People Have No Idea How Busy I Am
By Minny Mock
Translated from Dutch by the author
“No problem, no problem. I will arrange it for you; phone me back within a week. Then for sure I will have found your file. It is a little balagan over here because we are in the process of rearranging things.”
A voice in the background: “You are always in the process of rearranging things or moving out and in.”
“No problem, as I said, so all the best. I am a bit under lachats now, have to do something urgently.”
“You are going out? Where to? Do not go downtown. We are in a war, you know, we happen to live near a war zone. They never taught us in school or university how to deal with that. So don’t go shopping at the supermarket near the plaza, don’t go to Jaffa Street, don’t go to King George,” warns his wife.
“I just have to go to the post office in Keren Kayemet — you know, nearby, with all these elderly people waiting in line.”
The moment he’s closed the door, he tries to remember where he saw that beautiful Kadishman. Was it in the gallery at the Inbal hotel, or at the King David, or was it in that gallery opposite the hotel? No, no, that one has closed down. There are quite a few galleries closing down now — one moment they are there; the next, the place is for rent. Nothing compared to those golden years when on every corner of the street in the centre of town there was an art gallery. Okay, okay, try to focus, he says to himself. No, it’s not there, also not there. Really, my memory is not what it was; I should check on the internet, maybe there exists some special vitamin for that problem. Do not to forget to look on the internet, he thinks. Nice, nice, it rhymes. You see, there is still something of a poet in me. What was I thinking about? What did I plan to do? Focus, focus. Yes! I remember. I have to buy mineral water. You always have to be prepared, you never know God forbid what might happen, you always have to store loads of mineral water in the house. I will hide it away somewhere in a forgotten place in the apartment, so that she will not notice. She does not like these things, she keeps saying that we are not planning to go into hiding. Where is the closest supermarket? Yes, next to the plaza. Free parking also. Wait a minute, she said something about that supermarket. What was it again? I remember. I really do — what a relief, my memory is okay, after all. She asked me to get that tasty French cheese. But that can wait. First the Kadishman.
He drives around and around the area of the hotels. Where was it, where was it? His cell phone rings. He manages to dig it out of his pocket in time. “Hello. Who is speaking? . . . Ah, good that you phoned. I tried to reach you. Listen, is that manuscript about the Jewish community of Broek in Waterland still for sale? Because I might, I say I might, be interested in it. Not for sure, but maybe. Ah, I see. You got a good price — nice, nice. Listen, if you have anything Jewish, just phone me, at this number, not at my home number — just get rid of that home number I gave you. That was by mistake. You know my wife is working on her thesis, and she does not want to be disturbed all the time by a ringing phone. So, I hope to hear from you.”
Unbelievable — again such a long line at the post office when he runs inside. What are all these people doing here? Do they think it is a community centre? Look, look how the post office clerks are having conversations with people. He cannot remember a post office so crowded. Not on Har Nof, not on Sderot Herzl, not in. . . Where did I have a post office box? he asks himself, trying to remember. The phone rings, it’s his eldest son on the phone. Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine, busy, busy. What? Who? Never heard of him, don’t know his name. What is it about? Research on Jewish aspects of the feast of Saint Martin? That will not sell — never mind that he is a professor at some university. Unless, unless, of course, it might be helpful to you to publish a book by this guy, you know what I mean. You do not need that kind of proposition, and so on and so forth, you will find some examples of that in the office, in the upper drawer of one of the mental closets. But I am in a hurry, I am waiting in line now in the post office to pick up the book you ordered. Bye.”
Good that I am on such friendly terms with the clerk who is handling the line on the left. She remembers me from when I had an extra post office box here. Sometimes she gives me priority, making up some story that I’d been already waiting in line. I do not really feel bad about that. These old people, they are not in as big a hurry as I am, and besides that, they like it over here, waiting in line. “Hey, saba, you are standing on my toes,” he hears someone say behind him in an American, a Brooklyn, accent. “Yes, you.” What did this teenager call him? Saba means Grandpa. Me?? The clerk suddenly waves at him. He runs forward, positioning himself next to the person first in line. He hands the note to the clerk. The woman next to him starts protesting: “What chutzpah to place himself at the front of the line! Who does he think he is? Arieh Deri, or Tsachi Hanegbi, or Shamir?” He tries to explain. “What are you talking about?” the woman shouts at him. “You call this Hebrew? You are English, of course. Do you think it is still the British Mandate here now? That you are the masters of the land?”
