Sunday, May 1, 2011

First Night of Concrete on Wightman Street

Maya took tiny steps towards the apartment building on the corner of Hobart and Wightman Street. It was in a small residental but busy neighborhood in Squirrel Hill of Pittsburgh quieted by the lull of last August rain that she had not anticipated.

She needed an apartment to bring her husband and two year old son from New York City right away knowing full well they couldn't live with her mother-in-law any longer. Not having an umbrella, she climbed the first then second level of stairs to the entrance, the size of a bathroom. She had to get used to the fact that there was no competition in building height - after all, this was not Greenwich Village where every inch of realtor space was fought over and carefully planned out.

As she waited for the real estate agent in the foyer and shook her umbrella, she survyed up and down Wightman Street. Nothing more than a corner apartment building, she thought. But then she saw something that changed her mind. From nowhere, black hatted men scurried like mice across the street to the Yeshiva school. In Israel, they were always rushing to get somewhere which was part of the scene, but here in the Diaspora, they didn't have to prove anything. She continued to observe more men and women entering and leaving shul until she finally made the connection - today was Tisha B'av, the destruction of the temple.

In Israel, living on a secular kibbutz near the Jordan River, she never observed the holiday despite the fact that she knew the name, but never knew its significance. Maybe, one day, I'll understand. Maybe, I'll even go to synagogue. She knew she wasn't part of the amcha, the Israeli people anymore so long as she did yirida, leaving Israel. That's the way it was in the Diaspora. Here, you were first Jewish and then Israeli. (That was even a bonus!) But now, she didn't seem to care so much.

When the realtor finally came twenty minutes late with no advance call to Maya's cell, Maya wondered if she was really in America again, her homeland, after all these years?

"Oh, are you Maya?" the realtor asked. She was wearing high pink heels that clacked when she walked and Maya decided already she looked very cheezy.

Maya offered her a dry cold hand. They shook gingerly.

"I'm so sorry that you've been waiting. I would have been on time, had I not had last minute car trouble and my cell phone battery died."

She fished in her green mountain purse that looked ike a burlap bag.
"Now where are those keys?"

Once in, the only thing that appealed to Maya about the apartment was the glass doorknobs, and arches that separated one room from another and carpet on the floor. In all her years on living on kibbutz, Maya had forgotten the nicety of carpeted floor. Definitely pre-World War Two, she thought.

She quickly surveyed the apartment. Aside from the fact that the ceilings were very low, and the rooms were slightly smaller even for Israeli standards, she thought it was by far, the best apartment she had seen in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. She had compromised getting a house with French doors that opened to a garden. Her flight back to New York City was just in a couple of hours and she needed to make a decision.

After a short series of cell phone calls, Maya and Yoav settled on a date for the first month's deposit and filling in forms, before Maya took the keys when they first settled in.

On the first night in their new place, the water was shut off due to a main water pipe that had blasted in Pittsburgh and no matter how long she turned on the air-conditioning, Maya couldn't get cool enough. She tossed and turned on the borrowed mattress where the spring poked into her sides until Maya finally gave up and rolled unto the synthetic carpet.

Her husband's lukewarm hug was no consolation either.

"We'll get some furniture soon, baby. Our shipping will come in through. Kitzat savlanoot, some patience."

"It's not the furniture," Maya blurted outloud. "But the concrete. There's no nature; we face a bunch of concrete buildings - a dry cleaners, an old age home - what kind of consolation is that?" Despite her fear, Maya hushed the panic part of her voice and even startled herself. She had a feeling that the walls were as thin as paper and didn't want to mar the start of what would be a hopeful future.

"It won't be as bad as you think - just give it time," Yoav had said.

For that first night, Maya forced to give into hope and optimisim she didn't know existed. It fortured her to know that Yoav didn't think much of trees, flowers and the Jordan River, the very things she had sacrificed to come to the States and leave a piece of heaven in Israel. The ironic part was at age eighteen, she had left New York City, a world that championed itself on high rise concrete of materialism.

She never knew though how much she would miss it, and how she would ever get used to noisy buses, thin papery walls.... and concrete!

She turned her back as she usually did when she felt she could not be consoled, and could feel the ears welling up in her eyes.

He slowly touched her back, and showered her with kisses just like on their wedding day, until she mewed and then rolled into his arms. "You won't need to worry so much about concrete, dear Mayaleh," like he did on the day when they first renovated their kibbutz house and when he wheeled her first born son into the nursery.

"I've found a job!"

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