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The Old Woman

This is a cross-post from Marc Goldberg

I live in the heart of Tel Aviv in what was once one apartment covering the entire floor of my building but that has been divided up into 5 different apartments. There is a front door and then 5 more doors that lead to each of our own homes. I like it there – my neighbours are all young, Tel Aviv types. Until the old woman moved in.

She is at most 4”11, she is wrinkly, she speaks Hebrew with a heavy French accent. I met her when she was moving in, she said hello and told me her name which I instantly forgot. I picked up on her accent and said Bonjour which is pretty much the only French I know. Her apartment is the smallest of the 5 consisting of just one room for sleeping, eating and living plus a shower room. After a couple of words were exchanged between us I ran out of things to say and so did she. Someone else came in through the front door, the sound of the key in the lock makes her physically jump. Her mobile phone rings. I watch in consternation as she physically shakes once again at the sudden sound.

She looks at me apologetically and says “It’s terrible everything scares me!” The front door opens and she shakes again making me wonder whether this woman is actually going to be able to live alone.

That night it’s 4a.m. and I can’t sleep for the sound of Israeli folk music coming through my paper thin walls. I get out of bed looking for the source of the music opening my front door to hear it emanating from the old woman’s one room palace. I say nothing. I have to get up for work in three and a half hours.

Sometime later I bump into her in the busy café across the street from our building. She stops me and asks “you live in my building don’t you?” “Yes” I say. “Well, I have had the operation, it went fine and I am all better now.” She says this in a matter of fact way. I didn’t know that she had had an operation and felt uncomfortable with her sharing this information with me. I shifted my weight from one foot to another unsure what to say. The waitress arrived to tell me my table is ready. I say “Goodbye”.

A few days later I came home from a day of work that was mostly spent trying not to fall asleep at my desk and find some asshole smoking in the lobby. He stubs the cigarette out and joins me in the lift. We went to the same floor. “Ah you know the old woman who has just moved in?” he asks. “Yeah” I say. “She’s my cousin” he says. “Oh I know her…she seems very frail” I hint. He agreed, “she has no one really, we are distantly related so I come down here and see to her sometimes” he said.

“She literally jumps when she hears a loud noise” I added.

“Oh that’s not because of her age she’s been like that since he was a little girl” he says.

“It’s from when she was in the camps.”