Subscribe to Granta today

Big Blue Bus

|

photo by Elaine Millan

Some children throw themselves on the floor and have a tantrum. They cry and flail their arms and squirm till their face turns red and sweaty and the saliva and mucus that drip out of their mouth and their nose start to stain the grey asphalt of the sidewalk. Be grateful he’s not one of those.

Gilad clung to that thought in an attempt to calm himself. That thought and slow breathing. And it helped. On the sidewalk beside him was little Hillel, his fists clenched, his forehead wrinkled, his eyes shut tight and his mouth whispering over and over again the same words, like a mantra: ‘I want to I want to I want to.’

Gilad decides to smile before he starts talking. He knows Hillel can’t actually see the smile, but hopes that somehow, something of the smile will carry over in his voice. ‘Hillel, my sweet,’ he says through the smile, ‘Hillel, my precious, let’s start walking before it’s too late. They’re having pancakes for breakfast in kindergarten today and unless we get there on time the other children will finish everything and won’t leave you any.’

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

Before he and Naama split up they had a rule about Hillel not watching television. Naama was the one who started it. She’d read something in Haaretz, and Gilad continued along the same lines. It seemed to make sense. But after they split up, they weren’t there any more to monitor each other. All in all, when you’re on your own, it’s harder to be consistent. Every time you give in you feel like the other parent is the one who’s going to have to pay for it later on, or at least to split the bill with you, and suddenly the cost seems more tolerable. A bit like throwing a cigarette butt on the stairway vs. throwing it inside your own home. And now that they don’t have a home anymore, meaning that they don’t have the same one, they litter, big time.

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

One of the programmes that Hillel loves to watch when he’s with Gilad is a Japanese cartoon series about a little boy with magic powers, whose name is Tony. This boy’s mother, who is a fairy, taught him once that if he just closed his eyes and kept saying ‘I want to’, all his wishes would come true. Sometimes it takes less than a second for Tony’s dream to come true and if that doesn’t happen, his mother the fairy explains that it isn’t because he’s failed but simply because he stopped saying ‘I want to’ too soon. Tony could go through almost a whole chapter with his eyes closed and ‘I want to I want to I want to’ without giving up, until the magic worked. As far as the production costs were concerned, the idea was very economical, because in every chapter you could recycle the shot with Tony, the bead of sweat gleaming on his forehead, mumbling over and over again ‘I want to I want to I want to.’ The same shot, over and over, in every episode. You can go nuts just sitting there and watching it, but Hillel can’t take his eyes off the screen.

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

Gilad is smiling again. ‘It won’t do any good, Hillel,’ he says. ‘Even if you say it a million times, it won’t do any good. We can’t take the bus to kindergarten because it’s just too close. It’s right here, at the end of the street. And there’s no bus that goes there.’

‘It will too,’ Hillel says and even though he’s stopped droning, his eyes stay shut, and his forehead stays wrinkled. ‘Really, Daddy. It will. I just stopped too soon.’ Gilad is about to take advantage of the window of opportunity in the droning to sneak in a tempting proposition. A bribe. A Snickers bar maybe. There’s a grocery store right next to the kindergarten. Naama doesn’t allow candy bars in the morning, but he doesn’t care now. Naama won’t allow it, and Gilad will. There are extenuating circumstances. The thoughts rush through his mind, but before Gilad has a chance to offer the Snickers bar, Hillel is at it again.

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

Gilad announces the Snickers. He repeats this several times. Snickers. Snickers. Snick-ers. At the top of his voice. Close to Hillel’s ear. If Naama were there, she’d tell Gilad to stop shouting at him and she’d look horrified. That’s something she’s good at – looking horrified. Making him feel at any given moment that he’s an abusive father or a lousy husband or just a shitty human being. And that’s a kind of talent too. A magical power. Weak magic, true, weak and nerve-racking, but still it’s magic. And what magic powers can Gilad display? None. One magican mother, one magician kid, one father with no powers at all. A Japanese series. It can go on like this forever.

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

Gilad holds Hillel tight in both arms, hoists him in the air and starts running. Hillel is warm, the way he always is. Even now, he keeps muttering, but as soon as Gilad starts holding him close the muttering turns calmer and the furrows in his forehead disappear. Gilad feels he ought to be muttering something too, together with Hillel. He starts with ‘We’re going to kindergarten We’re going to kindergarten,’ and half the way there he shifts to ‘We’ll be there soon We’ll be there soon We’ll be there soon,’ and when they’re really close to the yard and to the locked electric gate it suddenly turns into ‘Daddy loves Daddy loves Daddy loves.’ It has nothing to do with anything, and the sentence doesn’t have an object even though it’s obvious, to Gilad at least, that he means he loves Hillel.

