She walks in without knocking. I am standing by the counter,
wrapping the last of the shalach monos. Her steely
blue eyes peek out from beneath her tattered gray kerchief. I
am frightened and the slender pieces of pink ribbon fall
silently from my grasp. She sits at the kitchen table and
pushes aside Shira's soggy bowl of cornflakes. She asks for
food. I hesitate between the refrigerator and calling the
police. Who is this woman? But in that subtle moment of
indecision, I catch a glimpse of her smile and I sense
something familiar about her. She looks like someone I
As I serve her hot tea and cake, I try desperately to place
her. But I can't. Instead, I find myself thinking of all the
beggars that I brush by. The woman at the Kosel who tries to
give me red string. I don't have any small change left so I
avert my eyes. Pretend not to see. But of course I see. Just
as I see the man sleeping on the freezing cold sidewalk, a
tin can next to him. Walking by in our warm, fur-lined winter
coats and boots, we are in a rush. Meeting someone. Now I
don't remember who, but this I remember. Glancing down at the
filthy blanket and ripped shopping bags and thinking: there's
nothing I can do.
The woman is sipping her tea at leisure, placing it down on
the table every few minutes, clearing a space amidst the
piles of candy and tissue paper strewn across the table. She
doesn't look at me. Doesn't speak. I think about the bus
bombing. How the radio crackled the news in Hebrew that was
too fast for me. But even so, I understood. And then the
quick calculation: Moshe is in kollel. The girls are at
school. None of my friends live or work near there. Everyone
is okay. But of course, that is not true.
I stare out the window at the startling blue of the morning
sky. I watch birds move through the branches of the olive
tree, hop by hop. Now is the time to cry, I tell myself. Cry.
Scream. Pray. But I stand next to the window thinking about
lunch and the babysitter and plans for Pesach. I catch
No! Cry! Don't you know? You should know. We all hurt
together. And then the kids burst through the door with
their pink schoolbags and sand-filled shoes and we sit down
Finally the beggar finishes her tea and cake. She looks up at
me in confusion, as if she is surprised to see me here. As if
I am the stranger in my own house. That is when the
exhaustion begins. A deep, penetrating, aching tiredness that
flows through me like liquid blackness. It is indeed the
exhaustion of living in an upside-down world. A world where I
can turn my back, avert my eyes and then pray at the Kosel. A
life where people's lives fall apart. My people. And I can't
stop thinking about what to make for lunch.
I begin to cry, slowly and silently. And then, the crying
turns to sobbing, noisy and endless. And she starts to laugh.
The most beautiful laughter I have ever heard. The laughter
of a thousand masks falling away. And soon I am laughing and
she is crying. I am the beggar and she is the giver.
I recognize her now. Deep inside, she has always been there.
The lonely beggar who hungers for a life without costumes.
Here it is; the face behind the mask. Upside-down. Inside
out. But achingly and finally true.