The 11th Floor
After months of travelling around wild South Africa, weeks of sailing along the rivers and canals of London and almost a year of not knowing what the future will bring - I'm in the motherland. Now, my life is a room in Dan Panorama hotel in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel. Three meals a day, cable TV, regular corona tests - the excitement is in full swing.
I left Europe just as their lockdown started, and arrived in Israel as everything was opening, hoping it would stay that way. It gives one a sense of personal victory, and believe me, I needed one. I keep telling myself that I wasn't wrong to come back because there's no place like home in times of conflict. That it's temporary and like all happy hours, it has to come to an end. And even quicker, because since the isolation period was shortened to 12 days, I feel like I'm getting an early release for good behaviour.
But I have concerns. No one expects to get used to their personal diaspora to the point that home becomes unnerving, chiefly, because I've only seen it on the news for the last eight months. There's also the fear that it'll close down again and I won't be able to leave. The chances of this are nil, but like claustrophobia, it doesn't make sense, and it consumes you from the inside. Still, I'm at home, and deep down, I have great relief. I'm finally in my country, with my people and where all my books are.
Even out of the little room that is currently my whole world, I can still feel how eerie everything around me is. I thought that while in isolation, I'd break away from all of this and forget, but no. I peek through my door's peephole, which is at the end of the hallway of the 11th floor. I see the decorative long wall-to-wall carpet with closed doors on either side, distorted and concaved. It looks spooky, always empty. And when it's not empty, people in disposable blue suits would pass through it, wearing masks and gloves, placing a bag of food on each doorstep. It reminds me of feeding time at my grandfather's chicken coop. Like a dream, where everyone behaves strangely, and you're the only one who's sane. The difference is that from this, one doesn't wake up and say, "What a dream I had. I was in a room at a five-star hotel in Neve Tzedek, but I couldn't leave. I was like a ghost, attached to the house it died in. Occasionally, the phone would ring, and it's the army, asking how I'm feeling today. I'd go out onto the balcony and look down, and there'd be no faces, only eyes walking around everywhere. There were also people with fake smiles made of cloth, and everyone behaved as if it was normal!"
And the listener will say, "Nonsense, it's just a dream."
I can't quite grasp what world we're living in. It's this thing you start thinking about when you're a kid at school. You sit in class and wonder, "What if it's all a simulation? What if it's all someone else's dream, and I'm just a subconscious entity inside someone's brain? And what if I'm a brain myself, what if this whole world is a huge movie played to a bunch of brains in jars, and all I am is a brain in a jar?"
And of course, the conclusion you arrive at is: "Even if I am a brain in a jar, I have to go on as if everything is real because that's how everyone behaves and this is where I exist." It's starting to get more tangible now, the struggle to fit into a surreal and foreign world. Maybe the fact that the main character in the novel I am writing suffers from Depersonalization Disorder isn't helping me cope much. Still, it definitely fosters empathy towards him, and maybe worth it all.
So I keep counting days. The bags of chocolate milk that come with every breakfast are like my countdown board, and I already have six in the fridge.
I'm a coffee person.