On the night before his flight to Israel, the Interpreter of dreams and maladies watched the Ukrainian national anthem sung in Yiddish, and Katyusha in Chinese, on YouTube. His Facebook handle was “Interrrnationalist.” With three Rs.
Two hours later, he had one of his usual nightmares. He ran through a brick-walled labyrinth. A flight attendant was close on his heels with a Turkish kinjal. She ran fast in spite of her high heels.
In the morning, the Interpreter posted an elaborate reflection on his dream on Facebook. He received eight likes, with various emoji, but one female friend called him a misogynistic Zionist and a creep. Before he was able to reply that some people are dying to be perpetually outraged, and that he feels sorry for them, she unfriended and blocked him.
Two days later, the Interpreter walks alone on the gravel path toward the shrine in Bahá’í gardens in Haifa, up the side of the Mount Carmel. It’s easier for him to keep his balance on gravel than on the asphalt. It’s so hot in here. He almost sweats, though he’s thin. He wears a sensible floppy hat, cotton pants and cotton short-sleeved shirt. His sneakers are size 14. Tourists like him are few.
A gaggle of Arab kids on a school trip runs in the opposite direction. He can’t tell the difference between them and the Jewish kids. He knows they can.
On the last workday before the trip, the Interpreter was interpreting (what else?) for an old patient, even older than himself. At work, he was a medical interpreter, with a small “I.”
“You speak Russian so beautifully,” the patient said, smiling at him through the doctor’s office iPad. “Are you based in Moscow? I’m a Muscovite myself, but I live in Chicago now.”
The Interpreter worked from his home office in Boston, via his camera-equipped computer, but he wasn’t supposed to discuss that, so he only smiled.
“I’ll be discharged from the hospital soon,” she said. “To my home in heaven.”
The Interpreter dutifully repeated her word in English. He wasn’t supposed to add anything personal. He was supposed to be transparent, and use personal pronouns for both the doctor and patient. Like this:
Doctor: “When was the last time you menstruated?”
The Interpreter: “The last time I menstruated was thirty years ago.”
Doctor: “Did you have any abortions?”
The Interpreter: “I had two.”
Now, in Haifa, the Interpreter stumbles. He drops his sunglasses case. Before he bends through his arthritis, a girl picks up the case, turns toward the Interpreter and hands it to him. The Interpreter remembers that the tour guide told him to talk to people only in English or Hebrew. The Interpreter rushes through his meager ration of Arabic words. “Shuhran,” he says. Only then he remembers the Hebrew word for thank you. “Toda.” Too many languages to memorize.
On the last workday, the doctor told the old woman that he had to give her a physical exam.
“I have to give you a physical exam,” the Interpreter said dutifully, in Russian.
The old woman stumbled. Then she laughed. “How will you do that? You’re inside the box.”
The Interpreter wanted to say that he’s always outside the box. But that would pierce his invisibility cloak. So he just soldiered on. He wished he could post this encounter on Facebook, but he was afraid it would breech the woman’s confidentiality.
In the morning, he wrote it down, in English. English was his language of nightmares. Yet the flight, on a Turkish airline, was uneventful. Security even screened the flight attendants for sharp objects.
Now, in Haifa, he snaps pictures with his digital SLR. The green living arches, the white concrete vases, the gold-and-black wrought-iron gates. He can post that on Facebook.
Bahá’í faith keeps its garden open to all regardless of religion, or anything else. Just like America, cough, cough, cough. Just like Facebook. Except that Facebook can be vicious. Unless you want to remain invisible, which he can not.
The Interpreter keeps walking up the hill. They say the heavens are closer in Israel. If he keeps walking, he will get there before his appointed time. The Facebook people wouldn’t notice. They’d think he blocked them. People often misinterpret other people and get outraged and combative easily. It’s hard to disarm them, but he can try kindness.