Excerpt of A Woman in Jerusalem by A B. Yehoshua
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EVEN THOUGH the manager of the human resources division had not sought such a
mission, now, in the softly radiant morning, he grasped its unexpected
significance. The minute the extraordinary request of the old woman who stood in
her monks robe by the dying fire was translated and explained to him, he felt a
sudden lifting of his spirits, and Jerusalem, the shabby, suffering city he had
left just a week ago, was once more bathed in a glow of importance, as it had
been in his childhood.
AND YET the origins of his unusual mission lay in a simple clerical error
brought to the companys attention by the editor of a local Jerusalem weekly, an
error that could have been dealt with by any reasonable excuse and brief
apology. However, fearing that such an apology which might indeed have laid the
matter to rest would be deemed inadequate, the stubborn eighty-seven-year-old
owner of the company had demanded a more tangible expression of regret from
himself and his staff, a clearly defined gesture such as the one that had
resulted in this journey to a distant land.
What had upset the old man so? Where had the almost religious impulse that drove
him come from? Could it have been inspired by the grim times that the country,
and above all Jerusalem, were going through, which he had weathered unharmed; so
that his financial success, as other businesses foundered, called for vigilance
in warding off the public criticism that now, ironically, was about to be aired
in newsprint of which he himself was the supplier? Not that the reporter whose
scathing feature article would break the story a political radical and eternal
doctoral candidate with the restraint of a bull in this intimate china shop of a
city was aware of all this when he wrote the piece, or he would have toned it
down. Yet it was the papers editor and publisher, loath to ruin a colleagues
weekend with an unpleasant surprise that might spoil their business relations,
who had decided, after taking a look at the story and its accompanying
photograph of the torn, bloodstained pay stub found in the murdered womans
shopping bag, to let the old man respond in the same issue.
Nor was it really such a shocking exposé. Nevertheless, at a time when
pedestrians were routinely exploding in the streets, troubled consciences turned
up in the oddest places. And so at the end of that particular workday, when the
human resources manager, having promised his ex-wife that he would leave the
office on time to be with their only daughter, had tried to evade the owners
summons, the old mans veteran office manager had refused to let him. Sensing
her bosss agitation, shed hastened to advise the resource manager to put his
family duties aside.
ON THE WHOLE, relations between the two men were good. They had been so ever
since the resource manager, then in the sales division, had unearthed several
Third World markets for the companys new line of paper and stationery products.
And so, when his managers marriage was on the rocks, in part because of his
frequent travels, the old man had reluctantly agreed to appoint him temporary
head of the human resources division, a job that would allow him to sleep at
home every night and try to repair the damage. Yet the hostility engendered by
his absence was only distilled into a more concentrated poison by his presence,
and the chasm between them at first psychological, then intellectual, and
finally sexual continued to grow of its own accord. Now that he was divorced,
all that kept him from returning to his old job, which he had liked, was his
determination to stay close to his daughter.
As soon as hed appeared in the doorway of the owners spacious office, where
the elegantly muted light never changed with the time of day or year, the
article due to appear in the local weekly was dramatically hurled at him.
© 2004 Abraham B. Yehoshua
English translation © 2006 by Hillel Halkin
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
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