The Most Exciting Moment of Alma’s Life
A nostalgic story I wrote almost twenty-five years ago. | Fiction | Fresh Soup
I wrote this text almost thirty years ago, for a comic book spread that the comic artist Rutu Modan and I published in a local Israeli newspaper. It was just after I broke up with my girlfriend. At the time, I had the feeling that now that she was gone, I would never meet an uncaged lion again. Who could have imagined back then that I'd get married and have a child with one?
The most exciting moment of Alma’s life occurred in the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo when she was not even seven years old. The Russian cage cleaner, later revealed to be an alcoholic, left a cage open and its resident used the opportunity to go out for a morning stroll.
And so Alma, who was waiting for her mother outside the zoo’s whale-shaped bathrooms, found herself standing less than thirty feet from an African lion who answered to the name of Charlie. After a second of awkwardness, Alma smiled at the lion, who smiled back as he continued to move closer to her. Just when he was near enough for Alma to touch his mane, her mother, who had come out of the bathroom, gave a small cry and fainted.
The most exciting moment in Tsiki’s life was when he proposed to Alma. His hands were all sweaty and the rhymed proposal he had prepared didn’t come out as funny as he thought it would. When he was done, she gave him the little smile she always gave when she was really stressed. Looking at her clenched lips, Tsiki was sure she was racking her brain for some non-insulting way to say “no.” But what she finally said was “why not,” which is not as clear-cut as “yes,” though it was enough to make Tsiki’s heart do a somersault in his chest.
There’s something slightly unfair in life. And I’m not talking about the botched abortion Alma had in high school that left her unable to have children. I’m talking about Alma and Tsiki’s most exciting moments. It’s a little unfair that their most exciting moments in life didn’t overlap, not to mention that they happened so long ago that there’s really nothing to look forward to. Sure, Alma can still fantasize about what her life would have been like if her mother hadn’t appeared at the moment she met the lion. And Tsiki must definitely have moments when he wonders what would have happened if Alma had turned him down. But those questions, of course, are purely hypothetical.
Though for Alma, it’s not just a question. Sometimes she actually dreams about what happened at the Biblical Zoo. Her hair is in braids and the lion stands so close that she can feel his warm breath on her face. In some of the dreams, the lion rubs up against her in a friendly way; in others, he opens his mouth and roars, and then she usually wakes up terrified. So one could say that as long as she keeps dreaming, that moment hasn’t completely passed. But dreaming, with all due respect, is not exactly living.