Hungry, I slip into a quaint Cypriot bakery on the corner. When it’s clear I don’t understand anything she says, the old woman switches into English and guides me through the options.
I pick out three wrapped balls of fried dough, stuffed with spinach, pumpkin, olive.
“Are you a tourist, or staying here?”
The question ricochets in my mind. I left Israel last week to get some breathing space. Not sure for how long. Probably best to keep that to myself. For now, at least.
“Just a tourist,” I say. “Hot, isn’t it?” I venture, while fiddling for my card.
“Too hot. Still summer here. More than 30 degrees. In October.” I pass my card over the little machine, which stutters out a receipt.
“It’s from the bombing. By the neighbors.”
There’s an uneasy pause. She tears off the printed receipt and passes it to me.
“You mean, Israel?”
“Yes. They’re bombing so much, I think it changes the climate. They’re only an hour from here — by plane. All those explosions heat up the sky.”
I don’t reply. Odd idea. Clearly, she has more to say. I nod encouragingly.
She launches in: “What Hamas did, sure, wasn’t good. But they’ve been bombing them for years. Years. Bombing and bombing. It’s going on right now, so much bombing. I don’t know why they do it.”
I keep nodding, very slowly. Maybe I manage a soft smile.
“Israelis. Honestly, they’re the worst people. I worked 10 years at the airport here in Larnaca. So I’ve seen it myself. So rude. So horrible. Everyone has to ‘work for them,’ if you know what I mean.”
My chin leans towards her, oh yes, as if to say, of course. Sure. I know what you mean.
“Yes the Scandinavians are difficult, too. Weird. They make strange demands. But still polite. The Israelis, though, they’re the worst. So pushy. So entitled, so horrible.”
She pauses, perhaps to check the impact her words are making on me. My silence encourages her.
“They’re doing worse than the Nazis did to them, if you ask me. What they’re doing is terrible. Just terrible. They’ll rot in hell for this.”
Suddenly I’m aware I look very Jewish. We’ve been making eye contact for the last few minutes of this impromptu lecture. How solid, how telling, is my poker face?
“You haven’t said anything?” She catches herself, addressing my lack of input.
Thoughts whir around my head. This time last week, I’d have disagreed with her, but today, I’m not so sure. Curious to see what comes next, I nod again and say, “Oh this is really interesting. I’m just listening to you.”
Apparently that’s good enough.
“Look, maybe I think differently to others. I studied Art at the Sorbonne. Maybe that’s part of it, I see things in a certain way. Thing is, when you see it all, what with the paragliders, the kibbutz attacks, honestly, I’m sure the Israelis knew about it.”
She leans in, conspiratorially. She’s just short of telling me that Mossad did it. That the murderous killers were Jews in disguise, or covert ops, or US special forces, or Interpol. Or Lord knows what.
“Well, I must be off…” I smile, thank her, and walk out of her store. “Kalimera,” my one word in the local language.
In the car I examine an oily pastry. Can I really eat this?