I think I'm becoming paranoid. The kids start laughing just after I get on the bus. There’s four of them, teenagers, with rucksacks trampled underfoot, passing an iPod between themselves. On their way back from school, I figure.
One shoots a sidelong glance at me, sitting alone at the back of the bus, and sniggers. He whispers urgently to his friends, and their heads jerk round as if tugged by strings. I can imagine what he said: “Don’t all turn round at once, but....” Not that it made a difference.
I feel a hollowness in the pit of my stomach, something I haven’t experienced since those awful days in school when I would wait and wait to be picked to join a side during the lunchtime football game, only to be picked last – and just to make up the numbers. I hated that loneliness, that isolation, the urgent fire of my wish to fit in inevitably doused by rejection.
I try not to imagine what the boys are whispering to themselves about me. Thinking about it only makes it worse, I learned a long time ago.
The bus pulls up at a traffic light. There’s a huge billboard outside, in black and red and with a big picture of a fairly nondescript fellow. I’ve seen a lot of them about lately, but have never had enough time to figure out what they were saying. I read the script slowly, mouthing each word. It’s not much fun, but it’s preferable to paying attention to what’s going on inside the bus.
The guy on the poster is called Rami, apparently. He has four kids, and if he doesn’t get a job soon, he’s going to struggle to feed and clothe them. According to the advert. “Stop giving jobs to those awful foreign workers” seems to be the gist of the message.
The government must be taking this quite seriously; the billboards are everywhere. I rather wish I hadn’t bothered reading it now; it just makes me feel worse. But it’s too late for that.
The bus is still stationary, the boys still snorting and giggling amongst themselves, so I continue to stare at Rami.
He looks like a regular kind of guy, a reasonable composite of an Israeli everyday Joe. Most people in the country would be able to identify with him, I guess. And with four kids, hey! Of course Rami needs to work. Of course he deserves a job. Of course we have to stop those horrid foreign workers coming to take all the jobs... next thing, they’ll be after the women....
With this mindset, I figure the government isn’t inclined toward bothering Rami – and the general population – too much about the finer points of its immigration and migrant worker policy, such as it is.
Rami would be scarcely able to feed himself and his four kids if he worked as a carer to the elderly. Or on a farm harvesting crops all day long. Or washing dishes in a restaurant. But these are the jobs many of the foreign workers are “taking away” from Rami, and everyone else like him. Jobs that Rami wouldn’t do – couldn’t do – even if they were hypothetically available to him, because they pay so badly.
But let’s not concentrate on the facts. Facts only confuse people.
The kids have stopped laughing, thank goodness. “I’m just like you!” I wanted to shout. But I don’t dare. Not that I am scared, or anything. Not of them, anyway. I’m scared of the fact that I may just be paranoid
But it’s hard not to be paranoid at times.
Take the woman at the beach last week, the one who barked at me in Hebrew to fetch her a seat. I ignored her, of course: I’ve never taken well to being ordered around. In any case, my son was barking at me – in English – at the same time, and I can only obey one master at a time.
“EXCUSE ME,” she repeated, this time in English, slowly and loudly.
“I SAID I WANT TO KNOW IF THERE ARE ANY CHAIRS...”
“I have no idea,” I answered.
“DON’T YOU WORK HERE?”
“As a matter of fact, I don’t,” I replied.
“Oh.” She seemed crestfallen. She looked at my son. Perhaps she thought it was Bring Your Child To Work Day. Which, now I come to think of it, isn’t such a bad idea. If one has the luxury of doing so, of course.
One of the boys is walking up the aisle toward me. The hollowness in my stomach turns into a tight knot. What does he want from me? Isn’t it enough to laugh from a distance?
“Adoni...” I look up. His face is rapidly coloring, turning him a bright beetroot. From the effort of suppressing a smirk, I think.
“Adoni...” he scratches his head. “Yes?” I try to keep my voice as level, as neutral as possible.” Don’t give him the pleasure of responding to his unkindness.
“Erm...” His face is now an aubergine purple. He looks like he is about to explode. And then I understand. He’s not laughing – at least not now; he’s embarrassed.
“Your pants...” he points downwards quickly, as if trying to avoid drawing attention to the very thing he is pointing at. I follow the direction of his finger.
And suddenly I understand why my nether regions have felt so cool all afternoon.
It’s my turn to be embarrassed; I feel the color rush to my face. I
would have turned red myself, if I could have. I make the necessary
adjustment and thank him, but he is already scurrying back to his seat.
The bus pulls up at a stop and the boys troop off. One waves at me; I
wave back. We’re both a little self-conscious, as one would expect under
the circumstances. But feeling self-conscious is fine. Much better than
what I felt before.
Sometimes, I hate what this country is turning me into. It’s easy, all
too easy, to forget the disconnect between the government and the
people, the difference between what the government wants the people to
believe, and the truth.
And I hate the fact that I’ve started to forget too. I hate the fact
that I’m becoming paranoid.