At 3:45 in the morning, I awake from a bad dream.
“The same dream?”
My husband’s voice is soft in the darkness. He takes my scarred hand in his and brings it to his face. I move closer, the curve of his body molding comfortably against mine. This is how I remind myself that I am not alone. The silence between us grows warmer with each moment and soon turns to whispers.
I drift back to sleep. Later that night, I am again in my dream and again awakened by the explosion.
A few weeks ago I stepped into a world where time was stopped, and joy ceased to exist. Some days these dreams are so vivid, I just don’t know if I’m asleep or awake. Always the same noise echoing like thunder — it smells like smoke and ruin. And blood everywhere on the streets.
I want to get away from it so I pace the length and width of the rooms in our house. I can’t. T That which destroys and consumes won’t let me.
Survivors and witnesses would recall the perfection of that early summer evening, a time to unwind over a cappuccino and pastry, to take stock of one’s surroundings.
The fact that it was also a Saturday night only served to heighten the restful atmosphere because Saturday nights in Jerusalem are times of reawakening and gentle rousing from the end of the Shabbat. Lights aglow, the city murmurs with activity. Shops reopen; people traverse the sidewalks at a slow pace. Tourists peruse the shops in the city center. Traffic comes to a standstill and the blare of car horns are some kind of reminder of our great revolt in Masada against the Romans.
Seated at an outdoor café, I glanced at my watch. Seven-thirty. My husband was late. I tried his cell, but knowing he was in the habit of listening to loud music while driving, I decided to settle back and enjoy watching the pedestrians.
People streamed up and down the sidewalk. I observed a group of young men in army uniforms congregated in front of the ice cream store, laughing and slapping on each other’s shoulders. Someone had started to play a bongo. Strains of a violin added themselves and then the gentle wail of an old woman singing a sad Russian melody mingled.
I checked my watch again.
A beggar paused at my table with his hand extended. Gaunt, haggard, and hollow-eyed, his cheeks covered with a scraggly beard, he resembled the Moses from the Bible of my childhood. He wore an old sagging black coat. I smiled at him and dropped a few bills into the tin can he held in front. Squinting into the fading sun, I put my sunglasses on and motioned the waiter for another iced coffee.
Just then a slight young man walked up the street towards me. He wore a black trench coat that I thought was too warm for a summer evening. The brim of his cap rested low as he glanced up and down the block. His gaze met mine. It lasted just an instant, but it sent a jolt of dread through me. I looked him over for another moment before glancing at my watch, then returned to my coffee. Sometimes I worry about nothing.
But sometime later, as the blond, curly-haired waiter served me yet another coffee, the atmosphere violently changed without warning. A paroxysmal roar forced a brutal intrusion on the serene early evening. The uproar thundered through my ears. The sky erupted into the raging chaos of a red-and-orange fireball. It hurried above the buildings. Windows shattered by the thunderclap of shock waves pouring through the air.
A gust of warm debris filled the air, racing toward me. Screaming, I dove under the table. I had landed on shards of glass while gasping for air. When the din ended, my ears were ringing. A high-pitched noise rasped in and out of my throat. I stared down at myself; dust-shrouded me like a black vapor. My hands oozed with blood.
I got to my feet and staggered through the dense black smoke. Only in nightmares were feet so heavy.
I saw destruction everywhere. The balcony over a toy store lay smashed in the street. The force of the blast had destroyed the facades of several stores. Flames and black smoke billowed from cars. Glass shards peppered the street. Papers and other debris still burning fluttered in the air.
Then, for a moment, the street was strangely quiet, as though the explosion had blown away everyone’s senses. The dazed pedestrians stood motionless — eyes round with shock, mouths hung open. In the middle of Jerusalem, while the smoke of the bomb still lingered over what should have been a perfectly peaceful day, the moans and cries charged the air from many directions. Then the screams started, echoing over the shriek of sirens hurrying to our rescue.
Anguished cries and police sirens coalesced. The bomb squad had arrived in a wind of shrilling sirens. First responders raced about, ferrying the wounded to ambulances. Dust-covered civilians staggered down the torn sidewalk with shocked eyes, with shrapnel wounds and ears bleeding from the blast.
Where was my husband?
