Chapter 4: Simple Simon Says
I nearly forgot but unfortunately, Alon reminded me that the next day was my birthday. I had never liked birthdays.
And besides – Why celebrate aging and approaching death?
“Shall we celebrate after training?” Alon asked.
“Sure, what did you have in mind?”
“Go for dinner, then drive to Roppongi and hit a few clubs and bars.”
When Taka concluded his lesson at nine o’clock the following evening, we rushed out and drove to Alon’s house. We took turns to shower, got dressed and Alon splashed us with some aftershave that his sister had sent him from Israel.
“Ready?” I asked when I was shiny clean and smelt like the sex gland of a raging bull.
“Yes,” he looked at his wristwatch. “Let’s go.”
We got into his car and he dropped the first surprise of the evening.
“First we need to go and help my worker close her stall,” he said.
“You’re kidding me, right? It’s my birthday and I’m starving.”
He looked shocked.
“Have some compassion,” he scorned me. “She’s been standing there all day. But don’t worry, I promise it’ll be quick.”
I complained throughout the drive, giving him a hard time, making sure he remembered it was my special day.
Half an hour later I found myself dismantling the stall and carrying boxes of jewelry to Alon’s car. His worker, Silvi, was a short, bubbly girl in her early twenties, who wore a long puffy coat that reached below her knees and made her look quite chubby. Silvi seemed quite excited to speak to us and she spoke constantly, as if driven by the urge to exercise her mouth after the many hours she had just spent on the street.
She did help with the carrying but mostly she walked beside me while I was working. With my arms piled high with boxes I was powerless against the output of her mouth. I smiled at her and tried to keep myself calm and sweat free, occasionally glancing at Alon, hoping he would come and share the burden. But Alon, of course, was too busy to help. He was on his mobile phone, his expression so intense you wouldn’t want to disturb him.
We finished packing the car and I opened the passenger door and climbed in.
“Where are your manners?” Alon frowned. “We have a lady here.”
I let Silvi take the front seat and I sat in the back of the small van. We drove off, on our way to Silvi’s guesthouse. Her chatty mood had a serious boost now that we were away from the distractions of the outside world. Helpless I sat, squeezed between boxes, plastic bags and wooden boards, my ears taking a fifteen minute pounding as she rambled on about her experiences in Japan. No salvation came from Alon who continued with his phone conversation throughout the drive. Only when we dropped Silvi off did he place his call on hold and exchange a few words with her. A moment later she was gone and we were back on the road.
“Party?” I tried to interject but he completely ignored me. I kept persisting, my voice going louder and louder until he finally took the phone from his ear and gave me an irate look.
“Are we going to party now?” I said sheepishly. “Maybe something to eat?”
“Party? Food?” he retorted in bemusement, as if my suggestion was the most outrageous thing he had ever heard in his life. “No, no, not yet. First we have to pick up the Rabbi.”
“Why the hell do we need a Rabbi?” I narrowed my eyes at him.
“To lead the prayer.”
“What the fuck? You’ve got to be kidding me. You know I want nothing to do with religion on any day of the year, let alone on my birthday?”
“But you’re Jewish.”
“You’re Jewish, I’m not.”
“But both of your parents are Jewish.”
“That’s not really my fault, is it? Now don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the gesture, but I don’t want a birthday prayer, birthday blessing or any other religious shit.”
“That’s just fine,” Alon assured me. “The prayer has nothing to do with you.”
“I really don’t get you.”
“Get with it, Gadi. I thought you must have overheard some of the conversations I’ve been having for the past hour.”
“How could I have listened to any of it with Silvi’s constantly blabbering in my ears?”
Alon smiled and explained the situation. Apparently, there was an Israeli in Tokyo whose father had just passed away. A man Alon had never met, a friend of his friend Simon who wanted to organize a communal prayer at his home. To make matters worse, he wanted to synchronize the prayer with his father’s actual funeral, which was taking place at one thirty in the morning Japan time.
“He’s a very devoted son,” Alon concluded. “Simon said that he and his father were very close.”
“If he’s such a devoted son why didn’t he go back to Israel for the funeral?”
“Oh, he really wanted to,” Alon said. “However, he’s overstayed his visa by nearly three months and he’s afraid he might get deported.”
“A small price to pay for peace of mind.”
“He really loves Japan.”
“Oh he does, does he?” I snarled at him.
“That’s what Simon said.”
“Simon said and then you, in your grace, offered to bring your Rabbi to that guy’s house in the middle of the night. On my birthday.”
“He’s not my Rabbi,” Alon corrected me, a little smile brightening his face. “He’s my massage therapy instructor.”
“The one who massages women’s breasts?”
“The one who also massages women’s breasts,” Alon calmly corrected me. “There is nothing sexual about it. It’s all in the name of medicine.”
