BERLIN, TIERGARTEN, MARCH 2015
Ya’ara recoiled at the sight of Sayid’s pale face appearing suddenly through the freezing morning fog. She hadn’t expected to see him when she went out to the Tiergarten for a vigorous morning run.
“You gave me a fright,” she admitted. “What are you doing here?”
“The same as you, apparently. I’ve come to run.”
Ya’ara looked at him with a smile on her face. “Very trendy, Sayid,” she said. “In which part of town did they sell you that?”
He looked at her in surprise, and Ya’ara tried to tear her eyes away from his odd running suit, which was a mixture of purples and murky browns and zippers everywhere, and wondered if it was worth taking him on a quick shopping spree in sporting goods stores. She decided against it.
“You’re usually very conservative when it comes to your clothes. Conservative and elegant,” she quickly added.
“You’re right. But I’ve decided to let myself go. To spread my wings. To discover the new Sayid.”
If this is the new Sayid, they may have to rethink all the training that had led him to the point in time at which he purchased that unsightly running suit, she thought, knowing very well that she would never voice such superficial thoughts out loud. Everyone’s entitled to their own taste, even a taste as shocking as Sayid’s. And he, despite everything and without doubt, was her favorite cadet.
“Follow me!” she called out to him, and set off at a quick pace, leaving him behind. He gathered himself and raced after her, but she moved farther away from him, as fast as the wind.
“I’ll wait for you by the monument,” she shouted to him.
The mist seemed to swallow her up and hug her coldly to its bosom. Sayid imagined seeing the dust clouds she had left in her wake. But the problem was, he thought, that they were in a country where there was no dust in the winter. Sayid cursed himself. He was doing too much thinking and clearly not enough exercising. And anyway, how come he had bumped into Ya’ara of all people so early that morning, in the middle of a huge park, with no chance of running at her pace, of being as fast as she was, as determined as she was. He pictured his slender body in his beautiful new running suit, and despite the pain in his side that was getting increasingly worse by the minute, he derived a brief moment of pleasure from the thought of himself bounding gracefully through that German park in his magnificent sportswear.
When he arrived breathless at the monument, Ya’ara was already coming to the end of her stretching exercises. She was bent over supplely, her hands gripping her ankles, and she peered at him through her mane of hair, seeing him upside down. What a miserable sight I must be, he thought, still trying to regulate his breathing, his body tilted to the left, his right hand over the area of pain above his waist.
“Don’t stand still,” she said to him. “Keep walking, and then do some stretching.”
He walked around her in circles.
“Enough of that, Sayid,” she said. “Only dogs walk in circles. See that tree, over there? Walk there and back.”
After he returned, Ya’ara approached him and gave him instructions on what he needed to stretch and how to do so. He could feel his hamstrings stretching to a point at which he feared they were going to snap like strings on a guitar, and he eased up a little. “That’s great,” Ya’ara said. “Listen to your body. Only you know exactly what you feel. Don’t do more than you’re capable of doing. And just so you know, every day you run, you’ll be able to do more.” He nodded, barely able to utter a word. “This is your first run in a very long time, right?”
He confirmed that with a wobbly nod of his head. There’s no hiding from that witch, he thought in an outburst of hostility. “To think I slept in the same bed as her,” he whispered to himself.
“Did you say something?” she asked.
“No, no, nothing at all,” he responded, his face turning red.
- • •
“Well, how is it?” she asked?
“The course, everything we’re doing, the things you’ve been through, the other cadets.”
They were walking slowly side by side, in the direction of the park gate.
“Incredible, for the most part. Half the time I can’t believe the things I’m doing, that I’m with this group.”
“Is it a good incredible, or do you ask yourself: What am I doing here at all, how did I end up in this thing, how the hell do I get out of here?”
“You said if someone wanted to leave, they could, right?”
“Yes, I did.”
“I don’t want to leave. I haven’t for a second, even after what happened to us in England. I hope I’m good enough to stay. I know I still have a lot to learn, that I’m not good enough yet, not quick enough, even my running suit . . . But this course, and what awaits us in particular, means a great deal to me. Do you get that? I have to stay.”
“No one wants you to go, Sayid. On the contrary, I see great things ahead for you. You’ve shown us that you have capabilities and courage. You may feel sometimes that you’re different from the others, but if you take the time to notice, we’re all different.”
He smiled at Ya’ara but she noticed the shadow that passed him across his face.
“What’s up, Sayid? What’s troubling you?”
“Look, you’re familiar with my story. I don’t have a family, and I’m willing to think of this unit as my family, and still I can’t figure out how, with this kind of lifestyle, with all the long trips we can expect and all the secrets we need to keep, how I’ll ever find someone. You know I’m not a child any longer, and I want to have a home. And a family of my own.”
“Those things work out in the end. Or so I hope, at least. Otherwise, you and I will end up sitting next to each other in a retirement home somewhere, our shaking knees covered with blankets, staring into space, with the knowledge that at least we have each other.
“Yes, that’s the exact scenario that frightens me,” Sayid said, deciding that the conversation needed a lighter tone. “I don’t think you’ll be a very sympathetic old lady,” he continued. “And to tell you the truth, I can’t picture you in a retirement home. And besides, I have a relative who lives in a retirement home and she doesn’t sit around and stare into space at all. She’s like the Energizer bunny. Didn’t you once promise me that kind of a future? In another conversation we had?”
“I have this same conversation with myself all the time. You may have been party to one once . . . And yes, I don’t think it’s normal for a young woman of thirty and a bit to think so much about growing old. I met someone a short while ago, a woman in her nineties. She actually made me feel optimistic. You can still be fascinating and interesting and beautiful even at a very old age. It’s just a matter of luck, that’s all you need.”
“We still have a few more years to go. And don’t forget you promised things would work out.”
Work out, work out, sure they’ll work out, Ya’ara thought. How the hell am I supposed to know?