Street Songs

When he doesn't go into one of his usual frenzies - shouting and crying and later sometimes urinating as well - he manages to maintain the facade of a penniless intellectual.

A few minutes before midnight on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Genady and Leonya were sitting on the bench opposite the kiosk on the corner of Gordon Street, playing cards. The glossy colored pages of a holiday supplement were spread out on the bench, giving it, especially in the yellowish light of the kiosk, a festive look completely different from its routine appearance at night, when it serves as Leonya's bed, upholstered with ordinary newspapers and cardboard.

Right over the face of Nochi Dankner on the cover of another holiday edition, stood a bottle of booze and two glasses holding a transparent liquid. Genady, who has almost completely lost sight in his left eye because the operation he was supposed to undergo was canceled time and again, as usual wore his checked shirt, which now looked fresher than usual. When he doesn't go into one of his usual frenzies after a bout of drunkenness - at which time he always stands at the corner of Ruppin Park, shouting and crying and later sometimes urinating as well - he manages to maintain the facade of a penniless intellectual.

Sometimes he also reads stories in Russian aloud to the food gatherers who sit every morning on the stone fence in back of the Supersol market, their shopping carts in front of them as they conduct a lively conversation while waiting tensely for the iron gates of the garbage room to be opened.

Before they murdered her child, who, it turns out, was the right-hand man of a blackmailer from Netanya, Natalya used to boast that he was "strong in the black market" and therefore "very rich." This enabled him to support her and her mother in relative comfort and share some of the wealth with Genady and Leonya too, in the form of hot meals she would cook herself. Natalya used to keep all those sitting in the dog park up to date on the approval process of Genady's operation; his quarrels with the homeless man from Gordon Park and all kinds of incidental young homeless people who wanted to take away his bench. She also had high praise for his broad education; she said he used to be a very learned person.

But since the criminals killed her child (who was less than 30 years old) when he found himself in the crossfire of a battle in which he was not the target, Natalya barely speaks to anyone from the neighborhood. You can see her walking quickly, almost running, her eyes always tearing, spending hours walking Carlito, the Amstaff her son once forced her to accept as a gift, so it would get her out of the depression from which she suffered after she stopped using drugs. A dog who's "a real man, but with the soul of a baby," she says. We're talking about 60 kilos of muscle and bite with a force of hundreds of kilograms - a frightening animal.

On Rosh Hashanah, a few minutes after I saw Leonya and Genady proposing a toast and playing cards, I saw Natalya passing by with quick steps. I wished her a happy New Year and she burst into tears and pointed to the front of her black T-shirt, to which she had attached a pin with a picture of her son. "They killed my child, they killed my child," she shouted, and continued to walk.

Genady is gradually going blind. Leonya has no teeth. The man from the kiosk takes care of both of them and always invites them for coffee. Sometimes you can see the three of them sitting next to one of the tables on the sidewalk and watching the Russian-language channel on television. On Rosh Hashanah the kiosk was closed. On the bench opposite, on the other side of the street, sat Bruno; he shouted at me, "Is there work?" I said there was, and quickly moved away.

Bruno looks and smells as though he hasn't showered since the 1970s. His once fair hair flows greasily down to the middle of his back, his nails are long, he often walks around without a shirt or in a filthy undershirt and very short khaki pants. They say that every once in a while, when the neighbors in the building where he lives complain about the smell, the people from the sanitation department come and remove tons of filth from his apartment. The deterioration in his condition began years ago, when his wife died. "Because if you don't have work, then I don't want you," Bruno shouted after me. Since Natalya stopped taking care of Genady, she has been replaced by Anushka, a blonde beauty who also sometimes feeds the cats in the park and is herself raising several dogs and an uncertain number of cats. On the morning of Rosh Hashanah, after scattering piles of dry cat food, I saw her persuading Genady to taste from the large number of full plastic containers she had brought him, apparently leftovers from the holiday meal.

Esther from the park said that Genady is a little lonely lately, since Leonya found love and now has a girlfriend, and no longer sleeps on the benches in the street. "Those people are so unfortunate," said Esther, "but there are a few strange ones too. Do you remember the beggar woman who used to sit next to the supermarket?" She looked like an ordinary older woman who sat to rest a little on a folding chair that she placed on the sidewalk, a loaded shopping cart next to her. "Maybe you have a shekel for me?" she used to ask in a whisper, as though she felt uncomfortable; maybe she had just discovered that she was short of money. "So one day she came to me at the store I used to have and bought a very expensive calculator for 800 shekels, counting out shekel after shekel for me; two weeks later another one and a third after another two weeks. And then we moved the store to the north and she doesn't come there. And do you know the girl who walks around in a bridal gown and begs for money?"

I told her I'd noticed that she had also disappeared. "What do you mean disappeared, she didn't disappear at all," said Esther. "Now she keeps on shouting 'I want to marry Gabi Gazit, I want to marry Gabi Gazit.' I told her that I think Gabi Gazit is taken. Okay, so she really has a problem," said Esther.