The Kibbutz is Burning

Short Story – First Segment:

David stayed in bed, not fully awake yet from a terrible dream. He blamed the uneasy feeling growing inside him on the dream, and at the same time resisted a strange need to go back to it. He fought that urge, trying to concentrate instead on listening to the birds outside, a habit of his for many years. They were calling on him to join them, but he wasn’t in a hurry to get up. It was Shabbat morning, after all, and beside him his wife Roza was still asleep, snoring softly. He delayed also going to the bathroom, though the pressure on his bladder was very heavy, as was the case often at this time of the morning. He was afraid, most of all, that he might wake up his dear ones: his grandson, his son and his wife. They were all asleep on the open couch in the adjacent living room; tired, no doubt, from the festivities of last night.

Yes, that was a real celebration, he affirmed to himself fondly. Sixty years, as the youth were so fond of saying these days, don’t go by foot. And as for the old, like David himself, they should be proud of themselves for a day or two. Here, on the slope of the biblical Mount Gilboa, where King Saul and his son Jonathan fought the Philistines, and where once only an infested swamp existed, now stood a beautiful, successful kibbutz.

This accomplishment was the basis and main theme of the colorful pageant performed last night at the new Community Center: The first days of Aliyah, and the struggle and triumph that followed, as the new Jewish immigrants conquered Eretz Israel. Of course, the presentation was done with the best that modern equipments can offer, including audio-visual effects. And yet, it was the pure voice of the choir that had melted his heart so easily, singing those old pioneer songs. What a pity his son Gideon wasn’t among them; he always was such a fine singer. But that was before he got married and left the kibbutz. Before that city-girl of his snatched him away from here.

A short cough came out of David inadvertently. He tried to strangle it but was too late. Roza mumbled something first, then turned away from him and went back to sleep. He hoped his cough hadn’t waked up little Asaf: he needed the sleep, so he could grow up and be strong and healthy. And who knows, David thought wishfully, maybe one day he would be the one to come back to the kibbutz.

He closed his eyes, trying to imagine such a favorable scenario. At the same time, the irresistible temptation of that bad dream came back to haunt him. It was possible, he couldn’t tell at first, that he did go back momentarily to visit the realm of that dream. Because suddenly—just as he felt how the mask of sleep was beginning to veil him again—he found himself in the bathroom, trying to relieve his urinary pressure. He stared at his bathtub while at it, trying to help things along by counting the tiles. Who would have believed back in the old days, he asked himself rhetorically, that one day we would have private bathtubs? What happened to the old Community Shower? And where are we heading, anyway, that we have houses with color televisions and personal telephones in them, and separate kitchens with refrigerators and oven toasters? What will be the end of it all?

And suddenly—again, he was unsure how it had happened so quickly—he found himself planted in the middle of his garden, wearing his black working shoes, his khaki shorts and gray undershirt. Apparently, he had drunk already his strong black coffee, and was “ready for wars,” as his son used to say. The kibbutz was still asleep, to be sure. And why not, it deserved it after last night’s big celebration. Only he and the birds were awake. For them, it was a morning like any other morning: the Sixty-Year Anniversary of the kibbutz meant nothing to them. The same could be said about Libi, his neighbors’ dog, a Border collie who kept running around his pecan tree for some reason. Right where his old, red bicycle was leaning on the trunk.

He stooped over his beloved daffodils, and in spite of the pain that was tormenting his lower back lately, began to methodically extract the wild weeds that were threatening to suffocate them. It was not so hard: only the crab grass fought back, as it had done for almost forty years now. It was a war without winners; it was a war without end. Like the war…

He straightened up abruptly, smelling smoke. His nose was especially sensitive to such smells, as Roza his wife had pointed out not once. Yet he looked around and saw no sign of smoke, or fire for that matter. Not even a garbage barrel burning. The kibbutz was secure and serene as ever, and so was the mountain above it, with the Children Orchard nestled in the bosom of its slope. A pine tree for every child of the kibbutz was planted there, including for his own son and daughter. Luckily, Dalya was still living in the kibbutz. But how come she was yet to get married? Was yet to bear him grandchildren to play with in his old age?

There was still hope, he believed, as he picked up the black hose and turned on the water. He placed his thumb on the mouth of the hose, so skillful at it, and created a perfect umbrella of silvery drops. He watered his garden with easy, calculated moves, up and down, left and right. He always liked watering his garden this way, before the rainy season, as he expected, would start in earnest. It made him feel alive, and so in tune with nature, especially when the soft morning breeze blew a few drops of water at his face. All his anxieties were gone by now, left behind in the house.

But then, just as he was raising the water hose high in order to reach the row of hawthorn bushes framing his garden, he thought he saw smoke rising from somewhere. He threw down the hose and grabbed his old, reliable wooden ladder. Next—and again, it was so fast he couldn’t understand how it had happened—he was high on a branch of the pecan tree, together with the black birds. He looked over the roofs and trees, far away toward the valley below and its flat brown and green fields, bordered by placid fishing ponds, glistening in the morning sun. He then turned his eyes over to the plastic factory and the cowsheds, all the way to the main yard of the kibbutz. Where he saw—clearly, he didn’t need his glasses—a column of black smoke rising.

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