Outside the pub on a quiet street in Tel Aviv near the shuk, there’s an old man gathering bottles out of the trash can.
He takes them one by one and places them in the big metal shopping basket next to him. His hair is thin and white and floats like a halo over his head. His eyes are deep set and wrinkled and he has little glasses perched on his nose that twinkle in the moonlight.
He smiles as he takes the bottles one after the other, placing each carefully in the cart.
He comes up to my chin, and I know this for a fact because I’m standing next to him.
I hand him my empty beer bottle.
“Thank you, sweetheart!” He says. “It is wonderful to see you! How are you? Where have you been for so many years?”
I’ve never seen him before in my life, although he reminds me of my grandfather, especially the glasses -actually, it’s the smile that does it, even more than the glasses, a smile that lifts his eyes and makes them crinkly.
“I’m fine,” I answer, bland as the beer I was drinking. “How are you in this beautiful evening?”
“Oh,” he says as his face crumbles. “You don’t remember me?”
“I don’t think we’ve met before,” I answer as gently as I can, and I reach out my hand to shake his. “Hi. I’m Sarah. And now we know each other!”
“I’m Chaim,” he tells me. “but we already know each other! We met years and years and years ago, back when I had thick black hair and you looked just as you do now, before they closed the old bus station , and I would give you red roses from my flower stand every time we met.”
“I think it may have been someone else you knew,” I say. “But it wasn’t me.”
“That’s too bad,” he says with a heavy sigh. “We were such dear friends.”
Its funny because I worked in a flower shop once, too, tucked into a shed on Durant avenue in Berkeley, nearly twenty years ago.
I made minimum wage and the owners were from Iran, a nice, quiet couple. — she wore a flowered kerchief like the kind my mom wore, and he wore spectacles and a bristling mustache.
He had the same eyebrows as my grampa.
They didn’t talk much, and when they did it was like a little river moving slowly over round pebbles.
They gave me the job because I liked flowers, and that I needed the money.
They knew I was Jewish. They knew I loved Israel.
I knew they were Muslim. I knew they loved Iran.
They also knew I loved carne asada, and Duran Duran and my family n LA.
I also knew they loved sabzi kebab, and Mozart, and their family back in Yazd.
They whispered to the flowers while they’d cut the dead leaves off the stems.
They moved like mist between the plants.
The place smelled like sweet water, and I would sit there and watch people walk past and look inside.
Mostly, people just looked — no one really stopped and I know straight up we didn’t make money there, and on days when I didn’t make a single sale, I would take payment in petals only… pink daisies, white lilies, a sprig of ivy… even a blue rose with glitter.
The owners tied them with green ribbons.
On rainy afternoons, which were many in Berkeley, I would imagine a stranger walking in with an umbrella. He’d look at me over the bucket of red roses and we would fall in love.
Once, long after I stopped working there – back when I was a grownup, I saw them in Oakland at a protest against Ahmadinejad and against nuclear proliferation, against human rights violations, and against the stifling of dissent.
She carried a red rose.
They screamed and screamed and screamed at the top of their lungs.
That was the last time I saw them.
But I don’t tell Chaim any of this.
Instead, i squeeze his hand and bid him good night and he continues to gather his bottles, one by one. When his cart is full, he heads down the street and his bottles clink merrily like good friends toasting one another at a party, and as he turns the corner and disappears into the night, the sound carries as it fades like water flowing over pebbles, until it’s as gentle as the whisper of dried rose petals drifting to the street .