The Apartment in Nachum Street

Tel Aviv, 1992. That was the year I arrived. A new immigrant. A stranger, a man who did not really belong in his new surroundings. 2500 miles stretched now, separating me from my family. I was 25, still a boy really, my soul earnest, my body vital. The stage curtains were opening on one of the most difficult eras of my life; it was my big adventure, a period that would define me until now. We all have one. This was mine.

We set up home in an art Deco flat, a place of dust and dinge, a few square meters that smelt of rotting rubber and damp. The previous tenants had left behind their transitory detritus, high heels, a dusty bra wrapped round the back of the broken washing machine, and most startling of all, a government issue gas mask. The flat was central though, luckily so, as I spent my days and nights alone. I could not legally work for the first months, and so I wandered in the sticky darkness after dusk, and read in the shade when the sun burned like fire in the azure sky. A date tree grew in the patch of earth beyond the flat, the fruit yellow and sticky.

It was a short walk to the point where Ben Yehuda and Dizengoff parted ways, or became one according to one’s point of view. This was to be my new home, this corner of Tel Aviv, rich in semi-derelict Bauhaus buildings, peeling, unloved, with rusting metal rods poking through rotting concrete. I arrived in October, and a short while later the weather suddenly changed. Grey clouds rose up, firing brown rain from Hell that exploded on the pavements. It became colder too. Yet I missed Europe. I walked near the Bauhaus houses that lined the street, shutters drawn, damp seeping from the walls like piss through a mattress. The flats radiated strange energy, the life force of dereliction, the essence of all those who once lived here. Echoes of another time and place, days of Exile and Danger before the war. I returned home, soaked, cold, and lonelier than I had ever been. I flipped on the switch and neon light flooded the 1930s rooms. The rain was pounding the flat roof now, dripping on the window sills, ruffling the leaves of the date tree, as though a dog were shaking itself. I heated some milk on the stove, a device more befitting a 1950s American sit-com, and I switched on the small heater that glowed a vivid orange. It was an eerie flat, darkness was its soul, light blocked out by shutters, joy a stranger. The parquet floor chilled the soles of my feet. Thankfully our time in the flat was measured in months not years, and we left on a day of spring sunshine, belongings in boxes that smelt of melon and coffee. The first winter was over.

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