Saturday 23 September 2017

Uzi Weil

סופר,עושה תוכניות סטיריות לטלוויזיה

 

ISRAEL, 2014


The woman all this happened to, whose name is – let’s say – Dahlia, is thirty-two. She has a five year old son, whom she raises on her own. One evening she comes back from work, parks her car, and suddenly sees a man standing not too far, between two cars, looking at her. The moment she looks straight at him he lowers his eyes and goes away. And only when she makes it to the lift, she suddenly understands she’d seen him before. Multiple times. At exactly the same place, her building’s parking.

She thinks… what is it? Am I being followed? Who? Why? And she pushes these thoughts out of her mind. But the day after, she sees him again. There, in the same place.

2.

Now it’s obvious he’s following her. She tells about it to one of her co-workers, who offers this: you’ll park in your regular spot, at your regular time, and I’ll stand somewhere in the area and see who it is.

And that’s what they do.

Two hours later, the guy from work comes to her house and tells her: the man followed you until you went inside. Then he went to your car, walked around it for 15 minutes, looking inside. And then he went to that tall building across the street.

And as they’re talking, he points to a tall building, not far away, overlooking her window. She went and brought a birding binoculars that belonged to her ex-husband. She sneaked up to the window from the side, looked through the binoculars, and in an instant found him: a telescope, on the fifth floor, aimed straight at her, and the same person sitting and looking into her home.

3.

A day later she sits in a cafè, and suddenly he comes in, sits behind her and watches her. She took a breath and turned to him.

“What do you want?”

He froze.

“What do you want from me? Why are you following me?”

He said, in a muffled voice, “I have no idea what you’re talking about”

“Like hell you don’t. You’re stalking me. You have a telescope aimed at my home. What do you want from me?”

“Ma’am,” he said, “I don’t know you and please don’t talk to me” “Oh, yeah?” He ignored her and pretended to be interested in his smartphone.

Two days later she saw him again, with the binoculars: sitting and looking at her through the telescope. She angrily opened the window and showed him she was looking back at him, sighing “What!?” with her hands. It was then, when he started masturbating, she understood he probably wasn’t a private investigator.

4.

She closed the curtains on all the windows, and hoped that it would make him give up. Her nerves were fraught. Her son was nervous and cried for no reason, all the time. A week went by and she didn’t see him, but one day he waited for her at the parking lot by her work. It was seven PM and there was nobody there. She stopped as soon as she recognised him. He laughed.

“I’m calling the police,” she said.

“Go ahead and call.” He said. “What did I do? I have a car here.”

“Yeah? Where!?”

“I’ll show you where” he said and moved towards her. She turned back and ran and didn’t stop until she was back in her office.

That night she called the police

5.

The policewoman said: “is he near you right now?”

“No, I’m at the office.”

“You have to call when he threatens you,” the policewoman said.

“But I’m afraid! Send someone!”

“Has he threatened you before?”

“No, but – ”

“Then he hasn’t threatened you in the past,” the policewoman concluded “and he isn’t threatening you right now. I can’t send a car for something like that.”

“He’s stalking me! He’s got a telescope and he’s looking into my home!”

The policewoman sighed: “I can register a complaint and we’ll send someone over to have a look, but it won’t be today.”

“Then when? When I’m murdered? Would you come then?”

“Ma’am,” the policewoman said “I’m trying to help you, can’t you see?”

A couple of days later, another encounter: this time in the middle of the day, he followed her all along Tel Aviv’s Basel St., not even trying to hide. She kept on walking all the way to the police station and filed a complaint. Two days later, at midnight, he appeared on her Facebook chat.

“You sent the police” he wrote.

She froze in front of the laptop screen. “Officers came” he wrote on “they were very nice, we had a chat. It was fun.”

She blocked him on Facebook, and in the morning went to the police to check up on her complaint.

“They spoke to him,” someone checked on the computer and let her know. “He says that he doesn’t know you, but that you assaulted him in a cafè last week. Is that true?”
“He followed me there!”

“Then I suggest you won’t talk to him and he won’t talk to you, and that’s that” she looked at him, muted. That night the telescope appeared again, this time in the window of one of her rooms.

6.

After the officers came and went, twice, they stopped coming. And her stalker began popping up everywhere: At a random shop. At the lift at work. At the cinema, three rows behind her. She thought she was losing her mind.

The last time she was in a police station, she burst into uncontrollable tears and ran out. One of the detectives followed her out. A seasoned officer, whose name and rank I won’t disclose. I’ll just say that he’s the sort that has seen everything. He approached her and said: “we can’t help you. As long as he isn’t doing anything violent, there’s nothing to be done. And if you keep on yelling at him in cafès, he can file a complaint himself.”

