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Atar Hadari’s plays have won awards from the BBC, Arts Council of England, National Foundation of Jewish Culture (New York), European Association of Jewish Culture (Brussels) and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he was Young Writer in Residence. His stories have been published in New York Stories, Witness and Shooter and broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s “Opening Lines”. His monthly bible translation columns, and previous pieces, appear in MOSAIC (mosaicmagazine.com).
At the end of the day, Hadati would turn up the path from the dining room, walk across the crossroads to where the kibbutz office stood and trudge in to where his office was closed. He would stand there and read his notes that members had left on little scraps, sometimes ripped out of the phone books that were stacked outside his office door. Requests for bikes. Requests for Sabbath urns with white silver tap handles or black plastic handles depending on how the respective member felt about a plain, kibbutz life. The older the children a member had, the more likely those kids were to live in town, earn money, and have got used to nice things, and the more likely the member was to buy nice urns in order to see their grandchildren once a month, if they were lucky, when the children drove up to the kibbutz gate on the Sabbath and left the car outside. And who could afford nice urns? That’s where Hadati came in.
Hadati was the fixer. The buyer. The conduit to the outside world. When Hadati went, you knew that you’d spent some hours finding the right urn, right style, right weight, right discount for an old kibbutz. Only you hadn’t spent ten minutes on the phone. He’d spent an hour. And then he went there, and he brought back the cheap from wherever it was. He brought back the dear and the rare and when he billed you, through the central office, it was reasonable.
Hadati was the way old Abner with his tooth half hanging out his mouth got plates to put in his mouth that he still insists on taking out at mid-day in the middle of the dining room, where everyone can see, and he looks at them, puts them back in his mouth, runs a stray wisp of white hair back across his large ears and carries on chewing his bread. Abner it was in fact who first stumped Hadati, temporarily. For the first time in forty years the master couldn’t get it for less. And it was while me and my wife were still on kibbutz. Here’s how it happened.
Hadati rode, in the old rusty van the kibbutz bought, for twenty years. Eventually, the General Meeting decides Hadati gets a decent van. At least, the kibbutz gets a decent van and Hadati gets to drive it when he drives. Nobody owns anything. Except their grave, that other members will stand over in silence. Hadati, after thirty years, went out in the new van the kibbutz bought and here Abner staked his claim. He asked for a bull to be brought to the kibbutz, not for stud in the dairy, or to be fattened for meat, but for him, Abner. He asked for a bull to keep him company, outside his single, widowed member’s quarters, where the peach and apple blossoms mingled with the rust on the chain link fence. He asked for a bull to remind him of when he could work in the dairy. He asked for a miniature bull that he could keep, for the desert winter, outside his bedroom window.
Hadati was amused. His great white eyebrows went up and his normally mordant black eyes twinkled for a minute. Why not? Hadati never judged what a member asked. You want a toaster oven? Why not one with two doors, three elements? You want a cockatiel? Why not an African bird, he had been told they lived longer. So the thought of the bull, even miniature, was not the impediment – nor was the cost – Abner, after all, had been among the group in the tents in ’37 before the kibbutz had even got land to sew on. He had the pension rights to buy a dairy herd. The kibbutz even got round to paying his national insurance contributions to the government, eventually, before he turned forty. Abner could buy a bull, only where to buy a bull the kibbutz would abide?
The other side of Hadati’s function was to be a gentle sieve excluding what other members would find too provocative to allow. Hadati would avoid the too chi chi, even if your children might be millionaires already. Hadati would bring your dreams into focus with a watch that had the motion, the dual face and time zone settings of a Rolex but the brand name of a nearby town, or at least a town near to Hong Kong. How to produce a bull no one would want to work? How to bounce three hundred members into accepting that Abner needed a bull near his bedroom, at night, to help him sleep?
Hadati wasn’t phased. He called a General Meeting and said the truck needed an overhaul. In the meantime, could he borrow someone’s car? I mean, all the cars were everybody’s—did the Meeting object to Hadati switching to another vehicle? I was there, Gadi our adopted kibbutz Father had invited me to see how decisions were made, just in case I ever asked him for anything. And I saw for myself, no hands were raised, no objections voiced. Then Hadati, wiping his wet neck with a handkerchief asked another question. What if he needs another kind of transportation, an old cart maybe? Could he have an old cart? The old cart dumped by the plastics factory, say? Every second member raised an eyebrow. He wanted to travel without air conditioning? Hadati was slipping. Best get their purchases now and not put too much more money through his hands. But seriously, Hadati said, “Is there an objection to me driving that cart which is half in the mud by the factory, for the little jobs?” No, people shook their heads, no objections, if you die of the heat we have a plot for you where the trees are still.
“Very well,” Avram Hadati said, “I’ll order a new bull from the cattle farm in Yokneam. They have mini breeds. The cart at the plastics factory is too rickety to be driven by a horse. An old bull, as old as I am, could take it quite slow, and steady. But a bull as old as I am would be dead. So a small bull. Not just small but miniature, will pull the cart slowly enough. It’ll be too heavy for him and he’ll need special care to keep up with the hauling, at the right slow pace. Who knows how to care for bulls?”
