Margie Friedlander

Days of November 2023

Lump in the throat

Shopping zombies in the mall.

Young girls talking at double time behind the doughnut counters of Chanukah. Their multiple earrings shimmer and shake in time with their animated voices and faces. I wonder if they are really that animated or if it’s an adolescent thing. I take in exaggerated penned-in eyebrows, little bits of acne and eyes that dart in every direction. No matter. Everyone is gravitating to the noise and activity and the kids acting cool and the smell of coffee and sugary buns.

It’s the usual disconnect as everyone talks at the same time. Business as usual if you could describe it as that. Customers try to order, while the voices of the girls who are going about their work cut across to the guy at the till. Has he heard you when you asked for a weaker than usual cappuccino? But you have no will to insist on being heard today. You are a witness to the signs of life as usual, their mild flirting and the very incidental customer service.

Lots and lots of townspeople, and residents of the neighbouring moshavim are here , escaping to the strange half-life of the mall.

All kinds of emotions are playing on their faces and there are kids everywhere.

There is a plethora of guns swinging over shoulders- on the shoulders of girls in uniform, where mostly they seem too slight to carry their weight.

There are dads in random t-shirts and army pants swinging hands with their kids while their guns fall low over their torsos. There are men in uniform of all sizes, they may be short, large, tall, dark , blonde (you fill in the variable) walking alongside their also rather varied partners and they seem to hold hands rather a lot. I think it is as if to reassure themselves that their other is there solidly and fleshily. That their partner is an unwavering fact for the moment. The running strip of hostage faces runs in my almost constant vision, in all our constant vision alongside one escalator or another, daring anyone to get too forgetful; as if they would. The local restaurateur has a table set as he has had for the last number of weeks at which no one sits, and the chairs and wine glasses are bedecked in yellow ribbons which seemed to have arisen spontaneously with the abduction. These ribbons fly ragged and forlorn now with the uptick in wind and the change of season. They sit on car door handles and get driven all over the country.

And I am busy with my scattered actions and non-co-ordinated thoughts, and I wonder why? I find myself standing frazzled at tills, holding onto garments wondering why I cannot think clearly anymore. Wondering why I fail to calculate whether it is worth buying the baby pants or not? Why don’t I know what anyone wants or needs anymore?

How have I arrived at this unproductive pass, circling backwards and forwards through my days, repeating actions, tumbling bilious into bed stupidly late with too many images and stories blocking my neural pathways.

There is a physical weight to all of this, a scythe I need to lift up to bushwhack my way through an undergrowth that strangles me. This is true even as I know that it is right that functioning cannot be optimal while there is so much pain. But we have to lift ourselves up from a weight that is suffocating.

I pick up a long clear glass of water and take a sip instead of the wonderful pungent very Israeli necessity that I usually drink – my fragrant coffee that sits alongside my computer. It, like the rest of my sensory, spiritual life in Israel is very tasty.

I push them both away.

Time for single focus, time for a primal cleanse if I am able to.

I want clear thin pure water, a sense of sky and the silence of the bush that is broken only by birdsong or an animal call.

I realise something very strange. I think my African soul is speaking. I think of the vast dry swathes of African countryside that we once drove through and the feeling I had then of how one could have been the last person on earth in that kind of space. I have no other country than this, (don’t worry Ramaphosa, I am not coming back), but we push through using any strength we have. Right now, I think simplicity and bird-song, the delicious non-noise, the stillness of an animal drinking at a water-hole. It eases the torturous grating, grinding collateral damage, the rat a tat hole of war. The hole that oscillates backwards and forwards on the psyche, a flashback, a hologram that shouts, “The Cossacks are back, Kishniev, The Fall of Gush Etzion, The Yom Kippur War.” Never mind the trains that ground to a European fantasy of a “Final Solution”.

So let my countrymen ratchet up the irritability and the short fuse. It is trauma speaking. Recognize it. Or at least let the best part of me try to make allowances for it some of the time, and not indulge in too much of it myself. I know how wonderful they can be…haven’t I just seen it?

Sometimes having one’s own back means noticing what events do to us singly and collectively.

I understand now as I go back to my coffee, twirl it reflectively, some of what we are doing here at the mall; dressing the kids for winter, holding hands, buying coffee and doughnuts . I remember a line I read in a local magazine that aimed at motivating the home front, reminding us of our usefulness. It reminded us that we are the prize, the normalcy that our troops are fighting for.

I pick myself up, stuff my cell phone with all its importunate texts demanding answers back in my bag and gather my ill-assorted purchases and possessions. Holding it together in crazy times or at least trying to.

About the Author
Margie Friedlander was born in South Africa and now lives in Beit Shemesh, Israel. She holds an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University.
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