Chapter One- Gavrielle
Jerusalem, British Mandate Palestine
Sunday, February 22, 1948
Ilana Rozmann kept her hands in her coat pockets as she tagged along behind her parents, on their way to lunch. The pockets were deep, allowing her to lovingly caress her swelling belly. Am I far enough along?
She wondered. Is it too late for them to try and force me to get an abortion? I have to tell them sometime. Maybe I should do it today. They wouldn’t dare make a scene in the fancy-shmancy dining room of their precious Eden Hotel.
She was astonished – and somewhat hurt – that her mother hadn’t noticed yet. To be fair, in the cold weather it was easy for Ilana to keep herself covered in loose garments. But still. How pathetic is that? You’ve only got one kid. Can’t you pay more attention than that
? In baggy beige trousers, sweatshirt, and raincoat, Ilana rambled along behind them, happily aware that she didn’t look like she belonged with them.
Tall and thin, her father, Viktor Rozmann, was an imposing and unapproachable man. His dark gray three-piece suit was expensive. A fedora hid much of his bald, bullet-shaped head. Ilana’s mother, Nella, was delicate, pretty, with softly curling blonde hair and great legs. She was also expensively clothed – tailored red raincoat over a white silk blouse and black skirt. Her high-heeled shoes and the umbrella tucked under her arm were also red. The Rozmanns were an obviously prosperous couple, living in a mostly poor city in a mostly poor soon-to-be-country, during a time of great turmoil. They strode regally down the street. Just look at the two of them. Forget about touching each other – they don’t even speak unless it’s absolutely necessary. Lou and I will never be like that
Ilana followed as they turned down Ben Yehuda Street, which was lined with the stalls of a street market. Just seventeen years old, Ilana knew she was pretty like her mother, but hoped the resemblance ended there. Ilana loved her mother, but did not approve of her.
If asked how she felt about her father, Ilana wouldn’t have known how to respond. He taught mathematics at Hebrew University, but Nella’s impressive wardrobe was paid for by the wines and liquors he imported. He always said his meetings with British officers – most of which took place far from the offices of the Mandate authorities – were strictly business, arranging import licenses, but both Nella and Ilana were aware of the rumors. The Jewish underground accused him of being a traitor, spying on his countrymen and reporting them to the British for smuggling arms and refugees into the country. In exchange, they said, the Brits helped him get rich.
Nella made an effort to believe her husband, but not because she loved him so well. It simply would have felt dishonorable to despise the man who’d saved their lives. Perched in his fancy motor car – and lost – he’d come roaring into the tiny Polish town where Nella’s family lived and slammed on the brakes. He leapt out of the car and bowed slightly at the waist before asking her how to get the hell out of there. He ended up staying a week, easily luring her back to Germany to marry him. Then a few years later he’d declared they had to leave. That nasty little corporal with the funny mustache hadn’t yet seized power, but Viktor assured his young wife that he would. And that he would do exactly what he’d written in Mein Kampf
“But why to Palestine?” Nella wailed. “Why can’t we go to America? We’re better off staying in Germany than going to some horrible desert in the Middle East.”
Viktor patiently explained that he didn’t have any connections he could bribe for visas to the United States. Then he lost his temper and ordered her to pack, which she did, throwing things into cases, resentful and angry. From that and other decisions Viktor had made over the years, Nella had learned to trust his instincts. No matter what people said about him, he was a smart man. It was almost like he could smell whatever was coming.
Viktor stopped abruptly and Ilana almost collided with him. “I have a meeting to go to,” he said to his wife, tapping his watch. “In that apartment building right down there.” He pointed. “It won’t take but a few minutes. You two wander around, see what kind of rubbish they’re selling today.”
Nella nodded, her expression blank.
Ilana watched silently as her father entered the building of weathered Jerusalem limestone. So people call him a rat, so what? What do they know? If they really thought that was true, someone from the Irgun would have grabbed him off the street by now
. Ilana had chosen to remain oblivious, neither defending nor condemning him. And he made enough money that the kids at school whispered the dirty secrets behind her back, never daring to shout them to her face. Anyway, that was the last thing on her mind now.
She closed her eyes and tilted her face up to the soothing winter sun. Seven weeks. In just seven weeks I’ll have a little baby to take care of.
That’s what they’d told her at the clinic that morning. I hope it’s a little baby girl. It has to be a girl.
