The Love Peddlers


The Love Peddlers

(Excerpt from a Novel)

By Yossi Avni-Levy

Translated from Hebrew by Yardenne Greenspan


Deep down, do I believe in magic and spells? Is the belief in ghosts congenital?
Grandma Nahonum would say: just like there are good and bad people, there are also good and bad demons. The bad demons were always causing trouble, bad luck, illness, and disasters. They liked to scuffle, get drunk, even pounce on women and children in the darkness of alleys. At nights they crowded in ruins, abandoned buildings, and public bath houses, which we called hamams. To defend themselves, people would toss espanj seeds onto coals, and when the seeds began to bounce around, they’d whisper, “Let the eyes of our enemies bounce out of their sockets.” They hid pins inside new blankets and sheets so that the evil demons didn’t enjoy curling up in them. Evil demons loved to sleep in new linens that smelled nice. In the mornings it was easy to recognize their tracks: a wrinkle here, a stray hair there, even excrement, God help us.
But there were also, as I already mentioned, good demons, who loved people and sought their closeness. At the edge of the Jewish street I’m telling you about lived an honorable family of such demons. On holidays the Jewish children and the demon children played together. Sometimes they forged friendships, even puppy loves. When the Jewish children had a cough or a stomachache, their parents summoned the demons by lighting paper cones filled with salt. That was their signal.
Fresh cucumbers were the most popular ingredient for demon spells. The demons would sit beside the sick child, rub their hand, place cucumber peels against their skin, and sing pretty songs about forests and burrows and bats and blackberries. When the child was cured, they would break into a happy dance, twirling until the morning light. The parents would express their gratitude toward the good demons by giving them large baskets filled with fruit, fresh bread, and especially with taraq, the wonderful cookies baked by the women of Herat, filled with dates, almonds, cinnamon, and ginger. When you serve them taraq, the demons lose their minds. They attack the plates like little monkeys, licking and growling and laughing.
How badly I want to bake you those cookies, dear son! In a few minutes I’ll go into the kitchen, in spite of the loud protests of my partner, Mr. Hoffman, and bake you some taraq. I’ll insist: taraq now! And not just any taraq, but taraq with bunduk—pistachios—and heshhesh— poppy seeds!
A distant relative of ours, a funny old woman in white lace, told us that her grandmother, Madareh Shambal, was a famous midwife. And not just any midwife—a demon midwife. The demon king himself would come to Madareh Shambal’s window and ask her to deliver his sons and daughters. Madareh Shambal would sneak out under the cover of darkness toward an abandoned well in the loquat orchard, forty-eight steps down, where she would deliver the demon children, leaving the happy mother-demon a bowl of sweet taraq to revive her.
We once asked the old woman who told us about the midwife if she herself had ever seen a demon.
“Of course I have,” she said, cracking pumpkin seeds. She was sitting in a shaded nursing home in Herzliya, not far from the sea. “We used to call the demons ‘those that are better than us.’ I had a good friend,” she recalled with unusual alertness, “a demon my own age who spoke Pashto and Dari, combed her braids, and wore a dress with a wide, open collar to synagogue, just like a Jewish girl.”
Then how could you tell she was a demon? her grandchildren persisted.
The old woman didn’t miss a beat. “When she needed to pee she didn’t squat behind a wall,” she explained. “Instead, she did her business standing up.”
One day, a fabric merchant relative of ours, Mullah Rafael Haji, spotted a skinny, especially ugly customer touching the goods and haggling loudly. The merchant noticed thin, hairy legs poking out of his pants, ending with goat hoofs. He knew right away he was dealing with a demon. The demon winked at the merchant, mischievous, and poked out his tongue. Before our relative could even mumble the He Who Saves Us from Demons prayer, HWSUFD for short, composed by Mullah Yekutiel Cohen, the demon disappeared among the other customers, as if swallowed by the earth.
After you go to sleep, my Yotam, I sit down to write.
I want to tell you. Tell you the legend of your birth. The legend of our family. I want to tell you about your grandma Shamsi, who always wanted to be happy. About your grandpa Akiva, who worked the orchards. About the forgotten Herat and its people. About its markets and peddlers. And I also want to tell you about your father, an emotional man who waited for you many years and knew that one day you’d come. Until, one morning, a miracle happened, and the last door opened wide for him.
“Congratulations, Mister. You have a son.” A skinny, black-haired doctor poked his head through the door. He was holding a bundle wrapped in a powder blue blanket. A tiny, gorgeous human cub was curled up in the fabric. “Take him for a moment, hold him.” The doctor handed me, your father, the bundle.
