- The Old Man and the Vest
On the bus from Haifa to Tel Aviv, I feel an elbow poke at my ribs. I turn my head, and the old man next to me is moving his jaws. I don’t know what he’s saying, because I have my earphones on. I’m listening to Bob Dylan, a Nobel Prize winner, and apparently the old man next to me thinks he has something more important to say. I take one earphone off. One. Because I’m not planning on having a long conversation with this person about God knows what. I already have a grandpa who fought on D-day, yet all he talks about is soup. So I know what’s in store if I play this wrong. Earphone now off, I hear him midsentence: “would never, in a million years, be able to guess which ass belonged to which asshole.” “I beg your pardon, sir?” I hold the earphone an inch from my ear, because once I hear a full stop, it’s going straight back in. He repeats to bring me into the loop. “Son, beneath my coat here, I am wearing a vest with so much explosive that I could blow this whole bus and everyone on it to a million itsy-bitsy pieces, and no coroner, no matter how intelligent, would never, in a million years, be able to guess which ass belonged to which asshole.” “Are you serious?” I ask him. “Dead serious,” he says. We look at each other, the earphone still in my hand. I turn my head back to look at the other people on the bus. Some are sleeping, some are on their phones. “You know,” I say, “you shouldn’t joke about these things, not when there are attacks left and right. People are killing each other for many different reasons these days.” “Oh, believe me, son, this is no joke.” “It’s just . . .” I look him up and down. He’s a very small old man, tiny in fact—sure, big coat—but other than that? “It’s just that,” I continue, “usually—and no offense, sir—usually, these things [End Page 431] are carried out by young people. Passionate. Ideological.” “Oh, yeah? And what of it? You don’t think I have an ideology?” “No, no, sir . . . I’m sure you do. I’m sure you do. And I’m sure it was pertinent in your day, but, you wouldn’t mind—just so we can move on to the next part—if I get a glimpse under your coat?”
“Gladly!” he exclaims. He’s smiling in a way that seems oddly childish to me as he unzips his coat. “There,” he says proudly, “five kilos of C4 explosive. Neat, isn’t it?” I take a look inside and swallow hard. I start to grasp the gravity of the situation I’m in, and I push pause on Bob Dylan. My forehead perspires. The old man notices and offers me a handkerchief, which he pulls from the inside pocket of his jacket. “Don’t worry, son, it’s well wired and completely safe. The decision whether to blow it up or not lies totally in my hands.” I start to panic. The old man taps on my knee, telling me to breathe. “I’ll give you a moment or two to regain your composure,” he says sympathetically.
“Are you a Muslim?”
“Are you a Hasidic Jew?”
“Ha! Please. Although my grandpa was an important rabbi in a shtetl near Kiev.”
“Oh, are you a survivor? Because, sir, let me assure you that I am the staunchest opposer of the way Holocaust survivors are being treated in this country. Forty percent under the poverty line! It’s just horrible. I—I wrote a Facebook status about it recently, really.”
“Who, me? Ha! No, no, no, I’d never make it. The situation there was too . . . how should I put it? Thin. I like a good meal. But I agree, we are a coldhearted nation.”
“Yes. Very coldhearted.” [End Page 432]
“I was here all along, son. Born and raised! I was here when the...