Friday, February 08, 2013

The Old Man at Shalom Tower

Here's my weekly short story from my collection "Discovering America":  "The Old Man at Shalom Tower"
(Please note these stories are my copyright, for reproduction please contact me)

The Shalom Tower stands erect over Tel-Aviv, jutting precipitously from a slum. I wanted to park our over-sized American car in the underground parking garage there. I saw an entrance to the garage and stopped behind a car that was waiting to enter. When another car came out of the adjacent exit, the old man in charge let the car in front of me enter. I pulled onto the ramp, confronted by the old man sitting astride a chair.
It was very hot.
I waited my turn. Suddenly a car entered the exit ramp and then transferred to the entrance ramp below me. The old man acknowledged the driver's wave before the car disappeared into the bowels of the building. I leaned out and shouted something in my poor Hebrew at the old man, to the effect that I should have been next.
Then another car exited, but he did not move.  He sat impassively before us smoking and staring into the distance. 
I was infuriated. I got out of the car and went round to where he was sitting.  Looking down at him I asked him why he would not let us in. Purposely looking away from me he muttered something I could not understand. I called to my wife and she came and translated.
"Because he doesn’t want to," she said.
"But, that's crazy, why not?" He just sat there and ignored us. I walked down the ramp but there was no-one else there to appeal to. I returned to my car, the engine running, standing before the old man in his rickety chair. I was sweating profusely.
"What shall we do?" my wife asked.
"I don't know," I replied.
Then on an impulse I got in the car and pounded the horn a few times.
The old man looked away with disdainful Levantine contempt. He had a dark, stubbled face, wrinkled and lined. He was shabbily dressed. With a mounting sense of frustration I edged my car forward until it almost touched the chair. My wife screamed at me,
"Don't be stupid, let's just go!"
The old man glared directly at me.
A man carrying a briefcase came over and asked in English what was the problem. I explained the situation to him, and then we both went to speak to the old man. Several people stopped to see what was going on.  The younger man, dressed in an open-necked shirt, slacks and sandals, questioned the old man animatedly. I wished that I could understand them. They spoke, and then the younger man turned to me and said simply.
"He does not want to let you in."
"But, why not?” I asked plaintively.
"He says he does not have to give a reason."
No reason.
I stood uncomprehendingly, then angrily I shouted at the old man in English,
"You stupid bastard!"
Suddenly the old man erupted into life. He drew the flimsy chair out from under himself and brandished it over his head as if to strike me.
The young man shouted at him, and he momentarily hesitated. Our eyes met and there was hatred and anger in his steady, rheumy gaze. As he set the chair down I lurched forward and raised my hand to strike him.
A voice called out to me, and I too was restrained. A picture flashed into my mind of myself standing above this old man, now cowering waiting to receive a blow, with my arm raised to strike him. I viewed us from an ever-increasing height, so that gradually my circle of vision expanded until it encompassed the young man with the briefcase next to me, the blue car glinting in the sun, my wife standing beside its open door, her arm extended pleading to me, the crowd of onlookers, then the bustling street beyond, and the building towering above us all.
I had been overcome by the heat and the irrationality of the moment, but suddenly I felt cool. I was spent, I relented, my anger waned. As I returned to the car a policeman appeared. After a brief conversation with me and the younger man, he spoke to the old man. Then he returned and told me I must move because I could not park there as this was the entrance to the parking lot for employees only, and also the crowd was holding up traffic on the street. He directed me to a parking lot on the other side of the building. 
He was very polite and helped to clear a path for me to back onto the street. The world had suddenly returned to rational normalcy. But, I realized that I was still trembling all over.  How had I, of all people, descended to this? How could I have wanted to strike a harmless old man?
At the other side of the building was the entrance to a public parking garage. We entered without difficulty and the machine spat out a ticket.
(Copyright  © Jack Cohen)


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