Then she cringed, imagining telling her parents – and not only that she was pregnant. When they started grilling her about the father, she’d have to admit that she didn’t even know his last name or have any way to get in touch with him. Ima will probably drag me into the ladies room, to shout all the things she can’t say in front of him
“How could you be so stupid?” she’ll say. “It’s bad enough that I –” Ilana assumed her mother would catch herself, wouldn’t actually say, “It’s bad enough that I had to go and ruin my life.” But she probably would say something like, “I was a yokel, an ignorant village girl. But you? You’re modern, educated. You know better.”
Ilana would feel like an idiot, having to admit that she didn’t know where the father was or how to contact him. It was always Lou who found his way to her when he could, which wasn’t often. She’d been dismayed by her own stupidity when she first found out she was pregnant and realized she had no idea what his last name was, or who he worked with. Even so, she had no regrets. I love Lou and he loves me. He’ll come back as soon as he can. After all, these are not normal times, with the British planning to leave and all those millions of Arabs waiting to pounce.
Nella turned to her daughter. “I’m going to see what kind of scarves that man over there is selling.”
Ilana nodded in response and pretended to be interested in the store window behind her. The growl of an approaching British armored car broke into her thoughts and she turned to watch it crawl down the street, followed by three British army trucks. They passed her in a cloud of fumes and she turned her face back up to the sun.
Then the world changed. She would never remember hearing the blast or feeling herself propelled through the plate glass window. The men who found her lying in the shop, unconscious and covered in blood and shards of glass, considered it a miracle that she still had a pulse. The shop next door had been totally demolished and the front walls of the entire block of buildings had collapsed into mountains of rubble. The air was thick with clouds of dust and smoke. Her rescuers didn’t wait for a stretcher. They grabbed her ankles and underarms and carried her back toward King George Street, in the hope that ambulances would soon begin arriving. They left her there and ran back down Ben Yehuda to search for more survivors. Half an hour passed before Ilana was transported by car to Bikur Holim hospital. A woman doctor was examining her when she briefly opened her eyes and said, “I’m pregnant.”
“Yes, I know.” The doctor smoothed her hair. “I just heard the heartbeat. You’ve been badly hurt, but your baby is still alive. Now you’re safe, where we can take care of you, get you strong enough to keep it that way.” The nurse lulled Ilana back into unconsciousness.
Doctors came from other hospitals to study her case. “This young woman had such serious injuries that no one believed she would survive – and yet it seems she is going to carry a healthy baby to term.” She was in pain and sedated most of the time, but occasionally woke for long enough to exchange a few words with the nurses. She insisted she was carrying a baby girl.
“Her name is Gavrielle,” Ilana whispered. “She’s my guardian angel. She’s keeping me alive.”
Neither of Ilana’s parents came looking for her. Weeks after the bombing, a woman with a clipboard informed her that her father’s body had been pulled from the rubble and identified. But the name Nella Rozmann did not appear on any of the casualty lists.
“So why hasn’t she come to see me?”
“Maybe she hasn’t been able to find anyone who knew where they’d taken you. You can’t imagine the chaos on Ben Yehuda that day. Three trucks packed with explosives. Close to sixty dead, two hundred wounded. The whole street was a pile of ruins. The rescue teams were busy digging out survivors, not making lists.”
“But I’ve been here for a long time, haven’t I?”
“Yes you have, honey.” The nurse started to repeat a story about someone who’d suffered from amnesia and hadn’t been reunited with his family for months after a bombing. But Ilana had already drifted away.
Days later the beeping machine connected to her flat-lined. The baby wasn’t due for another three weeks, but a doctor held his stethoscope to her belly and ordered, “Get her into an operating room. Now!” Only after the caesarean birth of what was indeed a baby girl did he pronounce Ilana dead.
“Poor little girl.” The nurse rocked the baby. “Poor little Gavrielle. You would have loved your ima
. She was a real sweet girl and you were all she cared about.”
The nurse called the police and asked them to report this birth and death to whoever was in charge of identifying and reuniting victims of the bombing at the street market. The hospital staff kept tiny Gavrielle as long as they could, but all the wards were appallingly overcrowded, as were the city’s orphanages. So Gavrielle was sent to the only place that had room for her – a small orphanage run by Catholic nuns.
Campus of the Technion, slopes of Mount Carmel
Sunday, July 30, 1967
It was the woman’s haircut that caught Gavrielle’s attention – cropped short into a feathery brown cap, à la
Mia Farrow. It emphasized her striking cheekbones and large brown eyes. She stood just inside the entrance to the cafeteria, scanning the tables, obviously looking for someone.
