ruthie blum 88.
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The bump from behind is barely noticeable. There is no jolt, no lunge of the body - either of the car's or of Na'ama's.
It is felt, if at all, more as an afterthought than an actual occurrence. A delayed awareness of a shifting. Like the only way she has ever experienced an earthquake. If not for reading about it in the newspaper the following day, she would not know that it happened. Not consciously, anyway.
But once informed, her hindsight kicks in, enabling her to muster a vague recollection of the moment something moved. In retrospect, she realizes that it was not momentary dizziness at the root of the fleeting sensation she could not put her finger on at the time - one that registered on the Richter scale - but rather a phenomenon existing outside of herself.
So it is with the collision, which causes Na'ama to start while stopped at an intersection. It is not so much the impact that awakens her from red-light stupor as the sound, which resonates above the radio. The sudden noise, far louder than such a tap of a bumper should warrant, makes her look around every which way, to determine its source.
And then there is a man at her window, signaling her to get out.
"It's nothing," he says, pointing to her fender. "You see?"
There is a slight edge to his voice, as though he is daring her to disagree with his professional assessment. Or maybe he is merely nervous. The vehicle in his charge - a van - is not his own, after all, as the big Bezeq sign on its side indicates. And Na'ama would wager this isn't the first time he's been light on the brakes.
Na'ama, too, is testy. For one thing, the traffic light has turned green, with the queue of drivers behind her lengthening by the second. And all that honking is anything but conducive to her ability to collect her thoughts.
Furthermore, Na'ama is just as anxious as the telephone company employee to come out of this situation unscathed, both literally and figuratively. If there's one thing she can't cope with it's bureaucracy. Particularly when it involves "The Authorities."
And even a small dent in her fender means a big one in her savings - no matter whose fault it is. Deductibles will do that.
But she also feels a peculiar twinge of compassion for the guy. Because, though any money required for repairs would not come out of his own pocket, he - unlike she - has to answer to others. Face reprimand. Punitive action, perhaps - a prospect which Na'ama perceives as a fate even worse than dealing with red tape.
"Looks OK," she admits, crouching down to inspect the area in question by squinting and running her hand over the license plate. This she does partly to distinguish between actual damage and dirt, and partly to appear as though she knows what she's doing. The presence of cars or men tends to have that effect on her. Together, they create a crippling combo where her confidence is concerned.
NOT THAT her overall self-esteem is in great abundance anyway. In fact, examining the rear of her Renault is eerily reminiscent of less daunting endeavors. Choosing produce, for instance, or other foodstuff. Imitating fellow grocery shoppers, Na'ama squeezes and shakes the melons - and smells the meat - but hasn't a clue as to what results she is supposed to be seeking towards her selection.
By now it's habitual. Behavior adopted less for the purpose of learning than for that of concealing - the appearance of functioning having become as crucial to her as the real thing. Not that she knows what that is, exactly. Never having fully experienced it, that is.
"So that's it, then?" the perpetrator asks, softening when he realizes Na'ama is in no mood to nitpick over a scratch or two.
"Yeah," Na'ama answers, her expression still programmed to simulate expertise - in this case of the automechanical variety. But that's only due to the circumstances. In another context, such as that of the supermarket, the same set jaw and raised eyebrow characterize her grasp of gastronomy almost to a T.
"Sorry, you know," the Bezeq boy says, shrugging.
"Don't worry about it," Na'ama responds magnanimously, relieved not to be forced to add "garage" to today's already arduous to-do list. "These things happen."
THESE THINGS happen, she repeats to herself, as she gets back behind the wheel and puts the key in the ignition. Where did she last hear that phrase? Oh yes, it was uttered by a clerk. But which one? And why is it arousing the angst that normally accompanies the running of unpleasant errands?
Na'ama resumes listening to the radio, humming along with the commercials - a true testament to her relief.
"Bezeq invites you to rediscover your home," she mouths absentmindedly, in sync with the campaign to court cellphone consumers and return them to their original roost.
"Oh, Bezeq," she groans, banging on the horn by accident, as the nagging memory floods into her consciousness full-force - finally at the fault-line, no longer on the periphery and learning about the quake after the fact.
PULLING INTO a parking space outside of her office, Na'ama takes out her diary.
"BEZEQ," she prints in large Hebrew letters, punctuating the entry with two exclamation points - practically puncturing the page in the process.
"These things happen, ma'am," she mimics the customer-service representative who told her there wasn't much to be done about her having continued to pay a monthly fee for a land line she froze a year ago. All because of a fax the company claims it never received. Now she has to forfeit or fight.
Na'ama locks the car and hoists her bag on her shoulder, suddenly losing her balance.
"Whoa," her boss calls out through his window. "Did you feel that?"
"Yes!" she yells, strangely exhilarated and empowered. "I actually did!"
It is just the jolt - she is amazed to discover - that she has needed all along.
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