by Nava Semel (Tel Aviv, Israel)
translated from the Hebrew by Dan Gillon
I am on my way to meet my child in Australia.
I’m going to visit Iyar my son who, for the last three and a half years, has been living on the other side of the world. Whoever it was that said, if only half seriously, that my son had “run as far away from you as he could” had a point. Maybe there he could discover something about himself that he was unable to find in our midst.
At my end of the world, it is intolerably humid. Midsummer in Israel. Dragging my suitcase stuffed with winter clothes, I remind myself that there are times when one needs to get as far as possible just to come a little closer.
I am going ‘Down Under’ to visit my son in a part of the world where everything is upside down. He lives in a place I had never even heard of until he chose it as his place of study. Soon, following a chain of flights spanning two whole days, his place will become real to me. At first, he studied sound and music technology over there. Later, in an abrupt U turn, he began to study music itself from A to Z.
His father, Noam, called him “Rabbi Akiva,” after a famous Jewish scholar who decided to go to school when he was already a grown man. Sometimes Noam says it with a sigh, but I detect a hint of admiration, too.
I’m also going to meet my child’s girl friend whom I have never seen. Her name is Lucy Elliot and she is not Jewish. She is twenty two, a student of Chinese medicine and Iyar’s sweetheart. It is she who caresses him, sleeps with him, and comforts him — the young woman who provides him with a warm nest, a home away from home.
I’ve only seen her in pictures sent by Iyar. A winning smile, a dimpled cheek, wavy honey-coloured hair, her lips touching a yellow, very ripe, lemon.
As I set off on my journey, I am utterly drained. All the empty space within me is filled by sorrow, as in Michael Ende’s book, The Neverending Story, where encroaching nothingness gradually gobbles everything up. Because just a week ago Adi my beloved brother-in-law passed away. On his death bed, his eyes blazing an eternal blue, he whispered to me, “A child is waiting for you in Australia.”
I’m on my way and the grief bites ever deeper. The shoulder carrying my wintery suitcase aches, probably maimed by the bitter parting from Adi and our helplessness when facing his suffering. I am going to see Iyar who was not physically present in the room where Adi lay but was nonetheless by his side. Because he and Adi are twin spirits sharing the same view about expanding our horizons and pushing the boundaries of self-experience no matter what.
I embark on my journey emotionally torn and ravaged. “My soul drips with sorrow” as is written in the book of Psalms; now the phrase keeps ringing in my head, mingled with the repeated calls for my upcoming flight.
Tomorrow my husband Noam, my sister-in-law Sarah and her two daughters, Techelet and Toam, will end the Jewish seven days of mourning and I will be far away.
Lucy Elliot had sent a letter of condolence from Australia. She wrote that he who dies is reborn elsewhere. She added that the end is also a beginning. Beautiful, fine words. Compassion in English, which is not my native tongue. Yet this is the language in which my son’s sweetheart whispers words of love to him.
Her Australian accent is heavy. In our short, snatched telephone conversations, I have difficulty understanding what she is saying. Once she called me “Ima” –“Mom” in Hebrew– and in the background I could hear Iyar’s rolling laughter.
I set out on my journey carrying with me an empty notebook, hoping to tie up the loose ends of the last chapter of a novel I’ve been writing for the last year and a half. Like me, the novel is full of sorrow and loss, and I have so far lacked the strength to finish it. Perhaps Australia will help me find a way of concluding a haunting tale of Jews hiding in Italy under Nazi occupation.
“Mom, there’s a story waiting for you here,” Iyar tells me. I am on a journey to look for that story, though in the past it was the stories that found me. I don’t know what kind of tale is waiting for me over there; and maybe this was merely bait to lure me to cross continents, and the moment I land the story will slip away. But that is of no importance. It is a year since I last saw my son. And over the past six years, since he finished his army service, he has been roaming the world, a restless pilgrim in search of inspiring sites, grasping everything in awe. He is driven by a constant desire for adventure. Is this, I wonder, a sign of belated rebelliousness? Observing Iyar’s urge to travel to the earth’s furthest corners reminds me of my grandfather, Gabriel Herzig, who left Europe so many years ago, abandoning my grandmother and the baby who was to be my father, seeking his destiny in America which in those days was no less the end of the world than is Australia today.
Will we be strangers to one another? After all, I’m a woman in mid-life. Embarrassed as I am to apply these words to myself, even though in my heart of hearts the same ‘youthful me’ has lost none of her intensity and refuses to wear the mantle of old age. Deep down there’s still that old insecurity, those same fears of darkness and built-in childishness that are the cornerstones of my nature.
Will we get on? Will we quarrel? And where will I sleep? Iyar wants me to share his room but I have already sent him a panicky text message that I will take a hotel instead
Above all, I want to avoid a rift between us. Many years have past since we shared a room, curled up together, mother and son.
On Independence Day last year he was twenty eight years old yet I still call him “my child.”
Born in Jaffa- Tel Aviv, Nava Semel has worked as a journalist, art critic, and TV, radio and recording producer, and has received numerous literary prizes for her work, which includes sixteen books, four plays, and opera libretti. Many of her stories have been adapted for radio, film, TV and the stage in Israel, Europe and the USA, and her books have been translated into many languages. Her acclaimed novel, And the Rat Laughs, which was made into an opera and composed by Ella Milch-Sheriff, has run on the stage of the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv for the last five years. The novel came out recently in English from Hybrid Publishers in Melbourne, Australia.
For information (in Hebrew) about Semel’s work, visit her website: http://navasemel.com/
For information (in English) about Semel’s work, visit the website of The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature that represents her work: http://www.ithl.org.il/authors.html
And if you’re interested in reading more (in Hebrew) about Australian Wedding, the book from which this is an excerpt, take a look at: