By Yosefa Fogel
I thought I knew this city. Countless times in past years I have walked through its narrow alleyways on tired feet, on anxious feet, on feet crowded by the presence of many others. I have walked here, past these thick limestone blocks on my way to buy a book from the silver-haired clerk, on my way to pray at a wall currently a hopeful remnant of something greater, on my way to read in a quiet corner, unifying text with its origin. I thought I knew all the joys these ancient streets had to offer and what rooftops were ideal for city-gazing at the aerial boundaries between us and them. I thought the whispers heard escaping from the cracks between the stones were all that was to be heard.
But I was mistaken. Because walking through these alleyways with you is like walking through a city I have never seen before; a city, that is slowly becoming our own. I never saw that playground on the lower right side of the parking lot—empty at the time of day we pass it together—a resting playground, tired after its hot day in the sun. I have sat in this corner illuminated by bright yellow-tinged lights, the one overlooking that looming beige wall promising to one day be something greater; a corner with a clear view of the black and white anarchy below. I’ve been here, of course I’ve been here. But sitting on this black, porous bench with you transforms this place into something excitingly unfamiliar; as if the hours I spent sitting in the corner across the way, is from another lifetime altogether. A lifetime before you.
We pass by the young yeshiva students, sitting there for what seems like years on end. They sit by the orange telephone booth that’s surprisingly still in use, on slabs of concrete I once sat on in the center of the square. They are making jokes and playfully pushing one another. The clothes have changed with the passing fads, but the jokes and conversations are the same, hovering in a spiral above the entire square. The conversations, the singsong rhythm of the familiar voices, now feel distant, for I have left my makeshift concrete stool for a bench with room for two.
You say there’s something incomplete about that sweet-faced young girl in a baby blue Bnei Akiva shirt. People are meant to walk with a partner, you say. See? That couple looks different. You can sense the difference in their postures, their joint posture. They, are a team, you say looking directly into my eyes, stopping our stride in the middle of the pathway. Just like us.
Tonight, the stones tenderly whisper words in my ear that I’ve never heard before. So accustomed to listening intently to these voices, I am surprised because their tone has changed completely. Once they spoke of idealism and religious fervor, but tonight they speak of love and devotion to a place and a person I never want to lose. Perhaps the whispers are yours, traveling from your lips to my waiting ears, for I can no longer tell the difference between the collective voice of the stones and our own. But I think they’re praying with us, also hoping this will work. They’re hoping that the spell this city has placed on us isn’t limited to a specific time and place, but that we will stay in this place forever.
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