay, give me a kiss," I said, "because I have to go."
I hate it when I have to abandon my children. I politely turn down most of the invitations I get from abroad and try to fly only when it's absolutely necessary. The destination this time was the trade fair that's held in conjunction with the Berlin Film Festival. The producer I work with thought it was essential for me to meet the potential partners from a few countries. The timetable I received looked extraordinarily busy. There would be no time to buy presents; obviously I would buy them in one of the duty-free shops in Israel. You can also get Beyblade tops in the mall, so from that point of view my son's request was quite convenient.
I got through the checkpoint at the entrance to Ben-Gurion airport successfully. "Have a pleasant flight," the security woman said and waved me on. The security man at the entrance to Terminal 3 signaled me to come over, asked where I was from and what my name was, asked to see an ID, checked my hand luggage and put me through the explosives detector. After some brief questions, the El Al security people pasted a sticker bearing the numeral "2" on my passport and suitcase. Every Arab who has accumulated flying hours knows that "2" is the maximum he can aspire to. I used to get a 5, but I'll never get a 1, because that's reserved for Jews.
In no time I was in the duty-free toy store. A red Beyblade? "Out of stock," the saleswoman said, and tried to persuade me to buy Lego ninjas that also turn around like the tops.
"No thanks," I replied regretfully, knowing full well that a red Beyblade is not a Lego ninja. I realized I'd have no choice but to take advantage of a break between meetings and get to a toy store in Berlin.
Next I bought myself a bottle of whiskey and took a few sips so I would be capable of boarding the plane. By the time I took my seat I was drunk, though still aware of the place and the time. A flight attendant who saw me holding the bottle came over. "Sir, drinking is not allowed on the plane," she said, and quoted a new law stipulating that passengers can drink only what's served on the flight. After I took another sip, her tone grew shriller and she stood herself next to me to ensure that I had stuck the bottle in the overhead compartment.
The plane took off, the fasten-your-seatbelt signs went off and the flight attendants arrived with a trolley of drinks. "No," the flight attendant said when I asked for wine. "The purser said we are forbidden to give you more alcohol." I cried myself to sleep.
When I awoke we were already in Berlin. A text message from Israel informed me that Mubarak had resigned.
Bitter cold struck me from the moment I set foot outside the terminal. I passed up the after-flight cigarette and took a taxi directly to the hotel in Potsdamer Platz. I still had a few hours to rest before the first meeting, but I wanted to put the project of buying my son's present behind me, so that I could start the wearying marathon of meetings with peace of mind.
I put on gloves, wound a scarf around my neck, put on a wool coat I had never worn before, not even in Jerusalem, and left the hotel in search of a Beyblade. It was so cold it hurt, the cold punched me in the nose, froze my ears and penetrated my feet through the soles of my shoes. I went to one shopping center and then another and still another, but didn't find a toy store. There aren't very many kids in Germany. "Try Alexanderplatz," a salesman in a clothing store suggested.
"What's up?" the producer called and asked, catching me just as I stopped a cab.
"Everything is fine," I replied. "I'll be at the first meeting in an hour - I might be a little late."
The taxi driver was an Egyptian. He had a broad smile and he cried when he told me how proud he was to be an Egyptian. He said that he used to be ashamed, but now he announced to anyone who entered the cab, "Good morning, I am Egyptian."
Well, I thought to myself as I got out next to a huge gallery, how long will it be before I'm not ashamed to say that I hold Israeli citizenship?
There was a toy store in the gallery, but they didn't have Beyblades. I wondered whether there was some sort of educational problem, because these were Germans, but the salespeople said no, they were just out of stock; the best thing would be to try out-of-town shopping centers.
"I am oh-so-sorry," I told the agitated producer on the phone. "I feel just awful," I added, trying to inject a sickly intonation into my voice.
"Dir balak," he said in a threatening tone: "Tomorrow there are meetings that you have to be at."
I didn't find a Beyblade for my son. "We won't have them until the day after tomorrow," the salesman told me. "We only have them in our Frankfurt branches."
"He can't get to sleep," my wife told me over the phone late that night. "He's crying nonstop. He wants only Daddy. Here, talk to him."
I cried, too, as I tried to calm my son. "Of course I bought you a red Beyblade, sweetie, enough now, my darling. I'll just be here tomorrow and then I'm coming right home."
"Listen," I told my wife afterward, "I can't find a Beyblade here, so do me a favor, buy one in the mall and hide it until I get back."
I was on the way to the first of 10 meetings on the second day of my visit, when my wife informed me over the phone that there were no Beyblades to be had in the whole of Israel.
"Go to the train station," I told the taxi driver.
"Are you nuts?" the producer screamed over the phone. "Have you gone completely mad?"
"I'm sorry," I told him, "I have to. Of course I'll return everything for the plane and the hotel, and I will also understand if you fire me, but I am now on the train to Frankfurt."
I made the return flight. The El Al security people asked me the regular questions and stuck an "F" on my passport and suitcase. "Don't lock the suitcase," the security woman added. "It will undergo another check."
"No!" I shouted, and a few German guards instantly had their finger on the trigger. "Wait a minute," I said, and opened the suitcase, as some of the crowd backed off, others bent down and the security guards went on high alert.
"I will carry this," I told the guards in a loud voice and waved the package containing the red Beyblade.
Israelis who were standing in the line were flabbergasted. Mothers cried and fathers fought back tears. "He has a Beyblade," I heard them whisper. Afterward they surrounded me and applauded long and loud before raising me on their shoulders.
"Those are Egyptians who are celebrating," I heard an English couple say.