You were lying there.
You opened your tiny eye slits for a moment, looking at me. Hello, Dad, I heard you speaking to me. Do you see? I’m here. And you didn’t believe it would happen.
I whispered voicelessly, “Welcome to the world, dear son.”
Your warm, wise look seemed to be saying, I’m keeping an eye on you, Daddy. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be all right. Entire worlds reflected in your pupils: gorgeous memories of days that have been and days that have yet to come.
It was Monday, March 28th, eleven a.m. I will remember these details forever. Every morning I return to that magical door, sit on the floor, and wait for it to open. I recall the enchanted sound of those words. Congratulations, Mister. At that moment, I tried to hold tightly all the people that I am so that they didn’t fall away, fleeing into the hallways.
Because only there, on a wooden bench at one of the top floors of the hospital, only there could I hear my childhood ending. Only there could I hear that the clocks were winding again inside of me. Even the clock of parting. And time was now divided into two, my child: some of it moving forward, the rest dragging backwards. And it’s frightening. So frightening that I sit by your bed at night, and cry. And beg forgiveness.
Our story begins, perhaps, on a bright, silvery night, when we dipped, Ido and I, in the warm water of the sea, to purify our bodies and souls.
I once knew a young rabbi who was born a Catholic and converted to Judaism. The rabbi told me, “That Europe, it’s a cursed continent. You’ve treaded on the ground where tens of thousands of people suffocated to death. You stood in the pits where women and children burned. Particles of death float there to this day, and you’ve breathed them. You carry with you shards of filth,” the rabbi told me, his eyes green candlesticks. “Therefore, you must cleanse yourself. Go to the mikveh and purify yourself. Otherwise, filth will always haunt you.”
I spent long days walking around Tel Aviv, carrying with me the remains of that filth without knowing. I didn’t want to go into the mikveh. Until one day someone told me that the water of the sea also cleanses, as long as the body is fully submerged in it, like a fetus floating in its mother’s womb.
One warm night, Ido and I walked around midnight to our regular beach at the edge of Bograshov Street. We tossed our clothes in a small pile on the sand, and in front of the astounded eyes of a few boys smoking hookah and embracing the white beauty of young girls, we walked into the sea completely naked, letting the waves swirl and cradle us.
Ido shouted, “Careful not to drown! What will the papers say tomorrow morning? He planned to have a kid at the end of the world, but ended up drowning two meters away from the beach?”
And I submerged myself in the water and thought about you, my child. I was surrounded on all sides by black, salty womb water, and thought only about you, your kindness, your great soul, and our meeting, which had been postponed for years. I floated in the warm water and I saw your face, son. You were smiling. You were smiling at me in the water.
Ido screamed, “You’re swallowing water! Don’t drown!”
All of a sudden, I couldn’t feel the bottom of the sea, only the cradling of water on all sides, a thousand hands pulling me down to the depths, where a woman sat on a large rock on the bottom of the sea, whispering, Oh, Assafek. And I wanted so badly to see you again, your happy smile between the white cushions of foam, and a salty wave found its way into my mouth and ears and nose. Hooooo, I heard the long, wolfening murmur of the sea. Hooooo, whispered the murmur, you are clean now, go home.
I got out of the water. Ido reached for his bag and pulled out an ironed towel, folded into perfect quarters, just like the German Jews like it. “There’s a draft, you’ll catch a cold.” He wrapped me in the towel and cursed himself for agreeing to this Levantine primitivism in the first place. “This is the last time I concede to another of your peculiar requests,” he complained the whole way home. “If people only knew the places you dragged me! What’s next? Witch doctors? Baking cookies for demons? Your demons are inside your body, Assaf Hakshuri.” He talked non-stop, but his eyes were sparkling too. They don’t know how to lie, the eyes. Ido also knew that the good omen was on its way to us, slowly sprouting in the hidden tunnels of the universe. But he didn’t want to say anything. He didn’t want to spoil it.
Nothing in our life is simple, son. In the honorable Hakshuri family, there is a little stumble before any great joy. At every holiday, a small pain shows up to demand what it is rightfully owed. Like a happiness tax. On the rarest of occasions, when we are content and without complaints, we look askance fearfully, as if our pleasure were a sin.
Ido’s and my joy lasted no more than three minutes. “Mister,” a doctor wearing a green sari called us into the delivery room. “Look, he’s having some trouble breathing, the baby. He must have swallowed water. We’re going to keep him here. Please step outside. I have to deliver five more babies in the next hour.”