“After you graduate, I’m hoping you’ll choose to join us,” Jesse was saying and Gavrielle refocused her attention on him, unsure she had understood him correctly.
He was soft-spoken and hard to hear over the clatter of dishes and loud voices. He was wearing his green uniform, three bars on each shoulder. He must have an army staff meeting to go to,
she thought, since guest lecturers from the military didn’t normally teach in uniform. She had both hands around her Styrofoam cup of coffee, but somehow managed to slop some of it on the white Formica tabletop.
“Oh! Sorry. What a klutz.” She accepted the paper napkins he held out and soaked up the brown liquid. “You don’t have to bother trying to recruit me. I’m an atudait
,” she said, referring to the program that allowed students to defer their army service until they got their degree – with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) heavily subsidizing their tuition – and then use their skills and knowledge in service of the IDF.
“I know. I’ve got a file on you.” He raised his eyebrows and leaned forward, teasing. Then he retreated, serious again. “I wasn’t trying to convince you to join the army in general. I meant I want you in my unit. We’re part of the research department, specialize in technology. Intelligence Branch gets first pick of the Technion’s students and we like to get you involved early, during your studies. If you’re interested, I could steer you toward the type of research projects that would be relevant for us.”
Gavrielle took a sip of coffee while she wondered if there was any non-professional reason for this offer. There were so few women studying at the Technion that she’d gotten used to an extraordinary – and unwelcome – amount of male attention. She glanced over at him. Tall, thin, sandy curls, green eyes. He was an attractive man. Just not my type
, she thought regretfully. The problem was, she didn’t seem to have a type. She’d never had a boyfriend. Never felt drawn to any guy that way.
But she was thrilled at the prospect of working with Jesse. He’d taught one of her classes and come in as a guest speaker in others. She’d had only a few brief conversations with him, after class and when their paths crossed on campus, but somehow felt comfortable with him. He was approachable – did not need to maintain distance in order to command respect. He was brilliant, engaging, and good-natured. The type of commanding officer she could only hope for. One she could trust and admire, without being afraid of him. The only thing she would fear was not being like him. Worthy of him. She looked into his face. No, there was no ulterior motive. Jesse wasn’t like that.
“So, are you to blame for all the psychological tests they’ve been giving me?” she asked.
He smiled and nodded.
“They decided I’m not crazy? Or maybe you’re looking for crazy.”
“You’re just exactly the right amount of crazy.” He held his thumb and forefinger in an O, before pushing his chair back and standing. “You don’t have to decide now. I just wanted you to know that the offer is on the table. We’re aware of your situation at home … with your grandmother and all … But unless you want to reconsider and ask for an exemption from service – which you would get, by the way – you’re eventually going to have to work out a solution.”
“I don’t want an exemption,” Gavrielle said hurriedly and a bit too loudly, as if afraid he was about to whip one out of his shirt pocket.
“Okay, then –”
“Gavrielle? Are you Gavrielle Rozmann!?” The woman from the doorway was standing at Gavrielle’s side. “I apologize.” The woman looked at Jesse. “I’m sorry to break in on you …”
He held up both palms and backed away. “I was just leaving. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Gav.”
Gavrielle clumsily got to her feet and turned to face the thirty-something woman she had noticed earlier. She wore a simple black and white print shirtwaist dress, no make-up, and a silver filigree necklace around her neck. Elegant simplicity
, Gavrielle thought, aware of her own faded jeans and T-shirt.
“Yes, I’m Gavrielle.”
“I knew it had to be you. Lord, you look exactly like your mother.”
“You knew my mother?” Gavrielle whispered the question and the woman moved forward as if to embrace her.
Gavrielle took a hesitant step back. Her voice was hoarse when she asked, “Who are you?”
“I’m sorry. You must think I’m some kind of lunatic. Can we sit?”
The woman pulled her chair closer to Gavrielle’s and reached for her hand. Gavrielle did not pull it away and the woman held it in both of hers.
“You’re the image of Ilana. The absolute image. Same blonde curls. Same pretty smile.” She grew teary-eyed. “I guess I’m still acting like a crazy lady. Sorry.” She took her hands away and sat up straight. “My name’s Tonia. Tonia Amrani.”
Gavrielle’s eyes grew wide. “You’re Tonia? Tonia Shulman?”
