A story written by Itamar S.N
Niv, Erez, Katya and Anush are four young lovers who each experience a sexual awakening that threatens the rigid religious values and social attitudes that surround them. These pressures, the concerns of their families.
When Erez lifted his eyes from the black bar and saw the stranger standing at the entrance, the ground disappeared for one timeless second. The sensation was both thrilling and confusing, bringing back the smell of his childhood bedroom to his nostrils. He didn’t know why he felt so attracted to this man, but from that moment on, nothing and no one could distract Erez from him. The man had no special features, yet he was so familiar. It seemed like forever before he crossed the wide hall. When he finally approached the bar and leaned on it, Erez responded immediately, ignoring the rest of the hot, impatient customers.
“Your usual drink?”
Erez was surprised at the odd question that slipped out of his mouth without thinking. What usual was he talking about? He had never seen this man before.
Erez didn’t hear the man answer. He wasn’t listening. Even in the darkness, between the columns of smoke that were being blown from side to side by large fans, he couldn’t help noticing the light, greyish eyes, with a tint of green. Their depths were inviting, like a well, lit from the bottom.
“I’d love a glass of wine,” said the man, “or anything else you recommend, since you obviously didn’t hear my request.”
Erez came back to reality. Lucky it’s dark in here, he thought, since he was known for the scarlet that would spread over his cheeks to the tips of his ears when embarrassed.
“I’m sorry. I was just trying to figure out where we have met before. I’m pretty sure that… Sorry, don’t mind me. Wait here while I fix your drink.”
“Take your time,” shouted the man, trying to overcome the music and the crowd. “I am not much of an alcohol fan, but noblesse oblige, n’est-ce pas?”
Erez returned with the glass, fuller than usual, as a gesture of apology. The man took the glass, turned and disappeared into the crowd without comment and without paying.
From that moment on, Erez lost all concentration. The strong sensation that he knew the stranger gnawed constantly at his mind. Had he met this man, and if so, where and when? In Afula? No. In the army? Most definitely not. Maybe in the art academy? No place evoked memories of the man’s familiar eyes. Erez couldn’t wait for him to return to the bar and scanned the dark space relentlessly but to no avail.
After a few drinks and what seemed like an eternity, Erez began to think the man had left without paying. His frustration grew. It wasn’t every day he met a man who swept him off his feet right from the start. He loved that feeling and wanted the episode to go on, if only for that night.
“Why do you look so worried? Did something happen?”
Erez found himself in front of the stranger again. The tenderness in his voice felt like an embrace.
“The wine was not bad at all, but I definitely feel too old for this place. I think I’ll pay my bill now, before I do something rash.”
Erez’s pulse was racing. He was angry with himself for thinking the mysterious man had left without paying or more importantly – without saying goodbye.
“Thank you very much, sir,” said Erez. He took the money and turned around.
“Wait a minute,” said the man.
“When are you working again?” he asked.
“On Saturday, God willing,” said Erez, his back turned so the man couldn’t see his wide smile.
“So, I guess I’ll be back on Saturday. We have some unfinished business. Don’t work too hard tonight.”
By the time Erez turned back around, the man had already blended with the crowd and was on his way out. Erez knew he should say something, but his tongue failed him, like so many times in the past. Unfinished business, he thought. What the…?
At least one light in his small studio always stayed on. He didn’t like the darkness, not even during sleep. Research he once read revealed that statistically, it’s the people who are afraid of the dark who choose to work at night. It seemed contradictory, but logical at the same time. He certainly preferred to fall asleep after the sun came out of its mountainous hiding place in the east.
Tonight he returned home while the night was still in its prime. He hung the keys on the nail to the right of the door. His cats, the white furry female and the orange male alley cat, ran to him, rubbing up between his legs and emitting a deep, loud purring. Erez always felt remorse for leaving them alone. They looked for their usual guilt treat.
He took his shoes off and put them in a wide drawer at the bottom of a closet that stretched across one of the walls of the apartment. Everything had its place. A mess would disorient him and bring on stress. He took his clothes off and stood naked in front of the heavy wooden mirror hanging near the side of the bed, disproportional for the size of the apartment. He felt the need to look closer and re-evaluate himself.
