Arts & Culture
Across the street, over the rooftop, in the next building, a young man in blue cooks his single dinner over a tiny flame. Perhaps a student, I saw him once in the marketplace, bent over a wooden tray of lemons … Read More
Across the street, over the rooftop, in the next building, a young man in blue cooks his single dinner over a tiny flame. Perhaps a student, I saw him once in the marketplace, bent over a wooden tray of lemons from North Africa. Sidling up to him, smitten by his pale green eyes, by the ringlets in his beard, by his dark fingers, curled around a lemon, cradling it in his palm, I began to tremble. Such beauty should not be allowed. Without him noticing me, I followed him to a grain vendor’s stall, and watched him purchase a handful of rice and a handful of beans. Then I lost him in the crowd, and now – curse and blessing – he lives across from me, in a tiny attic room, with a fireplace just big enough for a single iron pot to hang above the flames. O the flames that rise up in me, that burn me, as he turns and bends, cutting something I cannot see, on a board that I can’t see either. Only the rise and fall of his arm, the way that his shoulder muscles swell and then stretch out, the rest of him out of view through his tiny window. Did he see me!? I turn to look down at my book, then look back, like David on his roof, captivated by Bathsheba. I would kill for him, like David did. But how much better it would be if he were the son of a king and came to me freely, like Jonathan came to David, swearing his devotion. He is gone now. And so is my ability to read. The text before me, "Berachot," is meaningless. What blessings can come to me with him living across the courtyard? I will have my windows sealed. I will move my study to another room. Down to the small one that faces the street. It’s cooler there anyway, in summer. He is back. He has changed his robe. Now in brown, with lighter stripes, are they tan or gray, I cannot tell from here. This robe is looser, a little bit open in front. God of Israel, have mercy on me. Through the opening, as he turns for a moment toward me, toward me without seeing me, a wash of dark hair, like a wave coming in on that beach near Cadiz, with all of its sailors, beach that we visited when I was a boy, the beach where first I knew the direction my heart turned, toward the west, away from Jerusalem. I will sell this house. I will live all year outside the city walls with my mother, in her summer house, overlooking the olive groves. No, Ezra. Now you are being foolish. Open your book again. Read. Read and look out. Read and look out and recite the blessing your father taught you when you were a little boy, the blessing to recite when you see a king and his court. For if all the men of Israel are princes, this young man is surely a king, and the fire, his pot, and whatever he is chopping, are surely his retinue. "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has given of Your glory to mortals." And tomorrow, I shall go shopping again, back to the same marketplace, where if I’m lucky, I’ll see him again. But should I wear the red robe with the yellow sash, or the green one with gold? And which sandals? No, this is holy ground. I should go barefoot.