I Hate To Say Goodbye: People Do Not Meet by Chance

By

Ruti Yudovich

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

People do not meet by chance–they navigate their lives to meet certain people for specific reasons.

 

I put my small bag in my room and decide to take a stroll. Not far from the hotel is a small park. I walk around, breathe the fresh mountain air and enjoy the afternoon sun. An old heavyset woman is sitting on a bench all alone. A colorful kerchief covers her rotund head. She beckons me with urgency to come near. She has neither purse nor keys to a house or pockets to hide them.

 

“You don’t know me, but I know you!” she says, penetrating me with her tiny green eyes. The tone of her voice sends shivers down my spine.

 

“From where?” I ask feeling she is there to play on my nerves.

 

“I came to take him away,” she continues. For a moment I think she may be crazy.

 

“Who?” I ask, feeling fear cloaking my body. The woman’s eyes are cold as stone––her strength and certainty are overpowering me. Who is she and what does she know? Why is she talking to me? Why me? Did she sit here just waiting for me to arrive? I have never been to this park before.

 

“Listen! I don’t want to talk to you anymore,” I say, making an effort to sound strong but feeling like I am about to break down in front of her. Six months ago I dreamed about his funeral and then I actually saw it passing before my eyes while driving one winter night. I race away from the woman…terrified, and with a throbbing heart. “Running away will not change destiny,” she hollers. The voice that mesmerizes me is not that of an old woman anymore but a deep male voice. I hasten my pace to get away from that person, as I feel that she is following me.

 

I find myself in my hotel room. I don’t know how I got here. I land heavily on my bed, close my eyes and replay what just happened. She did not look like anybody from this area. It was as if somebody just placed her here; brought her from a different planet and put a flowery dress on her doughy body to make her look like an earthling. Maybe she is indeed a messenger––a prophetess? Who is she going to take away with her? Oh God! Just not him! Please God! He is the only one I want you to protect. If he goes away I go too. Oh no! This is nonsense. Whatever happened to me? Am I out of my mind? Listening to an old woman? A crazy one? Maybe she ran away from an insane asylum. Yes! That’s it! She is crazy. And I am crazier for taking her seriously!

 

I am lying in bed, looking at the ceiling, seeing nothing but the round cold face of that person. There is nothing interesting on TV. I grab the novel I brought with me and begin to read, finding myself at the end of the page not knowing what I was reading.

 

A knock on the door.

 

“Telephone for you.”

 

“For me? You’re sure?” Aside from my friend Tami no one knows which hotel I am staying in. Why would Tami call me in Haifa?

 

“They were asking for Rimi Yudovich. Isn’t that you?”

 

“I guess so,” I answer, absentmindedly, with butterflies in my stomach and a feeling of dread. Something must have happened.

 

I put on a white T-shirt and barefoot I run down the stinky-carpeted stairs and walk to the black phone in a dark corner of the hotel.

 

“Hello,” I whisper.

 

“Rimi?” my sister-in-law’s voice is choked up and she begins to sob uncontrollably.

 

“Ziva? Why are you calling me here?” I can barely understand her in between the sobbing.

 

“Didn’t––you––hear?” her voice cracks hysterically.

 

“Hear what?”

 

“Didn’t you see on TV?” she wails.

 

“No! What happened?” There is a deafening pause in her voice. “Ziva, please calm down, I don’t understand!”

 

“Oh, God, Rimi! He was shot!!!–––A bank robbery. You have to come. NOW! You must!

 

“What? Who?”

 

“Who? Whom do you think?” she breaks down with a heartbreaking sob. My world is turning black. My hand shakes…I let go of the phone…my knees buckle and I collapse in a heap.

 

“Rimi, Rimi, are you there?” Her voice fading…my heart thundering in my chest. I’ve got to go to him, but I can’t move. This is what death must feel like…

 

Darkness…

 

 

They buried my body in my village not far from Milan. Thousands of people are here to say goodbye. In the background they play a recording of my voice singing Tosca. I hate goodbyes…but now I am free to go anywhere.

 

Somebody is calling for me–––

 

Suddenly I am in a different country. People speak multiple languages, hope and pride in their passing faces; eyes shine. Children walk freely with no adults nearby…I see a man; I am intrigued…I cannot help but follow him. He wears shiny, gray slacks; a white loose shirt tucked neatly inside them. I am drawn to him like a sunflower turning to the light, to his self-assured gait and curious eyes. His footsteps brush the sandy path as he walks beside a metal fence. A mother carrying a child passes by him. He lifts his head and gives them a wide dimpled smile. Lines decorate the corners of his shining eyes. The child smiles back.

 

I follow, carefree now, fluttering around him.

 

He climbs up a set of stairs, opens a door. A woman with wavy brown hair and red lips greets him with a smile. He pats the bulge in her stomach, kisses her cheek, and then lowers himself to his knees, kisses her belly. This is good. She chuckles, twists his hair in her hands and then closes her eyes. She seems to be in love with him. This is very good. I feel passion between them. This is even better.

 

I’ll stay here. I like him. I like them.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

In the Beginning

 

No matter who you are or what you did; there will always be somebody who will not approve of you. So don’t try to live your life trying to please everybody.

 

The moment has arrived. The big man draws near. He leans down and smiles; his whole face radiant…I feel that the sun is shining upon me. I recognize his dimples and the tender wrinkles at the corners of his grayish-blue eyes. His hair––a black curly forest. His head seems to touch the ceiling.

 

He is my new father, my Abba, and every part of my small body tingles with excitement. If only I could throw my little awkward arms around his neck, but my limbs are heavy. He smiles and circles my little finger with his huge fist.

 

Something soft touches my face…I slowly open my eyes. A small hand gropes—tickles my skin. Yellow curls and green eyes peek through the narrow rails of my crib.

 

“Abba, is thish the gift you promished me?” a high-pitched voice asks.

 

“Yes, Shimone! We brought her especially for your third birthday,” he says and I hear my Abba’s voice for the first time.

 

“But…I don’t play with dolls,” the sweet voice thickened. “I want a tank that can fire lots of shellsh! Boom! Boom! Boom! Like that!”

 

Their voices slowly fade.

 

I feel my heart beating and the warmth of the sheet beneath me. I lay there half-awake, half-asleep. I want to hear and see all that I can but my eyelids are pushing me down to a quiet world––a world without voices, into which I am sinking beat by beat.

 

“Who needs another sister? Why did you bring her here?” Her singsong voice gets louder as her hands grab my body. “One brother is enough! I never asked you for a sister!” the voice keeps whining and the room turns darker and gloomier as I realize that she is talking about me.

 

“It’s not nice to talk like this, Hannah,” a weary woman utters.

 

The voice belongs to a lady who stares at me––wavy brown hair, small and slightly slanted eyes, shapely lips. I look straight into her eyes. She blinks; a glint of fear looms in the pools of her brown eyes. Could this woman be my new mother, my Imah? There is something gentle about her that evokes compassion.

 

“How shall we call her?” asks Abba.

 

“Rimi! Rimi!” My brother’s sweet voice sings.

 

It was August 29th 1953, Tel Aviv.

 

 

***

“Rimi! Rimi! Wake up!” I hear a male voice from far away. A musty smell of old carpet is in the air. I don’t know where I am until I open my eyes and I see the hotel manager crouching next to me, stretching his hand out to me, holding a glass of water. “You fainted,” he says. I look at his kind eyes and remember…

 

“I need to leave,” I whisper urgently, bolting upstairs to my room, throwing my clothes into the small bag, grabbing my car keys and running downstairs into the dark night feeling small and vulnerable.

 

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