But for all I knew it was goodbye Tel Aviv: I had told work I was leaving, I had told family and friends I would soon be home and I had not renewed the contract on the flat I had shared with Grizzly for the last year, leaving my room with its view over the crumbling rooftops dotted with water boilers for him and his girlfriend to use as their work space.
A couple of friends came over to the flat and we were squirming back a few shots of vodka before heading out for the night, as we always did back then – maybe because the drinks were so expensive in the bars, or maybe to take that edge off thinking this could be the night that someone happens to stroll in the bar and blow themselves up.
I don’t think that in all the time I have been in Tel Aviv that thought has ever left me, even when it got pushed all the way to the back of my mind, was repressed under the attempts to convince myself otherwise, buried under the brave fronts or hidden by a seemingly cool abandon. I can be sitting in a bar or a coffee shop and even hours can go by and I won’t think it, but the thought will always come round – that maybe it could happen.
And always on the buses. Every time. Even when they stopped blowing up so much. Every time I get on the bus, I think that maybe this could be the one, and step inside and walk all the way to the back seat, watching the door and feeling uncomfortable as the middle corridor fills with standing passengers and the bus heads into the dusty, dirty streets of South Tel Aviv, where the explosions always happen, because that’s where Arab faces mingle with Jewish faces and everybody looks so alike.
So a few shots always helped dilute the adrenalin and as we stepped cheerfully outside and started to walk down Allenby Street, it seemed the advantages of being able to wander the streets of Tel Aviv in a strappy vest and jeans in the first week of November far outweighed the disadvantages of possibly being ripped to shreds by the metal-shard-packed explosives belt of a suicide bomber. Isn’t it amazing what a few milliliters of Smirnoff can do?
And we headed for Lilenblum – Lilienblum of strutting singles, of cruisers and boozers, of straps and stilettos, stares and insinuating smiles, where the girls squeezed themselves into their clothes then squeezed through the crowds that swarmed around the outdoor bars, when guys eyed, tried and implied, where numbers were swapped and desire satisfied. Lilienblum, where music clashed from neighboring venues, mingling with the sizzling grilling of cheap burgers from pavement eateries, where black-clad, oversized bouncers stood outside each door and inside the undoubtedly gorgeous bar staff threw and spun bottles in the air, thinking it would impress one of the faces in the sea of eager lipstick that swayed in front of them into staying till the end of their shift – which invariably it always did.
My friend Tanya had insisted we go there, having just split up from a boyfriend of eight years, who had then been her husband for another two and who since moving to Tel Aviv from the hot, dry suburbs of Be’er Sheva, where she shared a house and what was to turn out to be a short-lived marriage with her high school sweetheart, had thrown herself into a rampant joyride of singledom that should be a remindful warning to all women to get such things out of their systems before getting a ring on their finger and vowing to a lifetime of fidelity. Grizzly had come along too, taking the opportunity of his girlfriend being away in the north for the weekend to come out, sit back chain-smoking his Marlboro red and indulge in guilt-free staring at all the women he just might have had a chance with were he single.
We wandered from bar to bar for a while, leaving behind us clutters of empty glasses dotted with the passion fruit pips of vodka cocktails and by about 3 in the morning were making our way to the king of “peek aps” as they say here – the Golden Bar.
And it was there, in that den of flesh and one-night desire, one week after I had split up with Boaz and three weeks before I was due to fly back home to England; it was there of all places and of all times, that I met Sa’ar.
And it really wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did, and everything changed.