Yossi Waxman

Writer, Artist, Designer 

Darling Alexandria

Keter Publishing, 1998

Chapter One

 

The Rebbetzin sprayed herself all over with odorous lemon water from a large and jaggy glass bottle that she purchased in a shabby perfume store at Khan el-Halili. She sprayed the yellowish-green liquid on her face first, then on to her flimsy shirt, going from the neck down to her armpits, chest, and exposed belly button. Next, she generously sprayed the air around her, driving away bad smells and evil gasses.

 

The cheap acidic odor spread around us in the packed space of the bus, bringing a funny, pathetic memory for which only we - with our private beings - reserved a place of honor and delight. Danny elbowed my ribs, signaling that I should turn back and look at The Rebbetzin. She was sitting in front of two Egyptian businessmen who were busy munching on industrial cookies they'd been served by a Golden Rocket Company stewardess in red and white.

 

The Rebbetzin winked at us with her tiny scheming eyes and started combing her golden hair - which had been cut at shoulder's length - with a large brush, going from the center of her scalp down, in straight lines, smoothing her hair with characteristic coquetry and her unique form of defiance.

 

"In Egypt, she's a real queen," Danny whispered and pleasantly observed the scrawny figure of our Rebbetzin. "Here, far from Jerusalem, her dreary office, and dumb clerks, she has no religious bone in her body," he said.

 

The stewardess in red and white served us weak instant coffee in tall glasses and cinnamon cookies wrapped in rustling cellophane, and then went back to her tiny kitchenette. She turned on the VCR and started rinsing glasses that piled up in the small sink. The TV set that was hanging right above the stewardess' head now carried an Egyptian movie, entertaining the distinguished passengers - officials and wealthy Egyptians who were traveling to Alexandria for business. A singer on the screen chanted in guttural Arabic sounds a song of love for her lost lover, or her blind son, or whatever. Her voice cut the silent and cozy bus in half.

 

We watched the stewardess in red and white. The top of her head was pressed against the low TV box, which amused us greatly because it looked like she was carrying the set on head as if it were a jug of water or an old can of olives. She was washing the glasses hastily and with obvious displeasure, loudly joining the singer on top of her head, twirling the syllables of this half-sad half-glad song, energetically shaking her full body to the rhythm of drums and violins.

 

"No soap!" a scream came up from The Rebbetzin's seat. "She's washing the glasses without soap!"

 

"Go figure that Rebbetzin," Danny chuckled in my ear. "She can go crazy because one lousy coffee cup is washed without soap, but spending the night in Cairo's most stinking flea-infested hotel because it is cheap - that, she is fine with. I'll never understand her."

 

"Hotels are for sleeping. Nothing else," I remembered her saying, still unable to understand how she dragged our asses to Hotel New on Adly Street in Cairo. "It is a beautiful hotel, right next to the Great Synagogue of Cairo!" she said, not leaving us much choice.

 

On the first night there, dead tired from the long bus trip from Tel Aviv, we landed on the doorstep of this fleabag. A bunch of young, dark, and loafing staffers who knew The Rebbetzin from her earlier visits there, gave us the royal reception in the lobby. The Rebbetzin made the hotel her home and clearly felt at home there. She knew every bellboy and valet, calling them by name with great pleasure, accentuating the guttural consonants.

 

We eagerly observed these childish valets who encircled her and the collection of bags and packages that she brought with her like vultures circling their prey: used
T-shirts, old Bermuda pants, very old-fashioned leather belts, patched-up socks, a polyester tie she never wore, quite a few pairs of underwear that had been skimpily washed a thousand times, and many more gifts and tokens of appreciation.

 

"My beloved boys," she would call those exotic, semi-Gypsy boys whose fresh, young, and muscular bodies she just loved to fondle.

 

The Rebbetzin used to travel to Egypt twice a year, habitually visiting her admirers at the Cairo hotel. There, she royally dominated her valets and bellboys, and they made love to her, letting her feel them up for a lousy gift - a ripped shirt or used belt - and she touched their young bodies any way she pleased. She caressed and kissed, cupped and squeezed, crushed and wrinkled, sticking curious fingers and explorative tongue into every wondrous nook and cranny she could find. 

 

***

 

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Translation: Baruch Gefen