By Jasminka Domaš
Translated from Croatian by Iskra Pavlović
Every day Tamar passed the pastry shop with a little terrace where the people in the district where she lived ate different cakes with chestnut, chocolate, or fruit of the season.
On the way to her flat she noticed many people hurriedly and happily carrying hot doughnuts or plates, or taking them wrapped in white paper, like pillows. And it seemed to Tamar that the doughnuts were breathing with the soft, fragrant and sweet flavour of soft sugar. In this way she could determine that the carnival was in full swing, when such cakes are sold.
And she stated: “Once this mass of dough, crazy and swelling in a strange heaving carnival procession is gone, and when doughnuts are gone from the pastry shop and window, Purim will come. And in the four corners of the world, in Purim plays Queen Esther will appear, multiplied in her numerous characters, as if she was reflecting herself in the infinite holographic cosmic mirror of the Purim story.
And this woman, like many others after her, in Persia and outside Persia, will learn that when she is losing, she is losing double, irrelevant of who Mordecai is, and who Ahasuerus is, or Haman. And while she was thinking about it, she was not consoled by the fact that Purim is the only Jewish feast to be included in the World to Come. And, again, she was absorbed by the destiny of Esther, the woman who prayed not only for herself but for all her people, who was at the same time frail and strong, tender and still ready to sacrifice herself, opening windows in the future world in her singular way.
For she who believes in this cannot lose even when she is losing. From this musing and the deep pondering into herself, Tamar was startled by the sound of her mobile phone, and she answered.
“Listen, Tamar, are we going to make the Purim party at my place, this might be the best thing because my flat is the biggest, and you know I like cooking, and it won’t be difficult to bake a heap of hamantaschen,” chirped Rina happily, always ready and prepared to undertake the organization of a celebration, or a friendly evening with informal company.
Tamar immediately agreed to Rina’s wish, and in a split second she thought: “What mask shall I put on this year?”
“What will I find when I turn the world upside down, what will I find at the bottom of myself after the second or the third glass of liqueur? And can this world be more weird and crazy than it already is?”
And while time is speeding up, and everything is destroyed and disappears in earthquakes and tsunamis, villages and towns, together with people who until a moment ago were living with their simple human worries, the only solution she can see is to slow down her pace of life, convinced that she does not have to be present at the openings of every exhibition, and every film, theatre or concert première, that she does not have to come to every gathering where someone wants her to come. And she is convinced that being in her flat with a wonderful view of the park is the best rest and the best use of time. The time of silence, serenity and relaxation, regardless of the disaster-predicting stories and prophecies that the world will soon perish and, as it says in The Zohar, that birds will peck flesh from the mountain of human bones.
And when she forgets all this, she relaxedly writes her poems, stories, novels…. And she smiles, because every time a book comes out people ask her: “Were you writing about yourself? This is you, the main character, but you are also in the minor characters!” And she is sick and tired of such questions, the only thing she wants is freedom and peace, although this sounds like a manifesto by Marx and Engels!
Sometimes, when someone suddenly rings her up and asks what she is doing, she quibbles, because sometimes she does nothing at all, knowing that leisure breeds new ideas, and that sometimes out of this Nothing she suddenly sits on her bed, takes a pencil and writes a poem. Later she herself wonders how it is possible that she has written such a long one, in such a short time, and then she shrugs her shoulders, reconciling herself to the fact that she was just writing down what the One Above dictated, sending her words by his light channels, just as he sent to Planck his ideas about the speed of light, or to Tesla his inventions.
Tamar never gets too conceited, and this keeps her healthy in every respect.
Suddenly she remembers that two years ago she brought back from India a sari and little coloured stickers to be put between the eyes as a sign. And she unwillingly touches the point of her Spiritual eye, as though wanting to check if it is still functioning or if it has become completely stunted. And then she lightly shakes her head as if she could see whether Keter* is swinging above her and whether it is getting enough light.
And so the moment she unlocked the door to the flat, she moved to the wardrobe, where, at the bottom, in a bag, lay the folded sari, the skirt and the matching golden flip-flops.
And she looked at all this for a long time because she was suddenly struck by the smell of India, sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, the smell of memories.
On the day of the Purim party, she first soaked for a long time in the bath full of fragrant salts and flowers floating about her, and this suddenly reminded her of her short stay on Cyprus at the time of oranges blossoming, after which she left for Israel and learned sentences in Hebrew on the plane, and when she took the taxi in Tel Aviv and told the driver where to go, he smiled, and when she looked at him questioningly, he said: “You’ve explained everything very well, only you keep using the masculine gender!”
When she pulled herself out of the bath, Tamar rubbed herself with a soft towel, applied jasmine-scented body milk, and her skin shone with the softness of feminine nature. It always seemed funny to her that many of her friends and acquaintances, no matter how hard they tried, were never able to find a husband, living alone for years, while men clung to her, and she would say to her companions: “If only I had wanted to, I could have got married twice every year…”
And then that thought disappeared from her head like a cloudlet which has drifted off from the bathroom.