“Of course it is. But tits aside, why did you offer to bring him to the prayer? You don’t even know the guy or his father. And why bring me along? Why, Alon, I don’t even know your friend Simple Simon, or whatever his name is.”
“His name is Simon and you, along with all of us, are needed for the Minyan,” he answered calmly and studied my bemused expression.
“Minyan? You’re out of your mind.”
“Yes, minyan. Even a non religious freak like you knows that at least ten men are required in order to conduct the prayer.”
I opened the window and let the freezing wind soothe my burning face. There was no doubt about it; the evening was deteriorating from terrible into a real nightmare. I quickly weighed my options, trying to find a way out. Walking back was out of the question as we were miles away from where I was staying. Taking the subway was also impossible since it was nearing midnight, the time when most underground services stopped for the night. The only way was by taxi but I had to dismiss that idea due to lack of funds.
“Happy birthday,” I whispered to myself and sat sulking as Alon returned to his phone.
It took a while to reach the house of the Rabbi, which was on the opposite side of Tokyo.
“Can you move to the back again?” Alon asked as we waited for him to come out. “It’s not nice to let him sit there.”
“Oh, but it’s nice to let me,” I ground my teeth at him.
“You’re so spoilt,” he said. I wanted to retort with something clever but had no time to answer. A short skinny man came out of the house and took his seat at the front. He wore a brown suit, leather shoes and a large yamaka over his dark hair. A smile was pasted on his clean shaved face as he introduced himself to me.
“Tzvi,” he said and outstretched his hand toward me.
“Gadi,” I said and we shook hands.
While Tzvi was conversing with Alon, I battled the mountain of crap around me. Boxes, jewelry, wood, and rolls of paper kept falling on top of me with every turn and every bump on the road. Tzvi turned to face me.
“It’s so good of you to come for the prayer at such a late hour,” he said.
“Didn’t have much choice in the matter.”
“We always have choices,” he said. “God, in his wisdom, bestowed upon us unlimited choices and yet you, you chose to perform a mitzvah above everything else.”
“Or maybe I simply don’t have enough money for a get-away taxi.”
The smile froze on his face and he turned to look at Alon with an inquiring expression. Alon laughed and explained the situation to Tzvi, of my expectation for a birthday celebration, my lack of belief in the all mighty, and that I don’t know any of the people involved in the evening’s activity.
“Now I’m really impressed,” Tzvi returned his attention to me. “You sacrificed your special day to help a person you have never met.”
“I must be a saint.”
“Don’t know about that,” Tzvi laughed. “But I can tell you that for someone who claims he doesn’t believe in god you make some very good Jewish choices.”
“But I’m not a Jew.”
“If your mother is Jewish then you are a Jew.”
“I thought I have unlimited choices.”
“Of course you do.”
“Then I choose not to be Jewish.”
“I’m afraid you can’t do that.”
“Oh. What a bummer.”
“Leave him,” Alon interjected. “Gadi’s not a big fan of religion.”
“Or maybe he’s simply confused about what he is,” Tzvi smiled and his all knowing expression caused a burning ripple to spread over my face.
“Confused?” I narrowed my eyes at him. “There is nothing confusing about my lack of belief. If anything, I’m confused about you, Rabbi.”
“Why is that?” answered Tzvi. He seemed amused.
”Well, I’ve never seen a clean shaved Rabbi before. Thought you guys weren’t allowed to shave because you’re not allowed to harm your divine skin or something like that.”
“You’re right about shaving but wrong about me. I don’t shave.”
”You don’t?” I smiled and pointed at his clean shaved face. “Boy, you could have fooled me.”
Tzvi didn’t lose his cool as he explained that in fact he used hair removal cream.”
“So you found a loop hole to trick your god? Indeed, I am confused.”
An awkward silence followed as Tzvi stared at me with a mixture of disbelief and horror. I was gearing up to continue the debate, about to bring up the subject of his notorious breast therapy but Alon, in his wisdom, quickly changed the subject. I returned to my solitude, sulking and battling with the crap at the back of the van.
It was late by the time we got there and even later by the time the prayer finally began. The irony of the situation didn’t escape me. Here I was, a total disbeliever who would never set foot in a synagogue, standing shoulder to shoulder with people I’d never met and reading from a prayer book.
Like it or not, I couldn’t deny the fact it was by far the most bizarre and unusual birthday I had ever had.
At four o’clock in the morning we finally dropped Tzvi off and headed back towards the city center.
“Party?” Alon asked. “Something to eat?”
“Perhaps on my next birthday,” I sighed. I’d run out of energy and patience.
But it seems there is no rest for the wicked and at four thirty in the morning, after arriving at his home, Alon went straight to the kitchen and cooked me a giant birthday omlette. He stuck a candle in the middle and came into the room with a wide smile on his face.
“What?” he asked when I blew out the candle and burst out laughing. “What did you wish for, Gadi?”
“To never be in your company on my birthday ever again.”
Chapter 3 Chapter 5