I was in total shock. I wanted to take you in my arms, a child that was just born, and walk with you down the hallway. I wanted to kiss your cheeks, your forehead, your nose. I wanted to tell you: here is your first kiss, my prince. But you were taken away from me.
“We have to put an oxygen mask on him,” the doctor in the green sari said, turning to leave.
“Is it dangerous?” I asked, stopping her at the door.
“I don’t know,” she said, striding toward the next surrogate. “You can go to your room
and rest. We’ll keep you updated.”
A cheerful ruckus sounded from outside the door. Young men called joyously out in the hallways. The doctors carried shocked, blinking newborns out of the rooms, one by one, having just been extracted from the bellies of dark, heavyset women. The new fathers walked in and out of the rooms, hugging each other, taking pictures, cheering. Ido looked at me with eyes torn with astonishment. What is going on? his eyes asked. Why isn’t he with you? Where is our child?
I didn’t want to go out into the hallway. I was afraid if I did, something awful would happen. I wanted to stay by your side. Something bad is happening right now, Assafek! Voices bellowed and roared in my ears. The five other babies are all meeting their fathers, and only your baby is convulsing! Why?
Pale and afraid, I stood by the small cart covered with a baby-blue sheet, and searched for my child’s small hand. He lay there, splay-legged, two plastic tubes shoved into his tiny nostrils. “Welcome to our world, son,” I said again, this time out loud, so you could hear me. So everyone could hear me, even the good demons carrying cucumber peels. “Don’t worry, kid, I’m here.”
You were born three minutes ago. These are your first breaths in our world. You swallowed some water. No matter, little bug. Everything is going to be all right. Do you know who I am? I’m Daddy. Say Da-ddy,” I rolled the new word over my tongue. “I’ll always take care of you. Always-always. I won’t leave your side for a second.”
Ido signaled for me to leave and let him go in. He was already wearing his green coat and his plastic cap. He was holding his cell phone in his hand, to take pictures, but he didn’t use it. This wasn’t the moment he had wanted to commemorate. “Only for a minute,” the nurse told him. They knew very well, the nurses, who those other men were, sitting in the hallways, their eyes filled with longing. “One minute, then please step outside.”
“Shut your trap,” Ido muttered in Hebrew and strode into the room.
I took a seat on the bench outside the room and stared at the wall. It was yellow. Very yellow. The friends we’d embarked on this long journey with were hugging, chatting happily, congratulating each other. Someone shouted into a phone, “Mom, you have a grandchild!” On the other side of the line I could hear the thrilled grandmother rejoicing. Then he shouted again: “He’s got blue eyes, Mom! Can you believe it? Blue!”
I got up and went to the window. From the height of the twelfth floor I could see a neighborhood of impoverished huts. A puddle of water stood in the middle of a heap of sheds, and half-naked children were bathing in it.
“He’s going to be discharged tomorrow.” Ido appeared beside me, searching for my hand.
“It’s common. Let’s get out of here. We can’t see him right now. We’ll come back later.”
“I don’t want to leave.”
“Come on, Assaf, we’ve got to conserve our energy,” Ido whispered. He was strong and wonderful and infinite.
We returned to the white room we were renting on the hospital’s guestroom floor. There were two beds in the room and a spectacular view of a great big city. I called it Nineveh. But the room was quiet. A white, whitewashed quiet. The large suitcase we’d brought from Israel was standing on the floor, still locked as it had been when we arrived. It contained onesies in blue, in case we had a boy, and in pink, in case we had a girl. We didn’t know anything before we got here. It was all a mystery, a journey to the future. The suitcase also contained about a thousand diapers, toys, creams, and ointments, unopened medication, as well as a tiny Psalms book that my mother, your grandmother, Shamsi, slipped into my hand just before the flight. The suitcase remained closed and still in the corner of the room, as if our baby had not yet been born.
I looked into Ido’s eyes, and he looked into mine. “What happened to us?” I asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Don’t think bad thoughts. Our child needs us right now! He’s thinking about us! He wants us to stay calm!” He shook my shoulders hysterically. “Do you understand?” Ido kept shaking me until my bones felt like they were about to break.
There was a long wooden bench opposite the reception desk, and a round window above it. We tapped on the glass and looked in impatiently. Five or six small beds were arranged in a sad line in the depths of the room, all occupied by premature babies. I strained my eyes to see: you were in the farthest bed.
