“Good evening, sir,” said the young woman who’d just entered the restaurant. “Is anyone sitting here?” she asked, wobbling, and pointed to the empty barstool next to me. “No,” I indicated with a nod of the head, and she sat down with slow, measured movements, so she wouldn’t trip.
Trying to ignore her, I took another glance at my cell phone, to make sure I hadn’t missed a call from Israel or overlooked any new information, even though it was now late at night Israel time.
On the east coast of the United States a storm was raging, about which I knew nothing. This was probably the first time I’d ever boarded a plane without checking the weather that would await me on landing. During the flight I was upset mainly by the fact that I’d be disconnected from Israel and from my family for 12 hours – which felt like an eternity.
“What’s happening?” I’d texted my younger brother earlier, as the plane taxied toward the gate. “Everything’s under control,” was his satisfying reply.
“It’s my birthday today, sir,” said the young woman who’d sat down next to me.
“Happy birthday,” I told her laconically, barely giving her a glance. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t have the strength to talk, that I had other things to think about – about my family here in the States whom I hadn’t seen for two weeks, about the connecting flight that was canceled because of the weather, about how I had to spend 24 hours in this place until I could catch a plane that would take me home. About how I’d used the word “home” so often this week, referring to a different place each time, from far away, with 12 hours of flight time separating one home from the other.
“Will you buy me a whiskey, please?” she persisted, and this time I did look at her. “It’s my birthday today.”
“Yes,” I replied, and again, “Happy birthday.”
She signaled to the barman that the gentleman here was buying her a drink. “It’s my birthday today,” she told the barman.
“It was your birthday yesterday, too,” the barman replied with a smile, making sure I heard, adding that he would not give her a whiskey, but if the gentleman next to her so desired, they’d be happy to give her some other drink.
“They won’t give me a Jack Daniels,” the young woman said. “You see, sir? And it’s my birthday, too.”
“Sorry,” I said, trying to ignore her again and focus on the basketball game on the screen.
“I have a little boy,” she said.
“You’re bothering the gentleman,” the barman told her, to which I reacted mechanically, without thinking, “She’s not bothering me.”
“You see?” she said. “I’m not bothering him.” And then, “I have a little boy, but the court won’t let me see him, ever. He doesn’t know it’s my birthday day, my son, poor kid.”
“Maybe you’d like some other drink?” I asked her, and she said yes, thank you, and ordered a Coke.
“The judge says I have to change before I can see my son, and I’m going to change. I enrolled in college, I’ll learn how to cure people with herbs, that’s a good job. I always wanted to be a nurse. And then, when I’m studying and working and I’ll have money, I’ll be able to see my son.”
“What’s happening at home?” I texted my wife. I didn’t get an immediate response, even though I’d asked her to be available nonstop during this entire period, when my nerves are frayed and my anxiety has reached unprecedented levels. They’re probably having their shower, I told myself, my eyes peeled on the screen.
“Are you hungry?” I asked the young mother who was having a birthday today, or maybe it was yesterday.
“Very,” she said and smiled. “I’m very hungry.”
“I’ll buy you a meal,” I told her and signaled to the barman, who brought her a menu.
“You’re so nice. What can I order?”
“Whatever you want.”
“Really?” she said. “Anything?”
“Yes, whatever you feel like.”
“Can I have a chicken sandwich, please?”
Instead of making the order herself, she let me do it. “A chicken sandwich for the lady, it’s her birthday today.”
“Good choice,” the barman told her.
“All’s well,” my wife texted back. “We showered, going to bed, we miss you.”
“Me, too,” I wrote her back, and asked for the check.
“Where are you from, anyway?” the young woman asked, when her chicken sandwich arrived.
“I have to go,” I told her. “Enjoy the food.”
I was really tired but didn’t want to sleep. I have to hang on until midnight, I told myself. At midnight, it’ll be 7 A.M. in Israel, and I’ll be able to call home.
On the TV in the hotel room they were talking about the big storm, about how it was a lot weaker in New York than the weathermen forecast, and how Boston was buried in snow. Bill Maher was arrogantly flaying Islam again.
I fell asleep before midnight and woke up in a fright, when the alarm clock on the cell phone rang at 5 A.M., to be sure I’d be on time for the taxi that would take to me to the airport and my connecting flight.
“What’s happening?” I texted my brother. I waited for a quick reply but it didn’t come, even though I’d asked him to do me a favor and reply immediately and be available all the time.
The Haaretz website on the cell, meanwhile, reported an attack in the north. “God help us,” I said aloud.
At first I thought I’d put the phone next to the pillow, so as not to miss any calls, but I was afraid that the dampness would wreck it; it had been the quickest shower I ever remember taking. There was no text message. The news site reported that there were casualties, but without saying what their condition was.
“What’s happening at home?” I texted my brother again from the taxi on the way to the airport.
“Everything’s the same,” he wrote back.