Papi is at the end of, possibly, the most interesting night of his life.
“Bye,” Julia says.
“Bye.” He is unsure what else he should do, he doesn’t want to kiss her again, here in front of all the others, as Zelger and Anna are currently doing, and she is already out of the car anyway.
When she and Anna are gone, Papi does not ask Haled for advice, because he does not know how he would phrase it anyway. Haled is quiet, staring out the window at the dark of Bet Hatikva at night. Papi remembers that when they arrived earlier, the older man was shouting at him about disgracing himself. Maybe Haled is recalling that, and what will happen to him when he and the band depart tomorrow.
It seems insane to think that he, he Papi was with an actual girl and that she was interested in him even though someone much cooler, like Haled was there.
Papi replays the events in his mind dozens of times, and realizes that there was a very real possibility that Julia had a crush on him before that evening, that she had noticed him around, and liked him. Crazy, and yet it happened. To him! Papi thinks of her for hours as he tries to sleep.
The next morning at the cafe, after the band leaves, (“Good news, I am not kicked out from the band after all! Best of luck with the girl, eh?” Says Haled to Papi, and then he is gone), Dina is very quiet. Mournful almost. Papi does not tell her about his night. She seems upset, maybe something to do with their surprise guests last night. Dina hates this town, he knows. She would love to live in the city the Alexandria Ceremonial Orchestra is traveling to: Pet Hatikva. He wishes that he could say something to cheer her up, but just like with the girls he cannot find the right words, and Dina would be prickly about it anyway.
He works and goes home.
And then....life in Bet Hatikva goes on. And nothing happens. The band’s visit is the most exciting thing that has happened to the place in a long time. Though he looks for her- constantly- he does not see Julia again for a week.
As he obsesses over her, it occurs to him that their interaction did not have to be a singular thing. If she liked him they could...go out or something. He could have a girlfriend for the first time. But how, how to proceed, that was the question. Haled would know. Papi has never met anyone like him before. Haled is so cool, with his blue suit, so self assured. He would know what to do, how to talk to this quiet girl. But Haled is far away, back in Egypt now, surely, and Papi is nothing like him.
But he does see Anna, who comes into the cafe one afternoon. She eats alone, and Papi wonders if she has had a fight with Zelger. They fight a lot, their relationship is loud and chaotic, and everyone in town knows their problems.
Papi goes over to her and sits down. He has never thought about it, but Anna is a girl that he talks to without any problems. Yes, she is pretty with her curly hair and big eyes, but she has never made him feel nervous. Anna is friends with Julia, and that is what’s important to him right now.
“Hi, Papi,” she says.
“Hi, where is Julia, do you know?”
“She had some Saturdays at base, poor thing,” Anna replies. “But she’ll be back here next weekend.” Julia is still in the army, he has seen her in uniform before.
Another week for him to wait, Papi thinks, disappointed, although the thought of seeing her again is equally terrifying.
“What is Julia like?”
“Boring,” says Anna taking another bite of her sandwich. “But she likes you.”
“How do you know!?” Papi demands breathlessly, forgetting that Julia kissed him, and this is probably a good indicator that she was attracted to him.
“Because,” Anna rolls her eyes, “I can just tell. Trust me ok? She’s my cousin, I know her. And she likes...I don’t know, old music.”
“What music? What singers?”
“Papi, I don’t knowwwwww,” says Anna, dragging out the words. “You could ask her yourself. Really! I can bring her by here next weekend if you want,” she offers.
“Okay” he manages to say. “Yeah, that’s good.”
After internally panicking about this and imagining a myriad of ways things could go, none of them good, Papi decides to talk to Dina.
“A girl!” She seems back to her usual self- though Dina is very good at hiding her feelings. . “Good for you- finally,” she says, teasing. He is in her apartment, after work. Everytime he is here, Papi marvels at how little it looks lived in. She has some personal things out, but her living room still looks like a cheap hotel’s, not like a home. Again he feels sorry for Dina, and cannot quite pinpoint why.
“She’s not my girlfriend, we only met once,” he says. “But I...I don’t know, I am seeing her next weekend, Anna said she would bring her by the cafe, and I don’t know what to talk to her about, so I asked Anna and she said that Julia liked old music, which I know you like too so, can you help? Please?”
“What kind of ‘old’ music? How old? Which singers?” She rattles off a bunch of names that Papi does not recognize, but Dina is no longer listening to him anyway, she has crossed the room and opened a hutch, bringing out a record player. He has never seen one before, sure Bet Hatikva is small and very much lower-middle class, but people here are not in the dark ages, and everyone has a radio or cassette tape player.
Dina brings out records too, stacks and stacks of them. “Don’t look at them like that!” She says, to his expression. “They were my mother’s, and they sound so beautiful. Your girlfriend will know many of these, I promise. Listen.”
He does. The afternoon blends into night, as he hears voices in Hebrew, in Arabic, singing about love and death and longing. When he leaves, he has a list of some of their names, and his head is filled with beautiful words. Maybe that is how Dina decorates her apartment, with music, not things.
Another week passes, slowly, and yet at lighting speed, and suddenly it is Saturday, and he is at Dina’s cafe, working like always, but looking at the door every five seconds. Papi feels that he has been waiting forever, but when they do come in he still feels unprepared.
This is not like the skating rink, at night, with neon lighting distorting everything. He briefly feels that he is drowning in the sea and hears the slap of the waves and the calling of the gulls above him. But he walks over to them anyway. Julia’s here, and she wouldn’t have come if she didn’t like him, right? Right.
“Hi,” Papi says, meaning it for both girls, but he says it in Anna’s direction because he is too scared to look at Julia.
“Hey,” says Anna, and then: “See you,” to Julia, and she slides out of her chair and leaves, and Papi is alone at a table with the girl he has been thinking about for weeks on end.
Breathe, he thinks, trying to be calm, not choking on seawater, not drowning. He remembers musicians Dina told him about, and their beautiful songs. Julia must like some of them, and the ones she does not know, they can listen to together, maybe. Papa remembers one of the singers on Dina's records, one of the songs about a little bird.
He says: “do you like Yigal Bashan?”