When he woke the following morning, Ya’ara was still fast asleep. Her arm was draped across his chest, and he gently moved it aside. Her soft hair lay over her face. She looks like a little girl, he thought, almost drowning in the T-shirt and sweatpants he had given her. When he returned from the shower, she opened one eye and smiled at him sweetly. “I’m going to sleep a little longer, okay?” she said.
“I’ll ask them to send breakfast up to the room.”
“Just like in my hotel,” Ya’ara said after she was up, her mouth full with a bite of croissant, strawberry jam smeared across her upper lip.
“How did you manage to end up in a dump like that?” Michael asked, pouring orange juice into her glass.
“It was the first place I saw.”
“Doesn’t suit you.”
“You know I get by anywhere. But that one was probably over the top. What a shithole.” She noticed his gaze, and cleaned the jam off her lips with her tongue.
“Who’s the Arab guy you were with at Blackwell’s?” Michael asked. She smiled to herself. Yes, Sayid could certainly appear to be an Arab student, thin, a little tormented, a dreamy and intelligent look in his eyes. “Ah, he’s my sister’s son.” Michael knew she wasn’t answering him seriously. It didn’t fit, not in terms of the young man’s age, and not in terms of his appearance.
What Michael didn’t know was that Ya’ara’s sister had disappeared at the age of sixteen, and was never found. He knew that every individual carries a heavy burden on his or her shoulders, but despite the fact that he had known Ya’ara for so many years, he was unaware of that crucial event, which remained a bleeding wound in her soul. And had he found out then what he hadn’t known for all that time, his heart would have agonized over his blindness. He had read through Ya’ara’s personal dossier at some point in the distant past, but the story of the disappearance of her sister was tucked away in the classified section of her file. Their working relationship, accompanied by mutual affection, didn’t bring down the walls Ya’ara had erected around herself. Ya’ara’s inner smile turned now into a stinging grimace. She hadn’t said the word “sister” since telling her cadets the story of Tatiana’s disappearance, at their first meeting in Western Galilee. And suddenly, unintentionally, for no other reason but to lightheartedly evade Michael’s questions, the word “sister” had come out of her mouth. She hated herself for it.
Michael decided not to press her. He couldn’t decide whether to believe her claim to have no ties to the two assassinations, but she hadn’t offered any explanation for her presence in Oxford. “You have beautiful feet,” he said to her, his eyes on her bare toes.
“They’re more frozen than beautiful, feel,” she said, lifting her left leg and resting her foot on his knee. He clutched her foot in both hands. She dipped the croissant into her coffee and popped the pastry into her mouth. Take it easy, Michael, he said to himself. And felt like a fool.
“I want to sleep a little more,” Ya’ara said. “And then I need to move on. Would you like to join me?”
“Where are you going?”
“To Liverpool. I’d like you to come. Can you? I’m asking nicely.”
He nodded. He needed more time with her, it made no difference where they spent it. She released her foot from his grasp and went back to bed. Curled up under the thick blanket, with her eyes closed, she reminded him again of a young girl. “Wake me at eleven-thirty, okay?” she asked, her knees tucked up to her tummy, her figure almost hidden in the large bed. “Watch over me, okay?” she said, her words coming in a whisper this time.