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2003 - Saloni M swims East


Lee Kofman

Lee Kofman
is a fiction writer and a freelance journalist, who immigrated from Israel and now lives in Melbourne.

Her third novel (in Hebrew) I will love Christina has just been released in Israel (October 2003), published by "Maariv Guild", one of the biggest publishing houses there.

In Australia she is busy selling her articles (in English) to different magazines, translating her fiction into English, rediscovering her Russian roots and understanding what the hell "Aussie" means.


The suicide-bombing Barbie Doll

I woke up at about 12 in the afternoon. My head was heavy from the drinking of the previous night. My left eye was watering, and I feared that the inflammation was back. I tried to open the eye, but the eyelashes were stuck together and I had to mop the pus out of them.

For about twenty minutes I gazed vacantly at my eye and bathed it with water, but to no effect. Everything looked blurred. That would be the end! In addition to being a gifted journalist, I was also a photographer, particularly of women. Beautiful women, whom I was discovering in the streets of the city and photographing from afar with a special lens, which had cost me a fortune. The truth is that I had a hidden ambition – to present an exhibition, which I planned to call ‘Tel-Aviv’s Views’, but Tel-Aviv’s women would be the real subjects

The phone rang. It was Surasky the Creeping. We worked together in the magazine ‘The Non-Stop City’, but he was one of the editor’s favorites and his position was much higher then mine. Actually, the position of each little employee in the newspaper, including the cleaning lady, was much higher than mine. Whereas I, who had been working there from the age of twenty-five, was still a freelancer. At that time the editor, Igal Sobol, had agreed to grant me a kind of meager office. ‘So you will stop wandering about in front of my eyes’ – that was exactly how he expressed it. So I was maid an assistant to the food and wine writer. There was a small margin where every week restaurant openings were reported and that was my job. And in this way my position all of a sudden became stronger and I even started receiving faxes in my name. I would arrive at the editorial office, and the secretary would say: ’Jonathan, there is some correspondence for you.’ Correspondence… What a wonderful sound! The white sheets and letters that spread over your hands and leave stains on them. Just two weeks ago, there was a scandal in the editorial office because a name of a new restaurant didn’t come up clear and I misspelled it. The owners were threatening prosecution.

Then Igal Sobol invited me into his office. It was the sixth time since I had started working at the newspaper. I was thinking that possibly I might be promoted, at last. Maybe, they wanted me to become the chief food and wine writer. My heart was jumping and quivering, and I barely stammered out a wretched ‘Good morning’. Surasky the Creeping was sitting on the editor’s desk on his fat ass and smoking in a familiar way. If only I could meet him somewhere outside the editorial office… I would make mincemeat of him.

Igal Sobol muttered through his teeth: ‘It’s obvious that you don’t know how to write, but to read?!’ And he really seemed surprised. Surasky giggled. I turned pale and all the words disappeared out of my head.

Apparently I looked so miserable, that even Igal Sobol the Terrible (that is how he was called behind his back) took pity on me and asked: ‘Tell me, Jonathan, but only the truth. Why do you need all this? Why have you been torturing yourself and me too for so many years? On top of all this, I pay you such a miserable salary. Why wouldn’t you change your profession?’ When he asked this, he, all of the sudden, looked almost human. His thick eyebrows softened. I did not answer him, as is my habit. After all, I couldn’t explain to him that the most frightening thing for me would be to abandon my childhood dream. In my life I have seen many people abandon their dreams and watched what became of them.

For some unknown reason, despite everything, Igal Sobol left me in my job.

‘Hey, mate’, Sorasky roared with impersonal benevolence, ‘ Where is your article about the Tel-Aviv sidewalks? You said that you would bring it in the morning.’

‘Why, what’s the time now?’ I inquired bashfully.

‘Now? Now it’s 2:00pm, and the old man is nervous.’ That’s how he called Sobol the Terrible.

‘Well, so I’m on my way.’

‘Listen’, said Surasky with apparent satisfaction, ‘the old man is not interested anymore. He has enough material. So don’t come. That’s why I’m ringing.’

‘But… I’ll bring it anyway. For the next week.’

‘No, the old man has dropped this topic. You should never miss an opportunity, Jonathan, believe me.’ He chuckled and slammed the receiver.

The rain intensified. The small room was dark, despite the early hour. There was no air. I didn’t know what to do with myself. The article about the sidewalks had consumed hours and hours of work, and I was proud of it. I remembered how good I used to be in this profession as a young reporter for a popular youth magazine. Then I was mobilized into the army. When I returned to writing, I wasn’t anybody’s golden boy anymore. I didn’t understand much about the politics behind the scene and I lacked the ambition to fawn to editors, while they, in turn, didn’t tolerate me much.

