I love riding in cars but since Neri doesn’t have a car, or a driver’s license for that matter, I also have to rely on the generosity of others − and it’s not so simple.
Three weeks ago, Neri decided to take me to the writing school where she teaches. It’s a great place where there’s always plenty of food and the people vie to show me affection, plus there’s air-conditioning and also a rug. And when I do what Neri calls “Shoshana’s thing” on it − lie on my back and rhythmically wave my four legs back and forth while howling plaintively − the whole class stops listening to Neri, even if she’s right in the middle of scolding them for having no idea who Aharon Appelfeld is, or is appalled to discover she has a student who proudly admits that the only part of the newspaper he ever reads is the daily table showing the dollar exchange rate.
At times like these − as well as at many others, to be honest − I feel like my real purpose in this world is to compensate for those moments when Neri is at her most obstreperous. Without fail, the whole class bursts out laughing and sometimes also breaks into applause.
The distance from our house to the school is at least two kilometers, mostly in the shade. We set off walking on this particular day, and right at the beginning of Chen Boulevard, Neri began telling a friend on the phone about some psychopath from Jerusalem who used to harass her on and off for something like 23 years, ever since they once dated for a week. “It was awful,” Neri said. “It got so bad that once I even took the kids and fled to my mother’s house − so you can just imagine how much he wore me out.”
Then she told the friend that this guy was one of those types who laugh really loud when they’re at the movies, and even laugh at a joke even before the actors say it because they’re reading the subtitles. She also said this guy was so stingy that one time, three years ago, after having bugged her for two years to agree to see him, throughout the entire Yom Kippur holiday before the proposed meeting he bombarded her with dozens of emails making clear that when they did get together, he expected to split all the expenses with her 50-50 − “to go Dutch.” And just to be on the safe side, he also sent her a link with a whole explanation of the definition and etymology of that phrase, lest there be any confusion. And then, even though she blocked him on all her personal email addresses and on her cellphone too, a couple of months ago he managed to contact her via her email address at the newspaper.
“No, it’s not flattering at all to have someone harassing me for 23 years,” Neri told her friend. “It’s basically an obsession, and he also has the gall to believe that the little he learned about me during that week 23 years ago has anything at all to do with who I am today. Mostly, it tells me that he barely listened to me even then.
“I know that three years ago I told you he was totally nuts,” Neri said with some annoyance, “but I’m a little nuts too and two months ago he suddenly started writing me these very nice, calm letters. In the end he asked so nicely for me to give him another chance that I agreed, and I even went to Jerusalem, since I had something else to do there anyway.
Actually, the date was quite pleasant. He seemed quite relaxed, he told me how much money he’d been making on the stock exchange and how, just the day before, he’d made $100,000 with one keystroke. And then when it was time for me to go, he insisted that I pay the bill for my cup of coffee and I wondered: What kind of person is prepared to let 23 years of courtship go down the drain for a lousy NIS 11?
“But the worst thing that happened was that the next day I discovered that at 4:48 A.M. he had sent me an email: ‘I’m over my addiction!!!’ − i.e., until 4:47 he was still just as addicted to me as he once was to cocaine and then, precisely at 4:48 – 23 years, several months and a few hours after the day I fled from him to my mother’s house – he got over me and wrote me this hurtful note. Just because it isn’t the least bit flattering that he was obsessed with me for 23 years doesn’t mean it isn’t terribly insulting when even your stalker loses interest ... Shit! My flip-flop is coming apart and I’m late for class.”
Just as Neri finished that sentence, in the middle of the scorching-hot plaza in front of Habima, the toe-piece of her left flip-flop became completely detached and she started stumbling along, trying to hold it together with her toes, before giving up and continuing barefoot toward Rothschild Boulevard.
No taxi driver would stop for her, and so I found myself being dragged along as she tried to skip from one little shady spot to another all down the street, ignoring anyone who said hello to her. Until finally, all sweaty and with black feet and “totally humiliated,” as she told her students, she entered the classroom.
“Why didn’t you take a cab?” Orna asked her. Neri explained that the Tel Aviv taxi driver who would agree to pick up a large, black dog had yet to be found. “Surely the people is grass!” cried Neri − and even I knew she was quoting Bialik.
The way home was even worse. Again I hopped with Neri from one shady spot to another. Unlike her, I didn’t bounce in place while waiting for the traffic lights to change; I’m used to burning the soles of my feet. Somehow, in the middle of Chen Boulevard, this woman who’d been calling out to Neri for a few minutes managed to grab her sleeve.
“Can’t you see I’m barefoot?” Neri asked in irritation. “Because no one seems to notice. Like it’s just totally normal to see a woman my age hopping barefoot down the street. I’ve become invisible.”
“You know,” that woman said to her, “I was going to offer you a lift, but I don’t want your dog to mess up the upholstery.”