A Spy in Exile: Chapter 5


They were milling around the hot water urn, making themselves Turkish coffee in paper cups. Or Taster’s Choice. Milk, a sachet of sugar. The refreshments also included halva cookies.

“I didn’t expect this,” one of the cadets said. “I didn’t think we’d be talking like this. From the heart, with such intensity. I was pretty stunned by what Ya’ara told us, that story about her sister.”

“Yes, I need to rethink what I’m going to say,” Ann responded. “I thought it would be something like reading out my CV—date and place of birth, school, university, hobbies—a checklist of sorts.”

“I’m not sure if I’m up for this. It seems a bit too much, don’t you think? Touchy-feely manipulation.”

“I don’t know. There’s something very impressive about it.”

“Everybody’s going back in. You ready to go?”

The smell of wet earth enveloped them, with rain falling continually and the air turning cooler. The strong wind was blowing the raindrops onto the covered porch. Ann wrapped her arms around herself, clutching the thick, warm sweater that clung to her long and slender torso. She felt alert and happy. She had the sense that she had finally found the thing she had always been looking for. She wondered how she could express that feeling in words, voice it in a manner that everyone would understand.

 

  • • •

 

“Okay, shalom, my name is Ann McFarlane.” Her voice, with its rolling accent, sounded deep and low. She appeared a little embarrassed, but her shyness was accompanied by a beautiful smile. “As you can hear, I’m from England. I came to Israel about three years ago, which feels such a long time ago but also like yesterday. Everything here seems new to me, and I’m never sure if I’m doing the right thing. So please forgive me from now on. It’s not that I’m clumsy or awkward or just a bit dim . . . I’m simply new here.

“I was born and raised in York, in the north of England. My mother is a stage actress, and still quite the diva today. She wasn’t around much for me as a child because she was on stage in the evenings—or with her lovers. As I learned later. Or her theater group was on tour, in London and many other cities in the UK. My father is a branch manager for Barclays Bank. My relationship with him was always an easier one. He’s conservative, always in a gray suit, but he has a great sense of humor. Even as a child I wasn’t able to understand the connection between them. They were like two strangers in the same house. But I knew he loved her, my sweet father, and she broke his heart so many times. I’m still in touch with him, a lot less with her. It’s much easier when you live overseas, I mean here,” she concluded.

“I’m not Jewish,” she continued after a deep breath. She felt as if she had dropped a bomb in the room but there was no reaction from the others, who simply kept their eyes on her. “I’m here because of love . . . I love . . . No. To be precise, I’m in love. Still in love. With Daniel. We’ve known each other for seven years now, almost eight. We met at Oxford. I was studying mathematics and the philosophy of science. Daniel was doing his PhD in history. He’s a professor today at Tel Aviv University, and he’s the most adorable lecturer in Israel.”

“Are you married?” asked one of the young women in the circle, who couldn’t restrain herself.

“We had a big English wedding. With around eighty guests, perhaps. And yes, I know, that’s considered a small wedding in Israel.” Ann smiled. “Shortly afterward we returned to Israel. Lucky for me, I pick up languages easily. I think my Hebrew is not too bad. I hope so. Otherwise it would have been hell. I also speak French and German. And I know Latin from university. I was in Israel just once before then, with Daniel, and it was one big party. After the wedding, we came for good, forever. And that’s a completely different feeling. There’s something more to that, a commitment of sorts. I suddenly feel I have a responsibility. Daniel is important to me. His family is now my family, too. And they’re important to me as well. I look at you and I feel closer to you than I ever felt to my friends at Balliol College. And I don’t even know you yet.” Ann no longer looked embarrassed. Her cheeks had taken on a slight flush, and her beauty was suddenly breathtaking.

“I have one brother. He’s two years younger than me. He also left York. He’s an English literature student at Dublin University. He also followed his heart. You see, the English aren’t as cold as people say they are. Love, that’s what it’s all about. There’s a movie like that. Hugh Grant is prime minister. For those who like romantic comedies.”

“Tell me, Ann, did you do anything with the mathematics? Did you ever work in the field?”

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue studying toward a PhD or find a job in the City, with an investment firm. To do mathematical analyses of the activity on stock exchanges around the world. I earned a living doing something completely different during my studies. I was a model. Mostly photo shoots. But in the summer, when I wasn’t at university, I did shows, too. To be honest, I hated it. It was easy money, but there I was just a pretty face, legs. It was as if my brain didn’t count for anything. My personality, too. And there’s always going to be someone younger, prettier, thinner in the room, and you show up thousands of times only to be selected occasionally. And you’re surrounded by lowlifes, too. You need to be able to handle them. I can be a bitch or a badass when I need to be. In any event, I decided I would never work in that field again.” Ann smiled, as if to make light of her words.

“So here I am now, with you. I asked Ya’ara why she offered me a place on the team, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to say . . .” Ya’ara looked at her and nodded. “Ya’ara said: Because you’re a fanatic. You’re absolute. I was very surprised by what she said. I’ve never seen myself as someone like that. I’m hoping the training will allow me to discover things about myself. Anyway, I wanted to tell you something, and I’m not even sure if I’m expressing it very well. This group, the things that lie ahead for us together, even the rain—they all give me a sense that I’ve come to a place that’s me. It’s strange, because I’m not from here. But I’ve never felt so, so at ease as I feel right now. So significant.”


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