Chapter One – Charlie
West Bloomfield Township, Michigan
Tuesday, June 4, 1974
The drive home from Ann Arbor passed quickly. The windows were rolled down and Charlie slapped the outside of the door – WXYZ was playing a marathon of Smokey Robinson’s greatest hits. He turned off West Maple Road onto the Valentis’ driveway and followed its curve around the old farmhouse. As always, he sat in the car for a long moment, taking in the view of their three acres of land – the peaceful, beautiful place he had called home for the last seven years. The shaded streets of white bread land were hardly more than half an hour’s drive from his old neighborhood in Detroit, and Charlie didn’t really understand how a black boy like him could feel as comfortable as he did in this new universe.
But he did. He never lowered his gaze when he passed all those white faces on the street. Never felt un-entitled. He didn’t get the best grades in his class because he needed to prove something to the white boys. He didn’t care what they thought of him. His successes were all for himself, Charlie Freeman. He was going to do well. It wouldn’t be many years before he’d have a home and car that he’d paid for. And maybe some day, decades ahead, Charlene and Reeves Valenti would need him just as much as he needed them. Then they would feel like a real family.
He got out and lifted his last two suitcases out of the trunk. He had brought the bulk of his belongings home on his last trip and told Charlene and Reeves not to bother coming to Ann Arbor for the graduation ceremony. He wasn’t even sure he was going to attend it. He neglected to mention that he wasn’t quite eligible for his degree yet, still owing a paper on Bernini to one of his professors.
“Oh, hi,” Charlene said when he entered the kitchen. “You sure made good time.” She was seated at the table, a bunch of papers spread in front of her. “How many times you get stopped for speeding?”
“Ha ha.” Charlie’s grandmother was at the counter chopping onions and he hurried over to give her a warm embrace. “Hey, Grandma Julie. Charlene workin’ you to the bone as usual, I see.”
“Wouldn’t have to, you ever pitched in.” Grandma Julie slapped his shoulder with a grumpy smile.
He turned to lightly pat Charlene’s head. “So white girl, what’s all this stuff?” He picked up a brochure for the Galleria Borghese. “You guys takin’ another trip to Rome?”
“No.” She craned her neck to look up at him. “But you are. If you want. Seems about time.”
“What you talkin’ about?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“Remember when you decided not to tag along on our honeymoon?” Her face split into a wide grin.
“Yeah, how I gonna forget the dumbest dumb ass idea you ever had?”
“Well, I may be dumb, but I set aside the money my dad gave us for your ticket. And now that we all know you’re destined to be a world class architect and urban planner, I think you should use it, get your skinny butt over to the Eternal City, home of the greatest-ever artists and architects. Before you meet a girl and do something stupid like get married.”
“I heard that,” Reeves said, as he clumped up the basement stairs. He set his toolbox on the table, punched Charlie’s arm, and took a beer from the refrigerator.
“How come I ain’t never heard about this ticket money before?” Charlie asked.
“I wasn’t sure we could afford to give it to you. You know how tight money has been. But since I got my job driving the Bookmobile and Rick hired me to oversee his fitness club, we’re doing okay. Once Reeves gets the wiring in the apartment over the garage fixed so we can rent it out again, we might even be able to start saving.”
“I can take a hint,” Reeves said and picked up his toolbox. “I’m going to need a hand over there in about an hour.”
“Dirty work?” Charlie asked.
“Nah, just handing me things and turning switches on and off. You don’t need to bother changing.”
“Okay, I’ll come over,” Charlie said as he seated himself at the table and started looking through all the papers. “Where you get all this stuff?”
“Turns out there’s an Italian cultural center over in Clinton Township. It’s mostly just a place to have weddings and parties, but I met a woman who’d just come back from Italy and she gave me all this information. She told me about this new school that just opened, for teaching Italian as a second language. Immersion they call it. Throw you right in. No one speaks anything but Italian. You can sign up to go for one week, two – as many as you want. I think that kind of course would be great for someone like you.”
“What the heck do I need to learn Italian for?”
“You don’t. But you’ll be there all on your own. Don’t you think it’d be a good idea to have a class to go to every morning? It’s only three hours and it’s not like you have to worry about a grade or anything. Whatever you learn, you learn. But you’d meet other young people from all over the world. Make friends to hang out with. I mean, there’s only so many hours a day you can wander around looking at buildings, no matter how beautiful they are.”