“Visiting hours are over.” A nurse in a white coat closed the window. Her dark skinned glistened. “Come back at ten tomorrow.”
What are you talking about, ten tomorrow!” I yelled. “I want to see my kid! I want to hear how he’s doing! I want to hold him!” I fell to my knees, weeping.
The nurse opened the door with hesitation. “Put this on,” she said. Her eyes were full of pity. I put on a green coat, gloves, a paper mask, and a clear plastic cap, and walked inside.
That’s where I saw you, lying on a small table with splayed legs, like a plucked baby bird. Plastic tubes in your nostrils. Your face was beautiful, dreamy, peaceful. “Hello, prince,” I said, touching the back of your hand. You opened your eyes in search of the source of this deep voice. “Don’t worry, child. I’m with you. I’m here. You’re not alone. You’ll never be alone. I won’t let you be alone.” I started to cry again. Enough with the hysteria, Assafek, I scolded myself. Lots of babies are hospitalized in their first few hours of life. It’s completely routine.  Calm down.
But I didn’t. “Mister, please don’t cry,” said a small woman in a yellow dress. She was sitting on a bed not too close. Something dark was lying in her lap, about the size of a sock. Two enormous black eyes were sewn to the end of it. It was a premature baby. An especially tiny premature baby. It was horrifying. “This is my daughter,” the woman in yellow said in a tired voice. “I come to see her every day. I think she knows I’m here. She’s happy to see me. I can feel it. Your son knows you’re here, too. He’s trying to speak to you. He’s going to be fine. You’ll see. He’s a strong, healthy child.”
Ido waved nervously through the round window. Get out of there! His eyes were red like a drunk’s. Who are you talking to? He was waving his hands.
“Sir, visiting hours are over,” said the nurse, shaking her head like a pendulum.
“I told you to shut up!” He pushed her aside with one hand, polite husband of mine. Two minutes later he stepped out of there with even redder eyes, tossing the gloves in the trash.
“Let’s go.” He pulled my hand.
We slipped into our room wordlessly, embracing in bed, fully dressed. “Everything’s going to be all right,” he said. His breaths blended into mine. “He’s strong, that kid. Remember what that woman with the premature baby said? He’s listening to us now. He knows we love him.”
“I love him so much,” I whispered.
“So do I.” Ido ran his hand over my forehead. “Tomorrow morning we’ll sit with him and talk to him. You’ll see. By lunchtime they’ll bring him over to our room.”
In the nearby room we could hear the party our friends were having to celebrate their babies. One brought wine, the other bought a cake. One took pictures on a high-end phone, the other gave a speech.
“Our son is going to have blond hair,” someone boasted. “We insisted on a blonde egg donor. We didn’t give up! We only want a blond kid!”
And I thought about your wonderful, wise dark eyes, my child. About the long lashes that opened like a miniature reed fan. About your angelic look, a one-day-old man lying all by his lonesome on a pressed blue sheet. “Good night, little prince,” I said hopefully. I imagined my fingers tickling you, jeezee meow, meow meow. And I imagined you laughing, dimples opening in your skinny cheeks.
In my dream, I saw that black preemie, the size of a sock. Suddenly, she winked at me. Her wink was malicious, wild. I jumped in my sleep; I might have let out a cry. Ido touched my shoulder lightly. “It’s okay,” he said, his lips near the back of my neck. “I can’t sleep either.  Let’s not say anything. Let’s just lie here together and wait for morning.”
In the morning we received a tray of rice, yogurt, spicy dips, and fresh pita bread. Lots of nurses kept coming in and out of the room, serving us water, tea, clean towels, asking if we needed anything else, if anything was missing, if we wanted to watch the historical cricket match between India and Pakistan, and all we wanted to say was, Yes, we want our child, the baby, bring him here, to our room, and close the door behind you, please.
I looked for the on-call doctor. I remembered he had a Muslim name. Dr. Ahmed. Or something like that. My eyes were wet, my face was wet, my chin was wet, my collar was wet. The doctor looked quizzically at my hand that was gripping his arm. When was the last time a man touched him this way? Perhaps never.
He said in a soft voice, “I’ve never seen a father as scared as you.” Then he left.
And I sat next to the blue cart and searched for your tiny fingers. Something was gurgling deep in my stomach. Did you really think you were going to be a father, Assafek? You? Do you think you deserve it? Something good? A miracle? A good omen? No way, Assafek! You don’t deserve it!
