“Did you say something to upset my girlfriend, man?” asked the red-cheeked Brit, leaning dangerously into Daniel’s face. “You looking to fight?”
“IS-RAY-ELLL!!” hollered Daniel, throwing his dreadlocked head back. All of a sudden, thirty bare-chested Israeli former soldiers surrounded him, arms crossed in bodyguard stance.
The shaking Brit extended his hand tremulously. “Sorry, mate. Have a good night.”
Daniel was recounting this story from last night to me as we sat with Dov on his bungalow porch. The rain smashed down behind our drying laundry, the smell of the cheap detergent mixing with the muddy dogs and ocean. “This shows you,” Daniel declared, “How Israelis will always be there for each other. The army trains us to protect each other, and we always will.” He gestured towards his golden-skinned, tattooed friend to his side. “I didn’t even know this man, but when I got shot in Gaza during a patrol, Dov didn’t think twice; he lifted my heavy body over his shoulder and dragged me all the way to safety. I owe him my life.”
“No problem,” said Dov, grinning angelically. “Now give me one of your cigarettes.”
I was feeling awfully glum the past few days, and was thankful as heck for the kindness of my ancestral people this night. Ko Tao, paradise that it is, turns out to be Couple Zone during low season, and I have a bit of a hard spot (is that the opposite of soft spot?) for Couple Zones. Basically, from Wednesday to Thursday I didn’t talk to a single soul, barring the masseuse who gave me the most lovely first Thai Massage of my life possible, the woman who sold me Henry Miller’s freaking fantastic “Tropic of Cancer”, and two or three waitresses. I need my alone time, hardcore, but after two days, you want a chat.
On top of this, I had managed to freak out several loved ones at home with an article I published about wandering the Thai jungle. Let this be known loud and clear: I exaggerate to high heaven, and I am– I promise– smart, even including Jungle Smart smart. There was TRULY no need for my dearies to fret, but they did. Being an extremely empathetic person, the long-distance worry directed my way was making me feel sick to my stomach, and I cradled my Diet Coke like a stuffed animal as I looked up at my Israeli support system. “I just feel so sad that I made my Mother worry,” I mumbled. “I’m fine, and I am taking care of myself, and I want her to be fine, too!”
Dov took a puff of his cigarette. “I don’t know what to tell you about that, because my Mother had to worry for three years while I was forced to be in the army.” “Mine too,” said Daniel. “Eventually they just have to get over it and trust.”
“When I was a child,” Dov mused, “My parents used to tell me, ‘Don’t worry– by the time you are eighteen the war will be over and you won’t have to go in the army.’ It was a lie. I had to fight. We all did. It was a black spot in my life, and I wish it didn’t happen. And yet, though now we know the war will go on at least forty more years, we have to maintain hope. I will also tell my own children: ‘Don’t worry– by the time you are eighteen the war will be over and you won’t have to go in the army.’ I will lie to maintain hope.”
Daniel was staring out at the lights through the rain. “She shouldn’t worry anyway. This is NOTHING compared to India. This is so plastic and easy and developed.”
Daniel had just emerged from a life-alteringly (mind-alteringly?) phenomenal five months around India, and was furious to be in silk-smooth Thailand. “In India,” he growled, “when we have electricity, it is like ‘Oh happy day!’ “
His eyes became even more distant. “I had a rabbit in India. An angora rabbit. I called her Shiva. Her body was maybe the size of my fist, but with her hair she was the size of beach ball. I carried her everywhere and she loved me.”
I started laughing, deep and warm, at the image of the giant fluffball cradled serenely in Daniel’s giant, dark-skinned hands, being carted for five months from Kashmir to Bombay and all points between.
“I go in six months to South Africa to sell hummus at the World Cup,” continued Daniel, ignoring my hysterical laughing. “I think I make maybe $20,000 in three months, easy. Hummus with egg will be more expensive. Maybe then I get a new pet to help me.”
“What happened to the rabbit?” I asked between breathless giggles. My mood was lifting, buoyed by the cosy porch and the puffball white image.
“I met a bunch of kids when I volunteered at a school at the end of my time in India. When I saw them with Shiva, I knew I would leave her with them and she would be well cared for.”
“Do you worry about her?” I asked, concerned myself.
“No,” he said confidently, “She is happy.”