MURDERERS by DROR BURSTEIN
Now Lowry stood in front of the bird shop in Florence and stepped up to the glass. There were dozens of cages hanging in the display window with squawking, colorful parakeets and birds of various kinds. Some of the birds were trying desperately to get out of their cages, twittering and cheeping at each other, falling backwards, jumping again and again to the high perch and pecking at the air. Tomorrow would be his last day in this city, he thought, he had just come from the museum after returning his uniform and receiving his last salary together with a certificate entitling him to free entry to the Uffizi for the rest of his life, but Lowry would never go back to Italy and he would abandon the vegetarianism he had observed so scrupulously here on the plane to Israel. When the passenger in the seat next to him went to the toilet Lowry would look right and left and then grab a heart from the ‘Jerusalem Mixed Grill’ on his tray and gobble it down. The glass was misted over opposite a black toucan with a gigantic orange bill which was sitting glum and disconsolate on its perch and looking sideways at the other birds with a kind of secret bird irony, reminding Lowry for some reason of the look which Nathan Zach had given him, on one of his distant visits to their home, when he saved him. He would get up in the morning and wander round the streets, the Boboli gardens and the museums, and other streets, having decided to look for his mother, who was of course in Israel, but Lowry had invented this game, that she was dead and he was going to look for her here. When he returned to Tel Aviv the next day Leah would tell him about the rented apartment, which in fact had already been purchased and the title deeds signed, but in her name, and Lowry would exult, an apartment in Jerusalem, Alfasi street, that’s wonderful, why don’t we go there now, and she would say why not, and she would only present him with the condition after he saw the view of the valley. In the window of the bird shop a blue parakeet looked at him. Nachman raised his hand, and the parakeet looked at it, and Nachman held up a finger, and the parakeet cocked its head, and Nachman went into the shop and with the money he had saved in hour upon hour of standing opposite paintings and patrolling the museum at night, he bought almost half the shop, the entire display window and a few more cages. He refused to talk to the owner, pretending not to understand, put a few million lirettas on the table and said in English, give me as many birds as possible in this sum of money. The owner of the shop counted the money and looked at him as if he thought he was crazy, but actually he knew exactly what was going to happen, because every few months someone like him would come into the shop, although he would usually buy only one small cage, and his look of surprise was nothing but pretence, and that evening he said to his wife, another liberatore turned up today, once the brownshirts marched in our city, and the Duce strolled in the Boboli gardens with his entourage and bought an orange bird from my father and insisted on paying, and now the world has changed, only these liberators of birds are left. In fact about a third of Signor Pipo’s annual income from the bird shop in Via Romana came from the bird liberators, and Nachman bought a huge cage on wheels, intended for supplying zoos, two cubic meters, and filled it with two hundred birds or maybe more, who could count, noise and commotion, squawking and screeching, stench and feathers, pecking and scratching, and he wheeled it at a clattering run to the locked gates of the nearby gardens, full of joy, but also embarrassed to the depths of his soul, and he opened the doors of the cage and shook it hard until all the birds spilled out of it shrieking loudly. To his astonishment, apart from a few birds that flew away, most of them remained on the ground, hopping here and there and rising briefly into the air, but not high or far, and Nachman kicked the ground next to them through the bars of the gate and yelled through the bars, hoo, hoo, whoo, whoo, and tried to make them spread their wings and fly, and threw little stones at them, and shook the cage to frighten them, but the birds, most of which had been born in captivity and didn’t know how to fly, only fluttered a little in the air, and Nachman was suddenly filled with dread at the sight of the cats lurking nearby, one of them slipped silently between his legs as he stood gripping the bars of the great gates, next to the empty hut of the guard, and he saw three more, silently gathering from the well kept bushes of the garden and as if from inside the marble statues and from the direction of the round pond, as if in response to a call from on high, as if in response to an imperceptible small suddenly spreading through the air and summoning predators to emerge from their hiding places, or like ants to a sweet stain, and he took hold of a yellow parakeet standing nearby on the bars of the fence and threw it into the air, but the parakeet spread its wings and dropped to the ground like a stone, and he picked up a couple of swallows and set them on the letter L of ‘Boboli’, and they stumbled and fell off it like quivering gravel, and people gathered round and gazed in silence at the lunatic, and the toucan which was standing on the edge of the lovely round pond and taking little sips of water with the tip of its beak turned round and saw the cats but it wasn’t worried and went on drinking calmly, and the cats advanced at first slowly and watchfully and immediately afterwards at a silent run, and they fell on the toucan and killed it, and Nachman surveyed the scene with eyes wide with terror and disgust together with a few old men who were sitting on a bench inside the gardens leaning on their sticks and watching with expressionless faces as if they had already witnessed the spectacle many times before, and he wiped his forehead which was burning as if he had a fever, and suddenly he got up and kicked the cage and kicked it again until it buckled, and he fled the scene and went back to the shop in Via Romana, in order to upbraid the owner for not telling him that his birds didn’t know how to fly, cheat, murderer, assassino, but the owner had hurriedly shut the shop two minutes after Lowry left it and disappeared for a few days, as he always did after a purchase by a ‘liberator’, both in order to celebrate the windfall but also because they always returned with murder in their eyes, he would pull down the iron grille, let them kick it as much as they liked, leave food and water for the birds, whistle them the parting whistle his father had taught him, and leave by the back door. Lowry stood for the second time that day outside the bird shop, the barred window was already full of new birds and there was even a new toucan sitting in the very same cage, which had a comfortable looking handle attached to its top, and looking at him with the same sideways look as its predecessor, and he shuddered and ran to the Boboli Hotel further down the street, where he had been staying for the past few nights in a room on the second floor, and he packed and paid his bill and went straight to the airport, even though there still twelve hours to go before his flight. That night he slept in the airport, actually he remained awake all night, and he suddenly wept briefly with his head buried between his knees, and early in the morning he flew back to Israel, and his mother met him at the airport and they drove to Tel Aviv and after that to Jerusalem, to the new apartment in Alfasi street, and Lowry, who entered it first, leaned on his suitcase and switched on the light, standing in the living room was the empty cage of a pet hamster which the previous occupant had forgotten there,
and he remembered the blue parakeet which was standing a few meters away from the toucan, and which suddenly noticed the two cats approaching silently and increasingly rapidly, the brown one and the black one, their steps suddenly quickening, their eyes alert, and it fluttered its wings and propelled itself with difficulty onto the fountain and from there to one of the trees and shrieked.
Translated by Dalya Bilu
MURDERERS by DROR BURSTEIN