By: Michal Reibenbach
“I always visit my sister’s grave at this time of year, just before Yom Kippur. Would you come to the cemetery with me tomorrow for I really hate going alone?” Elia asks me over the phone. “Yes, of course, I’ll come with you,” I answer on-the-spot. “We’ll have to leave early before the Friday morning rush hour. Come and collect me at seven O’clock,” says Elia bossily. “Er-r-r…alright,” I say and then I sigh heavily as I rest the telephone back into its cradle, for I’ve suddenly realized that I’ll have to be getting up so early on a Friday morning, instead of sleeping in until late.
Next morning when I arrive at Elia’s parking lot, she comes rushing over to my car laden down with all sorts of paraphernalia. I notice that the bucket which she is clutching to her bosom is full of geranium plants and also a trawl, while with her teeth she is gripping the handles of a bulging nylon bag. I stop the car and open its boot. Elia shoves everything inside, and we are soon on our way. Even though we have started off early, we quickly find ourselves in the midst of the crowded Friday traffic. Elia is a nervous person, consequently, she is constantly impatient, and every time we approach a traffic light she starts to scream at me, “Quickly, quickly, drive quickly, don’t miss the traffic light!” However, with all the congestion on the roads, it isn’t easy. Whenever I do happen to miss a green traffic light, Elia has a fit and she scolds me angrily. I don’t respond. It’s hot, I hate all the traffic, and I also hate Elia’s hysterics. I am beginning to feel sorry that I’d agreed to come along with her, but she’d evoked pity in me. In addition, I’d been aware that nobody else would have agreed to accompany her. There’s something about me that attracts peculiar people to me, rather like moths are drawn to a bright light.
The cemetery is in a religious quarter of Jerusalem. As we draw near to our destination, the streets are packed with religious people hastening hither and thither to finish their shopping. In a few hours, the shops will be closed, and tomorrow is Shabbat which is a day of rest. This area is crowded, noisy, and dirty. It’s with a feeling of relief when I am finally able to drive sharply up a steep hilled turning and arrive at the cemetery. I park my car close to its entrance. Being in the cemetery is like being in a different world. It is situated on a high hill, and evergreens grow all around the graveyard. Here none of the noise from below penetrates. Here silence and serenity reign.
We get out of my car. Elia lifts the bucket full of plants out of the boot, hands me the bulging nylon bag, and thus laden we walk over to Elia’s sister’s grave. It’s on the far right side of the graveyard under an evergreen tree. Upon arriving hyperactive Elia shuns my offer of help, and proceeds to speedily plant the flowering geraniums along both sides of the grave-stone. She then hurriedly stomps over to fill the bucket with water from a tap which is situated in the middle of the cemetery, and lugs the heavy bucket back to water the geraniums. Yet once again she scurries off to fetch more water. This time when she returns it is to lovingly wash down the grave-stone with the water until it is spotless. , She lights two candles and puts them in a special little compartment at the foot of the grave-stone. Then Elia takes up her prayer book and begins to read from it for a long time. I stand silently to one side. I gaze around the graveyard, notice that all the tombstones are well looked after, and some of them are very grand indeed. A large group of people come wondering into the cemetery, they look like siblings who have come with their families to remember a deceased parent together. They settle themselves down on benches; then large quantities of food which they have brought along with them are handed around amongst themselves. They are having a picnic, and obviously enjoying themselves.
Elia has finished praying. Suddenly a sort of hologram rises up from the grave. “Oh my God, what’s that?” I scream a strangled cry and stumble back. I think I am hallucinating. There is a slight shimmering, then in a flash of light a young girl appears, she is shrouded in a bright silver cloak, has long black hair, and the sockets of her eyes are black holes. I hear cries of alarm. Glancing across the cemetery I note that the ‘jolly picnic’ group are all staring in our direction as if they can’t believe their eyes, they have fearful, stunned expressions on their faces. Some of the shrieking women are clutching their throats or covering their mouths. This is proof to me that I am not having an illusion. Elia isn’t afraid. On the contrary, this is a magical moment for her, a moment she has been praying for. Excitedly and rapidly she converses with her dead sister, “Hello Ariette, I’m so happy to see you. I’ve missed you so much. Look I’ve planted some flowers around your grave. In a few days, mother will come to visit you…” “I’m also pleased to see you, and I’ve missed you,” says her sister in a hush, chilling rasping voice, “I’m afraid that I can’t stay long, I have to go back now…always remember that I love you-u-u.” Abruptly the ghostly figure of Elia’s sister melts back down into the tomb. Elia calls out, “I love you to-o-o.” A few tears brim out of her eyes and trickle down her cheeks. Hastily she whips her eyes, and runny nose on the sleeve of her blouse, and sets about gathering up the bucket, and other bits and pieces. I follow Elia in a daze as she walks over to the charity boxes at the entrance to the graveyard, and watch on as she slots coins into the various boxes.
As I am driving Elia back along the busy streets, I am still feeling in a state of shock, and my brain is desperately scrambling to comprehend what I had just witnessed. Eventually, I pluck up the courage to ask her, “Does your sister always rise up out of her grave like that?”
“Sometimes, not always,” says Elia.
“It must be a great comfort to you?” I say.
“Yes, it is,” replies Elia.
“It’s a miracle,” I say with conviction.
“Yes it’s a miracle,” says Elia in a hushed voice.
“How old was your sister when she died?” I ask.
“She was eighteen, a year younger than I was,” answers Elia.
“What a tragedy, I’m so sorry. What happened to her?” I then ask. “She went out with some friends, and was killed in a car accident,” Elia explains dryly.
For the rest of the journey, she sits beside me quietly, gazing out of the window. Her face is lit up brightly in happiness, and there is a radiant smile on her lips. In her mind, she is reliving that precious moment with her sister over and over again. I am so thrilled for her and also grateful that she doesn’t scream at me once all the way back home.