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Not far from the sea, Mr. Albert Danon lives in Amirim Street, alone. He is fond of olives and feta; a mild accountant, he lost his wife not long ago. Nadia Danon died one morning of ovarian cancer, leaving some clothes, a dressing table, some finely embroidered place mats. Their only son, Enrico David, has gone off mountaineering in Tibet.
Here in Bat Yam the summer morning is hot and clammy but on those mountains night is falling. Mist is swirling low in the ravines. A needle-sharp wind howls as though alive, and the fading light looks more and more like a nasty dream.
At this point the path forks: one way is steep, the other gently sloping. Not a trace on the map of the fork in the path. And as the evening darkens and the wind lashes him with sharp hailstones, Rico has to guess whether to take the shorter or the easier way down.
Either way, Mr. Danon will get up now and switch off his computer. He will go and stand by the window. Outside in the yard on the wall is a cat. It has spotted a lizard. It will not let go.
Nadia Danon. Not long before she died a bird on a branch woke her. At four in the morning, before it was light, narimi narimi said the bird.
What will I be when I'm dead? A sound or a scent or neither. I've started a mat. I may still finish it. Dr. Pinto is optimistic: the situation is stable. The left one is a little less good. The right one is fine. The X-rays are clear. See for yourself: no secondaries here.
At four in the morning, before it is light, Nadia Danon begins to remember. Ewes' milk cheese. A glass of wine. A bunch of grapes. A scent of slow evening on the Cretan hills, the taste of cold water, the whispering of pines, the shadow of the mountains spreading over the plain, narimi narimi the bird sang there. I'll sit here and sew. I'll be finished by morning.
Rico David was always reading. He thought the world was in a bad way. The shelves are covered with piles of his books, pamphlets, papers, publications, on all sorts of wrongs: black studies, women's studies, lesbians and gays, child abuse, drugs, race, rain forests, the hole in the ozone layer, not to mention injustice in the Middle East. Always reading. He read everything. He went to a left-wing rally with his girlfriend Dita Inbar. Left without saying a word. Forgot to call. Came home late. Played his guitar.
Your mother begs you, his father pleaded. She's not feeling too and you're making it worse. Rico said, OK, give me a break. But how can anyone be so insensitive? Forgetting to switch off. Forgetting to close. Forgetting to get back before three in the morning.
Dita said: Mr. Danon, try to see it his way. It's painful for him too. Now you're making him feel guilty; after all, it's not his fault she's dead. He has a right to a life of his own. What did you expect him to do? Sit holding her hand? Life goes on. One way or another everyone gets left alone. I'm not much for this trip to Tibet either, but still, he's entitled to try to find himself. Especially after losing his mother. He'll be back, Mr. Danon, but don't hang around waiting for him. Do some work, get some exercise, whatever. I'll drop by sometime.
And since then he goes out to the garden at times. Prunes the roses. Ties up the sweet peas. Inhales the smell of the sea from afar, salt, seaweed, the warm dampness. He might call her tomorrow. But Rico forgot to leave her number and there are dozens of Inbars in the phone book.
Later, in Tibet
One summer morning, when he was young, he and his mother took the bus from Bat Yam to Jaffa, to see his Aunt Clara. The night before he refused to sleep: he was afraid the alarm clock would stop in the night, and he wouldn't wake. And what if it rains, or if we are late.
Between Bat Yam and Jaffa a donkey cart had overturned. Smashed watermelons on the asphalt, a blood bath. Then the fat driver took offense and shouted at another fat man, with greased hair. An old lady yawned at his mother. Her mouth was a grave, empty and deep. On a bench at a stop sat a man in a tie and white shirt, wearing his jacket over his knees. He wouldn't board the bus. Waved it on. Maybe he was waiting for another bus. Then they saw a squashed cat. His mother pressed his head to her tummy: don't look, you'll cry out again in your sleep. Then a girl with her head shaved: lice? Her crossed leg almost revealed a glimpse. And an unfinished building and dunes of sand. An Arab coffee house. Wicker stools. Smoke, acrid and thick. Two men bending forward, heads almost touching.
A ruin. A church. A fig tree. A bell. A tower. A tiled roof. Wrought-iron grilles. A lemon tree. The smell of fried fish. And between two walls a sail and a sea rocking.
Then an orchard, a convent, palm trees, date palms perhaps, and shattered buildings; if you continue along this road you eventually reach south Tel Aviv. Then the Yarkon. Then citrus groves. Villages. And beyond the mountains. And after that it is already night. The uplands of Galilee. Syria. Russia. Or Lapland. The tundra. Snowy steppes.
Later, in Tibet, more asleep than awake, he remembers his mother. If we don't wake up we've had it. We'll be late. In the snow in the tent in the sleeping-bag he stretches to press his head to her tummy.
In Amirim Street Mr. Danon is still awake. It's two in the morning. On the screen before him the figures don't add up. Some company or other. A mistake or a fraud? He checks. Can't spot anything. On an embroidered mat the tin clock ticks. He puts on his coat and goes out. It's six now in Tibet. A smell of rain but no rain in the street in Bat Yam. Which is empty. Silent. Blocks of flats. A mistake or a fraud. Tomorrow we'll see.
Dita slept with a good friend of Rico's, Giggy Ben-Gal. He got on her nerves when he called screwing intercourse. He disgusted her by asking her afterwards how good it had been for her on a scale of nought to a hundred. He had an opinion about everything. He started yammering on about the female orgasm being less physical, more emotional. Then he discovered a fat mosquito on her shoulder. He squashed it, brushed it off, rustled the local paper and fell asleep on his back. Arms spread out in a cross. Leaving no room for her. His cock shrivelled too and went to sleep with a mosquito on it: blood vengeance.
She took a shower. Combed her hair. Put on a black T-shirt that Rico had left in one of her drawers. Less. Or more. Emotional. Physical. Sexy. Bullshit. Sensual. Sexual. Opinions night and day. That's wrong. That's right. What's squashed can't be unsquashed. I ought to go and see how the old man's doing.
Excerpted from The Same Sea by AMOS OZ. Copyright © 1999 by Amos Oz and Keter Publishing House Ltd.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.