Tomer Livni shook his fists several times, as though he was holding a pair of dice and hesitated to throw them.
“You’re impossible!” he cried out. “Impossible!”
“Ha!” Dr. Raphael Livni spoke with vehemence, pointing an accusatory finger at his son. “I knew it! Oh, I knew it from the day that I begot you!”
“Do not interrupt!” the renowned philologist thundered, his bushy eyebrows wiggling in an unintentionally comical way. “Do not interrupt your father, you pugnacious puppy, you supercilious suckling, you impudent imp!”
“Dad, I’ve had it!” The younger man’s larynx emitted a piercing squawk as he hit the table with his clenched fist. “You never listen. You never care. You want everything to be your way. You’re ... you’re a self-important tyrant! Do you even love me? I doubt it! Can you love anyone besides yourself?”
Dr. Livni’s handsome, leonine face turned pale.
“Can I call this churlish offspring ‘son’?” he uttered softly, yet with solemn pathos, and immediately answered his own question: “No! I curse my loins, which –”
“– begot me; I know!” Tomer raised his hands in a gesture of exasperation. “Halas, Dad! I can’t take it anymore. I can’t!”
He stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Yael Livni put her plump hand on Tomer’s shoulder.
“Come on, Tsutsik.” She spoke with a nasal drawl, using a nickname Tomer had always loathed. “Don’t be such a donkey. You should be nice to Dad.”
She ruffled her brother’s hair affectionately, which he disliked as well.
“Yaelush, I’ve tried, I swear,” the youth replied in a quivering voice, turning away. “But you know how he can be, right? He’s just so incorrigibly stubborn and controlling ... it’s like he has a disease or something, you know? All I want is to study cinematography abroad. A reasonable wish for a grown-up person, don’t you think? I’m sixteen. Sixteen! But no, he wants me to stay in this God-forsaken city –”
“Tsutsik, don’t talk like that about Jerusalem. It’s ir ha-kodesh, a holy city...”
“Well, you see – I don’t care!” Tomer pressed his fingertips together. “I’m indifferent to all this stuff, and Dad knows that. So why is he forcing me to stay?”
“Because he wants what’s best for you.”
“Come on, Yael!” The young man’s face turned crimson with frustration. “Why are you repeating such a cliché? We both know that Dad is a manipulative, despotic –”
“Okay, Tomer, that’s enough!” There was steel in Yael’s voice. “What kind of language is that? It’s written, kabed et-avicha. Does honoring your father mean nothing to you? It’s like you aren’t even Jewish.”
“Oh, and that would be the biggest crime in the world, right?” Tomer spread his arms.
“Obviously not to someone who doesn’t give a damn about his roots.” Yael glowered at her brother.
“Roots? A tree gives a damn about its roots. Just because I happened to be born to a Jewish mother and have my bulbul circumcised –”
“– I don’t see why every decision in my life has to depend on my ethno-religious background. Honestly, Yael, you’re being such a nudnik with your holier-than-thou attitude –s”
“That’s because I, unlike you, respect my family, my traditions, my country!” Yael stomped her foot. “And my father’s will still means something to me!”
“Sababa.” Tomer stuck out his chin. “Maybe you guys should just forget about me. Maybe I’m not really part of this family.”
Before Yael could answer, he grabbed a baseball cap and walked out of the front door, letting in a gust of delightfully fresh Jerusalem air.
In a brisk pace, Tomer exited the East Talpiot neighborhood, climbing uphill on the Olei ha-Gardom street towards the Haas Promenade. Pressing down the peak of his cap to protect his eyes from the blazing Jerusalem sun, he sat down on a bench, ignoring the view of the Old City behind him. The golden Dome of the Rock glinted mysteriously, basking in the sleepy haze that enfolded the valley. Two large, gray-bellied hooded crows glided through the serene air, cawing loudly. One of them perched on the branch of a spreading acacia tree just above Tomer.
Dudi Bloedtraum and Avigail Paluli – Tomer’s best friend and girlfriend, respectively – emerged from a shiny white Subaru that had just parked near the entrance to the promenade.
“Yo, Tomernator!” Dudi mopped his brow, squinting at the sun. “I gave a lift to your sweetheart. Couldn’t stand the thought of her boarding the 78 bus. If you want me to scram, just say so.”
“No, it’s okay.” Tomer looked up. “I’m glad you’re here. I’m seriously freaking out.”
Avigail sat near her boyfriend, her large green eyes studying him attentively from below her long, thick eyelashes.
“I was in class,” she said in a husky voice and took a cigarette out of her handbag.
Tomer turned to face her.
