Lee Evron-Vaknin was born in Jerusalem in 1975. She lives in Modi'in and is married with one daughter. She has published a book of poetry and a book of short stories, has written plays for radio and stage, and her children's play "Haternegol", an adaptation of a story by Rabbi Nachman of Breslau, is currently being performed at "MARA" theatre in the north of Israel. Lee works as a translator and copy editor at Keter publishing house and has edited some of the Hebrew translations of Haruki Murakami's books.
The following work is copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No distribution or reprinting in any form whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Murakami in Jerusalem
She had known about the city for a while. Since the man touched her, and even before that; but it was not the kind of knowledge that could be put into words. It was just there, vibrating under her feet – the secret city underneath the city. And all around her, buses, people rushing, construction work for the railway – all that couldn’t deceive her: It was dead. The one above ground, the visible one, was dead.
She met the man on King George street, at the same place where years before she had stood with her boyfriend kissing and an old man cried at them: “This is not Paris!”. This man, the man who touched her, wasn’t old, nor young, actually she couldn’t tell how old he was or exactly what he looked like. He reached out to her and she moved away. She thought he was a beggar or a thief trying to grab her purse. But he was holding out his hand to her, and when she looked in his eyes she suddenly felt an overwhelming sadness. And she was drawn to the man: He felt it too. That the city was dead. He was mourning the city like her. She took a step toward the man, thinking he would take her hand, but he didn’t. He put his hand on her chest, just under her collarbone. They stared deeply into each other’s eyes and she heard her heart beating loudly under his hand. It was her entire being under his hand, all her blood rushing to be covered by his hand. All her nerves craving to be one with his hand, to be one with this man and with the overwhelming grief over the city.
When he removed his hand it was as though he left an imprint, and the cold wind chilled that spot so much, much more than the rest of her body. That chill remained afterwards, no matter how many days had passed and how many scarves she wore.
Sometimes when she thought about the man, she would cry. At home, in the streets of the dead city, at work. Her colleagues would worry about her, but she knew it was good for her. Like the touch of the man’s hand, it was making something inside her open up, it was supplicating at a door inside her that was shut, almost sealed, before he touched her.
When she heard about the writer Murakami coming to the city, she was glad. His stories were about this kind of thing. He would understand. He would sense it all: The dead city and the live one buzzing underneath it.
Murakami was to receive an award at a ceremony, and she went, though she knew there was almost no chance she would be let in. She took a bus, it was still daylight, and she leaned her head on the window and watched the worn out people who got on the bus at the market, with their heavy bags full of fruit and vegetables. An old man sat next to her, putting his bag almost in her lap, and she turned towards him with sudden hope, but it was just an indifferent stranger.
She got off at the congress center at twilight, the strange bridge that was built in the city entrance as if to inappropriately celebrate its death towering before her. A pregnant cat walked slowly before her, her heavy stomach brushing the dirty sidewalk. She decided to follow the cat, it seemed to be what one of Murakami’s protagonists would do. The pregnant cat treaded softly and slowly. Following it, she began to feel heavy herself, pregnant with at least five heavy kittens of unlived lives. The cat led her down, and it seemed as if they were just going to cross to the other side, to the central bus station, through the tunnel where one man sat playing an organ and another sold kippahs. But the tunnel to which she followed the cat was a different one. There was no graffiti, no smell of urine, no falafel restaurant at the end. The pregnant cat led her to a tunnel that seemed more like those of the Parisian metro. It was clean and wide and bright and there were no other people there. The cat led her up and out and she emerged into pale daylight, at a train station, The shiny iron of the railway tracks blinking at her like silver with green grass richly intricating with it. Here also there were no people, but from a distance she saw a ticket booth and walked toward it.
Murakami was in the booth, wearing a casket hat.
“This is not where I expected to find you,” she said to him.
“If this is not the right place for you to find me, then you must keep looking,” said Murakami calmly. He gestured toward the tickets that were spread on the counter before him like a fan, each of them with the name of a place written on it in large bright letters. The names seemed very clear but when she looked at them again, trying to choose, she realized she was unable to read them. She looked up at Murakami but he was no longer there; he was replaced by a handsome boy, about 17 years old by the look of him, wearing the same casket hat. “I know things,” she told the boy. “Things a boy your age doesn’t know yet.” The boy looked up at her, he was excited but calm and collected, there was something infinitely accepting about him, as if she might say or do anything whatsoever in his presence, and it would be all right. Drawing strength from his eyes, she chose her first destination and picked up the ticket.