We had a customary spot, next to an old eucalyptus tree. There was a bridge there, and train tracks; sometimes an old, picturesque train would whiz by. But that day, the expected train didn’t come. Instead, there was a woman with a little girl. They were walking on the bridge, and Grandfather shouted, “Watch out, Miss, there are trains that pass through here.” The woman nodded to show that she had heard him, and took the girl’s hand. They slowly descended the steps, then headed in our direction. When they got closer, I could see that the woman was older, about the same age as Grandfather, and the girl was about my age, maybe a little older. Suddenly, Grandfather froze, his posture like that of a broken tree. When he regained his composure, he grabbed my hand tightly. “Let’s go to the amusement park.” This was the first time in my life that I had ever seen Grandfather afraid. The woman, too, stood on the path as if struck by lightning. “Elluchka,” she called to the girl, who was walking along the river, lost in her own thoughts. “Stop.” Grandfather let go of my hand; he seemed to be back to himself. Slowly, he walked over to the woman. “Wait a minute,” he begged. They stood opposite each other, not far from us. The girl sat on a rock, just a few feet away from me; she played with her hair and watched me with big dreamy eyes. I think I blushed.
Max and the strange woman began to argue in a language I didn’t recognize. Max’s tone was uncharacteristically pleading. He waved his arms, and the woman shook her head in a vehement rejection of his silent claims. “Is that your grandmother?” I asked the girl, and she nodded, then picked up a rock and flung it into the water. I threw a rock, too, harder and further. Suddenly I felt childish. I was embarrassed. We quietly watched the small waves until the water stopped moving. She was pretty, I thought. I sensed that she didn’t find me particularly interesting. Then her grandmother walked over to us and, without looking at me, told her to get up. “Come on, Ella, we’re leaving.” While they were still walking away, Grandfather called after her, and his foreign, heavy words echoed morosely between the trees. He looked strangely helpless. This isn’t good, I thought; we shouldn’t have gone out today. Dad had explicitly said as much.
“It’s hot as hell here,” Grandfather said, taking off his jacket. After he’d hung it on the eucalyptus, he began to unbutton his shirt. “What are you doing?” I asked, stunned, but Grandfather ignored me and continued to take off his clothes with decisive movements, hanging them solemnly and carefully on the branches. When he took off his pants I looked around, embarrassed, making sure nobody else could see. Completely naked, he walked around the tree for a minute, clutching his underpants, looking for an appropriate branch. Finally he found a knot that met with his approval. Then he hurried into the water and dove in, arms and legs splayed. The splash subsided, and the water was still. His big body sunk down. He stayed submerged for a long time, and with each passing second I grew more concerned. I approached the riverbank and called for him to come out already. Just when I was about to go into the water and look for him, he emerged on the other side, exhaling sharply. He laughed like a little boy, and started splashing me. “Come on in already, scaredy-cat.” The big drops of water, stinging and insulting, hurt me, and I planted myself on the ground, shocked and chastened. “You’re crazy,” I seethed. “You’re all crazy.” I marched over to the tree that had been functioning as a clothes hanger, pulled off all the garments, scattered them in every direction, and ran out of there.
From “A Woman Fell” (“אשה אחת נפלה”) by Ilan Amit
Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2009
“Translation is another name for the human condition.”
― David Bellos