The Best Place on Earth

The Best Place on Earth by Ayelet Tsabari

Book: The Best Place on Earth by Ayelet Tsabari Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ayelet Tsabari
during a family vacation—and stuffed it in the gap under the door. Uri wondered how a single wet towel was going to protect them from nerve gas. In his head he started to compose his next poem.
This is my generation’s war. A war fought with plastic sheets and duct tape, a wet towel stolen from a hotel room in Eilat, a picture of a sandy beach on a sunny day.
After the poetry contest—the bullying that followed—he had conceded that poetry was nothing short of social suicideand resolved to quit writing at once. Being the shortest, youngest boy in class was challenging enough. And what was the point anyway? There was no future or fame in poetry.
    Last year, he had found a notebook in his father’s nightstand filled with scribbled verse, dated decades ago. He struggled to decipher the handwriting; he couldn’t even tell how good the poetry was. When he asked his mother, she told him that his father had given up writing when they met because he thought it was impractical for someone like him, and went on to become an accountant instead. Uri understood. The poetry they taught at school, the books he found in the school library, were mostly written by old Ashkenazi men. He had never heard of a Yemeni or Iraqi poet, or any Mizrahi poet for that matter. His father had come from a poor Yemeni family, had grown up with no electricity in a tiny two-room bungalow in the Yemeni Grove in Tel Aviv; had worked since he was a kid to help his parents, who arrived in Israel with nothing and hardly spoke Hebrew.
    His mother, who was born in Baghdad to a family of scholars, had told Uri that her parents disapproved at first of the frail, dark-skinned Yemeni boy with whom she had fallen in love, but that his father had walked to their home in Ramat Gan and pleaded with them, promising to work hard, give their daughter the life she deserved. “He was always a romantic,” his mother had said, smiling as though reliving the moment.
    Uri never told his father he wrote poetry, but he ended up finding the school paper in Uri’s room. “It’s just this stupid thing I had to do for school,” Uri said, and his father eyed him strangely but said nothing. Later, Uri saw that his father kept the paper on his bedside table, tucked between books.
    Last summer, in preparation for junior high, Uri started anexercise routine. He didn’t want to wait, like his father, until he was older. Junior high was his chance for a new start; half the kids there didn’t know him as the “nerdy poet boy.” It was time to change direction, find a more manly vocation. Inspired by his history textbooks, the heroic men in uniform, he’d decided he’d like to become an officer in some elite unit when he grew up, maybe even a pilot. He knew there weren’t many Mizrahi pilots out there—he wasn’t sure why—but this was something he could work at. He had five years before he’d be called up, five years to build the kind of stamina and character and strength heroes are made of. Plenty of time.
    He took up jogging, did daily sets of sit-ups and push-ups. He asked his father to install a chin-up bar in his room. He saved the money given to him on his birthday and bought himself a skateboard, and every day between two and four, when the streets were siesta-quiet and the sun placed its hot, sweaty palm on his forehead, he practised jumps and new tricks. He found the sound of the skateboard crunching gravel, hitting pavement—like cracking branches—oddly satisfying. But it was during these times, skating or running up the stairs to Monkey Park, that some of his best poems were born.
    Yasmin posed in front of the mirror in her gas mask while Uri and his father sat on the bed and waited, trained for the faded echo of the missiles, which Uri always felt as an amplified heartbeat in his chest. She turned to them. “I have to go get my camera.”
    “It’s too late,” their dad said.
    “It’s not even thirty seconds away.”
    “Just wait, will you?”

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