ALEX The Beginning

The Beginning

 

     London was cold and gray, but what could they have expected for mid-February. Alex and Pearla had only nine hours to spend in this city before they would board a plane again and resume their journey to Israel. It was a long flight from L.A. to London, and now it felt good for both women to get some movement. They took the Tube from Heathrow to London’s West End and got off at Piccadilly Cross station. Cold air hit Alex’s face and gave her body an electric jolt. Too many years coddled by L.A.’s great weather had not prepared her for this ferocious winter attack. Shivering in her layered cashmere sweaters and a wool skirt, she thanked God she had listened to her mom and worn her UGG boots. Pearla, on the other hand, completely resistant to the chill, was ready to go north to Scotland after their visit to Israel.

     Alex looked around, remembering this part of town from when she’d come here many years ago. Now it seemed like a lifetime had passed from her days of attending a Vidal Sassoon hair school and renting a flat for a month. That world was long gone, covered in cobwebs somewhere deep in Alex’s unconscious. At first look London hadn’t changed much___ it still looked gray, snobby, and unwelcoming___ but as they walked up the street, it seemed as though the city that didn’t know anything about good food had gone through a magical transformation. Whereas before the word “coffee” would bring a questioning look to almost anyone’s face, now sophisticated coffee houses sprang from every corner. Scrumptious desserts that made her mouth water adorned the window displays, hypnotizing the people walking by. This metamorphosis stunned Alex, remembering how she couldn’t wait until teatime to get some proper gem and cucumber sandwiches to satisfy her gourmet cravings.  They were getting hungry and both would not have minded a hot cup of coffee. Pearla pointed to a cappuccino café across the street, and Alex, smelling the marvelous coffee aroma, hastily agreed. It was a great choice. Pearla’s incredible intuitive gifts paid off even in such trivial everyday things as picking the right café.

     They had seven hours left to play before they had to return to the airport to continue their journey. As the steaming coffee rapidly warmed Alex, she began to take in the reality of being halfway to Jerusalem, and the mystical circumstances that had brought the two women together on this trip. It just did not seem real; everything that had happened in the past month and a half, the pure and powerful interference of spirit into the chain of events, had left her breathless and speechless, and all she could do at this point was go with the flow. She smiled at her friend, who was eying the fabulous desserts in a glass case, and ordered a double espresso with something scrumptiously chocolate.

     Alex had been introduced to Pearla a few years back by a friend who, like Alex, had lost a parent. She still remembered the first time they’d met: Alex was expecting an older, witchy-looking woman, so when the door opened and a healthy, fit, brilliantly blue-eyed goddess greeted her, she was surprised. Pearla’s exceptional skills as a medium and a sensitive impressed Alex, but it was her no-nonsense, perfectly balanced, down-to-earth demeanor that made Alex feel she was in the right place.

     That was a few years ago. With only a few meetings since then, they didn’t know one another very well, maybe only intuitively, and now they were traveling halfway across the world together, sipping coffee and eating sweets on a winter’s day in London. It was a bit awkward for Alex, as it probably was for Pearla, to travel with a person she hardly knew, let alone to such a faraway land. Israel was a special place for Alex, a place of mystical origin that she had waited all her life to see, but something had always stopped her; something had always not worked out.

     When Alex was little, living in Moscow, she would have strange dreams about a faraway place called Yarushalayim. She would wake up and excitedly run to her mother.

“Mama, mama. I saw Yarushalayim, and a great big palace, and a prince.” Alex would pull on her sleepy mom.

“Where did you hear about Yarushalayim? Who told you about it?” Polina would ask her. She didn’t seem worried about the prince or the palace. It was the word Yarushalayim in ‘60s Russia that probably made her feel somewhat uneasy.

“I saw it in my dream.”

Polina was always bewildered by her daughter’s dreams, because there was nowhere in Soviet Russia, either on TV or in a school system, she would have heard of Jerusalem.

     When Alex got older and the family immigrated to the States, she learned about Israel and Jerusalem. She found out that the city was called Yarushalayim in ancient times and began to understand her mother’s bewilderment. She dreamed about traveling to Israel and even tried to arrange a trip, but it didn’t work out, so when her friend Matthew asked her to go with him and his son a few weeks before her birthday in December, Alex knew that her dream had finally come true. She was also writing a novel about King David and Bathsheba, and she hoped being in the place of her hero would help her overcome the writer’s block that wouldn’t go away.

“Wow, God has smiled at me,” she thought the day Matthew made reservations for a hotel in Jerusalem. She had truly believed that this man was her angel, until three weeks ago when Matthew had called her and told her that he’d made a mistake when he’d invited her, and he no longer wanted her to go.

