THE LADY WHO WALKS
© 2015, Gadi Bossin
P.O. Box 20
Kiryat Bialik, Israel
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
THE LADY WHO WALKS
Donna and I arrived in the Haifa area in 1980. We were a young couple who made aliya with our two-and-a-half-year-old son.
Depending upon which lens you look through, that’s either a very long time ago or just the blink of an eye ago. You figure out what I mean by that. I don’t want to explain. Suffice it to say our son is 37 today.
The roads were different then. Road 22 was already planned. Now it by-passes the Krayot on the way from Haifa to Akko and beyond, but it would take three decades for the road to be paved and functional. At times we doubted it would ever be completed.
We wondered about Road 22 because when we were residents in the Beit Abba Khoushy Merkaz Klita, the immigrant absorption center named for the legendary mayor of Haifa, a speaker came to the absorption center in the Kiryat Eliezer section of Haifa and told a meeting of immigrants what the road system from Haifa to the north would look like in a few years. He wanted us to know this part of the country was going to develop, that it was a good place to settle.
Why am I telling you this?
Because back then and for years to come, the road north from the Check Post Junction passed through multiple series of intersections along Histadrut Boulevard and the Haifa-Akko road with aggravating stop lights interrupting the flow of traffic. It seemed to take forever to travel along the route from Haifa to Nahariya. And it didn’t matter whether you drove your own car or took public transportation, riding on a bus or in a shared taxi—in a sherut—anywhere along that road. It was always a tiresome route to travel.
If you traveled that route in those days—well, actually beginning well before those days and then for several years more (I don’t remember how many more)—you couldn’t help but notice that there was a singular looking woman who walked that route, sometimes from Nahariya to Haifa, sometimes the other way around, just about every day.
I know that countless times when we found ourselves waiting at those traffic lights, my wife and children and I would see that woman—my children called her “the lady who walks”—either striding along the side of the roadway or boarding a bus.
She carried a large colorful soft cotton shoulder bag. I asked myself what was in the bag and figured maybe sandwiches and a water bottle. She wore a big floppy straw hat and flowing blouses and long skirts that didn’t quite conceal her footwear. She wore white sneakers.
She looked to be in her mid-fifties or early sixties. I don’t know why I thought that. Perhaps it was because she was thin and a bit bent over as she boarded buses, although as she walked along the side of the road her posture was erect and her pace was steady and strong. Perhaps it was also because she wore bright red lipstick that made her face look pale with an older person’s skin. In any case, she wasn’t a young woman.
She was the subject of endless speculation. By me and my family. By friends of ours. Once she was even featured in a magazine article in a local weekend newspaper.
She’s a Holocaust survivor who is crazy, unable to handle the loss of her family during World War Two. Two of her sons were killed in an automobile accident and that’s what makes her crazy. Those were the recurring speculative guesses at what made her walk those many kilometers over and over, in summer and winter, no matter what the weather.
You had to be crazy to do that, right? No one questioned that. We were all sure of it.
I never found out exactly who she was or why she walked and walked and walked from Nahariya to Haifa, from Haifa to Nahariya. I subscribed to the idea that she was obsessed, unable to get past whatever it was that had happened to her and her loved ones.
There came a time—I think it was in the early 1990’s, but I’m not certain when it was—when I realized I hadn’t seen the lady who walks for some time. She was no longer walking the route, no longer a part of the peoplescape as you drove along Histadrut Boulevard and the road north to Akko and Nahariya.
In my life, I’d only observed one other person who walked like that, back and forth, every day. That had been years before I would witness the obsessive walking of the lady who walked. It was back when I was a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces during my earlier time as a new immigrant in Israel in the early 1970’s.
Thinking about the lady who walked made me recall him—the man who walked—and when I had seen him striding along a very different roadway. That roadway was at the entrance to the town of Jericho.
The man who walked didn’t walk nearly as far as the lady who walked did. He walked only a few kilometers in each direction.
Even though I never saw him leaving from his starting point or arriving at his destination, I was pretty sure I knew where he was coming from and where he was going.
Like the lady who walked, he walked with a steady, strong, even relentless pace. Unlike her, he never stopped, never boarded a bus or a taxi. There just weren’t all that many vehicles he could have boarded even if he’d wanted to. He just kept going, moving, moving, moving.
He was an Arab man in full Arab traditional dress from the kefiya on his head to his robes, his galibiya, tied with a rope-like belt around his middle, to his sandals.
Judging from the direction he came from, I believed he lived in one of the refugee camps just south of Jericho and I assumed he was making his way to the center of Jericho to work during the day.
I used to see him when I pulled early morning guard duty at the Mishtara, the police compound (the old fortress from British Mandate times), that served the IDF as its main administrative base in the Jericho area.
It was just before I completed my three-hour watch when I would see him. He passed by every day, walking north at precisely 5:45. I used to check my wristwatch. It was always 5:45 and I knew my relief would replace me in fifteen minutes.
I thought the precision of the man who walked was extraordinarily uncharacteristic for the Levant. That’s another reason why he made such an impression on me.
This man never looked right or left, never glanced over at me at my guard post only a few meters away from the roadway, just looked straight ahead and flowed forward in his traditional robes.
Like the lady who walked, he appeared to be in his fifties or sixties. Again, it was his face that led me to believe he was not a young man. And he was thin like her.
I guess daily walking back and forth can do that for you, keep you thin.
Thinking back on these two walkers—the crazy Jewish lady with the bright red lipstick and pale skin that everyone assumed was a survivor of one trauma or another and the persistent and precise Arab refugee in kefiya and galibiya—I have often wondered what lesson I need to learn from their walking, walking, walking.