Excerpt: Road to Revenge
Rehov Dizengoff, Tel Aviv
Mihi walked as though he was dancing, so smoothly that my eyes couldn’t help tracking his hips as they wiggled so enticingly just ahead of me along the busy street. Dizengoff Street was one of the main shopping thoroughfares in Tel Aviv; the gigantic, two-story Dizengoff Mall that took up two blocks on both sides of the street was only a half-mile away. We were on the end of the road closer to the beach, though, so we were surrounded by small shops and restaurants instead of cars.
The sidewalks were large, which was good because dodging idiots riding their motor scooters was just one small part of walking in Israel. Another was dodging the water from dripping AC units hanging out of the apartment windows above every single shop. The third was dodging the stray animals and their leavings that littered every sidewalk in Israel, Dizengoff being no exception. Israel also has a small problem with stray cats—small because the effort to contain the enormous population of squalling animals was tiny.
“How about this café?” Mihi called ahead of me, spinning gracefully on one heel to glance back at me. He saw the direction of my eyes and grinned impishly, twitching his hips again in a blatant invitation that he knew I would eagerly take when we returned to our private room in a nearby hostel.
But first we would have lunch and then we would spend the afternoon sitting on the beautiful beach watching the sunset over the Mediterranean. Then maybe we would take the long walk down to Jaffa for dinner or maybe we could try a local falafel place. Falafel was the food of the Middle East and Israelis knew how to fry up the chickpea mixture just right.
I followed Mihi into the little café, glad we were avoiding the chain café Aroma on the next corner. It was a relief to be inside, away from the heat of the day and the constant rumble of busses and honking of cars that filled Dizengoff Street to the brim. Mihi was already waiting for me at the counter, menu in hand and a grin on his face for my slower pace.
He is so beautiful, my Mihi, with his slightly curled brown hair flopping into his bright and happy brown eyes. His family was originally from the Romanian side of the Russian border before they fled the Holocaust and the Russian pogroms, so his skin was always just a shade tanned. He had managed to get the prominent cheekbones from his mother’s side of the family, which took a good bit of attention from his father’s slightly hooked nose that sat in the center of Mihi’s otherwise flawless face. Mihi was perfect, and I couldn’t help smiling back at him as I joined him at the counter.
We ordered. Simple sandwiches because Israelis never ate truly large meals and therefore didn’t offer them even in a tourist heavy area like Dizengoff. I followed Mihi to a table in the corner; it was right up against the glass window where we could people watch and cringe together at the amazing stunts some of the drivers pulled off to make their way through traffic.
Mihi took the better seat in the corner, where he could have his back to the blank wall and the entire window in front. I bent down to kiss him gently on the temple instead of taking the seat across from him.
“Bathroom,” I murmured into his ear before pulling away and heading towards the restroom sign in the very back of the shop. Mihi gave me another one of his impish smiles and waved me off. He was already setting out napkins so we could eat properly. I saw one of the napkins flutter to the ground as I pushed the bathroom door open and couldn’t hold back a tiny smirk. Mihi hadn’t noticed it yet, but I knew that napkin would be picked up and thrown away before I returned.
I took care of my business and was washing my hands when it happened. There was a loud thump that made my ears ring. The building shook, the mirror in front of me cracked and splintered, plaster from the ceiling rained down on my hair, and then total silence.
I stood in front of the sink, the water still running cold and clear over hands frozen in place. My eyes were wide in shock, hazel blue set in Polish-pale skin. My light brown hair was flecked with white plaster dust. What was left of my family had fled to the US after Auschwitz. My entire face frozen within the cracked frame of the mirror, waiting while my brain flicked through these unimportant facts.
Suddenly I could feel my lungs aching and as if that were a signal to turn back on, my body gasped loudly for air. I shook as I spun away from the sink, water still running piteously, and rushed to the door. I flung it open into total chaos.
The warped and blackened frame of a number nine Dan bus sat burning at the bus stop outside in the street. Bodies and body parts littered the sidewalk, blood leaking from below the twisted metal that was all that remained of the metal and Plexiglas structure of the bus stop terminal.
The front window of the café was shattered, glass strewn across the floor. None of the tables and chairs in front of me were still standing and there were bodies everywhere.
The person sitting closest to the blast was missing most of his head. I gagged, but fought throwing up as I pushed through the mess back towards the small table in the far corner.
People were moaning, bleeding, and dead around me, but I only had eyes for the crumpled table and chairs and the bare leg clad in a flowery bathing suit I could see poking out beneath the debris.
No one by the window could have survived that blast. My heart batted away the thought even as my brain supplied it.
The leg was still bleeding sluggishly, shrapnel wounds marring the lightly tanned skin. It was attached to a torso hidden beneath the table. I threw that table off with all my strength, dropping to my knees at Mihi’s side.
He was still breathing, my brain supplied. My heart decided it would keep beating for the moment.
Clutched in one hand was that silly napkin dropped to the floor just moments before. I had never been so happy for Mihi’s little quirks. He must have been bending over when the blast went off and had been protected by the wall at his back. The table and chairs must have shielded him from the worst of it.
Mihi’s eyes fluttered open, unfocused and glazed with pain. He immediately found me.
“Mihi!” I gasped, one hand reaching out to cup his cheek. His ear was bleeding sluggishly onto my hand, but his cheekbone was unbroken.
“Rafi,” he whispered in a cracked and broken voice. His eyes slid shut again.
“Mihi!” I yelled. “Mihi, you’re going to be okay!”
Finally, I started to hear the sirens. People who had seen the blast were already trying to find the living, but they were still searching by the remains of the bus. All of them, from the helpers to the EMTs were taking their very lives into their hands. Everyone knew the terrorists liked to set off one blast and then wait for the emergency crews to arrive before doing their best to destroy the ambulances and kill all the first responders—even more innocents dead to their horrible vendetta.
My Mihi didn’t have time for any of that foolishness. As one of the ambulances hopped the curb and drove onto the sidewalk I stood and started waving frantically.
“Here!” I screamed, frenzied and hopped up on fear and adrenalin. The driver saw me and pointed. Two men hopped out of the back of the truck and rushed over with heavy bags banging against their sides. They stepped directly through the empty window and dropped down at Mihi’s side.
One took Mihi’s vitals while another started pulling the remains of the chair and table off Mihi’s body.
“Still alive,” the first one grunted in Hebrew, waving one hand for a woman setting up a stretcher to hurry over. They didn’t rush, but it wasn’t long before Mihi was strapped properly into the stretcher and was rolling off towards the ambulance. I followed along behind, like a lost puppy following his owner, and climbed into the ambulance behind Mihi.
Something in my face must have alerted the EMT woman already bending over Mihi, because she pointed towards a seat by the door. I took it and couldn’t help my flinch when the doors slammed shut behind me.