Shmulik always found a way to surprise me, even when I was expecting him.
“Gildik!” He shouted again from across Agrippas Street so that they could hear him as far away as Tel Aviv. He knew that I hated it when he called me “Gildik”, but he never stopped.
“Gildik! How are you? It’s good to see you again after so long.” I had just seen him three days earlier.
“Hey Gildik, remember when I told you about that American kid, Josh, whose here for the summer from Chicago?” He never told me about him, but with Shmulik you just said yes to whatever he said.
I don’t really remember where I met him. Shmulik was just one of these around town characters that seem to dwell in downtown Jerusalem and around the Shuk. He knew I spoke Hebrew, certainly much better than his English, but he insisted on talking to me in English all of the time. He is also asking me for “just a few Shekels” which for him means as much as twenty. If I gave him just 5 Shekels each time he asked for money I’d be begging him for spare change.
Shmulik was about sixty, but when I first met him I thought he was more like thirty because of his youthful face. When I first spoke with him for a while I realized that I was mistaken. He also had that harsh smoker’s voice that older men who’ve smoked for years get. Shmulik was typical Sephardic. He wore a big knit Kipah with jeans and a T shirt. I never really understood why he latched himself on to me like that.
The last time I saw him he also stopped me to tell me one of his stories. I was walking thru the Shuk on my way to catch a bus. I was, of course, in a rush, but Shmulik wouldn’t have bothered to ask. This time I needed to get to an appointment up the block when he stopped me.
“So Gildik listen to what happened.” I gave a look from side to side as if in search of someone to save me from Shmulik. I always, quite stupidly, hoped that he might get the hint that I didn’t really want to hear his story. Of course Shmulik could never get the hint, not ever, that someone wasn’t really interested in his long winded stories.
“So this kid, Josh, is here on one of those summer programs. He’s about sixteen and looks like he’s twenty pounds overweight. Everywhere he goes he wears a baseball t shirt and cap and carries a backpack so that everyone who sees him knows that he’s a tourist. Now he doesn’t speak a word of Hebrew and he has no idea how to get around the Country. So his tour group left him at the Tel Aviv bus station last Friday so he could catch a bus for Shabbat to Petah Tikvah. You know he has cousins there, right?”
How could I possibly have known that?
“So, the idiots drop these kids off by the bus station without telling them where to go once they get off the bus. Now there’s a Petah Tikva Bus that leaves from inside the station and goes the local route. Joshua sees a Sherut Taxi with a sign for Peta Tikva. You know how they all line up on the street by the station. Now he could have taken it and paid the same as the bus, but he didn’t know that. People told him to avoid taxis that over charge and take advantage of tourists, so he asks someone where to go to get the bus, and, get this, they point him in the direction of the old bus station! The old bus station! Can you believe that?”
The old Tel Aviv bus station is the cesspool of Israel. It’s been 20 years since they closed it for the new one and they still haven’t developed the land there yet. It’s surrounded by cheap brothels and drug addicts and its right where most of the illegal foreign workers live. For a sixteen year old American kid, it must have been a daunting task to get out of.
I didn’t care. This was a story for people to tell each other at the dinner table or in a coffee shop. Not in the middle of the street. I took out my cell phone and pretended that I had gotten a text message, but what was the point? Shmulik would never get the hint anyway. I continued to look down at it, but he just kept on talking.
“So Gildik, you’ll never guess what happened.” Nor would I care
“After circling around the filthiest place in Israel for twenty minutes, all while checking the clock since he had to make it to Petah Tikva in time for Shabbat, guess what happened.”
“No!” I said
“So Joshua tells me he met an Angel”
I look up at him from my cell phone, I must admit, a little bit curious where this was going.
“That’s right! An Angel!” Shmulik continued. “You see a man came from nowhere and asked him where he needed to go. So Joshua said he was looking for the bus to Peta Tikva. Here’s Joshua, standing out on the LaGuardia Bridge over the Ayalon Freeway asking everyone he sees for directions and no one can help him. Like people always do here, the ones who answered him didn’t really know where the bus stop he needed was. So each person sent him in a different direction.
“I guess that’s how he had walked all the way out to the main interchange where LA Guardia St crosses the highway. I guess someone told him that he could find all the local Dan buses that go north from the city to places like Peta Tikva on Hamasger. And it was there that he dropped the small bag he had with the wine that he bought for 60 Shekels – he got ripped off by the way because he could have gotten it for only 30 – and the bottle broke getting wine all over the books and papers he also had in that bag ruining them.
“So now he’s on the bridge over the highway and he says he was just about ready to cry. So this man comes over to him, an Israeli speaking in broken English, and asks him where he’s going. Now get this. The man leads Joshua to the right bus stop and waits with him until he gets on the bus and even asks the driver to make sure that he gets off at the right stop.”
Now I was exasperated. An angel Shmulik had Said. This was a pointless story. I was reminded of the kinds of pointless stories that Edith Bunker used to tell on All in the Family. You know, the ones that drove Archie nuts.
“So what happened to this Angel that you talked about?” I asked, but I was really saying that you just wasted twenty minutes of my life for nothing.
“That’s the thing, Gildik. When Joshua got on the bus and found his seat he couldn’t see the man anywhere out the window. Now Joshua said that he could see all the way down both sides of the street, but the man had vanished. He also said that when he got off the bus the driver didn’t remember any man telling him where to get off.’It was an Angel, I’m telling you!’ Joshua kept saying”
“Thanks Shmulik! That was a wonderful story.” I said sarcastically.
“You didn’t understand.” Shmulik said as I finally turned my back on him.
“Understand what?” I asked without looking at him.
“For Joshua, the man who helped him was an angel. A complete stranger came to his aid at a time of distress and made sure that he got to where he needed to go. And then, as mysteriously as he appeared, the man disappeared. Now that sounds like an Angel to me.”
Shmulik, Shmulik, now I remember why I like you; even though, you annoy the hell out of me. You always have some deep insight into things. Maybe there is no such thing as serendipity? Maybe every time you get a lucky break, or some stranger comes to your aid it is a form of divine intervention. A teacher of mine once said that miracles don’t have to be “miraculous,” or supernatural. Sometimes it’s just a natural occurrence happening when you most need it. So if the sun shines for a brief moment on a cloudy rainy day just long enough for you to find your key that you lost and desperately need after searching for it in the rain that could be a miracle too.
I turned around to acknowledge him before I walked away, feeling a little guilty for not being so nice to him this time. By the time I had, he was gone. I couldn’t see him in any direction that I looked. He had just vanished. He couldn’t have walked away that quickly. Come to think of it, no one else I knew had ever seen Shmulik or met him. Wait a minute!
“Gildik!” Shmulik shouted. His voice brought me back to reality. I mean what was I thinking?
“I just went into the kiosk a second for a soda, but I’m out of money. Can you loan me ten Shekels?” he asked.
Come to think of it, I hate Shmulik.