I decided this time I wouldn’t give up. I knew that the article was good, and the fact that Igal Sobol considered me an idiot, wouldn’t prevent me from publishing it. Never in my whole life had I been so determined. I decided to try the competing magazine "The Tel Aviv". Then, of course, I didn’t have the slightest idea of how the things would turn out…

I was nearly at the bus stop then I saw her. She was tall and slender. Her long dark hair emphasized her delicate oriental features. She was carrying a big bag on her shoulder. She is obviously a tourist, I thought. My heart beating grew stronger. She, I mused, would be the highlight of my exhibition.

Not far from her was standing an old man, also waiting for the delayed bus. I didn’t want to come to close so as not to incite curiosity. I stepped away a little and hid myself behind a tree. The rain stopped and it was rather foggy. I adjusted my camera and fixed the special lens fitting the weather. She stood, facing me, but it seemed that she wasn’t aware of my presence. Somehow she looked extremely nervous. She could have been even talking to herself. Anyway, I photographed her…

Even today, when I try to remember how all this happened, the first moments after the camera’s flash seem blurred. I remember her body recoiling in panic after she noticed the camera. Through my long-distance lens I could see her wild face distorted by queer hysterics. I remember somewhat vaguely her long arms probing inside the enormous bag, and then her limbs scattered in a fountain of running fire, and then the smoke, and the old man’s cap tossed towards me… Afterwards the ambulance arrived and they treated my scratches. ‘You’ve got off cheap’, said a young hospital orderly, evidently a volunteer of MDA.

‘Hey’, he added, ‘tell me, aren’t you the reporter that came once to interview us? So what happened to the article? Why wasn’t it published?’

‘Because the editor doesn’t like me’, I murmured embarrassed and passed out.

At the time there had been many terrorist attacks and many people had been slain. It seemed that the man in the street had developed certain bluntness. Apparently the boundaries of mourning are not unlimited. That is why nobody was too excited when the TV news announced that a great disaster had been prevented at the last moment before the arrival of the bus. There were only two dead and one wounded. One of the dead was, most evidently, a terrorist, said the announcer. And when consciousness returned to me, there was a prominent representative of the army by my bedside, who awarded me with a certificate for foiling an act of terror. I recalled then the beauty’s torn extremities and passed out once again.

All this matter would have been forgotten very quickly - at the very same period thrilling plots were unfolding in the princedom of Monaco - if it were not for one reporter from ‘Yediot Ahronot’, who came to visit me in the hospital. He noticed the camera among my personal belongings and asked whether I was a photographer. After I told him the whole story, he turned pale and bit his lips several times.

‘Am I the first to find out what happened?’ he asked.

‘I guess so’, I said, ‘most of the time I was unconscious.’

‘A woman’, he said, ‘A beautiful woman’, he said, ‘A woman…’.

‘I have to make a call, wait for me just a minute.’ he said.

He returned quickly, his eyes sparkling.

‘Allow me’, he said, ‘to offer you fifty thousand shekels for the exclusive right to the photo you took.’

My somewhat lost senses awakened. After hasty bargaining we came to the conclusion that for this sum he would receive the exclusive right to the photo, but the film would remain in my possession to use for the exhibition.

Despite the severe fits of nausea I felt some improvement. I was thinking about my sorrowful financial situation and what I could do with fifty thousand shekels. Even then I still didn’t have the slightest notion of how things would turn out.

The next morning I bought ‘Yediot Ahronot’. A huge picture occupied the whole front page; it was the photo I took. My name appeared under the picture in huge letters. I turned over the page and saw smaller photos of the same woman, but they were not mine. She was really beautiful, but now I could see there was something beast beast-like in her features: the aquiline hooked nose, the overly arched brows and thin long lips.

It turned out that the reporter from the previous night was a most skillful and industrious professional. The whole life-story of the woman called Jasmine was unveiled before the readers. She was of Palestinian origin, but had been brought up by her relatives in France. At some stage she fell in love with a member of Fatach, who was staying in France at the time. The guy used her love, supplying her with drugs, before eventually convincing her to blow herself up for the sake of both him and the native land. A terrible deed, indicated the excited reporter, to use this naïve girl. On the next page there was a big article about myself, with a photo of me. Superlatives, such as ‘the courageous photographer’, ‘the knight with the camera’ and ‘the pride of Israeli media’ were used. ‘Owing to this rare man – the inexhaustible reporter continued to indulge in poetry – who prevented a great disaster, the flag of Israel’s media was raised high‘. For some unknown reason all this didn’t make much of impression on me, but I thought about the possibility visiting the newspaper ‘The Nonstop City’ and saying ‘Hello’ to Sobol the Terrible.

Despite my dizziness I walked out to wander about in the streets. The weather had improved. I came to the booth on the corner to buy cigarettes. On the TV screen that was installed in the booth above there were flitted the pictures of Jasmine and her relatives dwelling in Provance. To my astonishment, it was the CNN channel. I asked the booth owner to switch channel to the latest news.

A serious-looking political commentator was asked what he knew about beautiful women and terrorism. In the background I suddenly recognized myself in the hospital. I didn’t remember any TV cameras there at the time. The booth owner refused my money, but, in exchange, he demanded to know whether I could see Jasmine’s lingerie during the bomb explosion.