As they enter the kindergarten, he stops muttering and puts Hillel down on the ground. Hillel continues, his eyes shut: ‘I want to I want to I want to.’ Gilad smiles at one of the teacher’s aides, a chubby lady he happens to like, and hangs Hillel’s embroidered bag, with the extra set of clothes and the plastic bottle, on the hook where it says HILLEL in bold print. He begins making his way out when the kindergarten teacher stops him.

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

Gilad smiles at her. He’s perspiring after the run and panting a bit too, but his smile says everything is fine. ‘It’s something Hillel saw on television last night,’ he explains. This series – Tony and the Magic Butterflies. Something Japanese. Children are crazy for it . . .’ The teacher shushes him the way he’s seen her do with misbehaving children. It’s insulting, but he prefers not to react. All he wants is to get out of there. And the calmer and nicer he is – he figures – the faster he’ll be able to leave. And he can always tell the kindergarten teacher about some meeting at the office or something. After all, she knows he’s a lawyer.

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

The teacher tries to talk to Hillel. She even touches him on the face gently, but Hillel doesn’t stop muttering and doesn’t open his eyes. Gilad’s instinct is to tell her it won’t do any good, but he’s not sure this is going to work in his favour. Maybe now, he thinks to himself, maybe now is the right moment to mention the meeting at the office and to simply leave.

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

‘I’m sorry,’ the teacher says. ‘You can’t leave him here in this state.’ Gilad tries to explain it’s not a state. It’s just some garbage they show on television, it’s like a game. It isn’t like the child is suffering or anything. He’s just obsessed with this nonsense. But the teacher won’t listen and Gilad has no choice other than to pick Hillel up again. The teacher walks them out, and as she opens the gate for them she says in an empathic tone that it might be a good idea to phone Naama because this isn’t something they can ignore, and Gilad agrees with her at once and says he’ll take care of it, mainly because he’s afraid she’ll call Naama herself.

I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to
I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to

Once they’re outside, Gilad puts Hillel down on the sidewalk and says in a fairly quiet tone: ‘Which bus?’ And as Hillel goes right on muttering, he repeats his question louder: ‘Which bus?’ Hillel stops, opens his eyes, gives Gilad a penetrating look and says: ‘A big blue bus.’ Gilad nods and trying to sound completely normal, completely without tears, he asks whether it matters which number the bus has. And Hillel smiles and shakes his head.

They walk towards Dizengoff Street and wait at the bus stop. The first one that arrives is red. They don’t get on. But right after that another one pulls up. It’s big and blue. Bus number 1 to Abu Kabir. While Gilad buys the ticket, Hillel waits patiently, the way he promised he would and then makes his way carefully down the aisle holding onto the poles. They sit down in the back, next to each other. The bus is completely empty. Gilad tries to remember the last time he was in Abu Kabir. It was when he was still doing his internship and someone in the office sent him to the Forensic Institute there to photocopy an autopsy report. It was before he realized that criminal law was not for him. Hillel wanted to know if this bus goes to the kindergarten and Gilad said more or less, or that metaphorically speaking it did, eventually. If Hillel had asked what metaphorically meant, the way he sometimes did when he came across words like that, he’d have a problem. But Hillel didn’t ask. He just put his little hand on Gilad’s thigh and looked out the window. Gilad leaned back, shut his eyes and tried not to think about anything. The wind through the open window was strong, but not too strong. His body was breathing slowly and his lips weren’t moving at all, but in his heart he kept saying: ‘I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to I want to.’ ■

Etgar Keret’s Suddenly, a Knock on the Door is published 27 March by Chatto & Windus in the UK and by FSG in the US.

Comments (7)

You need to create an account or log in to comment.

  1. Allenx

    Tue Mar 27 16:55:40 BST 2012

    not bad I want to

    #
  2. marie

    Wed Jun 04 14:35:05 BST 2014

    Wonderfulpost ! I'm really getting ready to across this information , is very useful my friend . Also great blog here with all of the useful information you have to Keep up the excellent work you are doing right here http://asndjknasdj.blogspot.fr/

    #
  3. 6

    Mon Oct 13 12:02:06 BST 2014

    Wonderfulpost ! I'm really getting ready to across this information , is very useful my friend . Also great blog here with all of the useful information you have to Keep up the excellent work you are doing right here http://vasectomycost0.wordpress.com/

    #
  4. vanote

    Mon Oct 06 11:29:43 BST 2014

    Wonderfulpost ! I'm really getting ready to across this information , is very useful my friend . Also great blog here with all of the useful information you have to Keep up the excellent work you are doing right here http://new-life10.blogspot.com/

    #
  5. zzea

    Thu Oct 23 11:32:08 BST 2014

    Wonderfulpost ! I'm really getting ready to across this information , is very useful my friend . Also great blog here with all of the useful information you have to Keep up the excellent work you are doing right here http://homemaderemedyforacne.blogspot.com/

    #