Excerpt from Alexandrian Summer by Yitzhak Gormezano Goren.
The Sporting Club neighborhood, the horse racing tracks beyond the tramlines. At the intersection of Rue Delta and the Corniche, by the sea, stands house number twenty-four, all seven of its stories (we used to climb up to the flat roof and shoot paper arrows down at the industrious ants running around on the sidewalk, back and forth, as if there were purpose to all this frenzy).
An Arab doorman, Badri, stands guard, squinting at the sun. His face is tan and emaciated. His little boy, Abdu, loiters at his side, helping him watch the shadows stretching over the sidewalk and the passing cars, headed toward the sea. Badri and his son welcome anyone approaching the building with an alert greeting, “Ahalan, ya sidi,” full of expectation: Will the guest give bakshish or not? If the guest does tip them, they escort him with bows all the way to the elevator door. If he doesn’t – – they point lazily in the direction of the moldy duskiness.
The elevator is ancient, barred with black metal and faded gold openwork and bitten by reddish rust. The door slams with a metallic shake, and … a miracle! The elevator rises with a buzz, dragging with effort a looping tail that grows longer as the elevator ascends. Chilling stories have been told about power outages between the fourth and fifth floors; fights between neighbors, beginning in the stairwell, intensified in the gloom of the elevator, later to dissipate outside, in the subtropical sun that ridicules all human endeavors.
Second floor, that’s as far as I go. If you aren’t lazy, you could climb it by foot. A copper plate bearing the name of a Jewish family, descendant of Sephardic Jews from the era of the Spanish Expulsion (their last name is the name of their hometown with the suffix “ano”). The doorbell rings. A dark-haired and skinny servant opens the door and addresses you in lilting Mediterranean French: “Oui, missier, quisqui voulez?” and you stutter and ask: “Is this where Robert … Robby lives?”
The servant is surprised that a thirty-year-old man is interested in a ten-year-old boy, but he does not voice his opinion as long as he isn’t asked to. “Robby – – there!” He signals toward the balcony, at the far end of the apartment. “Should I call him?”
“No, no! Please, there’s no need.”
The Arab servant looks at you with a hint of suspicion. “Who you, missier?” and you give him your name, Hebraized to fit Israel of the 1950s, which rejected all foreign sounds. The servant does not decipher any connection between the two names. To him the strange name could be Greek or Turkish or Italian or Maltese or Armenian or French or British or even American. Alexandria is the center of the world, a cosmopolitan city. You want to add: yes, I used to be Robert, too. Twenty years ago. I’m coming from twenty years away. I won’t interrupt, I just want to watch. I won’t interfere, God forbid. No one will notice me. I just want to tell the story of one summer, a Mediterranean summer, an Alexandrian summer.
Translated by Yardenne Greenspan. Reprinted by permission of New Vessel Press