My head was spinning, my heart thudding in my ear, my eyes picking up images around me in meaningless flashes. An armless boy. A wedding ring on a severed finger. Legs blown off below the knee, mutilated feet dangling limp, blood seeping from shrapnel wounds. A man kneeling by the lifeless body of a little boy. I saw his lips moving as if he might be praying. A wounded soldier was screaming. A woman, her face streaked with blood, kneeling on the ground, hugging a boy tightly to her. “Please,” she cried, collapsing into heart-wrenching sobs. “Don’t die, don’t die, please don’t die!” she begged. A vacant-eyed man cradled his unconscious wife.
Nothing had ever prepared me for this. I covered my face with my bloody hands and wailed and wailed.
Where was my husband?
Just then I heard a loud moan coming from behind me. A man was sitting against a wall, his head in his hands; blood trickling through his fingers. He looked up as I approached, and I thought his face seemed familiar. I squatted next to him. He had a large gash on his forehead. “Are you all right?” He did not reply. His expression was bewildered. Small sweat beads covered his upper lip.
I put my hands behind his shoulders and lowered him to the pavement. Suddenly I remembered where I had seen him! He was the old beggar man I had given a few coins to when Ben Yehuda Street been a safer place.
After two men had carried the beggar away, I collapsed to the ground next to the mangled body of a young woman. She was hardly recognizable, save for her soft, blond curls, soaked with blood. She could have been my daughter and still nothing I could have done for her.
I dragged myself away and nearly stumbled over someone else. A young man, perhaps in his early twenties, whose legs seemed shredded below his knees. I crouched down beside him, trying to shake off my own need for tears when he moaned. His unfocused eyes glazed over with pain. He wept. Then he screamed. Then cried for his mother. “Ima! Ima!” he kept calling. My heart overflowed with pity and sadness.
Someone had once told me that death is lighter than a feather. I had not understood what that meant. Now I understood it even less as blood trickled from his mouth and down his throat. I struggled to keep the pity out of my eyes.
My own anguish would have to wait. I wanted to shield him from the pain he was experiencing. He was the son I never had. I took his hand with both of mine and squeezed it, brought my lips to his feverish forehead and kissed him gently. .
“What is your name?” I asked, stroking his blood-soaked hair from his face.
“David,” he whispered. Blood continued to bubble from his lips.
I once read somewhere that our names contain our fates and wondered if David was a victim of his.
Hot tears stung my eyes, but I forced them back and smiled down at him. He was shivering. I covered his body with mine. Our blood intermingled, feeling warm and sticky.
“David, hold on, a doctor will be here soon.” The terror in his eyes was so complete that I couldn’t bear to look at him. My heart was beating frantically against his fading life.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. “He is dead.”
Something was wailing inside me, a scream that never materialized. I held onto David’s hands until someone pulled them away. Then two uniformed boys carried him off on a stretcher, his body covered with an army blanket.
Where is my husband?
And that’s when all sound disappeared. My entire world sucked by gravity toward David’s boots, protruding from under the cover. Seeing them splattered with mud and blood made me think of his mother. An iron-gripping hurt clutched my heart and I began to hyperventilate.
Now adults and children were being laid out on the ground nearby. All around me damaged human beings. I turned to the wall and retched.
Was it only twenty minutes ago that the world had seemed a safe place, when I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe on Ben Yehuda Street, savoring the sounds and smells surrounding me? And the sun, still far from setting, had bathed the old city, its walls, its churches and domes. The cerulean sky, clean of clouds, had imbued me with happiness, hovered over me like a good dream that hadn’t morphed into reality.
Jerusalem, that small city, compacted together, house touching house and roof-to-roof, built of masonry. It was just another day in Jerusalem, just another bomb. A city under siege.
At night now I find it difficult to sleep. Images of the smoldering ruins flood my brain. Twenty people were killed, most of them under the age of twenty. Some had died still clutching their belongings, as blood pooled around their bodies. Dozens more injured — destined to endure life-long injuries.
These days I’ll get up before dawn, sit in the living room with a blanket wrapped around myself, and stare outside my window. Glittering lights of the city shine through the darkness. Alone with only my thoughts for company, I wonder whether this is how it is with everyone who has experienced death and fear — the kind that can’t be silenced with comforting words, the kind that looks at you straight in the face with a challenge. The kind that consumes and destroys.
“Let’s go for a walk.”
I hear my husband’s voice.
Side by side on the road, our moon shadows follow us; my husband’s nearly twice as long as my own.