He pursed his lips and stared at her. Charlene never ceased to amaze him, the way she treated him like family. Reeves did too, but it was Charlene who had all the ideas that her husband gladly went along with. Charlie couldn’t help but wonder how much of that would change when they had kids of their own. He never asked but always wondered what was taking them so long. They’d been married for seven years.
“You hungry?” his grandmother asked.
“I can eat.”
She set a plate of rice, beans, and greens in front of him.
“Anyway, think about it,” Charlene said, gathering up her papers. “We’ve been wondering what to give you for graduation. The cost of two weeks tuition at that school is about as much as we were thinking of spending. So you’d have that and your airfare. You’d have to cover your day-to-day expenses out of your own money. Oh …” she looked at the folded newspaper she had just picked up and handed it to him. “Looky here. I forgot to show you. You got your picture in the Free Press. Some reporter started out writing an article about that Horizons program you were in at Cranbrook, but pretty much the whole article ended up being about you. Even has a picture of you with your big beautiful smile.”
He ran his eyes over it and cringed, wondering who back in Detroit might have seen this paean to his miraculous journey, from inner city to suburbia. Don’t sweat it, no one in Detroit even remembers you exist.
He tossed it back on the table. “Ain’t they got nothin’ better to write about?” He hated being “that colored boy who is doing so well.” He craved recognition as much as anyone else, but was determined to gain it for the things he
had done, not for the things someone with his shade of skin had done.
“Oh.” She brightened. “And here’s this.” She pushed another pile of material toward him. “Stuff I asked U of M to send me about their Urban Planning program. It is so
perfect for you. But it seems strange that you haven’t gotten anything from them about registering for classes. Shouldn’t you have gotten a catalogue by now?”
He shrugged and hunkered down over his plate. Probably shoulda, if I’d really registered to go there.
A year ago he had made up his mind – he was going to return to Cranbrook for graduate school. But he’d never found the courage to tell Charlene. Damn fool. I shoulda written her a letter while I was back in Ann Arbor. Wouldna had to look her in the face.
The next morning Charlie woke with a plan. He’d grown excited about the prospect of seeing Rome – and wasn’t it some kind of sign that he was writing a paper on Bernini? What better place to do it than Rome, sitting in the Piazza Navona, sipping wine or espresso, contemplating the master’s works. Two weeks sounded like a good length of time. Get there on a Thursday, have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to explore alone. Start school on Monday for two weeks. Leave to come home on Friday, after the last morning at school.
He would leave a letter for Charlene on his bed, explaining why he had no interest in studying Urban Planning. Why he wanted to keep as far away as he could from anything political. He wasn’t going to be the next Martin Luther King or Stokely Carmichael. Why would I? They already did all the work. Opened all the doors. Job of my generation is to walk through them doors. Take advantage of the opportunities. That’s the best way to honor Dr. King. I guess leaving a letter is pretty chicken, but that will give her two whole weeks to get over it. And, more important, two whole weeks with no way to talk to me.
A week later he boarded a plane for Rome. But booking the flight and registering at the Italian language school had turned out to be a lot easier than composing a letter to Charlene. He never did get around to it.
Chapter One – Rome
Monday, June 17, 1974
After three days of exploring the city alone, Charlie Freeman arrived early for his first day of class – three hours of Italian lessons, Monday through Friday mornings, at a school not far from Piazza Navona. It was a three-story building of small classrooms, with a modest cafeteria in the basement for the budget-minded. A friendly little man in Groucho Marx glasses and mustache gave Charlie a brief test to confirm his description of himself – “Ignoramus American, don’t know a single word of any foreign language” – and directed him to room 3B on the top floor.
On his way up Charlie peeked into the classrooms. They were all the same, clean and unadorned. Blackboard and small table for the teacher in the front, lots of windows, and eight to ten chairs with desk arms. In room 3B he found an earlier bird occupying one of the chair desks. A girl – or woman he should say, since she looked older than Charlie’s twenty-two years – was sitting there reading. He paused in the doorway for a better look before deciding whether to take the seat next to her. So far she hadn’t raised her eyes from her book. Not a glance. Like you don’t notice a whole human body suddenly darkening the doorway? You too snooty to say good morning?
When she did lift her chin it was to frown and bite her top lip as she stared at a fixed point on the wall, apparently reflecting on something she’d read. Then her hand flew to her chest as her head jerked toward him.
“Oh. Sorry. You startled me,” she said. “Good morning.”
