Confession time– this photo was sent to me by…well…me. I had a story concept that was playing through my mind the last week or so that I really wanted to write, but I didn’t want to try and make someone else’s photo bend to it. Solution? Take one day out of the normal swing of things and write a story based off my own photo inspiration 🙂 I hope you’ll forgive me for the deviation! I’ll pick back up with a photo sent in by one of my lovely readers on Wednesday!
Here is ‘April Dances’:
Herzliya Park in April is just about the most perfect place in the world to be. At least in my opinion.
I take a sip of my coffee, purchased from the shop in the park, and then take a deep breath of air. Someone’s grilling meat, and my stomach rumbles in appreciation. Donald would have made some comment about going over and making friends with whoever the grill master was so we could join in the meal, but he’s no longer with me. He died last year. Heart attack. Only sixty-two years old. My heart isn’t even close to healing. I’m working on it, though, and that’s why I’m sitting here in the park watching Mallard and Marbled Teal ducks splash in the pond. Donald loved watching the ducks.
As I observe the people around me, I notice a woman, probably around thirty, walk to the next bench down and sit. She is dressed very prettily in a black dress that falls just below her knees. Her dark hair is pulled back into an up do. Her fingers twiddle nervously as she waits. My imagination begins to run wild as it is prone to do. I imagine she is waiting for a blind date to show up, and that her mind is racing through both the good and bad possibilities for the evening.
We both sit and wait another fifteen minutes or so. Then, a very dapper looking fellow in a navy suit with a holstered pistol at his side, walks up and taps her on the shoulder. There is a still moment where they simply look at each other, then they both grin, and the woman is soon in happy giggles.
With a still spreading smile, the man reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. Soon, soft music is coming out of it. “At Last” by Etta James. He offers out his hand. She shyly takes it and lets him pull her to her feet. Once she’s up, the two begin to slow dance right there in Herzliya Park.
At first, her eyes remain fixed on the top button of his shirt, but soon, they raise to meet his. Though the two don’t speak, even I the bystander can tell they are having an entire conversation.
The song ends, and a new one comes on. Then another. And another. The couple dances through them all, moving closer together as they do, the awkwardness and shyness dropping away from both.
The fifth song ends and there is not another after it, only the ambient sounds of the day. The woman takes a step back, her face flushed, and motions to the bench with her hand. They sit and talk quietly in Hebrew for an hour, then they stand again. After one last, long look and sad smiles, they turn from each other and walk away. Neither looks back.
I sit another hour, replaying the exchange in my head, feeling like I have witnessed something very significant, though I can’t say what it is.
The sun is starting to fall in the sky. It is time to go. I stand, watch the ducks for another moment, then turn and go to catch a cab for Ben Gurion International Airport.
I’m back the next year on the same day. I intend to keep coming back every year as long as I can. In memory of Donald. I don’t know how long I’ve been watching the ducks when a woman walks up to the bench next to me and sits. She’s beautiful in a teal dress and black pumps, her hair pulled back, two loose strands resting against her cheeks. I know her. Against all odds, she’s the same woman I saw on that same bench the year before. I’m sure of it.
As I watch her out of the corner of my eye, I soon see another familiar figure with a sidearm, his suit black this time instead of navy. They repeat the same actions as last year. He taps her on the shoulder. She smiles and then giggles. He pulls the phone out and gets the music going, and they begin dancing. The conversation on the bench follows, then sad parting.
Another year has passed, and the same events are occurring. Her hair is cut shorter, and his is a little longer, but it’s the same two people, and they look just as happy as the last two times I’ve seen them together
Instead of dancing five songs together as with the last two years, though, the music pauses after three, and the phone begins vibrating. He picks up, talking to someone on the other end with a worried look on his face. When the call is over, and the phone is in his pocket, he grabs her hands with his and hurriedly explains something. She nods in understanding, and he takes off at a quick pace.
With shoulders moving with a large sigh, she takes a seat on the bench again and stares out over the water. As with the last two years, I try to figure out what’s going on. Do they get to see each other throughout the year, or do I continue to witness their only get-togethers? How do they know each other? Why do they have to part?
The woman looks over and sees me watching her. I am so surprised at being caught that it takes me a good two or three seconds before I recover enough to look away. Keeping my gaze focused on the ducks, I hope she isn’t too offended that I was observing the exchange between her and the man.
In my peripherals, I see her move, and it’s in my direction. I refuse to look over until she speaks.
“Excuse me.” Her voice is quiet, yet kind. “English?”
I nod and say, “Yes, I speak English.”
“Can I sit?” she asks with a smile.
I nod, and she lowers herself down next to me.
“Beautiful day,” she says, her accent heavy, but her words easy to understand.
“Where are you from?”
“United States. New York.”
“New York City?”
“North of there.”
“Ah, I see. Do you like Israel?”
