I am starting this blog to be able to write to my heart's content. I dont want to advertise this blog but I would want people to chance on it and give their comments. This is the first of many contradictions that will make up this blog

Location: India

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Endless Cycle

He followed his visitors as far as the door. When they had gone he went back into the study. He was silent. His face was towards the dark window and his back towards me. On the fringe of the silence his voice spoke; he did not turn his shoulders. He said:

“Another glass of tea, please, Hannah, and would you mind turning off the main light? When father asked us to give the child an old-fashioned name we ought to have deferred to his wishes. When I was ten I had a very bad fever. All night, night after night, Father sat up by my bedside. He kept putting fresh damp clothes on my forehead, and singing over and over again the only lullaby he knew. He sang out of tune and flat. The song went like this: Time to sleep, the day is gone, In the sea has set the sun. stars are shining in the sky. Lulla, lulla, lullaby.

“Have I ever told you, Hannah, that aunt Jenia used to try by every means she could to find a second wife for father? She rarely came to visit us without bringing some friend or acquaintance with her. Aging nurses, Polish immigrants, skinny divorcees. The women would begin by advancing on me, with hugs and kisses, boxes of sweets and cooing noises. Father used to pretend not to understand Aunt jenia’s intention. He was polite. He would start talking about the High Commissioner’s latest edicts, and such like.
“When I had the fever I had a very high temperature, and the perspiration poured out of me all night long. The bedclothes were soaked. Every two hours Father carefully changed the sheets. He took care not to move me roughly, but he always overdid the caution. I would wake up and cry. Before dawn Father would wash all the sheets in the bath, and then go out in the dark and hang them out to dry on the washline outside our building. The reason I didn’t want lemon in my tea was that the heartburn is very bad, Hannah. When the fever abated Father went out and bought me a checkers set at a discount from our next-door neighbor Globerman’s shop. He tried to lose every game we played. To make me happy he would groan and hold his head in his hands, and call me ‘little genius, little professor, little Grandpa Zalman.’ Once he told me the story of the Mendelssohn family, and jokingly compared himself to the middle Mendelssohn, who was the son of one great Mendelssohn and the father of another. He prophesied a great future for me. He made me cup after cup of warm milk and honey, without the skin. If I was stubborn and refused to drink, he resorted to temptations and bribes. He would flatter my common sense. That was how I recovered. If you wouldn’t mind, Hannah, could you bring me my pipe? No, not that one, the English one. The smallest one. Yes, that’s it. Thank you. I recovered and father caught the fever from me and was very ill. He lay for three weeks in the hospital where Aunt Jenia worked. Aunt Leah volunteered to look after me while he was ill. After two months they told me that he had only escaped death by good luck or a miracle. Father himself joked about it a lot. He quoted a proverb which says that great men die young, and he said that fortunately for him he was only a very ordinary man. I swore before the picture of Herzl in the living room that if Father died suddenly I would find some way of dying too, instead of going to an orphanage or to Aunt Leah. Next week, Hannah, we’ll buy Yair an electric train. A big one. Like the one he saw in the window of Freimann and Bein’s shoestore in Jaffa road. Yair is very fond of mechanical things. I’ll give him the alarm clock which doesn’t work. I’ll teach him to take it to pieces and put it together again. Maybe Yair will grow up to be an engineer. Have you noticed how the boy is fascinated by motors and springs and machines? Have you ever heard of a child of four and a half who can understand a general explanation of how a radio works? I’ve never thought of myself as outstandingly brilliant. You know that. I’m not a genius or whatever my father supposed or said he supposed. I’m nothing special, Hannah, but you must try as hard as you can to love Yair. It would be better for you, too, if you do….No, I’m not suggesting that you neglect the child. Nonsense. But I have the feeling that you’re not wild about him. One’s got to be wild, Hannah. Sometimes, one even has to lose all sense of proportion. What I am trying to say is, I’d like you to start…I don’t know quite how to explain this sort of sentiment. Lets forget it. Once, years ago, you and I were sitting in some café, and I looked at you and I looked at myself and I said to myself, I’m not cut out to be a dream-prince or a knight on horseback, as they say. You’re pretty. Did I tell you what Father said to me last week in Holon? He said that you seemed to him to be a poetess even though you don’t write poems. Look, Hannah, I don’t know why I am telling you all this now. You’re not saying anything. One of us is always listening and not saying anything. Why did I tell you all that just now? Certainly not to offend you or hurt you. Look, we shouldn’t have insisted on the name Yair. After all, the name wouldn’t have affected our regard for the child. And we trampled on a very delicate sentiment. One day, Hannah, I’ll have to ask you why you chose me out of all the interesting men you must have met. But now it’s late and I’m talking too much and probably surprising you. Will you start getting the beds ready, Hannah? I’ll come and help you in a moment. Lets go to sleep Hannah. Father is dead. I’m a father myself. All this…all these arrangements suddenly seem like some idiotic children’s game. I remember we used to play once, at the edge of our housing project, on an empty site near where the sands began; we stood in a long line and the first one threw the ball and ran to the end of the line until the first became the last and the last became the first, over and over again. I cant remember what the point of the game was. I cant remember how you won the game. I cant even remember if there were any rules or if there was any method in the madness. You’ve left the light on in the kitchen.”

From 'My Micheal' by Amos Oz
(I loved this piece because of the way Oz conveys so subtly the message ' The more things change, the more they remain the same'. And of course, his beautiful prose.)


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June 28, 2007  

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