I returned home. Twenty-two messages were awaiting on my answering machine. Eight of them were from the producer of Dan Shilon. I had been invited to appear on the show on that very same evening. While waiting behind the scenes along with a female government minister, a world famous male model, a singer who used to be a hit in the 60’s and several magicians from the Russian circus, I watched the feature story which opened the daily news broadcast.

‘The story will be dedicated to the investigation concerning Jasmine,’ - the woman broadcaster said. But for some unknown reason, most of it was an interview with the owner of the French boutique, where Jasmine used to buy her clothes. Afterwards there was a report about the tumults in Monaco. At the end we were reminded of the forthcoming budget cuts to the disabled pension, about the fell of stock exchange and about the capture of Hamas activists who had carried out previous terrorist attacks.

The next day it was actually impossible to go anywhere without seeing Jasmine. It was like the resurrection of the dead. Though the titles under the pictures were not sympathetic, but in the magazine ‘Laisha there had already been published an interview with her mother and sisters, who bemoaned her bitter fate and her degradation caused by drugs and liaisons with a terrorist. The leader of the right wing delivered a speech denouncing the Arabs, who were exploiting their women. And a left wing parliament member said that Jasmine was a victim on the road to peace.

That afternoon a secretary of Mr Weiss rang me up. Mr Weiss is the owner of an international toy-producing network, she explained. He wanted the exclusive rights to the negative of the last photo of Jasmine alive, where she was pictured with the big bag on her shoulder.

‘I have a great idea.’- he explained and offered me 250 000 shekels. I thought about the exhibition, but, finally, I gave up and signed the contract. In a few days a new hit appeared on the market: a suicide-bomber Barbie doll in the image of Jasmine. After she explodes you can reassemble her.

Despite the money and the publicity I was not happy. Though my eye was no longer inflamed, I often suffered from inexplicable blurred vision and prolonged nausea. Jasmine’s dead face haunted me day and night, staring at me from newspapers, TV, sinister Barbie dolls and book covers. I was constantly receiving offers from all kinds of newspapers. They all praised me for my vigilance, courage and sharp eye and even for a wonderful gift of prediction. But it seemed like they just wanted the name of the ‘pride of the Israeli press’ on their list. The big newspapers were competing for me and I could not decide which of them to choose, until finally the editor of ‘Maariv’ offered me the job of the representative in London. It seemed to be the solution to all my problems: to flee the country.

I felt that before departing I had to visit the editorial office of ‘The Nonstop City’. Besides the belief that one should not abandon their childhood dreams, I had some more beliefs; such as one should always close circles. To be perfectly frank, I just could not leave the Promised Land without seeing at the astonished face of Igal Sobol the Terrible. I was sure that until his dying day he would regret about him not appreciating me at the time and missing the opportunity of his life.

When the tough secretary in the editorial office saw me coming, her face melted. This was worth all my nightmares. I remembered how she used to humiliate me whenever I asked her to send a fax or give me a new pencil. But when she raised her fat behind in my honor and with a sly smile asked for my autograph, only then did I realize the extent of my success.

I went forward at a victorious pace straight to Igal Sobol’s office. I didn’t have the slightest trembling in my knees. In my wildest fantasy I saw myself kicking his door savagely and roaring: ‘Hello, Old Chap! Stick all your fucking restaurants up Soresky’s ass!’ and then spreading my Superman’s cape and flying out of the window away to the spaciousness of snowy London.

However fate wished it differently. I pushed the door open and a familiar sight appeared in front of me: there was Igal Sobol, with his Bryezhnev’s brows, and sitting with familiarity on Sobol’s desk was Soresky, blowing smoke out in his face. And suddenly I realized that if Sobol asked me now to replace Soresky and sit on his desk, then to hell with London. Even despite the fact that ‘The Nonstop City’ is a redundant newspaper, known only to a handful of Tel-Avivian eccentrics.

Igal Sobol said, as usual: ‘Yes, Jonathan, you wanted something? Quickly, because I don’t have time.’ And Soresky giggled in his usual way. So I also acted in my usual way. I bit my tongue. For a minute I stood still, then turned away, and rushed in ridiculous flight towards the spaciousness of the snowy London.

Now the only thing I am reading in the Israeli newspapers is my column. The work here is not difficult. As in the past, I follow beautiful women with my camera, but only the celebrities. Their lives are full of things that interest the wider public. The editors are satisfied. My column is a success. Only that in the hours when I have absolutely nothing to do, I draw out from beneath my bed several carefully folded old sheets. Through the large window I see the beautiful rain rushing down brutally and washing over the frozen sidewalks. The electric fireplace is on in my spacious apartment. I strain my exhausted eyes, absorb myself in the faded letters and once again read the article about the sidewalks of Tel-Aviv.

© Lee Kofman 1996.

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