And I knew it was yetzer hara, the evil inclination, trying to sabotage my happiness, trying to destroy my golden pagan temple, and I pushed it out with both hands, just shoved it out and whispered my oaths and incantations, one in Farsi, the other in Hebrew. Syllables dripping on each other like grains of sand on the Bograshov Beach. People glanced askance at me in the hallway, thinking I was crazy, but I felt as if I was streaming power over to you. That I was giving you all I had. All the moisture of my life. All my love.
And you suddenly blinked, as if a warm wind had caressed you. Then you sighed. You let out a soft sigh, incredible in its human tenderness. The sigh of a grown man. The nurse got up and went to your bed.
Is something wrong?” I gasped, piercing my fingers into the side of the bed with terror.
The nurse smiled. “He’s just feeling you sitting beside him, so he’s trying to make a sound. Speak to him. Speak to him a lot. He’s listening.”
I was motivated. I stood right over your bed and went into a loud speech. “Hello, my boy,” I bellowed. “It’s me, your father. Your father is here. Do you hear me? Daddy! Daddy wants you to be strong. Daddy wants you to take care of him. Yes, that’s right. You take care of Daddy. All right, my son? All right?”
The nurse told me off, half-smiling. “No need to yell, Mister.” She looked around, signaling with her pretty eyes to the burly male nurse in the corner that everything was fine. It was just some eccentric. “You’ll wake up all the little ones.”
You breathed again in a kind of bird-like sob and shifted your tiny foot.
“I don’t know what you just said to him, but you see that? He’s answering you.” The nurse shook her head in awe, and I knew that now everything was all right; now everything was good.
The next morning, you were brought into our room.
The head nurse stood in the doorway, glowing and formal. Five or six young, smiling nurses gathered behind her in their white scrubs. “Here’s the child.” They all pushed the cart in together, at its center a white sheet, and on it, asleep, a miniature prince, tiny-limbed, and altogether beautiful.
The head nurse announced, “Here’s Daddy, little one.” I cried out with joy, might have even let out a Persian “Kilili,” as was the ethnic custom. Our friends quickly came in from the nearby rooms, and even Ido, tough Ido who never shows his emotions, walked over to the window to wipe away a tear.
And your grandmother Shamsi clapped her hands and screamed into the phone, “Thank God! God never closes all the doors! Did you count his fingers? Are you sure there are five,not six? How are his lungs? He doesn’t have bronchitis, heaven forbid, doeshe?”
Everything’s fine, Mom. He’s gorgeous. And he looks like you.”
I could hear her breath catch, crying with joy, and your grandfather Akiva roared next to her, “Give me the phone, you human cow! Stop hogging the phone! Let me talk a little, too!”  They bickered in their crowded kitchen, as usual. “What time is his bris? Oh, we’ve got to leave! We’ll miss our bus! Did you iron my white shirt, Shamsi?”
Mom yelled back, “What bris are you talking about? You’re senile! He’s abroad!”
And Dad cried out, “Where is he? Ay vey!” and we got disconnected.
In the evening our friends returned, bringing their babies with them. Someone said, “He’s like a carbon copy of you. The same eyes, the same face structure. Just different hair color. I guess he still got something of hers.” They joked around.
I felt a bubble blowing inside of me, a bubble with a thousand people inside it, sticking out their tongues. Do I want you to look like me, child?
Ido did a rare thing, cutting in and saying, “Who cares who he looks like? Do you think your blond baby looks like you? You’re Yemenite! The important thing is that they are all lucky and healthy,” he determined with his usual cool, and everyone was startled and said, “Amen,” as if this were synagogue. But one of them muttered, “Still, blue eyes never hurt anyone.”
All night long I held my nose up to the soft fuzz covering your small head. It was a thick red, like the color of fertile soil. How did our Afghan lineage get this pomegranate red?
“What do you keep checking there?” Ido asked.
“Nothing. I’m just smelling him. He smells so sweet.”
“Don’t tell me you’re trying to guess what his hair color is going to be, like all those primitive  racists,” Ido barked. He’s too smart, that son of a bitch.
Of course not!” I sneered. “Me?!”
“Yes, you.”
He lay there, holding each other, Ido and I, listening to the sound of your breathing. We were a family now, with a child, I kept repeating to myself. I felt as if a new calendar was starting today, an epic story beginning—the story of a great love. I got up to look at you every few minutes. I think I even smiled. It was the first time I’d smiled since we left Tel Aviv.
It was a gorgeous spring day in late April when I first brought you to the house where I was born.
