Iseem to miss him. It’s strange, because he used to make me shudder. I guess you’d call him a beggar, but he was different from all the other Jerusalem beggars. He didn’t lie in some shop doorway. He didn’t accost you when your car stopped at a red light. He didn’t stand in the street, hand extended, head bowed, looking pathetic. There were no handwritten or printed signs detailing any kind of hard-luck story. As beggars go, he was unique.
His special spot was on Jerusalem’s King George Avenue outside the Independence Park public gardens. Every time I visited my dentist on Ma’alot Street, I would pass him. He was old, but it was impossible to gauge his age exactly because of the way he was dressed. He had almost no teeth, so his cheeks were sunken. Summer or winter, he was garbed in shiny black-green trousers, a raveled sweater and a shabby old overcoat.
He would stalk up and down his few meters of territory, shouting at the sky. I never understood what language he was using; it could have been gibberish. But he was always angry. If you offered him coins he would take them, but he never solicited them and he never thanked you.
The reaction of passersby to his street performance was interesting. In any other city, I am sure he would have been ridiculed, if not arrested. Certainly some people crossed the road to avoid him. But here in Jerusalem, no one laughed.
Just once when I gave him a few coins, our eyes met. For a minute the anger in his seemed to dissipate, and I felt strangely rewarded. But then it was like a blind or a shutter was pulled down, and I felt bereft. Ignoring me, he once again raised his arms to rail at heaven, screaming his abuse. A sleeve from his old overcoat slipped down, and it was then I saw the number tattooed on his arm.
“He has reason to be angry with God,” I thought. “Who knows what horror he has lived through, what painful losses he has sustained?” I remember boarding the bus to go home, filled with unutterable sadness. I wished I knew his name. I wanted to humanize him in some way.
The next time I was in the area, I looked for him. He wasn’t there. I thought he might be sick, and I worried who would look after him. But I never saw him again, so he must have passed to that place in the sky where he directed all his invectives. I hope that someone explained things to him, gave him some answers. And I hope and pray that he is finally at peace. ■
‘I WISHED I knew his name. I wanted to humanize him in some way.’