“Then what can I do?” she asked, begging. “Ok, look…” the seasoned officer said “there’s another solution.”

And then he told her of a criminal in Tel Aviv that solves these kind of problems. “It’ll cost you 5,000 shekels, more or less” he said quietly. “He’ll send someone to speak with the guy, and trust me, he won’t bother you anymore.”

“I can’t believe it” she said. “You’re suggesting that? A policeman?” He shrugged: “I’m trying to help you”. She looked at him. “Five thousand shekels?” “Give or take”

“And… what is he going to do to him?” “He’ll talk to him.” “He wouldn’t…” she faltered “Because I don’t want him to do anything to him” “For five thousand?” the policeman wondered “What would he do?”

7.

The seasoned officer gave her a phone number, and told her to ask for Vadim. When she called, a very amiable person answered, with a slight Russian accent. “Yes, yes. They said you’d call.”

“So…”

“So a person will come to you. Give him five thousand shekels in cash. And give him all the details. Yes?” The next day she took out five thousand shekels in cash from the bank, put them in an envelope and waited patiently. At eight in the evening a mountain of a man knocked at her door: a young man who looked like a cross between a person and a truck. “There are a lot of bastards, a lot of bastards” he said and nodded in empathy. He took the envelope, counted the notes and nodded. “Don’t worry, we’ll talk to him.” And went.

A week goes by. Two weeks. Three – and the man following her is gone. Nowhere to be seen. The five thousand shekels did their job. She calls the officer who gave her the phone number and he says: “Whatever gets the job done”

But one day, a month later, she comes out of her car and suddenly he’s there again: forcibly knocking on the bonnet of her car, scaring her to tears, standing close to her, breathing in her face.

“You sent criminals, did you?” she doesn’t answer. “Who is this loser Vadim, that I’d be afraid of him?” “Let me go”, she starts yelling, “Let me go, let me go!”

“Go on already, who’s in your way, you bitch” he moves aside and as she walks, trying not to run, not to show him how scared she is, he calls after her: “kisses to your little one, as they say”. She doesn’t stop, but her shoes get tangled and she almost falls. She can hear him laughing: “where is he? At that kindergarten, isn’t he? With the fat, ginger teacher – ”

And when she gets home she falls down on the couch and can’t move for almost an hour.

8.

Two hours, two Valiums, some white wine and her mother coming to be with her and watch over the kid later, she closes herself in the bathroom and phones Vadim. He doesn’t answer. On the third try she finds the phone of the human fridge that was in her apartments.

He answers immediately: “Don’t call this number again.” “But you said you’d talk to him.” “We did.”

“And… it wasn’t enough? Is it about more money? Where’s Vadim?”

“Vadim is in the hospital.” The human refrigerator says “And don’t call again”. And he hangs up

The morning after, her windshield is smeared with faeces.

She meets the officer who helped her again. He sighs and says: “There must be some criminal from Netanya protecting him. Hospitalised Vadim.”

“So arrest him! If you know he has contacts with criminals – ”

“What do we know?” the officer says “You paid five thousand, he paid fifty thousand.” He wants to get up and go. She holds his arm.

“Please,” she says, “help me. He’ll kill me. What should I do?”

The officer sits back. It’s difficult for him, seeing young women afraid like that. He knows he shouldn’t get involved, but what did he became an officer for?

Carefully, he says: “there’s someone, in Lud…” “Lod?”

“An older Arab. He used to be… If he’s involved, the Netanyati would run to the other side of the world.” She looks at him in fear.

“Well, what is it? You asked for help, didn’t you?”

9.

The Arab from Lod’s name is H’alil. He’s 75. They meet him in a cafè in a vibrant and successful mall I won’t name. The policeman sets it up, and he treats H’alil with such respect that Dahlia is scared. They sit at the back of the cafè – a large, well known Israeli chain – and from the moment they sit down the manager makes sure no one else sits inside.

“Me and this mall” H’alil announces, “we have very good relations”.

“I’m sure you do” the officer says.

“What do you think, protection? No way. Absolutely legal”.

“Right”

“Let me explain. It’s an excellent mall, managed very well. Only thing is – if they’re not being nice, I bring three buses filled with drug-addicts from Lod, give each fifty shekels and say: go on, walk around, shop, have coffee”

“I see”

“Two hundred Arabs walking around the mall… the shoppers don’t like that”.

“They don’t, don’t they?”

H’alil drinks his coffee, laughing. Then he turns serious and asks what he can do to help. So Dahlia takes a breath and tells him.

When she’s finished, he sadly shakes his head: “that shouldn’t happen, something like that.” Dahlia looks at him with hope: “and do you think you can…”

“Yes, yes, I think so. See the matter as closed”.

She can’t believe it. Her heart jumps and leaps. Is it possible? Can one man make it all right, so simply?