A white festival of citrus blossoms danced through the air. “We’re here,” Ido said, pulling up in front of a low house with a red-tiled roof. Cries of joy erupted from inside the house. My four sisters were standing on the front porch, waving at us. Mama banged on her chest and said, “Thank You, Lord, thank You! This is the happiest day of my life!” Papa tried to stand up and almost fell. “Let me get a look at the child too!” he shouted with wild joy. “What are you pushing me for? I’ll curse you so hard it’ll last till Rosh Hashanah!”
When we walked inside came the heavy candy showers. Mama had been saving up sugar cubes in the kitchen cabinet for many years, just in case something good happened to us, too.
With time, the sugar cubes had hardened and turned into little pebbles. “Kilili!” Mama ululated, looking up into the sky, as if God was sitting on a cloud, smiling at us politely, like a conductor. My sisters wiped away their tears. Everyone was over the moon. So excited. A holiday!
And you lay there, miniscule, curled up and charming in the car seat we bought before the trip, watching the hoopla with curious eyes. Every once in a while you bleated softly. So this is my family, Daddy, the one you’ve been telling me about for a whole month?
“What an ugly baby! I don’t want to look at him!” Mama cried out loudly, spitting with contempt, to confuse the evil spirits and—even more dangerous—the Yemenite neighbors.
“Papa, this is your grandson,” I said. I had been preparing for this moment for years, and now my knees buckled. “Give him a blessing for health. For luck,” I stuttered, placing you in Grandpa Akiva’s lap. Just don’t cry, I warned myself. Not now. Don’t let them see.
“Oh!” Papa called out giddily. “Harpushtak!” His eyes were glowing.
“What did he say?” I whispered.
“Don’t worry about him, he’s confused,” Mama said, her made-up Pharaoh eyes narrowing. “He’s happy. He hasn’t been able to sleep for three days, he’s so excited. Crying like a baby.”
Harpushtak!” Papa yelled out, elated, and reached out to touch the soft red curls that haloed your head.
“His name is Yotam,” I said. “This is your grandson, Papa. This is Yotam Hakshuri.”
Ma sh’allah, Ma sh’allah,” Papa mumbled, moved, running his dry hand through your gorgeous hair. “May you live to a hundred and twenty years old, azizem. Jigarem, to a hundred and twenty. Whose kid is this?” he asked, widening his eyes at me.
“Mine, Papa. This is my son. Your grandson.”
“Yours?” Papa slapped his knee, astonished. “You have a kid?”
“Yes. We have a kid.” I glanced at Ido, who was looking away angrily.
“Oh! Look at that, Shamsi. We have a grandson,” Papa said and started to cry.
“Stop, you can’t get too emotional,” Mama said, taking the baby from him. “He looks just like a meymun, a monkey, I swear!” she said, tossing handfuls of salt at the narrow eyes of the Lilith demons, who were sitting up on the branches, cracking the seeds of a curse. “Such an ugly child! The ugliest! Makes me want to throw up!” she kept saying at the top of her throat, but her eyes were moist with gratitude. You had her heart from the start, my boy. That day, Grandma Shamsi was the happiest she’d ever been.
I walked with you in the house where I was born, feeling a sensation both frightening and pleasurable—that I wasn’t the one holding you, but rather that you were holding me. As if performing a ritual, I paced with you among the memory laden corners of the house, whispering oaths into your ears. I swore to be a good father. I swore you would want for nothing. That I would give you my all. That I would love you forever and ever.
“Can we finish the ceremonial series some other time?” Ido grumbled. “With the incense and the shrines? The baby is tired.”
But I didn’t give up. I continued pacing to and fro with you in my arms. I felt that you needed to see this place, to which my life was bound so intensely. That you needed to know I had lived in many apartments in my life, but that my parents’ house was the only home I ever had.

“Welcome home, son,” I whispered in your ear.


Copyright © by Yossi Avni-Levi. English Translation copyright © Yossi Avni-Levi.
Published by arrangement with The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.

Yossi Avni-Levy was born in Israel in 1962, first son to parents who immigrated to Israel from Afghanistan and Iran. He studied Middle Eastern history and law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and joined Israeli diplomatic service. Published four novels, two collections of short stories and novellas and one children’s book. He is one of Israel’s most successful gay writers; in a unique and a colorful language he describes family relations in the traditional Jewish Sephardi environment, as well as international experiences and father-son relationships. Snails in the Rain, a film based on one of his short stories, was released in 2013, and his novel A Man Without Shadow is now being made into a feature film. Avni-Levy received the Prime Minister's Prize in 2007.

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