Okay, it did not work. He will come back later. Now the mineral water — better go for that to the nearby co-op in the Wolfson Centre. It is not crowded in the small shopping centre where the co-op is situated. While he makes a run for the supermarket, he sees the gallery through the corner of his eye. Now he remembers! It was in this new gallery that he had seen the Kadishman. He was actually surprised that he would find a painting like that in this not so high-level gallery. His mobile phone is ringing. His daughter tells him that she is not coming this Shabbat to Jerusalem, as she had originally planned, but probably next week, although she cannot say for a sure. His granddaughter wants to speak to him. She is Harry Potter, she says, and your name is Harry, too. His daughter says again that she is not completely sure about next Shabbat; she will phone when she is knows what is happening.
Unfortunately the gallery is closed. His phone rings. His wife. Each time she phones, he is surprised that she knows how to use a cell phone. “I am nearly on my way home,” he hurries to say. She tells him that someone is waiting for him at home, someone whom he had promised to meet. He understands. Completely forgotten. Beside which, he had instructed the guy to ring the bell and wait for him downstairs. “I am coming home, yes, yes, now.”
When he arrives home, the guy is sitting at the table, a cup of coffee in front of him, a piece of cake next to him. His wife signals him with her eyes and head to come to the kitchen. “One of your special cases?” she asks.
“What do you think?”
“Fine, but don’t start a whole conversation with him. You have other things to do. When are you cleaning that mess in your room? You know we have never lived in a place where you did not litter your room and all the other rooms with old journals, articles cut out from newspapers, and books stacked on the floor.”
“Yes, yes, I know, but I promise you that in the new house everything will be spic and span, believe me.”
After the guy leaves, he makes himself a cup of coffee. Five minutes’ rest in another hectic day. His phone rings. His second son. He knows a priori that his son will tell him again how completely and utterly disorganized the office is. His son does exactly this. And then adds a few new points of criticism.
He starts to pity himself. Why is everybody always after him? Why? Don’t they see how hard he works? Especially at his age. In a few months he will be sixty. The thought frightens him. No wonder this teenager called him saba. He hardly knows the word, by the way. His grandchildren call him “Opa.” Sounds so wonderful.
“Some shopping to do, so let’s go,” he hears his wife say. What is she talking about? Yes, of course shopping. But then, if she’s with him, he needs to be careful not to take loads of mineral water by mistake. “Shopping where?” he asks. “The co-op, of course.” It sounds like an advertisement.
The gallery near the co-op is open now. “Did you know that there was a new gallery here?” she asks. “I always ask myself how a gallery can survive here, and then it doesn’t. The other one at the corner closed down in no time.”
Shall he tell her about the Kadishman? He knows already what she will say, he knows it by heart. And in a way maybe she has a point. He has to get rid of some paintings, keep only the real nice ones. He liked this Kadishman, it has such a sweet expression in the sheep’s eyes. What to do — tell her or not tell her? “Look at these paintings,” his wife says. “It is all just more of the same. Why don’t they have anything different?”
He only has to shoot the ball into the basket. She’d already passed the ball to him. “They happen to have a Kadishman,” he says. “Not that I want it. I saw part of it — the painting was a bit hidden behind some other paintings.”
That was the truth and nothing but the truth. But he did not tell her that he had entered the gallery, admired the painting, and even asked the price.
“Let’s have a look,” his wife decides.
“No, no, we have too many things.” he says. “I promised you not to bring anything new into the house.” He does his utmost to sound sincere, so as not to arouse suspicion. Such a beautiful Kadishman, he thinks again.
“You are right,” his wife says, “but you know I like Kadishman. Was it a big one?”
He tries to remember, to focus. He thinks it seemed smallish, rather than big. “On the small side.”
“Let’s have a look anyway.”
So far so good, he thinks.
The moment his wife sees the painting, he knows.
No problem, no problem at all.
The children are not enthusiastic. If you’ve seen one sheep, you’ve seen them all, is their reaction. “But if you like it and Mama likes it, fine. As long as you don’t ask us to hang it in our house.”
I know what will happen in sixty years, he thinks. This is how paintings land up at auctions and in galleries.
“Isn’t it a beautiful one? Look at those eyes,” he says to his wife at home. “Really beautiful.”
“I agree,” she answers. “And not expensive.”
He smiles. It was a bargain.
“Why do you smile in that funny way? The price you told me was the real price, wasn’t it?”
This time it was the real price, and not one that he’d lowered to make it more attractive to her. But how to convince her?
“Believe me, it was the real price.”
“Okay. Where shall we hang it in the new house?”
They still have not found a spot. Things like that take time.