“And how much will it cost?” she asks. He waves her hand. “My treat,” he says. “By my honour”.

“But, umm…” the officer interjects “just so you understand, Mr. H’alil, she’s not… she doesn’t, I don’t want her getting into all sort of things”….

“Of course not!” H’alil takes offence “Me getting her into all sort of things? Of course not!”

“No, it’s just – ”

“I’m out of all sort of things myself, have been for a long time” H’alil reminds him. “You know that”.

10.

And indeed, H’alil makes everything right. A couple of days after their meeting, the intercom rings. A young woman.

“Yes?” “Messenger. From H’alil” – a slight Arab accent. Uncertain, Dahlia opens the door. The girl hands her a large envelope. “Do I need to sign for it?” the girl stares at her. “Hang on a minute, I’ll give you a tip”

“No, no, it’s alright” the girl says and leaves. Dahlia closes the door and opens the envelope. Inside: a picture of the man who stalked her for all these months. He looks scared and beaten. And a letter in his handwriting: I – (and you’ll excuse me for skipping his name) admit to having harassed Dahlia — (her surname) and caused her grief. I ask for her forgiveness and promise to never do it again”.

And one last thing in the envelope: a photocopy of a plane ticket to Mexico. One way. With his name on it.

And that’s all. Problem solved. And a month later H’alil calls, and asks how she is, and expresses his delight that it was solved so satisfactorily. And he wonders, politely, whether she can return a small favour.

Her breath is taken away.

He understands she can’t speak, and carries on with a polite, fluent speech: can she store at her place a couple of suitcases, for a little while? As a personal favour.

She doesn’t ask what’s in the suitcases. He doesn’t say.

He just further asks, if at all possible, that no one would know about it. Not even the officer that introduced them.

“Policemen” he says, “where were they when you needed help?” she thinks that, ultimately, he’s right.

11.

The suitcases are to contain pure heroin. Smuggled from Gaza, in the same famous tunnels that have now become less available. H’alil doesn’t tell her that, but that’s what she gathers when he comes for a visit, scans her flat and seems very pleased. All he needs from her is a storage place no one will suspect, for a couple of weeks. Then, he promises, he’ll take them away, her debt will be paid and their paths will part.

Dahlia is shaking with fear, but doesn’t dare to do anything. She leaves the boy at her mother’s, and stays in her flat alone, waiting for the suitcases.

But the day they’re supposed to arrive, the war starts. H’alil is stuck in Gaza. He went there, through the same infamous tunnels, and now he can’t come back. He still manages to call her, he’s barely heard, he says, it will take some time, but I’m coming.

A day goes by. Two days go by. And then that suspected kidnapping you surely remember, and the IDF starts a “Hannibal procedure” and has Rafih the way internet commenters dream of at nights, after they close off the internet porn. That night, the drug factory is destroyed, the Gazan manufacturer is killed, H’alil is killed with him and dozens of Kilograms of heroin are buried in an explosion in one of the tunnels. The IDF, by the way, knows nothing about it to this day. Only Dahlia does, because her last phone call with H’alil was while he was buried under the wrecks.

He said “I’m glad that at least we got rid of that shit that stalked you”. “Yes,” he said. “At least I’ll have one good thing to say in heaven, Maybe they’ll let me in.”

“Yes,” she said. She didn’t know what else to say. It’s terrible, but the fact that he is about to die causes her immense relief.

She said: “Are you afraid?”

“No. Not at all.”

“Why? Because you believe in heaven?”

“No,” he said, his voice getting weaker, “Because I took a shitload of heroin. I feel great”

“Oh.” He tries to say something more, but the call gets cut off.

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UZI WEIL is an Israeli satirist, novelist, journalist, screenwriter and translator. Raised in Tel Aviv, his first published book, a short story collection named The Day they Shot the Prime Minister was published in 1991, and is considered representative of the Tel Aviv lean writing genre, alongside Etgar Keret and Orly Kastel-Bloom.

In 1990 Weil began writing The Back Cover, a satiric column in Ha’Ir. Through the column, Weil quickly emerged as both a very popular and an extremely controversial writer, dealing openly with taboo subjects and often using vulgar language. Weil has written and published 12 novels, children books, short story collections and anthologies, in addition to translations of selected works by American poets Raymond Carver and Mark Strand, and has lately completed a translation of Fiona Maazel’s Woke up Lonely.

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About the Translator:

 
TOM C. ATKINS is a freelance academic and literary translator, living and working in Israel. Atkins is currently gathering materials for an anthology of short stories by budding writers from all walks of Israeli life. Apart from translation, he is engaged in philosophical analysis of works of arts, particularly literature, as well as literary analysis of philosophical work. Translations by Atkins have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail‘s InTranslation section among other places.

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