‘An African sunset’ – an excerpt.
On Saturday the next morning, at about ten o’clock Shatz was striding nimbly on the path leading to the club, in shorts and snickers holding a tennis racket – ready for the match with Peleg and Avisar. Where exactly were the tennis courts he didn’t know yet, he knew it was somewhere next to the golf lawns. Surveying the space before his eyes on the side of the path, opposite the group of bushes where he and Janine made love last night; right there stood a small group of people, his compatriots, the husbands, their wives and Peleg’s children, a noisy group waiting for his arrival next to the tennis court and its extended net. Shatz raised his hand waving to them, as if nothing happened and no threats were hovering above his head.
‘Where have you been yesterday?’ Assaulted him the two women as soon as he reached them. ‘Why didn’t you come? Do you know that the dinner was delayed for more than an hour, because Rivka didn’t believe you won’t come.’ They took turns in scolding him heatedly, particularly Raya while their men stood beside them without uttering a single word.
‘I didn’t mean to… that’s the truth, I haven’t even thought of it…’ Opened up Shatz doing his best to persuade them.
‘What a pity, if you would have come the whole thing might have ended up yesterday, I’m sure of it!’ Went on Raya. ‘Do you know that Rivka took your side yesterday, would you believe it? She shouted on Yossef and Abe in front of all of us! “Are you out of your minds?” That’s what she said I’m not exaggerating… You could have ended it up yesterday in some kind of compromise. After all it just a matter of someone’s ego, nothing else…’
Peleg watched her with an alarmed stare, while Avisar her husband hastened to put his hand on her neck, in a calming gesture. ‘That’s enough let it be!’ He warned her, caressing gently her neck.
‘I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t mean to skip it, but I needed some time to think things over.’ Answered her Shatz feigning regret. ‘When the time came to set out I simply couldn’t move… I don’t even know how to define that feeling. I sat down somewhere along the coast watching the waves, knowing that I should be with you at that time, but I wasn’t able to move – that’s the truth, I returned to the farm just to pass the night over there, to have some rest…’
With this aftermath anlysis and the short spells of silence that accompanied it, the morning hours passed away. All the tennis fans among the club members, who did come to pass their time playing on these courts, were gone long ago – the heat sent them off. Thus when Peleg suggested to Shatz a short round of a game with each of them, the women protested loudly and reasonably against it, and they went over to the club’s bar-restaurant to quench their thirst. That certain meeting that was fixed long before the fuss with Everon lost completely its purpose, Shatz concluded to himself while having a cold drink next to his patronizing entourage. But although his mission’s future in this country was not at all clear, there was still hope he thought – nothing is lost yet. Otherwise they wouldn’t have waited for him from seven o’clock on, the whole embassy’s staff except the ambassador and his young wife…
‘I want to have a word with you.’ Peleg told him. ‘Let’s go to the parking lot and talk on our way, there are a few things we’d better clarify between ourselves.’
Shatz didn’t object and didn’t comment, just waited till Peleg would inform the rest of them what was going on. ‘Nothing has been changed, Reuven is taking me to a ride and we’ll all meet at home as planned.’ Leaving his car’s keys to his wife he moved with Shatz towards the parking lot.
‘Let’s not waste our time,’ Peleg turned to him while they were crossing the club’s wide square. ‘Most of the experts that the foreign office sends abroad, whether they’re the foreign office personell or people like you, come from the middle classes. I’m a representative of that class too and I’m not ashamed of it. My father was a bricklayer and I had to work hard to complete my education and reach that advantageous position. Except the high wages and the special conditions that we gain, we’re considered here as the elite of this country. Yes, the nobility as simple as that, just try to compare our standard of living with the locals… It’s quite clear that there are a few among us and among the members of other foreign delegation as well, who lose their heads sometimes; and as a result, it isn’t easy to get along with such people. There’re those that in normal conditionhs back home, you wouldn’t have chosen as your friends. But here we don’t have any other choice, but to find the ways to get along with them, to accept them. Well, that’s one problem, another problem that isn’t pleasant at all, is the fact that one has to perform sometimes instructions against his own will; instructions that are sometimes unpleasant and in worse circumstances may contradict his principles or even his conscious. You can include Yoseph in that category he isn’t better off in such cases…’ Peleg added with emphasize, watching Shatz with a meaningful stare. ‘He too finds himself in likewise situations, and the reason why I bother so much to explain it to you, is because not on every mission one has the opportunity to get to know serious people who are exceptionally brilliant and nevertheless modest and civilized like yourself. Now then, without referring to the potential that you represent and your future contribution to what we’re doing here… I didn’t mean to embarrass you!’ He hastened to add, noting Shatz embarrassed reaction. ‘That’s simply my opinion.’
Standing next to his car’s open door, Shatz scrutinized Peleg’s face with eyes full of doubts and astonishment. The man’s is under quite a strain, he unloads his sentences as if he’s unloading a heavy load off his back… ‘I haven’t said a word about it yet and it might surprise you, I do agree with most the things you’ve just mentioned, except the last few words. But, where do you want us to drive?’
‘Let’s drive to Dialo, to the farm.’ Said Peleg opening the front passenger’s door and settled down in the front seat.
‘Why, we’d better sit in one of those palm groves at the road side, don’t you think?’ Suggested Shatz, switching on the car’s engine.
‘No, no let’s go, otherwise they might catch up with us, and thus we won’t have the privacy we need anymore.’ Insisted Peleg.
‘That piece of advice that popps up indirectly from what I’ve heard from you, was given to me straight away by Raya yesterday.’ Remarked Shatz with a note of indifferenne, while watching the road ahead, and trying to put order in his thoughts – editing in his mind his own standpoint.
