The walls of the staircase leading up from Sergio’s apartment to Avraham’s were decorated with posters of popular Rabbis. Others promoted a political party - one not popular with ‘Tsfonim’ (North Tel Avivis) like us - and then there were a few well-endowed women, and some romantic sunsets. I’m sure the Crying Boy was up there somewhere too. The door to Avraham’s apartment was always open and the sound of loud Mizrahi (Eastern) music usually came wafting down through the stairwell. It clashed with Sergio’s jazz.
On the television news one evening, they showed the funeral of an old mobster, the kingpin of the sixties and seventies, who had not long returned from years in prison in Holland or somewhere, only to be murdered by old adversaries from the past. And there, filling the screen in our living room, was none other than Avraham, yes, Sergio’s Avraham, throwing himself on the fresh grave, crying out, “Sage! Sage!” for that was the dead kingpin’s nickname, “Why have you left us, Sage?”
I was always scared of Avraham, to the point that I used to be nervous about going to see Sergio, even though I always went with Dudi. More often than not, Avraham was lurking around the dirty old staircase, which reeked of urine when he wasn’t around and alcohol when he was. He’d suddenly appear from around a corner, or from behind a pillar – unshaven, sinister-looking, and shouting obscenities, frightening me half to death. Or he’d be sitting on an old aluminum chair in the entrance, with one of his unpleasant dogs and a bottle.
Dudi said he was just a poor, harmless old drunk who liked to scare people to make himself feel important. But then he and his eldest son took the old aluminum chair over to the vacant lot next to their building and started coercing people into paying them to park on it. That really freaked me out, although Avraham let us park for free. He seemed to respect Dudi for some reason I couldn’t fathom, calling him ‘Ba’al Habayit’* - Hebrew for ‘Guv’nor’.
He never spoke to me, Avraham, not one word, beyond greeting me with ‘Shalom’. He could talk for ages with Dudi, a lively twinkle in his eye, always seasoning his words with old Jewish sayings. He had that raw wisdom that is the result of a life of hardship. But he never looked at me while he spoke.
One time we were on our way up the stairs and he came down dressed only in his underwear. He didn’t see me at first, but when he did he amazed me by apologizing, not to me, but to Dudi, “I’m sorry, Ba’al Habayit. I didn’t know, I didn’t mean any disrespect. You’re not angry, Ba’al Habayit?…” And that’s when it dawned on me.
I was Dudi’s woman. By talking to me, or worse – revealing himself undressed before me, Avraham was infringing on Dudi’s rights. Maybe he thought Dudi would even be justified in harming him for such impropriety.
I wasn’t afraid of him after that. I even started going to Sergio with our little girl on a Shabbat. afternoon without Dudi. We’d go to the beach across the road first, and then go up to Sergio’s for a shower and a bite to eat.
I never once saw Avraham when I came without Dudi.
* Literally – Owner of the House.