“Very much. My husband and I used to come here fairly often. Every five years or so. We celebrated a number of anniversaries in this park.”
“That sounds very nice. Where is your husband?”
“He died. Fours year ago.”
“I am sorry to hear that.”
“Thank you. His dream was to travel the world, but his job in investments kept him too busy. I travel now in memory of him, but I wish we could be doing it together.” I stop, realizing I’m probably sharing a lot more than she cares to know. “I’m Anna, by the way,” I say because I can’t think of anything else to say.
“Etaaf. Etaaf Abadi. Nice to meet you, Anna.”
“Etaaf? Is that Palestinian?”
Etaaf smiles and nods.
“I live in Gaza,” she says, and I know my mouth drops open.
“Gaza. Wow. I didn’t know, I didn’t think…”
Etaaf smiles again, almost sadly this time, and says, “I am a doctor. Internal medicine. I get a permit once a year to cross the border and study up on new practices at Herzliya Medical Center. It is a rare opportunity.”
“But you don’t…” I point up to my head.
“No. I am not a practicing Muslim. I wear a scarf at home most of the time to avoid trouble, but I don’t here.”
“That man you were with, he’s not from Gaza?” I say the words before I realize how completely I have betrayed myself.
“Yosef?” She gets a happy blush in her cheeks. “No, he’s Israeli.”
“Where did you meet?”
“Here. In this park. Four years ago. It had been a long day at the medical center. I was tired. Sad.”
“Yes. Our medical practices in Gaza,” she shook her head, “lack so much. Every time I am here, I realize it. The Israeli government and Palestinian Authority allow a certain number of serious patients to cross the border from Gaza to Israeli hospitals, but a lot are left behind. I wish we had the means to treat them. That was what I was thinking about when Yosef saw me. He had on his uniform. And a big gun.” She held her hands apart to show just how big. “I was scared, but he was nice. He asked me what was wrong. After I told him, he sat there, thinking. Then he got out his phone, played music, and asked me to dance.”
“He used to be a dancer. Before he went into mandatory service. He told me it was a good way to cheer up, so I danced with him. He was right. It made me feel much better.”
“He should be out of service now. Did he go back to dancing?”
“No. He decided to do permanent service.” She is quiet for a moment, then asks, “Do you believe in instant connections?”
“Love at first sight?”
“Love? No, the word is not right. Connection. Feeling like someone understands you.”
“That’s how it feels with Yosef. The world and our own lands say we are enemies. But I don’t want to hurt him. He does not want to hurt me. We like being together. We dance together. In those moments, it is easy to forget the violence. We connect.”
“How often do you get to see him?”
“Only once a year. When I get my permit. We meet back here where we danced for the first time. Even though I do not see him for a whole year, when he arrives, it feels as if we start right back up where we left off.”
“And you speak Hebrew to one another?”
“That, or English. I speak Arabic, Hebrew, and English. He speaks Hebrew, English, and some Russian.”
“And I thought my basic Spanish was mildly impressive.”
I smile and so does Etaaf. We both turn to the pond and watch the ducks. Though we have just met, I feel as if I have made a friend.
After an hour or so, she says she has to go. I tell her I will be back in the same place next year if all goes well, and hope I can give her a wave as she waits for Yosef. She says she would like that, and we part ways.
Another year has gone by, and I am back on my bench, watching ducks, drinking coffee, and smelling the grilling meats. Though I have been sitting here for hours, I have seen no sign of Etaaf. Evenutally, Yosef arrives at the bench. His face is confused and concerned as he looks around. He sits, and I watch him wait. It is only when the sun is going down and there is still no sign of Etaaf that he reluctantly gets up, looks around once more, and then leaves.
Another two years.
Five years have now passed since my meeting with Etaaf, and I know this shall be my last year at Herzliya Park. The doctors tell me it is a miracle I have been able to travel so far this year. I watch Yosef as he sits on the usual bench. Though Etaaf Abadi has not been around since the year I talked to her, Yosef has never failed to show up. He always wears a nice suit and that pistol on his belt.
I, like him, am wondering where she is. What happened to her. If she’s ok. I hope that in the following years she is able to return again, and that he will keep on waiting for her. That she is able to wipe that concern from his face. That they will dance again.
Yosef looks so worried, even after five years, and I wish I could do something to help. Etaaf’s words from our conversation replay in my mind. The part where she said dancing makes people feel better.
Standing, I walk slowly to Yosef. He turns to me as I approach.
“Excuse me, young man,” I say.
“How can I help you?” he asks in English, getting to his feet. In the way he says it, I know he is a good man. Genuine.
“I believe this is my last time here,” I say, “and I have a favor to ask.”
“Would you be willing to dance with this old woman? I heard it can take away troubles.”
Yosef smiles kindly at me, pulls out his phone, and puts a song on.