     But now Alex and Pearla were sitting together in a small Italian café on a cold, gray February day in London, sipping their coffees and thinking about where to go next. The prospect of going for a long walk in the cold didn’t exactly excite Alex, but they were finished with their coffee and sweets and couldn’t spend the remaining hours just sitting in this lovely café.

      This part of town looked kind of familiar to Alex, though when she’d been here before, she’d walked around without any feelings of excitement. This area, this city, was distant to her. London had never felt like a place where she belonged. She’d never experienced a true connection, so she hadn’t felt sad when it came time to leave. She remembered that the Ritz was close by and suggested they visit it for tea later on. The dampness and cold went to the bone, making them shiver as they made their way through the streets. Alex noticed that there were chocolate stores on every block; maybe that was what kept Londoners warm on cold winter nights, a nice piece of chocolate, she thought.

     They made their way toward the smaller streets, and as they turned a corner, they saw the Ritz. It didn’t seem as grand to Alex now as it had so many years ago when she was young and childish and things like that impressed her. A bright blue Rolls was parked outside, its driver relentlessly polishing the hood. Without a word, they smiled at each other, knowing how little it meant to either one. The street curved and turned into Old Bond Street, which was crowded with the best stores one could dream of, a woman’s paradise. Chanel, Cartier, Prada, to name a few, were lined up there, proudly pushing their beautifully finished window displays, seeming to whisper seductive sweet nothings to the unsuspecting ladies and gentlemen passing by. These powerful subliminal suggestions were very hard to refuse, but Alex had seen all this very early in life. Her parents, although not rich, made sure she saw, wore, and tasted the best of everything. She wasn’t spoiled as some might have thought; she could enjoy the good things in life without being dependent on them.

     Pearla stopped at one of the windows and stood there mesmerized. A huge emerald necklace, worthy of a queen, was lying on a black velvet, shimmering from the light reflecting on its surface. Alex laughed as she approached her friend, who by now was imagining this huge stone on her neck, being led by a gentleman in tails to the dance floor for a waltz.

“It’s beautiful, but let’s keep moving before we freeze our delicate southern- California asses off,” Alex said as she turned.

“But …” Pearla started to protest, but stopped in mid-sentence when she saw the next window full of shimmering diamond rings hanging like snow flakes in the air. They were in precious -stone heaven, each lost in a fairytale.

     Not feeling the chill because of their excitement, the two women kept walking the old street with its pompous facades that still had the exaggerated arrogance of an almost forgotten time. They approached a small jewelry store with a doorman dressed in heavy red wool tails and a top hat. He held open the door, giving Alex an opportunity to enter. Inside a golden light gently flowed over the priceless antiques that decorated the exquisite store. The salesman, dressed in a black, perfectly tailored suit and a bow tie, was helping a woman in her sixties, who was dressed in a fine cashmere coat with a cream mink collar. She tightly clutched a Hermes bag in her gloved hands.

“Wow,” Alex heard on her right. “Wow, wow, wow.” She turned and then froze. She has seen diamonds big and small, flawless and flawed. Never having been attracted to jewelry as many other women were, she hadn’t even wanted an engagement ring from her ex-husband, but this was something not of this world.

    It was a huge yellow diamond heart, emanating magnificent rainbow spectrum that left Alex bewitched. Her mouth flew open and she looked at Pearla, whose mouth was doing the same. The cutter of this incredible piece of art was obviously a master magician telling a tale of mystical love with such passion that its million prisms burst out, “I am the one! I am your heart!“ Alex was taken aback. The heart reminded her of something or someone, but she was not sure of what or whom. She closed her eyes for a moment and asked the crisp, cold air to clear her mind. Breath in and breath out, she thought to herself, but as her breath grew more and more relaxed, her mind started to float.

     She could see herself standing in front of this same store, looking at the diamond in disbelief. Then she felt a presence behind her. It was a familiar feeling, a feeling she had had many times before, anticipation so powerful she felt as if she could yell with happiness. This feeling grew stronger and stronger, until she was almost drunk with it, and then she heard, “That heart would be beautiful on you.” The slightly accented voice was almost a whisper, but with the power of raw masculinity. It shook her soul to its foundation, leaving her too weak to move. Warm breath on her ear and her neck, strong arms wrapped tightly around her, everything moving without moving, lips touching her frozen cheek, burning through the cold. With difficulty she turned around, and felt her heart drop. “Mummy, mummy. A prince, Yarushalaim.” The little girl’s voice came from far away, her voice. It was as if the man she had seen in her dreams since she was a little girl had come alive and was standing in front of her. Everything about him was familiar: his face, which looked like as if it had been exposed to the sun, his tall, lean frame, which gave him a youthful appearance, but the most of all his blue eyes, which were full of love. She wanted to ask him who he was and how they knew each other, but the words wouldn’t come out, and he just stood, smiling. A moment later, her eyes flew open and he was gone.