People turned their heads slowly to Abner, the oldest still living dairy-man though long retired. He’d nursed the old bulls through flash floods, frost in a treacherous April, cold tired blood. Abner said he’d take an interest in the new cart animal if his health permitted. People raised their hands. The motion passed.
I myself realized then that Hadati was the man to get me cartridges for my printer and started leaving notes myself, which he promptly fulfilled at a cheaper price than any I could buy in town. Then I asked him if he could get a fan to get some air into our little hut. On days when it didn’t rain you could already feel the little one room apartment getting steamy if you didn’t prop the door open. I asked him for a fan. He got one and though it was still raining out, I took it home.
I asked, “Is it put together?”
“You put it together yourself,” he said and turned away.
I carried the box out of his office and off the porch.
I opened the box in our little one room, the parts spread across the floor. I took out the instructions, they were in Dutch. But I read pictures. I took the blade out, took the frame the blade went in, took the slot for the motor and lead to connect to the plug. I tried to fit the thing together, sweated slowly as the rain came down against the window. I threw the fan on the ground, stood up, took a deep breath, stuffed everything back in the box and went back down the slick path to Hadati.
I timed it right. He was just closing his office to go to lunch. He wouldn’t want to argue with me.
“What’s wrong with the fan?”
“Doesn’t work,” I said.
“Impossible,” he says, “The man who sold it to me sold the kibbutz at least fifty fans over the last ten years, half the kibbutz has one.”
“You fit it,” I said.
“Can’t you fit it?” he says.
“You fit it,” I say.
We stand there over the open box, the fan blade, the rotor, the bits of polystyrene, the lead trailing over the box lid. He looks around the room, opens a drawer, shuts it.
“Nope. No tools right now.”
“So you need tools?” I say.
“Yes,” he allows, quietly, “Of course I need tools.”
And I laugh. I laugh right there in the office. Laugh out loud. Which doesn’t happen often on kibbutz, I can tell you. And I can also tell you it doesn’t happen very often to Hadati that someone laughs in his face. Because that’s the last time Hadati ever takes an order from me. I never hear another word from him again. He looks straight through me. Standing there in his office, his eyes just go out, like lamps. He turns them away and doesn’t want to see anything.
But a little after I did see a miniature bull had made its way onto kibbutz. It wasn’t actually that small, of course. But it wasn’t too big. Everybody acknowledged that it wasn’t too big—because Hadati brought it from across the valley specially. So it obviously wasn’t as big as the ones the dairy sometimes used. And Abner walked it, slowly and carefully, across the kibbutz compound to the plastics factory, past where my wife and I stood of an evening and looked out at Jordan, led it on over to hitch it to the old bread cart an Arab had abandoned, which Hadati duly rode out on when picking up the urns from the Arab towns. Hadati maintained that the plated silver urns, with the white silver handles, tended to rattle in a vehicle, and sometimes break. So even though the van made a smart recovery and came back into service, Hadati insisted on taking the cart whenever a silver urn with handles was wanted by someone. Even if the urn was made in Hong Kong and shipped here and only stopped in the Arab town to gather dust before being engraved with the name of your dead relative. Even then it rode to the kibbutz in the back of the wagon, not the van. Which of course gave another member an interest in the bull, a reason to accept Abner’s pet as just his due. Nobody questioned that handles could break, that a van was not a living thing, sensitive to the feel of the road, to the delicacy of those shining silver handled vessels that they hoped would bring their children back to them. And with the number of children moving to town there was no shortage of paths for the cart to grind along, bringing a little silver to the dusty members’ huts.
Nobody questioned why Abner kept the bull by his house. It was delicate, small. Not that small, obviously, it ate a bale of hay, daily—but too small to join the other bulls. And if it wasn’t, Abner was too frail to go down the path to the dairy, and he could slip without his stick. And if he went—who would guide the bull? Not him from the quiet pines near the row of stones at the kibbutz edge. If silver urn handles were to continue coming into the kibbutz, and old children to come with grand-children to drink tea poured on the Sabbath under those silver handles, Abner would have to have his bull and guard him carefully, and Hadati would have to keep the gate open while Abner walked, tapping his stick, past the tall pines. And past the gate Abner would pat the bull, Hadati tap the light whip on its hide and the cart go, till soon you could see only dust roll across the top of the road, and members would comfort themselves it was like old times, and Hadati would bring their children back, with the urns burnished with silver handles that would never, ever break.
And I would watch the bull go past us, as we looked at Jordan, and know that we would never see such a thing ourselves, not if we lived to be a hundred, not if we stayed on kibbutz until Messiah came. But Hadati would fix it for anyone, anyone who didn’t laugh when he said that he could do it, bring your children back from town, or find you somewhere you could sleep while waiting for them all to come, where the trees didn’t cry or shed their leaves, where you wouldn’t feel a thing while the bull walked past you dragging all you wanted home again.
©2016 Atar Hadari
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Our Place: excerpt of a novel by Atar Hardari (e-chapbook)
'The Donkey': story by Atar Hadari performed by Liar's League