It was seven something in the morning and I was at my apartment in Jerusalem getting ready as quickly as I could. Uniform? Check. Army ID? Check. A backpack bigger than me? Check. Pepper spray? Check. I hadn’t gotten my gun yet so I wasn’t just forgetting it, although there probably would be a fair amount of that to come. My roommates had already left so I quickly flicked off all of the lights and locked the door behind me.
It was a March morning, March 19th to be exact, so the air was crisp and dewy in the way it always is in the spring. The birds were chirping as they so clichély do, and the plump, richly emerald colored bushes and trees lining the streets made waking up in a frenzy slightly less stressful. I took the shortcut – through small walkways between apartments, a wall of flowers that I preferred to pass, a neighbor out for a walk with his golden retriever that I always pretended I was surprised to see (I most definitely planned that visit) – in order to cut a large loop off of my journey to catch my bus. Within a few minutes I was crossing the street to the stop, hair straightened this time after a night out with friends, blowing in the breeze behind me since I wasn’t ready to tie it up in a ponytail just yet.
I had gotten to the stop earlier than I expected (I’m one of those people who perpetually believes that I will be late, which often manifests itself in actual lateness, simply due to the constant thought of unpunctuality). I had a good eight or so minutes until my bus to the Central Station would arrive, and from there I planned to take a bus to Ashkelon where I was going to meet up with my platoon for an Education Day. They were taking us to visit the elementary schools and daycares in Ashkelon and Sderot that are under constant rocket threats due to their close proximity to the Gazan border. As a result, the schools have structured their buildings with fully indoor playgrounds and facilities for the safety of the children.
As I approached the bus stop, I glanced up from my phone where I was tracking the bus times (in fear of my perpetual lateness) and I caught a rather handsome soldier looking at me. If there is one thing that I’ve learned living in Israel, it is that Israelis LOVE to look at strangers, speak with strangers, and more often than not, tell strangers what they should be doing at that exact moment despite the fact that it is objectively none of their business. So, I didn’t think much of him looking, and said to myself that if he wanted to look, he would have to be the first to speak too. Maybe that’s just the American side of me, which would later go through many changes as the Israeli morphing within me clawed herself out slowly over the years to come.
I presumed that the soldier with the red beret was also waiting for the same bus, so I took up my spot next to him under the awning. No more than 30 seconds later, he began with probably the World’s Worst Pickup Line, as he said, “why do you have your hair down?” To make it clear for those who have not been in the army, a female soldier must always have her hair tied up while wearing her uniform. However, as long as she is in an area where she won’t be caught by military police enforcing rules, she tries to extend the time with the freedom of her hair down for as long as possible. I rolled my eyes and responded, “what are you? Military police?”
He laughed and I probably said some other witty comment, and we spoke for the next few minutes until the bus came. It was a Sunday morning, and I usually called my parents then since I wouldn’t have access to my phone for most of my time on base. The other soldier and I got on the standing-room-only bus, which was usually the case on Sundays since everyone was on their way to work or the army. I grabbed hold of a handrail and dialed my mom, telling the soldier to excuse me for a few minutes since we were still in the midst of a conversation. He nodded and looked on as my mother answered my call and I shot into a conversation in English.
After my phone call, we reached the Central Station, and the soldier whose first name I now knew, told me that he too was traveling to Ashkelon. His destination was actually quite close to where I was going, so we agreed to ride the bus together. I got on the bus behind him, and he saved me a seat at his side. Over the next 2 hours, we spoke about everything under the sun. How we grew up, our families, Israel, America, tentative hopes and dreams. We intertwined a mess of broken English and Hebrew to create something much bigger than we even knew at the time. On that day, we had begun to create a language of our own; one that would only ever be just for us. There was something in his shy smile, and a sparkle in his eye that told me much more about his heart than he shared openly, and hinted that this would not be our last bus ride together. Not even close.
We exchanged numbers and left the bus at our designated stops, leaving to our own responsibilities ahead, but not before planning a date for the following weekend. I of course called my mother (for the second time that morning) to gush all about the day straight out of a romance novel that I had just experienced.
That Jerusalem bus stop was a desert mirage; for it was not truly a bus stop, but a magical crossroad that would catapult us together into the next 3 years and the greatest love we had yet to know. The next time you think that a bus stop is just a bus stop, look up from your phone. You never know what or who awaits you. Maybe it’s just what you need.