     She realized that she just had a vision. Alex couldn’t catch her breath, and she could hardly think straight. The warmth of his breath still burned her ear, sending shivers over her body. She realized that she was still on Bond Street in London and that Pearla was so overwhelmed by the diamond that she hadn’t noticed Alex’s moment of love with empty air. It was getting dark, and even colder, bringing window-shopping to an end.

     Heathrow hhhDeciding against the Ritz and fancy teatime, and for good old English fish and chips, they stumbled upon an ancient pub. The pub was buzzing with a warm, inviting feel and the overwhelming aroma of food and beer, making their mouths water.  Both women were quite hungry and were glad to see one empty table in the corner. They made themselves comfortable and started to feel the warmth of the pub envelope their bodies. 

      When Pearla and Alex looked around, they noticed that there were mostly men and very few women in this establishment. The men were dressed exceptionally well in perfectly fitted suits and cashmere overcoats, looking very elegant and sure of themselves. They were London’s go-getters, the cream of the crop, the cigar-smoking, brandy-drinking, working upper class. And although they were all like tall, cool glasses of water (Pearla’s favorite expression for very good-looking men), none of them were appealing to either of the women.

     Alex spotted a waiter at the bar and realized she would actually have to go to him to place an order. She got up and made her way through the crowd, got the waiter’s attention, and ordered two fish and chips and two hot teas.

“Coming right up,” the waiter said, and before Alex could say thank you, there was a bill in front of her. What odd service, she thought. This never happens in the States. She paid and returned to Pearla.

     Digging into the perfectly cooked fish and chips, the two women chatted about everything and nothing. The vision of the man that Alex had had in front of the jewelry store began to fade, replaced with good-looking men drinking beer, replaced with thoughts of Matthew followed by a stab to the heart. What was she looking for? Did her soul mate even exist or was he a figment of her imagination?

     Brushing aside her thoughts, she let mind return to the pub and their destination. The idea for this trip had begun only at the end of November when she was on her way to a birthday party, her cell phone rang, and it was Matthew. Alex had met him when she was thirteen years old, during the shyest years of her life. He looked after her, a childish girl, as if he were her older brother. Their friendship blossomed over the years and had survived doomed marriages on both sides. Matthew lived in Boston and had called to talk to Alex about his coming to L.A. for her birthday in December. Happy that he was coming in a few weeks, she didn’t want to hang up. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, so she parked her car outside her friend’s house and kept talking. Since he was staying through the holidays, he promised to help her with her book. This was one of Matthew’s great qualities that had always attracted Alex, his love for books. He was a relentless reader who always had some new novel to discuss, a storyteller who would have been a great writer himself if only he’d had time. That was what he always told Alex when she opened the subject __ that he didn’t have time. Now she was just happy that he was on the other end of the line telling her his flight info.

“I can’t wait to see you.”

“Zachary and I are going to Israel February 12. I’ve wanted to take my son there for a long time, but now that he’s older, it’s going to be great for both of us”

“You are so lucky. I’ve dreamed of going there all my life, but I’ve never had anybody to go with,” Alex said, feeling a bit sad, because Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, had called out to her for many years, but she had never gone, and now she felt the need to go even more strongly. It was something she had to experience not only for herself, but for her book as well.

“Come with us.” She heard this through her thoughts and for a moment wondered if it was her imagination speaking.

“What?” She wanted him to repeat what he’d said a moment ago.

“Come with us, it would be great.”

“Yes,” she yield.  “Yes, yes, yes. But are you sure? I feel like I would be imposing. Maybe you’re saying this to be a gentleman and I’m taking advantage.”  At the same time, she was beside herself with all this, Matthew coming for her birthday and staying for the New Year and now this trip that she had been waiting for all her life. It was too good to be true.

“Are you kidding, you wouldn’t imposing. This will be the most amazing trip for all of us.”

Matthew’s voice was happy, almost as happy as Alex’s. “I’ll email you all the information so we can be on the same flight. We fly from Boston to London, with a layover of nine hours, and then to Israel. We can meet in London and go sightsee and out to dinner during the layover. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

 

“Hey, Alex, what are you thinking about? Eat your fish and chips so we can get out of here and get back to the airport.” The voice was Pearla’s, and Alex looked at her friend, snapping back to the pub. They were on a great adventure that they would remember forever, and there was no room for gloomy thoughts.

