It’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep. I’m fantasising about our reunion, a slow-motion run into each other’s arms, the airport embrace, his eyes, the smell of his coffee skin. Then the image morphs into bleak flashes of an empty hollow house, stuttered speech, vast distance, homesick tears.
Next to my bed are two mammoth suitcases, a briefcase on wheels, my overstuffed backpack and an enormous handbag, together weighing over fifty kilos. It’s as though the more I bring with me, the more I might be okay.
But I’m not. Last night’s phone call has left me in a grip of panic. What am I doing, leaving my family, my friends, my language, my home…for this person who isn’t able to say the right thing when I need him to? For this man who can’t possibly understand what I am going through and has no right to even try?
If I doubt him, it will all fall apart. There is nothing else to hold on to. I’m not leaving my life for adventure or out of a sense of rebellion and certainly not for Zionism. I’m leaving for love. And if I am not feeling the love in these moments of long-distance miscommunication, then what the fuck am I doing booking a one-way ticket to live in the desert of the Middle East?
The night before I leave, I lie in my parents’ bed and we sob. I’m the good daughter, the responsible one, the eldest, the diplomat, the peace-maker, the mediator…and now I’m abandoning them – how could I? My cluttered mind leaves no room for sleep.
What will I do there, what work can I do, I can’t teach I don’t speak Hebrew, how will I find a job, I need to work, to support us, who will hire me, what can I do when I don’t speak the language? And Beer Sheva, why Beer Sheva, a city in the middle of nowhere, in the desert, a hole, not Tel Aviv or Jerusalem or Haifa but Beer Sheva? I hear camels walk down the street and what do you mean that’s not true, a backwards, ugly city, why there?? And I’m scared of war, yes of war! Of course I’m scared, a war ended only two months ago, spent weeks worrying that you’d be called up, what the fuck, how did this life happen to me, I don’t want to go to a country that is dangerous, I don’t want to feel unsafe, I don’t want this life where you don’t know what’s going to happen next, I don’t want to die. Of course I’m going to die one day, of course no one knows when but you don’t understand, you’re used to it, this is not normal for me. What about my family, how can I leave them, my parents they need me, they all need me, and I need them and yes I know I’m an adult but this is my family, don’t you see? And my friends, who will be my friend there, how can I make friends with people who don’t speak my language, how will I find people who understand me, it took me so long to find these ones, my soul sisters, who will share bottles of red and talk for hours and understand me, who?? I’m scared of Israelis, so rude and rough they push in front of me in the lines and speak too loudly and argue and don’t listen and I become tiny and passive and ‘anglo’ and stupid and awkward and how will I be heard? And where are the trees in Beer Sheva, this godforsaken desert hole, where is the ocean? Where are the mountains, or the forests, or the bush, or the parks or the animals or birds, not even rolling sand dunes, the sand is dust, it’s dirt. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.
We load my bags into the car. The energy weighs upon us like a heavy winter doona on a steaming night. My father drives in the front as my mother and I cling to each other in the backseat, drained and wordless. Further and further from home. My phone rings. It’s Shoshana, who arranged my immigration.
“Sheli? Sheli is that you?”
“Yes”, I say weakly. “I’m on my way to…”
“Are you on your way to the airport, Sheli?”
“Yes, yes, we just left,” I say. “We wanted to leave time to ha-“
“Sheli, turn the car around! You can’t fly today, there’s no flight.”
“But…what do you mean? I don’t understand, we’re in the car, we’re on the way!”
“Sheli, listen to me. It’s the strike, you didn’t hear?”
“Strike? What? I didn’t – “
“Yes, all the airport workers in Israel are on strike, it’s a big balagan, what can you do?”
“But…I mean, everything is packed, we’re on the way, I’ve said goodb –“
“Sheli, you don’t understand, there is no aeroplane. It hasn’t left Ben-Gurion airport, there will be nothing waiting for you on the other end. Turn the car around and go home. Strikes happen, what can you do? No one can control and no one can predict. It is, how you say…a waiting game, yes?”
I can’t go through this again. This is not how it is supposed to be.
“Sheli? You hear me? Do you understand? Go home.”
I hang up.
I can’t go through this again. He’s waiting for me. Don’t make me say goodbye again. He’s waiting for me.
Drive home, check the news, strike continues, call travel agent, wait, call him, words of comfort, tears, he’s waiting for me! Call travel agent, call Shoshi, check the news, strike continues, call Shoshi, he’s waiting for me! Must fly, check the news, strike continues, call agent, call Shoshi, check the news, STRIKE’S OVER! Call agent, cry, beg, ticket’s booked, gotta go gotta go, goodbye goodbye quickly, let’s do this already don’t look back – goodbye!
The gates close behind me. The future is enigmatic as death. I carry bags overflowing with pieces of home to a place that I promise will one day feel like home. A place that will feel like home until I carry bags overflowing with pieces of home back to a place that I promise once felt like home.