A Spy in Exile: Chapter 70



Ya’ara stared intently at the paintings hanging in Room 31 of the National Portrait Gallery. The competition was tough, but Ya’ara knew ultimately that it was her favorite museum in London. When she had walked into the modest gallery just off Trafalgar Square for the very first time, still standing in the small, gloomy vestibule, she had done so primarily to escape the cold, stinging rain coming down outside. She expected to encounter hall after hall of portraits of princes in dark clothing with white batiste collars, of kings named George the third, fourth, and fifth, and of heavy-set and unattractive high-born women, their hair a light shade of blue and their cheeks far too rosy. Ya’ara was surprised to discover that the gallery was filled to the rafters with paintings and spectacular photographs of artists and athletes, of scientists and poets, of kings and prime ministers, of industrialists and theater actors and opera singers. Men and women, painted in the style of precise Realism or bold and colorful Expressionism. Textile designer Paul Smith, looking inquisitive and experienced, is immortalized sitting on a chair with a roll of shiny green fabric standing between his legs; a young and determined Queen Elizabeth is wearing an elegant robe adorned with fur trimmings; a black-and-white video clip shows soccer star David Beckham tossing in his sleep, his exposed body a model of perfection; Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and Nobel laureate, his face plowed with wrinkles, his gaze bold and piercing, a stormy whirlwind of thick layers of paint splashed onto the canvas creating his image out of the chaos. And now she was in the large hall, Room 31, which housed paintings of the greats of the British nation from the first half of the twentieth century—leaders, actors, war heroes, aggressive industrialists, renowned scientists who broke new ground in the world, a black boxer, a beloved children’s authoress. Her breath was taken away by the human richness, the greatness, the immense talent of the heroes and those who had immortalized their images.

This time, however, she wasn’t simply moved by what she could see. She was troubled in fact, very troubled. Again she had entered the portrait gallery to escape. Not from the rain, but from a continuing sense of unease, from the doubt that was starting to eat away at her from the inside. It had been too long since she last managed to contact the lawyer who was supposed to coordinate between her and the prime minister. It no longer appeared coincidental. True, the prime minister had told her that if forced to do so, he would deny any ties with her. But when it appeared to be actually happening, she felt betrayed and hurt. She hurt all over.

She read a report on the Ynet news website about a special meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to which the prime minister was summoned to address the accusations that the State of Israel had carried out the assassinations in Brussels and London. “Israel is closely monitoring the events,” the prime minister was quoted as saying by sources on the committee. “Although we weren’t saddened by the news of the deaths of an extremist preacher and a cruel murderer, Israel has nothing to do with the incidents. We were of course very saddened to hear of the death of the young girl in London. Israel respects the sovereignty of its allies and would never launch an operation on their soil without coordination and approval.” Ya’ara didn’t know why the prime minister’s words, expected and called for under the circumstances, offended her so much. Obviously he was going to say such things. Could he have said anything else? But she felt abandoned and alone.

You need to be stronger, she told herself. Why is this temporary break in communication troubling you so? It’s an inescapable part of the job, after all. Who promised you that it would be easy? But it was a break that had gone on for another day and then another and then another. All she wanted to do was sleep. But there wasn’t a bed in the world that felt as if it was really hers, in which she could close her eyes peacefully and wake up somewhere safe and familiar. Only temporary beds in hotels, and a bed in an apartment she was renting in Berlin for the time being, and a bed in an apartment with a roommate in Tel Aviv, where she had never been able to feel at home.

Where is my home, she asked herself, aware of her own misery, and aware, too, of the fact that the only thing she could do was to let the time pass and play its healing role. And in the meantime, she’d have to suffer, and deal with it. It wasn’t the first time. The excitement she had felt on seeing the magnificent portraits had subsided, replaced by the feeling of emptiness spreading inside her. She wanted Michael by her side, Matthias, Hagai. It been so long since she last thought of the man with whom she had shared her life in the past. But she knew that none of them was thinking of her at that moment, not one of them had any idea just how much she needed him. She felt alone in the world.

With the last of her strength, she sat down on a bench in the hall and leaned forward, doubled over, a sour taste rising from her throat into her mouth. Her eyes closed tight, and black and red spots pulsed on her eyelids, inside her head. “Are you okay, my dear?” She heard the muffled voice of the elderly guard who had approached her. Ya’ara groaned out loud, but forced herself to sit up straight and open her eyes. “Yes, yes, everything’s fine,” she said to her. “I’m just fine,” she added quickly, before getting up and leaving the room, still a little unsteady on her feet, and heading toward the stairs. She didn’t have the strength to deal with the guard’s kindness. She just wanted to get out of there.


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