Tamar first put on her underskirt and fastened it tightly around her waist, because a part of the sari has to be tucked into it, and then she started wrapping it around herself. This took some time because she hadn’t had a chance to wear a sari in a long time. Finally she threw a part of the sari over her shoulder. The sari was a strong orange-golden colour, and this is why she chose a green, oblong emerald sign to put between her eyes. And then, with tingling, she pulled on some ten gold bangles which continued humming sweetly while she was brushing her hair.
And at that moment she remembered a young woman in the outlands of India, poor and cheerless, and how, having washed her hair, she rubbed sesame oil in it, and like this she came out on the dusty road which was winding between little cottages covered with palm leaves, and that heavy black hair which was glittering and shining was the only wealth and splendour of her youth.
Tamar looked at herself in the mirror again, and again she was not alone but was in a small passage in the house of a Jewish merchant, originally from Iran, who had invited her to a Shabbat celebration in Kochin, India. And then this picture also paled, and she applied some more makeup to her eyes before calling a taxi.
Before leaving the car, she looked at the clock on the driver’s dashboard and saw it was exactly 19 hours and 17 minutes, and then she stepped onto the street and entered the doorway of the building where Rina lived on the third floor.
Three weeks after that, there was a small notice in the papers, at the bottom of a page: Tamar Sonnenschein has mysteriously disappeared on her way to a Purim party. The police have not found her yet, and if anybody has some news about her, they are requested to contact the nearest police station.
At the same time, on the other end of the world, local papers in the Malayam language reported that, in Ame ashram, a mysterious white woman in a sari had appeared, speaking a strange language and trying to explain something, but nobody understood her. The police asked that, if anyone knew anything about her, to please contact the nearest police station. They even printed Tamar’s picture, slightly pale and blurred, but still there could be no mistake because there is only one Tamar like this in the whole world.
After some time she said her name was Soumia. They asked if she knew how to do anything and she made her way straight to the kitchen, and by the evening she had baked ten trays of cakes, and told everyone, offering them in the ashram, to help themselves to the hamantaschen. Everyone was too polite to ask her what hamantaschen were, but with their mouths full, eating the sweet poppy-filled pastry, everyone said they were delicious. And she smiled, and explained what no one had asked her, saying, “Purim, Puru, Purim, Purimspiel.”
But this is not the end of the story. Somewhere Up There, in the eighth heaven, Adonai loudly scolded the archangel Michael asking him why on earth, on the feast of Purim, 2011, he had turned the wheel of Tamar’s destiny too strongly, and put her, instead of at the Purim party in Croatia, at the feast of Divali in India.
Michael was confused, but answered the Lord sincerely: “Didn’t you say I could have an extra glass on Purim?” And then Adonai stopped scolding Michael and decided to return Tamar, 283 years and four days later, to where she had started off on a long journey. And the angel Gabriel, who was watching all this, consoled Michael saying, “Well, if nothing else, at least she was properly dressed!”
* Keter is the ultimate level of spiritual achievement according to kabalistic teaching.
Copyright © Jasminka Domaš, 2012. English translation © Iskra Pavlović 2012
Jasminka Domaš lives in Zagreb. She is a journalist with the foreign policy program of Croatian radio, and also works for the religious and documentary program at Croatian Radio and Television. She is a member of Religions for Peace, Croatian Chapter, has won awards for her contributions to human rights and religious freedoms in the Republic of Croatia, and has written over five hundred articles on Judaism in the press and electronic media. She is an author and has made over ten television documentaries, some of which are kept in the Yad Vashem Museum of the Holocaust. Between 1995 and 1998 she cooperated with the American Visual History Foundation-The Holocaust survivors, founded by Steven Spielberg. She is an outstanding member of the Bet Israel Jewish community in Croatia.
Jasminka Domaš has published the following books: The Mispaha Family, Weekly Miniatures of Freedom, Shabat Shalom, Biblical Stories, Rebecca in the Depth of her Soul, Jewish Meditation, The Book of Love or How I Met Anna Frank, The Cabalistic messages, 72 Names, Heaven on Earth and Poetic Mystic. She also publishes short stories and has won several literary awards, including the The Fulmio Tomizza short story award, the award of the Jewish communities of the former Yugoslavia, and an award granted by the International Jewish cultural scene.
Iskra Pavlović (the translator) received her Bachelor’s Degree in English language and literature from the University of Zagreb, Croatia, and her postgraduate diploma in English language and literature from the University of Nottingham in England. She works as a teacher of English to adult professionals, as an interpreter for the Croatian government and other institutions, and has translated several books of poetry, novels, and monographs.