Gavrielle Rozmann hadn’t actually been reading, but staring at the book thinking. Stupid, stupid, stupid – why did I think taking a class sounded like such a good idea? Now I either have to figure out how to make small talk or have everyone in the class referring to me as “that weird girl.” No, worse, “that weird Israeli girl.”
“Hi,” he responded and removed his backpack. Okay, she ain’t snotty, just really into that book. Or really frettin’ and sweatin’ on something.
He couldn’t decide how attractive she was. Girl’s got a Barbra Streisand thing going, only in a pretty way. But she sure ain’t got no Barbra Streisand wardrobe or sense of style.
Gavrielle was wearing khaki shorts, a black T-shirt with a white stripe running diagonally across its front, scuffed up hiking shoes, and no make-up. Her hair was pulled back as if for a pony tail, but clamped in a long barrette that ran vertically up the back of her head. Wispy blonde curls had escaped and surrounded her thin face, softening it. Not bad,
he decided. Sure, I’d notice her on the street. Something interesting ’bout that face.
“My name’s Charlie.” He walked over and offered his hand.
“Gavrielle,” she said and took it. Yes, he is American
She’d liked every American she’d ever met back home in Jerusalem, though one did have to make allowances for ridiculous plaid Bermuda shorts and excessive use of mayonnaise and ketchup. But how could you dislike people who were so exuberant? So trusting. Their teeth so straight and white. Ask them anything and they answer. What a wonderful luxury this generation of Americans is blessed with, being able to go through life without losing their naiveté. She stared up at Charlie, the first African-American she’d ever met. It must be different for them – they have it tough. But he sure looks like a nice, easy-going guy. Look at that smile.
Gavrielle had arrived in Rome the day before and spent the late afternoon and evening wandering, looking at beautiful buildings. It had felt lonely, as she’d known it would, which is why she had signed up for this class. Maybe it had been a good idea. This black guy in cut-off jeans and white T-shirt had managed to spark her curiosity. Wasn’t the Mad Professor always saying that a person needs someone else to think with – and sometimes it’s helpful if the other person is a stranger?
That thought immediately felt ridiculous. What are you, delusional? This place is brimming with sweet young things with hair that moves. He’s going to pick one of them for his summer romance. Why would he want to spend five minutes sitting around listening to your stupid problems?
“You look a little lonely,” he said.
“Not any more.” No, no, no. I shouldn’t have said that. Why do I always forget the way guys take things? Their internal one-track interpreter that translates every sentence and gesture to the same thing – see, she wants me. He must think I’m pathetic.
He took the seat next to her and rummaged through his pack to retrieve a notebook and pen. Then he glanced at her book, thinking that might be something they could talk about, but the words on the cover were in some strange alphabet. Persian maybe? They got blonds in Persia?
“What language is that?” He nodded at her book.
She paused before replying. “Hebrew.”
Everything about her – the way her body stiffened, her blank expression, even the way she managed to say that one word – seemed to Charlie to be all “in your face.” What bug got up her butt?
But he decided to ignore the attitude.
“Hebrew. So that means you’re from Israel?”
“What?” He stared at her. “What’s with the look? Like you’re fixin’ to punch me in the face for calling you a kike or something?”
She tilted her head to one side and raised her shoulder, the way small children do when they say, “I dunno.” What she said was, “Kike? No. That’s out. These days it’s Nazi, Fascist, oppresser, baby killer.”
He consciously put on his most boyish grin – yes, he knew he was a charmer. People told him so all the time. “Charming and disarming,” Charlene always said.
“You know,” he said, “on the whole, it’s us shvartzes
get called the names. Not the other way around.”
When Gavrielle allowed her face break into a genuine smile Charlie thought she was pretty. Sort of beautiful even, if you liked faces with character. Charlie did. But her reticence did not escape him. Okay, this chick ain’t flirting. Ain’t in the market for no fling. Least she don’t know it yet. But that’s okay. Don’t seem like hangin’ with her for a while would be a waste of time. Find out something ’bout Israel. I can do friend
Other students started straggling in and they acknowledged one another with nods. There were three college-age girls – the type Charlie always thought ought to be named Wendy, though he’d never actually met a girl named Wendy. They had varying shades of very long, very straight hair and all wore expensive outdoorsy clothes. They came in separately – didn’t seem to know each other – and each gave Charlie the same series of furtive glances. Sorry girls, but I don’t care to be on the unofficial part of your resume – the “Oh, yes, I went out with a black guy for a while” part. Bet I could nail any one of you – but I’d probably die of boredom in the process.