     It was getting even colder outside. They bundled up in all the warm things they had and left the pub, walking briskly to the Tube without paying much attention to the grandeur of the buildings around them. It was rush hour. They crowded onto a cramped train and heard “mind the gap.” The doors closed and the train started to move. Alex grabbed onto the handles above her head, but the people all around her kept her from falling. Their faces were gray and tired, much different from the year-round tans of Californians. These people seemed to lack liveliness. The eyes looking back at her didn’t sparkle. Alex quietly shared her thoughts about them with Pearla. It was a subject that didn’t really interest either of the women, but somehow took the edge off the uncomfortable feeling of being out of place. While they talked, more and more people got off, until there were very few left on the train, which came from underground to the surface. In the darkness of the winter evening, the neighborhoods they were traveling through became poorer and poorer. The train stopped and they heard the usual “mind the gap.” A young man with an old guitar got on the train. He was dressed in worn-out jeans and an even older jacket. He didn’t sit down, although there were lots of seats, but kept standing. He pulled his guitar close to his frail chest and began to pull softly on the strings, whispering an unrecognizable song under his breath. His singing was off-key, but something in it touched both women. It seemed that he was not singing for anyone other than an unseen spirit that only he could see. Trying his best, he went on and on with his off-key song.

“What an odd thing, “ said Alex.  “I’ve seen enough street artists in New York subways, but here he’s just out of place.”

“Can you imagine if his name was David?” Something in the way this young man was singing made Pearla think of a King.

“That would be incredible.” Alex giggled. “ Than I’d write about him in my book.”

The young man stopped playing his long song, pulled out a worn hat from his back pocket, and went around the car pushing his hat in front of the few passengers still on the train. People ignored him, turning away, but as he came around to Alex and Pearla, they both pulled out whatever change they had and put it in his hat. The young man was grateful, and so was Alex for a little music to break the silence of the lifeless train. The song had dug into her mind, taking her attention to her book and the King. She had been writing for a while now, but almost every day her story would shift in a different direction, and just about every week it would take a U-turn, leaving her frustrated and confused. It was almost as if her book had a life of its own and Alex was just a part of it. She felt strongly that it was her book and the spirit behind it that had arranged the circumstances of this trip.

The train stopped“Hey, that’s us, “ Pearla said, pulling Alex to her feet.” Mind the gap.”

The doors opened and they walked out onto an almost empty platform. Heathrow was just a few flights up the escalator, and then they were in the bussing airport.

     Heathrow was an old airport, and it looked it. If someone had nostalgia for the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, this was a place to be. They walked through the security gates and went to check the monitors. Forty minutes left before boarding gave them enough time to get coffee and go to the loo. Enjoying the few minutes left before they would sit for the next five hours, they walked around the terminal until finally the plane began to board. Excitement was building in Alex’s stomach, almost like the butterflies when one is in love, but her love was for a place she had never seen and never been to. As she stepped toward the plane’s entrance, she realized that the distance to the place she had wanted to go all her life was becoming shorter and shorter. As soon as this huge steel bird lifted its wings and leaped into the night, it would be a matter of just a few hours before she would see that magical place with her own eyes. Pearla led the way through the narrow aisle to their seats.

“Here we are, those two are ours.” She put her bag down, opened an overhead compartment, and stuffed it with their warm coats and carry-on bags. They were both quite tired from walking around London all day, in addition to the time change, so after sitting back in the comfortable seats for a few minutes, the hypnotic sound of the humming motors began to make them feel sleepy.

“I’m getting some sleep as soon as we take off, or I’ll be completely out of shape when we arrive at Tel-Aviv at 5a.m.,” Pearla said, seeming to hint that her friend should follow her advice. Alex didn’t need to be talked into it; she was ready for sleep.

     As soon as the plane took off, her thoughts went back to Matthew and the help he’d offered with her book when he’d come for his visit. He had endlessly discussed the hero in the book and the nitty-gritty of a male character. Alex had listened with her mouth open, never considering that Matthew was talking about himself. She thought he was brilliant.

     The river of his thought had floated through the labyrinths of her mind as she dozed off, watching a beautiful sunset from her house high up in the Hollywood hills. Then the sky turned from bright blue to a sapphire and magenta twilight. As Alex sat looking out over the sea of lights that swallowed the city below, Leonard Cohen’s song “ Hallelujah” played on her stereo. She remembered how Matthew had driven all over L.A. looking for this CD to give her. She could see him coming out of the store smiling, telling her that he has a very special song to play for her.  He put the CD into a player and scanned through it until he found what he was looking for. He paused the music for a second, turned to Alex, and said in a mysterious voice, “This song will help you with your book.” Before Alex could ask any questions she heard, “Now I heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord, but you don’t really care for music, do you? It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift, the baffled King composing Hallelujah.” Part of the song was about King David’s love for the Lord and part of it was about his love for a woman. “He said it would help me write. “ Alex thought, as the sound of the engines hummed in the background. She covered herself with her huge cashmere scarf, and as she finally dozed off, she could see herself typing “Hallelujah” on her laptop.