Many years ago, my mother made an exhibition of her paintings in the historical Portuguese village of Monsanto.
Perched on a hilltop, lost in the mountains of the Spanish border, Monsanto is a bucolic site with houses made in part from huge granite boulders that tell centuries-old stories. It lays 400 KM away from the capital Lisbon.
Back then, the municipality of Monsanto sent a car to pick up my mother’s paintings in Lisbon. The guy who drove the van was short and chubby, the sort of everyday shmoe you don’t look twice at. I don’t even remember his name, and if you told me his name now, I wouldn’t remember it in a minute. I helped to load the paintings in the municipality’s van and joined the guy on the trip to the historical village so I could be present at the opening of the exhibition.
The trip was a pain in the ass. The chubby guy drove like a psychopath, and the conversation couldn’t be worst. It turned out he had come to Lisbon with the municipality’s car and gas to purchase contraband merchandise–car radios, cell phones, antennas, etc. He kept bitching about everything, mainly about the black people, whom he referred to as “animals”, who sold him the countermand, and the government who was “letting them in”. It never occurred to that creature he was the one creating the demand that the “animals” were so diligently supplying. That would imply thinking. I could survive the low level of the conversation, but the driving, oy vey, it got worst, and worst, as we got further away from Lisbon.
I decided to fall asleep. Some hours later I woke up to the sound of screeching tires. We were about to crash against a car that had stopped in front of us. The chubby guy was driving too fast to break in time so he geared the van to the side of the road and then dramatically turned left into the opposite lane. An incoming jeep driving in the opposite direction crashed into the side of our van, hitting miraculously the front end of the vehicle. It was a question of centiseconds. A bit more time and the jeep would have hit my door and crushed me. The chubby racist guy would have survived, barely, but I would have been toast for sure.
The insurance company got to the spot of the accident ten minutes after, however the ambulance, unnecessary since no one got injured, only arrived an hour later. That means that if the jeep had hit another part of the car, I would have died in excruciating pain waiting for help.
There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about that accident and my possible death in a small road in the ass of Portugal waiting for an ambulance, because of the reckless driving of a chubby racist I can’t even remember the name of. Death was so close I began to live with it in the back of my mind.
I count my blessings as if I died that day. I would have never lived to have studied and worked in Los Angeles, I would have never met my nephews, I would have never written my second book, and I would have never been in Israel or become an Israeli citizen. Since that day, every minute is a second chance, not because I was about to die, but because that death would have been random and meaningless. When you go for surgery you know you may loose your life, you can prepare and make peace with it. I never made peace with the death I almost had.
Like a cat I live different lives, in different countries, with different identities, but since that day it all goes back to that road with the chubby anonymous racist at the wheel. Somehow that end is my beginning, and all I am living here in Israel is another life in a parallel reality–the things that happened if I had survived that car collision. But now I am holding the wheel and I get to see the land of Zion, for that, and every minute since I am grateful for my death.