There were also two high school girls, obviously friends, one gray-haired woman, one guy who looked Korean or Japanese, and a blonde guy who looked like the twin of Illya Kuryakin
in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The bell rang and the teacher bustled in, radiating energy and enthusiasm.
,” she said. “Sono Francesca
.” She pointed to her chest and then stood in front of Charlie, pointing at him. “E tu?”
“Hey, I know that one,” he said. “E tu, Brute?
Francesca frantically waved her forefinger back and forth, saying, “No, no, no. Inglese non è legale
“All right, all right. How do you Eye-talians say ‘all right’?”
“Va bene. Va bene
.” Charlie imitated her.
,” she repeated, pointing at herself again. Then she added, “Sono di Roma
,” as she pointed at the floor. “E tu?”
She pointed at Charlie again.
“Sono Charlie. Sono di America.”
Francesca clapped her hands in applause and repeated the exercise with four other students.
“Molto bene. Molto, molto bene
.” Francesca beamed enthusiastically.
When Francesca started asking questions involving their mamma
Charlie grew visibly uncomfortable, all but cringing every time he had to say, “mio papà
,” or “mio mamma.”
He doesn’t like that at all,
Gavrielle thought. Wonder why
. She began hoping that when the bell rang for the break he would suggest they go get a cappuccino. But then she glanced at the American girls with their shiny hair. You can forget that. Those girls all have legs up to their necks.
But when the bell rang he leaned over. “Hey, Gay-vrielle, you feel like gettin’ some of their molto bene
“Sure. But it’s Gah-vrielle. Short a.”
They squeezed in at the counter to get their coffee, maneuvered through the noisy crowd, and shoved aside the dirty cups on one of the little round tables. “So where in America are you from?” she asked.
He might as well have said, “Mars,” the way her mouth fell open. “What?” he asked. “Somethin’ wrong with Michigan?”
“No. Of course not. It’s just …” She paused to sip her coffee. “I know someone who lived there for a while. In Grand Rapids.”
“Yeah? Nice town, Grand Rapids. My uh … foster grandfather lives there.”
So that’s why he doesn’t like saying “mio mamma” and “mio papà.” He’s like me, doesn’t have real parents
. “Are you a student?” she asked.
“Just graduated from U of M. You?”
She shook her head. “I’m way past that. I got a degree from the Technion in Haifa and then went into the army.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. I read about that. How you got women warriors over there. You drive a tank or something?”
“No,” she smiled. “They don’t take women into combat units any more.”
She thought for a moment. “The question is more why they used to. When there was no choice, they took everyone. Teen-aged boys and old men just off the boats from Europe got rifles shoved into their hands and sent onto a battlefield. Before the state, young girls and women did everything. But now … it’s a matter of … how do you say, allocating resources?”
“Yeah, that’s how we say. Don’t that piss you off?”
“No. Not at all. If I were in charge, I’d decide the same thing. It costs a fortune to train a soldier for combat, and the women are going to have children. You won’t be able to call them up for reserve duty at a moment’s notice.”
“I thought it was all about equality.”
“No.” She shook her head again. “It was never that. The IDF isn’t a social science project. It’s for keeping us alive. You spend the little money you have training the people who will do each job the best and for the longest time.”
“So what’s your job?”
“I work in intelligence.”
“No kidding? A lady James Bond?”
She smiled and shook her head. “No, nothing like that. Military Intelligence. My unit helps develop new methods of gathering information about our enemies. And I can’t tell you any more than that.”
The bell summoned them to return to class.
“Have lunch with me,” Charlie said as they rose. “So we can talk some more.”
“Thanks. That’d be great.”
“Later I was thinking of going to the Vatican, see Saint Peter’s. You up for that?” They started moving up the stairs.
“The Basilica?” she shouted to be heard above the crowd. “Yeah, sure. I’d love to.”
That was the first place she’d gone yesterday, right after she arrived in Rome and dropped her backpack off at the hostel. She’d been overwhelmed by its beauty, hypnotized by the sunlight filtering down from the tiny windows up in the dome. When a choir began singing Mass she took a seat and remained to the end, almost wishing she were Catholic. She was more than happy to go back there. Especially with this guy. He really is nice.
, Charlie thought. But I still ain’t gettin’ that vibe. I guess friends it is.