‘I do regret but that’s the one and only possibility left to you!’ Admitted Peleg.
‘Let’s assume that I’m taking on that obligation, which means that I’ll have to stay in the farm and you won’t see me during the next month; not in the club and not at the hotel’s swimming pool, that’s what he wants isn’t it?’
‘But you’ll keep on seeing her?’
‘You don’t believe that I’ll risk the delegation’s achievements or my own life by seeing her, do you?’
‘Of course not,’ agreed with him Peleg. ‘If it was concerning the ambassador’s reaction alone, it would have been settled in one way or another; he would have overlooked it, but I don’t think that you’ll be able to conceal your relations with her, whatever these relations are from Everon. On top of it, you’ll have difficulties in explaining the need of secrecy to her and her father… or worse, you’ll need to turn them into your accomplices – and such an absurd situation mustn’t be reached.’
‘You’re quite right,’ remarked Shatz indifferently. He had no intention to stop seeing Janine, or to conceal it. But he had to provide Peleg with some kind of opening for the time being at least.
‘Let’s talk a few words about her with reason,’ Peleg opened up with a brand new initiative. ‘I’ve seen her long before you, on the first day of her arrival – at the airport. I was there on that day. Okay, so she does have that mane of hair that looks like the burning bush that doesn’t burn down on mount Sinai, and she has such a cute little nose and a pair of green eyes like a pair of emeralds. But between the two of us, she was a kid just yesterday… So what’s the matter with you? Tell me, do you miss the evenings when you wooed your first love on a bench in a public park? Do you enjoy jumping down again to the gorge’s bed just to climb all the way up to the summit again? Are your eyes shut when you drive to the farm? Don’t you see what’s going on at the road’s sides? What an abundance of flesh is on the move? Just pick up!’ Peleg stopped abruptly his speech, taking a long breath of air into his lungs and poofing right away with impatience.
‘Or mayby it’s the tag ‘made in France’ that attracts you so much? The feminine voice whining in a foreign language that enchants you, that caresses your ego? Listen to me Reuven; I’ve no objection to that relationship, but between us don’t you think that you’re exaggerating? Think it logically for just one moment, isn’t their objection the secret of her attraction, and that’s why you persist stubbornly on your right to go on seeing her? We all know already that she and her father are flying back home in a short while, and as far as I can divine you’ve no intention to follow them there; so do me a favor, get back to the farm and study the advantages of the African woman for a change! Believe me, you won’t miss Mouaka and Everon won’t dare to bother you. He won’t risk the little he would manage to achieve with the ambassador’s assistance.’ Coughing slightly Peleg sneaked a supplicating look at Shatz, full of expectation. But as Shatz didn’t comment and kept staring ahead. Peleg went on coughing slightly.
‘What do you think Priel did in his skirmishes with Da-Silva, the work tours on which he’d to pay dearly in return? Even he the supposedly devoted and loyal husband, the one of all men, the lucky one who gained her, Hilla…‘ He muttered her name with fury, losing his head almost in a sudden fit of anger.
After several minutes of embarrassing silence, in which Shatz summed up his answer, he turned to Peleg. ‘I’ve dedicated much thought yesterday, and now having heard what you’ve to say about it; I’m sure that I’m not the one who exaggerates!’ Shatz opened up without any intention to refer to the Priels’ and his past relations with them. ‘Aa far as I’m concerned the argument is irrelevant, for it deals with my own private life. I don’t have to add any details, that’s my standpoint. You see it from quite a different angle. You’ve got a loving wife, who cares for you, (and your unattained love to Hilla assisted you no doubt to overcome many personal setbacks, and with what ease you’ve jumped over that hurdle…) and there’re your children, to which your obligation as their father supports you to keep out of mischief without much efforts, and to release yourself easily from any bad thoughts and futile hallucinations. On the other hand if I’ll give that French girl up, I’ll have to give up their home too, in which I find human wrmth and refuge from daily frustrations, which you find in your own home.’
‘Oh, and how many times did you visit them, after all?’ Retorted Peleg surprised.
‘Enough to feel at home there, I don’t mean to hint that I won’t feel at home at your place or at Ehud’s; Everon kept me away from you, and that’s how it turned out in a somewhat strange way. The fact that their family cell consists just of an aging father and a youngish daughter, helped to create a special relationship between them and me, which is very dear to me and as a lonely person I know to appreciate it. That’s my reality and it ends up in a week or two, so what might happen after all if I’ll go on seeing her?’ He asked Peleg and added right away: It’s no use to drive on to Dialo, don’t you agree?’
‘That’s right, there’s no need to drive on, let’s go straight to my place.’ Peleg agreed coughing slightly, with obvious disappointment. ‘The little I can do to help you is to explain to you the position in which you might be very soon. You do understand that you’re confronting a breach of contract? I do hope it won’t interfere with your promotion odds in the future…’ He added with a dramtic note. Throwing a furtif glance at Shatz, hoping that this reminder would make him change his mind. ‘I’ll tell you what,’ Peleg kept right on. ‘I’ll explain that matter to you during lunch. Yes, you’re having lunch with us, I insist…’ He added with a short laugh, noticing Shatz’s quick glance at his wristwatch. ‘Right after lunch we’ll go to the embassy, Ehud and me and we’ll communicate with our sources back home. If your previous job is free still, they’ll be happy to have you back, we won’t take you along don’t you worry; you’ll have enough time to have your second lunch with your French host and his pretty daughter… Yeah you don’t have any other choice this time too dear boy, after all you’ve already got used to it lately.’ He summed the matter up laughing, sweeping Shatz with him.