Anyone who really wants to fly, can. It’s just a matter of will. That’s what Uri told me.
Uri is the son of Shlomo, our neighborhood grocer. I stared at him, trying to figure out whether he was really dumb or just putting me on. But he stuck to his guns. “Yeah, I’ve been flying for four months already. Once I even got as far as Bat Yam, and I‘m not the only one. Lots of kids are working on flying long distances. On Saturdays we have a contest and whoever flies furthest wins a trophy.
With wings. The best time to start practicing is at night. It’s perfect then for your first flight. Because of the quiet and the stars. If you come down to the yard tonight, I’ll teach you.”
I giggled and ran home to watch Shmil the Cat on TV. Shmil may not know how to fly, but he is a giant cat that walks and talks like a human. Truth is, he kind of scares me.
Later that night, way past my bedtime, I peeked out the window that looks out onto the yard and saw Uri waiting for me. There he was with his hands in his pockets, kicking up little clouds of sand. He didn’t seem to care that his clothes were getting dirty. I watched him put together wooden crates to make a ramp. Then he climbed up, stretched and jumped.
At first he struggled to stay in the air. But in no time at all he was swimming through space, pulling forward with the crawl, the breast stroke, even the butterfly stroke. By then, I was really sorry that I hadn’t gone down to the yard, and I shouted out to him from the window. I think he heard me because just then he picked up speed and began doing all kinds of tricks, cartwheels, back flips. He totally ignored my shouting and didn’t turn to look at me, not even once.
Next morning, when I went to the grocery store, there was Uri. He was hanging out with a bunch of boys I’d never seen before, and laughing loudly. I wanted to go over to them, but I felt uncomfortable. Instead, I paid for the loaf of bread my mother had sent me to buy and hurried home.
When noon came along I asked my mother whether she needed anything from the grocery store. She looked at me in surprise and said no, but if I felt like helping out I could dust the bookcase and get to work on the drawer of socks I’d been promising to sort since the beginning of the summer vacation. I kicked at an imaginary pile of sand on the floor, grabbed a dust cloth and headed for my room. Back in my room, I tried flying. I jumped off my bed and tried to stay in the air like Uri, but I landed on the floor every time. After a few tries, my mother came in to check on how I was doing with the sock-sorting, so I stopped trying to fly.
After that, every time I went to the grocery store, Shlomo was there alone. Without his son.
A week later, I worked up the courage to ask him where Uri was. He smiled and said that Uri had returned to his boarding school and that next time there was a vacation, he would come again to help out. I had no idea that Uri went to boarding school. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really know very much about Uri. Every time he had tried to talk to me, I was either in a hurry to get home, or I wasn’t really paying attention. I asked Shlomo if he was the one who had taught Uri to fly. He gave me a strange look and said he would add the eggs and yogurt to our account.
On the way home, I kicked at the sand. I couldn’t care less that I was getting dirty.
All the way home, all I could think of was that I had to be the only kid in Israel, and maybe in the whole wide world, who had been sorting socks instead of learning how to fly.
For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return. – Leonardo da Vinci
Shahar Marcus, b. Israel, 1971, lives and works in Tel Aviv. He is the recipient of the 2010 omi Prize, New York, and his work has been shown in various museums in Israel and the world, including the Israel Museum, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Tate Museum in London, as well as the Moscow and Poznan (Poland) Biennales.