Indeed, Yehuda’s worn sweatpants did not prevent people from streaming to the corner of Ben-Yehuda and Mapo each evening to drink from the well of poetry, and to perfume themselves in the bittersweet scent of its words. The upstairs neighbors across the way sold seats on their balcony, like boxes at the opera, and Yehuda sold his poems at auction to the highest bidder – calculated by the fare to a distant city.
It went on that way all winter. Yehuda would read his poems to crowds of people gathered at the entrance to Moshiko’s kiosk. Even in the rain and wind they would warm up to the heat of the words written in the blood of his heart. Famous people came too, wanting him to move his show to the “Tzavta” theater; they wanted television, but Yehuda refused. He was comfortable on his corner, with the smell of the sea rising on the breeze up from Yarkon Street.
It’s better when I’m standing outside. The words have more room to fly away
One evening, a famous singer who had been in the Eurovision song contest came and asked him to write her a song. She stood face to face with him, straight-backed, her breast looking him straight in the eye as if saying in defiance: “Won’t you write for me?”
“I’m going on a world tour, and I need a new song,” she said. “Something that will touch people’s souls.” Yehuda thought for a moment, rifled through the stack of papers in his hand and pulled out a crumpled sheet. “This one’s for you,” he said, “150 shekels – the fare from here to the airport.”
When spring came, Yehuda was already prospering. He would clear thousands without any outlays for gas, without having to change his tires, without receipts, just straight from the heart to the pocketbook. He took the money and bought Sara a new car. A yellow BMW like in the movies, with all the options, a stereo system, GPS and heated seats. On the rear-view mirror, instead of a pine-tree air freshener, he hung a gold chain he had bought in a fancy jewelry store he knew over in Kikar Hamedina. In his taxi-driving days he would drop rich women there, breathing the scent of wealth, their jewelry quietly clinking. Now he took a taxi there himself. Went in with his faded sweatpants, went straight to bright the display case in the center of the store and examined the chains, pendants and bracelets arranged in golden furrows. The saleslady did not even look up as she asked: “Do you need assistance?” Yehuda took a roll of cash from his pocket, pointing at the heavy chain in the middle of the display. “That one,” he said. “That will go with the yellow of the car.” Sara looked at the new car with tears in her eyes. “Why do we need it?” she asked. “First your heart was only mine, now you sell it in pieces to the highest bidder.”
With the approach of summer, the days lengthened and the nights shortened and with them, Yehudas poems got shorter. Because all the poems in the world are written on the same subject, Yehuda began to express himself in fewer words. And the more they were cut, the greater their precision, for hurting and sweetening. He would write poems that were just one stanza long. Twenty words that pierced, like a sharpshooter’s bullet, straight to the heart and left a bleeding hole. When evening came, Yehuda would read a poem in a quarter of a minute and afterward the gathered crowd would break out in crying and laughter. At the beginning of June, Yehuda was already writing poems just one line long. That night, four people fainted and had to be taken by ambulance, sirens wailing, to the hospital.
“Have mercy, Yehuda,” said Moshiko. “You’ll kill someone here if you keep this up.”
“It’s not me writing the poems,” said Yehuda with pain in his voice. “They write themselves.”
“At least let’s move the readings to later at night, so there are no children. And without the balcony crowd, so that no one jumps.”
On the morning of the twenty-first of June, Yehuda wrote a poem that was one word long. One Hebrew word that enwrapped all the pain, all the happiness, the entire void and emptiness of existence. He wrote it, got out of the taxi, and brought the folded page to Moshiko in the kiosk.
“What is this? A poem one word long?”
“One,” Yehuda said to him. “You don’t need more than that – this one says everything.”
Moshiko looked at Yehuda, and at the folded sheet of paper in his hand. “I’m afraid to open the page,” he said.
“You have nothing to fear,” said Yehuda. “You already know the word. But if you want, you can wait for the reading until nighttime.”
“Are you sure that you want to read it?"
What is this? A poem one word long?
They moved the reading to one minute after midnight, so that only the most insomniac would come. Only those who were truly addicted to the readings. The hospital was prepared, ambulances readied and the ER alerted. During the day, rumors of the reading flew through the city. When the appointed hour came, hundreds of people assembled outside the kiosk. They stood in the road past the traffic light. Yehuda climbed up to the roof of the taxi, and looked south to the sea of people that extended to Bograshov Street, to the faces upturned in anticipation, to the ambulance drivers that, like him, stood on the roofs of their vehicles, to the cops that blocked traffic on Ben-Yehuda Street. He closed his eyes and inhaled summer and salt into his nostrils. He opened his eyes; he moved the microphone to his mouth.
The next morning, it rained. Heavy drops soaked in smog. Yehuda arrived at his taxi, once again. He looked at the road, cars rushing urgently north. Drivers changing lanes, honking, cursing. Nothing in the clamor of the road hinted at what had happened here just a few hours earlier. Unlike normal summer rains, which are light and short, this was an unusually heavy rain. Raindrops exploded hard against the Skoda’s windows, washing away the dust that had clung to it all those months that it had not moved from its place. Yehuda looked at the rain silently. The hour was still early, and Moshiko had not yet opened the kiosk. He started the taxi. The motor, which had not worked for a while, coughed and stalled before finally being coaxed into turning over. Yehuda pressed the gas pedal and listened to the rumble of the motor. After he was satisfied, he signaled and began to drive. He turned left, toward the ocean. At the corner stood a woman; she was holding her purse over her head trying to fend off the pounding drops of rain. She waved her hand frantically when she saw the taxi approaching. Yehuda stopped next to her. She opened the door and jumped in quickly.
“What luck that you came. I’m already soaking wet.”
“Where to?” asked Yehuda.
“The train,” she answered.
Yehuda signaled and turned the steering wheel to the left.
“Meter?” he asked before starting to drive.