"Are we really going then?" Dan sipped his coffee and regarded me with mild interest. It was 8:15 am and we were sitting at our new coffee place in the little shopping center in Arad.
The past three days of Passover cleaning had really done me in. My 14 year old had almost finished the job. And now I had to go shopping for the last big push before the cooking ritual was to begin.
The preferred venue for those Orthodox shoppers who are "in the know" -- and who are willing to brave the bus or who have access to a car -- is the "Zol Po" (Cheap Here) supermarket in Beersheva. It is one of the few places here in the south where I can find meat with the proper kosher supervision, without it costing me the life of my last-born child. I dreaded the trip, knowing how much I had to buy and how little strength I had left to carry it, but I had no choice.
"Yes. I have to drop off my husband's dry cleaning and then we will catch the bus."
"Right. Then I will go to buy my newspaper and meet you at the station.
The trip to Beersheva went smoothly. Zol-Po was another matter.
"What IS this??? Is this a normal way to behave???? DON'T PUT YOUR HANDS ON ME!!"
Pre-Passover gets everyone, and the hareidi man in one of the checkout lines was no exception. We could hear him as we walked into the store, screaming, gesturing wildly, with two shorter, smaller men trying to calm him down. He didn't want to be calmed. I headed down the first aisle. Dan went down the next one.
One hour later with shopping cart piled high, it finally got to me too. The fibromyalgia I had been fighting off caught up with me and I sagged against the cart, feeling totally drained. I knew I had to find a place to sit down, fast.
"Where's Dan?" I muttered. I could not see him anywhere. "Look outside," I told myself. "He probably finished a long time ago and is hanging out reading the paper." Which he was. I congratulated myself for my acumen and asked him to come and help with the cart at the checkout counter. Just as we got there, my legs gave out.
"I need a chair," I told a worker. She pointed to an empty cashier's chair and I gratefully sank down, putting my head on the counter in front of me. The world was spinning and I could not move my body at all. Everything hurt.
"Drink some water," the worker urged. "Here, give her this," the cashier at the next counter said. Someone handed me a cold diet Sprite. "Drink, mamaleh," she urged. "Drink." I drank.
Dan had meanwhile taken control of the checkout situation.
I was miserable, feeling guilty for having dragged him all the way to Beersheva only to have to do my work for me. He ignored me, placidly packing the groceries into the bags. The woman behind him started nagging the cashier. "Can't you move it a little faster?" she demanded, baby carriage up against Dan's legs. "I'm in a hurry."
"This man is almost finished," the cashier soothed her.
"Well, can't you just ring up the rest of his things??"
The cashier gestured to the chaos on her counter. "There is no room to do that yet. These things need to be packed first." Israeli checkout counters are the smallest in the world, serving a population with large families and short tempers. It is not a good combination.
"Just push them over," the woman persisted. The baby gurgled happily.
Now the cashier ignored her, but finally Dan could not.
"I, too had to wait in line. Have some patience," he counseled her.
"Well I am in a VERY big hurry," she snapped back.
"So am I," he replied shortly. And turned his back, sliding me a glance. One corner of his mouth lifted ever so slightly.
I was amazed and, I confess, perversely pleased. Dan never loses it. I envy him that. But today he finally allowed his Israeli side to see the light of day and it was a pleasure to watch. Half the bottle gone, I straightened up slowly and handed it back to the cashier. "Take some more," she said. I shook my head. "Sure?" I nodded. She smiled.
My groceries came to exactly what I had left, minus the paper goods, plastic plates, bowls, "silverware", cups and shredded coconut. Now we had two full shopping carts -- and Dan's contention that he could carry everything vanished suddenly.
"We are never going to be able to get this to the bus," I groaned. "What are we going to do?"
"I wondered when this might occur to you," Dan said. "Other than the meat, we did not need to buy all this here. We could have gone to the Mega store in Arad." (That had been his first choice for this trip, which I had nixed because I could not get my meat, chicken and havdalah candle there.) I reminded him that the prices were 30% cheaper here, and I was buying for 14 people, not two. "Right," he agreed.
We headed to the door, me wondering what to do and Dan drifting ahead unconcerned. "Don't worry. We will just wheel the things over to the bus."
That stopped me in my tracks. "You can't do that." I was appalled. "The carts belong to the store. They will never let you do it."
"I don't think they can stop us," he said calmly.
"Of course they can!!" I could not believe we were having this conversation. "The security guard will stop you. They will kill us and we will not have our groceries." I was exhausted, in a lot of pain and frantic.
"Don't worry," he repeated with quiet confidence. (Dan does everything quietly. I have no idea how.) And he sailed on through the door and just pushed the carriage toward the bus station nearby. As I neared the sidewalk, a young man greeted me warmly. He is a nice guy who accepts spare change from people as they leave the store. For very little indeed, he had always helped me with my packages, unloading the cart and placing them carefully on my arms so I could walk to the bus station in relative comfort.
This time I was in trouble and I knew it. I also knew that perhaps he could help us out. "Can I ask you a favor?" I appealed. "I need to get these things to the bus station and there is no way I can carry it all, and neither can my friend. Can you perhaps come with us and then return the shopping carts for us?"
Big grin. "No problem!" He took the cart from me and started after Dan, who was already way ahead of us. "Why didn't you pack it into boxes?" he asked me. "That would have been easier to take on the bus." It had not occurred to me, of course. There was no way I could carry even one box, let alone four.
He could see I was a novice. "Look," he said patiently. "You pack the groceries into the boxes. You put the boxes into the cart. You take it to the bus station and you load it into the baggage compartment under the bus. (Oh, THAT was what those large doors were for!) Then either you take it back to the store, or someone else does it. That's what I do." He grinned again. "And sometimes I don't." He stopped at a kiosk and grabbed a few boxes. "Take more! Take as many as you want!" the girl at the counter laughed.
"You take the boxes and go to the bus," he ordered. "I will get the groceries and your friend and I will pack them. Then I will put them into the baggage compartment." I went to the bus, arms heaped with boxes. "Thank G-d," I murmured. The bus driver was our friend from the morning run. He leads trips to North America every year and enjoys telling me about them in English. He was the one who helped me carry my six-foot curtain rods onto his bus three days ago. I was relieved to see him hurrying over to me now.
"Do you need help?" He looked concerned.
I wasted no words. "Yes."
He opened the big heavy baggage doors and then emptied my hands. I love this guy.
Meanwhile our friend from Dimona was packing more boxes as Dan handed him the groceries. The friend handed off to our bus driver, who lifted them into the baggage compartment. What a team.
When we got to Arad, our driver wanted to know how we were getting to my house with all those groceries. I told him I would probably have to take a taxi. "Hm. Well, let's see. It's 1:45 now. I do the Number One route at 3:30.... it's a bit of a wait, but...."
I was touched. Here he was in the middle of a work day, worrying about how I would get my groceries home. This really happens only in Arad. I can remember a time when it would have happened almost anywhere in Israel, but in today's hustle-bustle world, only Arad has retained that intimate quality of everyone helping each other get by.
"Thanks," I said. "It'll be okay. My daughter is working as the dispatcher today. I will call her and tell her to send someone over." He looked relieved. He knows I have fibromyalgia and I could see that was on his mind.
Back in the taxi, I asked Dan how he had known we could just walk those shopping carts away from the store like that.
"I saw everyone else doing it," he replied. "No one gave it a thought."