Occasionally he liked what he saw, but not usually. He touched his chest and abdomen; stretching, pulling, lifting, twitching his face. One moment he was smiling, and then he became serious. He preferred himself clothed, knowing he was too lazy to achieve the perfect six pack so many gays were slaves for.
The image of the stranger, his soft voice and the spicy scent of his cologne, wouldn’t leave him, re-igniting his imagination. He wondered if his thoughts were sexual. Was this a real attraction? Was it mutual?
He touched himself again, this time in a tender, less judgmental way, but immediately stopped, snickering absurdly at himself. Fantasising erotically about this man was cheap and inappropriate. Maybe because of that, it is sexual, he thought.
The few times he had fallen in love, he fantasised about the moment of first touch. That was a real turn-on. There was magic in the first time holding hands and the feeling of warm breath caressing the face before the first electric contact of the lips. This was the real deal, not the sex or the animal breaking loose. That came much later.
He took a bottle of water from the fridge and got into bed. He always had a cold bottle of water on the small dresser packed with books beside his low bed. He would finish a litre and a half of water during one night without even noticing. Cold water flowing down his throat, cleansing his inner parts, made him feel pure, as if the water was washing away the squalor of the night.
Tel Aviv was a perfect place for creatures of the night. It was a city that attracted huge numbers of people from all over the country and the world. There was a never-ending party taking place. In good times and bad the city rocked to a bass drum beat that sent waves from the clubs to the streets of this urban beehive.
Erez liked working in clubs, to be part of this wild nightlife, to cross paths with people who were out to have fun and to forget the day’s worries. At the same time though, he felt the filth, the impulses, the burdens and the pain behind the drunken, seeking eyes. Sometimes Tel Aviv seemed to be a metropolis of aging bachelors constantly looking for one more false night of love. He was satisfied to look at them, sharing vicariously their visible and hidden feelings. He was also satisfied to be an outsider, not fully belonging. His favourite hobby was to watch. In the night everything was sharper, more extreme, more fascinating and thrilling, without the poker-faced masks of the day.
The humid heat was unbearable. The noisy old air conditioner had seen better days, and it took some time to cool even his small apartment. His two cats settled down to sleep close to his body, and the thin summer blanket just seemed to trap the heat in. He couldn’t fall asleep and slipped softly out of bed, not wanting to disturb the sleeping cats. He went to the stereo and put on Edith Piaf’s À quoi ça sert l’amour? Erez was addicted to kitsch in general and to French chansons particularly. The larger than life voices, the drama, the melody penetrating his veins, made him happy because they made him feel a strong, wide range of different feelings. They made him feel alive.
A loud knock on the door woke Erez. He got up, swaying from sleep, feeling his way, blinded by the sun shining through the window, looking for some underwear and a shirt. Another knock sounded, less amicable.
“I’m coming!” Erez tried to yell, his voice husky from the night of alcohol and smoke coiled around his throat refusing to let go.
It took some time, but in the end he reached the door. He had hardly turned the key when the door burst open.
“Good morning, or in fact good afternoon to you, girlfriend. Had you forgotten we planned to have breakfast this morning, before my trip up north?”
Erez scratched his head, feeling like a kid scolded by his mother. Mickey, or Michel as she preferred to be called recently, stormed in, smelling as fragrant and fresh as a new spring day.
“Mickey, I’m sorry, I completely forgot. Didn’t we say we’d talk in the morning to plan for a precise time?”
Mickey, his best friend from Bezal’el, a talented photographer and rising star in the Israeli fashion industry, was definitely the dominant one in their long relationship. She was surprisingly short, but compensated with her confident posture. She had dark, mocha skin and long wavy black hair that framed a strong Mediterranean face. She was a real spitfire, always full of the energy Erez lacked.
“No,” she said impatiently. “We said that if there was a change of plans, we’d talk in the morning.”
It wasn’t difficult to notice the dissatisfaction in her twitching lips.
“You have five minutes to get yourself organised. Your face looks like one of Picasso’s Cubist women. Did you drink like a fish last night? Again? And for the millionth time, for God’s sake, calling me Michel applies to you too. Are we clear?”