Shadow Boy

[from Sometimes You Lose People, Yediot Books Press, 2013]

                                                                        Don’t cast me out.

                                                                        And if you cast me out look at me: for

                                                                        I am the most horrific of your horrors

                                                                        And the most shot of your shot ones.

                                                                        Avot Yeshurun, “Night Beast”


If I were a photographer I would arrange him exactly as he was but would organize the surrounding light so it looked majestic, to stylize the seedy splendor. If I were a different photographer I would shoot in black and white, to capture the fear in his eyes and the bare walls of the building.

I passed nearby.

At that time I used to walk along Chen Boulevard almost every day and I went past him quickly, watching out for construction obstacles – a plank, a rusty scaffold pole, a sandbag, a nail – and for other dogs that might trigger in my dog that lack of confidence that conditions him to bark and attack like a dog possessed. Young. Almost a boy. Stood to one side so as not to be seen seeing as if part of the shadow. Nicely dressed.

Something in his gaze stopped me inside.

Outside I kept walking and pulling on the lead. For a moment I wanted not to understand – What is he afraid of in this city? In this cozy city in the winter sun? In a wide leafy boulevard with a smiley kiosk that invites you to sit and drink, where you can sometimes forget the neglect? What is there to be so afraid of in a city that invites you to walk in it or at most ride a bicycle? Where the people are so warm? In a city where there are many pleasant cafés and the food is varied and the night accessible, in a city where the women are so pregnant, and there are kids everywhere and sensitive parents. And the sea, and the sea that is so here.

 A boy who must not be seen is standing near me. Foreign-belonging. He is allowed not allowed to be. Those who are allowed all kinds of things by law but the law does still not permit and in any case they have no influence on that law and can quickly with inconceivable speed find themselves outside the law – know how they are allowed to look.

 A boy at the end of a working day, proud. Carefully examining the shadow line. He is an expert in shadow lines, but now he has let his gaze wander, wonder a little. I saw that his gaze had eased and I wanted to go over to him or at least nod as if to say – I’m noticing, I’m not letting the shadow have sway – but when our eyes met he curled up again, remembering how far was possible and I, instead of going over invented myself as a photographer and pulled the dog nearer so it stopped pulling, and thought how as a photographer I would shoot the look in his eyes and arrange the light or – if I were using black-and-white-gray – organize my sadness


At that time I was already pregnant with my daughter, at the very beginning, and I walked a lot and especially with the dog, the one who doesn’t know how to socialize with other dogs and never manages to divert his gaze if he is not interested in their company (apparently this is how dogs signal that they don’t want any contact) and so barks and attacks, not knowing how to stop as if he has become attached to them, paradoxically, like a magnet.

 So I used to walk on the narrow sidewalk rather than in the middle of the boulevard – to avoid meeting dogs. And on one part of the sidewalk there was scaffolding and planks and even a big nail that you had to watch out for and pull your dog.

 And I learned how to help him focus on me rather than on the other dogs and I gave him small pieces of food every few seconds, and he would walk beside me.

And my daughter was in my belly and I conceived her right after that thing that happened in Gaza ended. And she came to me through in vitro fertilization – I mean it was a bureaucratic process that took a few months, rather than a burst of passion after or in the midst of military action, that helped her come to me, since in Israel, at the end of a war, many women become pregnant. So it wasn’t that way with me, I mean it was, but not for the same reasons.

And she came to me after I saw pictures of dead children whose shut eyes were so serene like my eldest son’s when he is sleeping. And I couldn’t look at him sleeping because I saw the similarity too much. And five of them, each one a year or two older than the other, arranged next next next, covered with a blanket and one my son’s age and one a baby and they had names in Arabic and I don’t remember the names only the father’s suffering and my belly used to hurt a lot and still my daughter came to my belly and I was happy to have her, and I knew that she came with the sea and with the freedom it holds.

 And when I saw him standing in the shadow he looked like someone who had survived, though I knew he probably wasn’t there, and I wanted to come and tell him that it saddens me, that it riles me, that it drives me crazy that you have to feel that only in the shadow you are allowed to look

 And I didn’t go up to him, I only saw his face which had thick lips with the innocence of childhood and the power of adolescence, and the eyes which were deep and penetrating and long eyelashes and a collar emerging plaid out of a sweater and a coat that was folded on his arm. And legs that didn’t move, just stood next to each other, waiting, maybe for his father to finish working so they could get on the truck and go back

 And I thought that if I were a photographer.

 If I were a photographer I would ask him if I could take some pictures. And then I would have made contact. And even if he told me no and I wouldn’t have taken any pictures he would know that I saw

Once a long time ago in a few years I walked with my son to the beach and we will pull a camera out of the sea, covered with remains of nets and water plants and with one seashell stuck to its lens and from the pictures stored within it a world will open and we looked at it and marveled, awake, an odd mixture were in it and women and men in two languages at least will be walking there and a different language suffusing everything and everything was very local but foreign because in the Arab café in Jaffa they sit and turn and the conversations are not delimited and the tower of the clock will grow oranges and I and my son wandered around on the beach and will talk and look at the seaweed, and the algae researcher suddenly arrived with the boy who had grown up to become a researcher and they will show us how the seaweed grows little beating hearts, swollen seaweed leaves, and the water is filled with the warmth of the bigheartedness that could have been here and is breathing up and down, up and down

And they will tell us that they did some research on swimming next to seaweed to reduce anxieties and they say that they can already see some fine results, fine results

 And I floated in that, it was possible for me to float in that


About Adi Sorek

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