Julia waits at the bus station, thinking of nothing.
Bus stations are transitional spaces. People only go there to go to somewhere else. Somewhere else, but not Bet Hativka. Only Julia, in her soldier’s uniform with her duffel bag, dragging herself back from base, is headed there.
She watches the other travelers.
There’s only one other person sitting on her bench and looking at him, she suddenly she forgets all about the buses and transitional spaces. Oh shit, oh wow- Julia thinks, as she observes at this guy- or she tries to, because he is sitting next to her, not in front, and this makes staring at him unobtrusively quite hard, because she has to slide her eyes to the side, without turning her head. But he’s really hot, so she keeps looking.
His hair is curly, and flops over his face, so she’s not sure what color his eyes are. He’s not looking at her, and Julia would die if he did, but at the same time she wants him to.
Coming home from base, Julia is in her army uniform, yes it’s the dress uniform, infinitely hotter than the work uniform they wear on base, but she still looks worn out and terrible. She looks like garbage in the greenish brown color, and she never feels like it fits her correctly. But maybe this boy likes soldiers, maybe he’s really patriotic, but like- probably not.
Anna would know what to do. Anna is very talented in situations like these, with boys. She has a boyfriend, but when she and Julia are at base, she gets hit on a lot, because Anna is pretty and loud, and friendly. She’s loyal to Zelger though, and she doesn’t do anything with anyone else. As for Julia, boys don’t talk to her. Which is usually fine. She doesn't want them too, but this guy-
But Anna isn’t here because she has to close at base this weekend and so it’s just Julia and not knowing what to say, and her bus is here, and she’ll never see this guy again, everything is a disaster and she wishes for death.
But he stands up too. He’s boarding the same bus as she is. Toda le Elohim! Thanks to God! So he lives in her city! He must because no one goes to Bet Hatikva for vacation. Julia tries to remember if she has ever seen him before, but she does not think so. She gets on the bus first, and sits down near the back. He boards, they make brief eye contact, and she looks away very fast, her heart jumping.
Now since she is sitting behind him, Julia can look at him- well the back of his head- freely. For the first time she wishes that the bus ride to Bet Hatikva is longer. When it does, she considers walking in the same direction as him- no, that’s crazy- so she just goes home, and tells her parents that base was fine this week.
Her stop is unfortunately before his, so she gets off without seeing where he lives, and the weekend passes with no further sightings.
“I know him!” Says Anna, when Julia comes back to base and tells her about this boy. Anna recognizes him from Julia's description. "He works at Dina’s cafe! His name is Papi. Zelger hangs out with him sometimes.”
And so she has a name to further her obsessions.
When she gets the chance to walk past Dina’s cafe, casually, she looks for him. He is there quite a lot. Papi doesn’t notice her, probably because she takes care not to be seen. Julia imagines talking to him. She imagines going into the cafe, ordering, and speaking to him, but it’s all part of her imagination, and she cannot conceive of doing it in real life.
Besides a name and his occupation, Julia knows almost nothing. He cannot be in the army, because she doesn’t see him at the bus station on Sundays. So he could be: older than her by more than two and two thirds of a year, or he would have already been released, or he could have never joined at all. He doesn’t wear a wedding ring, so there’s that at least. She never sees him talking to any other girls at the cafe. This is all she knows, until the night at the roller rink.
Julia could not believe that this is happening to her. Papi was there! But then he was so disinterested in her, and then she fell, but then the guy in the uniform intervened, and it seems that Papi does like her. Amazing!
And now she is walking back to her house with Anna, Zelger trailing behind them. They are dissecting the events of the night, and Julia is so happy, she thinks she could actually perish.
On Sunday, as she goes back to base, she is still thinking about Papi and how he put his arm around her, and how they skated together, and kissed. Julia is in love and everything is amazing.
Then- two weeks later she’s sitting in Dina’s cafe, with this boy, and she is so nervous she can hardly breathe.
“Do you like Yigal Bashan?” Says Papi. “His music I mean.”
“I don’t know him.” But maybe that was the wrong answer. Maybe he really really likes that music and-
“Yeah? But maybe you would like it….I have some records of his if you would like to listen. Except the record player is in Dina’s apartment, you know Dina, yeah? Well we can go there-if you want?”
“Yeah, we can,” and she smiles, and so does he.
Julia and Papi sit in Dina’s apartment, and the light wanes, and he plays songs from before she was born that take her mind away from a small room in Bet Hatikva to beautiful gardens where everything grows. They talk, above the music, and she says she is in the army- Givati, and Papi says, “oh the coolest brigade, it’s my favorite,” and she knows he’s saying it as kind of a joke- just because she said that she’s it but still- it’s really nice of him to say.
“Do you have a curfew, or something?” Papi asks, and she realizes that it is completely dark outside. “Not that I want you to leave! I am just asking, I don’t want you to get in trouble or anything.”
Julia actually does have one, but she has never had to be aware of it, because she never stays out late. It is not so late but still, she should go. She remembers that she didn’t tell her mom where she was going.
“I can walk you back. I mean, it’s dark and stuff.”
Both Julia and Papi know that Bet Hatikva probably the safest town in Israel, and that she does not need an escort, but she also realizes that he offered because he wants to spend more time with her. Of course she says yes.
Anna is going to flip when she hears about all of this, Julia thinks. After she gets home she will call her, and her friend will absolutely go into shock.
Too soon, they are outside her house.
“I live here, this one.”
“Ok.” They have both stopped walking.
“Would you like to meet again?”
Julia wants him to kiss her, but of course she doesn’t want to make the first move, this is so nerve wracking-
He says, “Um, can I kiss you? Again I mean? Because we already… in the roller rink.”
Julia briefly thinks that she has hallucinated this, but she recovers in time to say: “Yes! You can.” Then she steps forward and kisses him, without giving him the chance, but oh well. Papi doesn’t seem to mind.
Above them, from inside his apartment, Itzik sees them as he watches the night for Iris coming back from work- late like always.
Itzik remembers when that was he and she, young and in love, wandering around together. This city was so beautiful to him. Everything was, then, with her.
He remembers what it was to feel completely consumed by affection for another, and yet to pretend you were not. Playing hard to get, it was called- though he was very bad at it, and he knows that Iris always knew how he felt about her. But as for him, Itzik, he always felt unsure, chasing after her, and feeling like Tzachi at his phone booth (another player in the tableau that is Bet Hatikva): does she really love me?
It is different now, and Itzik thought it would be better after night when the band was here, and Iris cried a lot. Maybe they are improving, and he tries…
He needs a job, but he doesn’t tell Iris that he’s looking, because he’s said that before and he doesn’t want her to be disappointed like all the other times. So he waits for her to leave and then Avrum comes over and watches baby Aviv, and then Itzik gets out of his tree, and goes job searching.
He could work at the gas station. His friend is the manager there and has offered to take Itzik on before, but he refused because he did not want that job- it is a job for a boy just out of the army, directionless, not for a middle aged man.
It has been a week, and he tells himself: one week more, then he will swallow his pride and take it. He loves Iris and he wants them to work out.
On the street, Papi and Julia part ways, and the boy watches her walk up the stairs to her apartment. She turns around and waves, and Papi waves back. The boy stands there, drunk on reciprocated affection for a while after Julia has disappeared.
Itzhik turns away from the window.