A Room of My Own

I can no longer write at home. As of this week my room has officially become a children's room.

This week I found a room. Last year I rented a small one for work, but then it was for a month. I went there only four days a week for two hours each time at best. But now it's an entirely different story.

I can no longer write at home. As of this week my room has officially become a children's room. Everyone is pleased: the children, who don't have to be together any more, my wife, who complained all last year about how crowded it was getting - "Why are you buying the child a ball, where exactly will I put it? So what if it's only a tennis ball?" - but mainly me.

I've always felt that a room in the right place, with the right view, is what separates me from the great work I've always wanted to write - something else, something unforgettable, that thing for which everything I've done until now has only been a rehearsal, that thing that's hard for me to define, but whose smell I can recognize.

I now have a room in the center of town, between the shuk and the pedestrian mall. I feel like someone from my father's stories about Naguib Mahfouz, whom my father himself saw sitting in the same cafe in old Cairo, at the same time each day, at the same table, with a glass of tea, observing real life. So here I am in an old building that could be beautiful, and under my very nose real life is going on. Soon I'll be able to observe it. All that's left is to paint. and to change the lock, and then all my life will be before me.

I had a feeling that the painter wanted too much. After all, it's only a medium-sized room which has to be painted white, not including the ceiling and woodwork. So NIS 1,000 sounded like too much, especially because of those cardboard signs on every traffic light in Jerusalem: "Paint your house for NIS 1,400." I won't start looking for another one because finding a painter who was available was exhausting. They're all busy, and they sent me from one to another; only the fifth one I tried could begin work the following day.

"Are you crazy?" said my father on the phone when I consulted with him. "NIS 1,000 for what? How much do five liters of paint cost, NIS 100? Why not do it yourself?"

"I don't know," I replied. "He also promised to change the lock."

"What's wrong with you? It's the easiest thing in the world. Don't tell me you can't change a lock!"

It's unbelievable how easy it is to find a store with tools and paint in the middle of town. I was walking down the street, thinking "Where will I find paint?" when I came upon a hardware store with a nice salesman who provided me with paint and a roller. Noticing my inexperience, he also told me about mixing, squeezing and dealing with corners, and told me how simple it is to change a lock. The whole business cost about NIS 200.

"Oh," he said, before wrapping it all up, "do you have masking tape?"

"No. What's that?"

Okay. First, he says, every lock has three screws. I took a screw, stuck it in the middle hole of the new lock and prepared to tighten it. Then I saw the door has holes for only two screws. Lucky the store is close.

"You must have an old one," said the salesman. "You have to change the whole thing. Easy as pie. First remove the small nail that holds the doorknob."

I could see the small nail that holds the doorknob, but three cuts out of about 10 on my hands were bleeding. All my fingers hurt; I couldn't hold the screwdriver; its shape was etched in burning red on my palms. The small nail, the one holding the doorknob, didn't budge.

"Dad?" I phoned.

"Nu, did you finish painting?"

"Almost," I replied.

"I told you, it's nothing."

"Tell me, Dad, is there a trick to removing the nail from the doorknob?" I don't know why, but my father got very angry and didn't answer. He then shouted over the phone: "Tell me, did you drive to your office?"

"Yes, why?"

"Because I suggest that your wife drive you to work. Why? If you can't pull out a nail from the doorknob, then I'm not sure you can remember where you live." Before hanging up, I heard him shouting: "How did I get such a child? Am I sure he's mine?"

I lit a cigarette and leaned against the window in my new room. It was afternoon and 10 meters below me lots of people were rushing around; from above I had the impression that they really didn't have anywhere to rush to.