About the Night

By: Anat Talshir

Part 1





2006

She said nothing, and neither did he. What was there to add after what he had said?

Even the machine hooked up to his heart silenced its beeping. It was as if all the background noise—the bustling corridor, the heavy footfalls of the patients, the squeaky wheels of the beds, the nurses’ voices—had been muted.

She sat facing him, her hands holding her arms, her fingers digging into her flesh. When she rose too quickly from her chair to open a window, she felt a slight dizziness, but the burst of cool air tempered it. She remained there, at the window, awash in the fresh air and wishing to forget what she had heard. He, too, was breathing deeply, his eyes closed like someone who had only just found a moment of repose.

Several minutes earlier, she had been sitting by his side, still astonished that he had called for her after so many years. She knew that he was still living in the same house in Jerusalem, his children were grown and living in different parts of the world, and almost nothing was left of his wealth, massive as it had once been. The backdrop of Hadassah Hospital did not suit him in the least, and still, despite its ugliness, he was as noble and dignified as ever, his prominent features reminiscent of the charismatic man she recalled from her childhood. Just hearing his name—Elias Riani—was enough to stir her. The brown eyes, the gray hair combed back, the beautiful neck—everything was intact; it had merely grown older. She wished to see if the laugh lines would appear around his eyes as she remembered them, as if the sun in all its glory were lighting his face and spreading warmth to everyone in the vicinity.

He asked her to pour them tea from the thermos standing on the small cabinet. “In the glass cups,” he said. “Munir comes every morning. He brings me hot tea, washes the cups, changes my pajamas, shaves me. I tell him, ‘Don’t come anymore,’ and still he comes. You remember Munir, don’t you? He worked for us for many years.”

She remembered him, the man devoted to serving Elias’s family, just as she remembered the trembling she felt each time Elias’s car pulled up and he gave her an envelope to deliver. Whenever he asked, she was excited to carry out his wish, and now, gazing at the tender expression on his face, she recalled the covenant between them, real and sturdy. It had not weakened with the years. And it was precisely thanks to this covenant that Elias had summoned her.



Nomi took the empty cup from his hands. It was still hot; dark and hot was how he drank his tea. The ceremonious way he had drunk tea his whole life now seemed far removed from his present life, even though the fragrant bergamot from the thermos brought from home offered at least a paltry consolation. Elias was wearing dark-blue pajamas and a blue-and-green plaid flannel robe. A man like Elias Riani could not be expected to wear the wrinkled nightshirt provided by the hospital.

“I asked you to come,” he had said.

Instead of saying she had honored his request and come at once, Nomi nodded.

“You’re probably wondering why.”

Still she said nothing.

“I need you to do something for me,” he said.

“Whatever you want,” she said.

“Will you give me your word?” he asked.

Nomi gazed at him, tense.

He said it in a quiet voice, his brown eyes watching her and at the same time drifting away to a different place.

“I wanted to ask you”—he stopped for a moment until he found the words he was searching for—“I wanted to ask you to bring something for me.”

“What?”

“Something that’s in my house,” he said.

“No problem,” Nomi said.

“It’s hidden in a closet.”

“Tell me where, and I’ll find it,” she said.

“I think I need to explain a little more than just where you’ll find it.” He rubbed his chin. “An apothecary from Jaffa, someone I’ve known for years, agreed to prepare something for me.” Elias stopped speaking for a moment, as if waiting for her to absorb what he was telling her.

Rooted to the spot, Nomi still understood nothing.

“I want to join her where she is now,” he said.

In the silence that engulfed the two of them, she began processing what she thought she heard. The way he had expressed it was not as a wish but as something practical, immediate, and willful. Could it be there was not even a tremor in his voice?

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