“I told you I was seriously freaking out,” he said emphatically.
“Yes, I picked up on that when I received your text message saying I’m seriously freaking out.”
“What’s with the sarcasm? I didn’t say anything.” Tomer cast an angry glance at the crow. The bird tilted its head and cawed.
“You know what?” Avigail threw the unlit cigarette on the ground. “I think you should stop ‘seriously freaking out’.” She made air quotes with her well-manicured fingers. “I’m tired of hearing yet another story about how domineering your father is or how you can’t stand your sister’s lack of an own opinion.”
Tomer stood up.
“I’m sorry my family doesn’t meet your high standards,” he said coldly.
“What?” Avigail spread her arms and looked at Dudi. “What chutzpah! I’m skipping school to run over here like a puppy, and this tembel is throwing a temper tantrum, like he has his period or something. Do you have your period, Tomer?” She turned to her boyfriend and then to the crow, as though she was hoping the bird could give her the correct answer.
Tomer started to walk away, but Dudi caught him by the elbow.
“Come on, Tomboy. She doesn’t mean it.”
“Why are you defending her?” Tomer said quietly.
Dudi let go of his best friend’s elbow and scratched his goatee.
“Akhi, let’s cool off, okay? You’re upset. That’s no way to treat a lady.”
“Walla.“ Tomer chuckled. “What a gentleman. What a knight in shining armor. A regular Lancelot.”
Dudi Bloedtraum’s face darkened. He pushed Tomer in the chest with both hands.
“Do you have a problem? Huh?” He waggled his hand right in front of his friend’s nose.
“Get away from me, you maniac!” Tomer yelled at the top of his lungs.
“Kus emmek.” Dudi spat on the ground, reinforcing the strong Arabic expletive. “I’m out of here. I have no patience with this retard. You coming?” His last words were addressed to Avigail.
“Sure.” She rose and walked towards the car without looking at her boyfriend. They drove off, leaving Tomer alone with the crow.
After a few moments, the crow raised its head and said:
“Rough day, isn’t it?”
Tomer looked at the crow, then looked around.
“No, no, that was me,” the crow said reassuringly, hopping onto a lower branch. It spoke in a pleasant baritone, enunciating Hebrew words with apparent pleasure. “My, this language feels good. Feels prophetic and all. Though I prefer English, you know, ‘cause Ella Fitzgerald sang in it. It don’t mean a thing... Doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah ... Man, this is magic.”
Tomer raised a shaking hand to his eyes.
“I’m hallucinating ... I’m sick.” He swallowed hard.
“No, and maybe, but that’s not the point.”
“Who ... are you?” Tomer glanced to the right. The promenade was unusually still. “And where is everyone?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that.” The crow flapped its wings. “A little time-stopping force field ... Nothing to brag about. We have all the time in the world. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, as they say in Citizen Kane.”
“Casablanca,” Tomer corrected mechanically.
“Whatever.” The crow stretched its neck. “Anyhoo, what was your other question?”
“Who are you?” Tomer repeated.
The bird giggled.
“Oh, I see, I see. I’m supposed to say something like, ‘I come in peace, earthling, let me teach you our amazing technology in exchange for apple pies and cranberry vodka’. Well, let me spill it out right away: I’m an effortlessly shape-shifting alien – check. I come from the future – check. I –”
“The future? How far into the future?”
“Real far, buddy. They don’t even air The Young and the Restless anymore.”
“So, you are an alien,” Tomer said slowly, “you can morph into anything, you come from the future, and ... what do you want? Why did you come to 2018? Why did you choose to speak to me?”
“Well, let’s delay the answers to these questions till the end of the show, alright?” The crow plucked out a feather with its beak. Tomer noticed that it had a tiny ring on one of its toes. “I’m more interested in your predicament. It seems to me that you’ve had a bit of disagreement with some folks out there. Am I right or am I right?”
“Worst day of my life.” Tomer sat back on the bench and covered his face. “I feel like I’ve lost them all. My father, my sister, my girlfriend, and my best friend. All in one day ... It just can’t get any worse than that.”
“Believe me, it can.” The crow swooped down onto the back of the bench. “Wait till I share some facts from my biography. Or I could just show you a negative alternate universe.”
“A negative ... what?”
“Gee, Tomer, haven’t you heard about Newton’s law of parallel time-space bending?”
“There is no such law.”
“Oh ... Then it must’ve been on Star Trek.” The crow scratched one of its feet with the other. “Anyway, I’ve dabbled in that in the fourth gra – err, I mean, a long while ago. Lemme see if I still remember anything ... Alrighty –”