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One Kiss on the Mouth in Mombasa

Illustration by Ryan Ward

For a minute, I got uptight. But she told me to take it easy, I had no reason. She’d marry me, and if it was important, because of our parents, it could even be in a hall. That wasn’t the point. The point was somewhere else altogether — three years ago, in Mombasa, when she and Lihi went there after the army. Just the two of them went, because the guy who was her boyfriend had just re-enlisted. In Mombasa, they lived in the same place the whole time, some kind of guesthouse where a whole bunch of people hung out, mostly from Europe. Lihi wouldn’t hear about leaving the place, because she’d just fallen in love with some German guy who lived in one of the cabins. She didn’t mind staying either, she was pretty much enjoying the quiet. And even though that guesthouse was exploding with drugs and hormones, no one hassled her. They could probably see that she wanted to be alone. No one — except for some Dutch guy who got there maybe a day after them and didn’t leave the place until she went back home. And he didn’t actually hassle her either, just looked at her a lot. That didn’t bother her. He seemed like an all right guy, a little sad, but one of those sad types who don’t complain. They were in Mombasa for three months, and she never heard him say a word. Except for once, a week before they left, and even then, there was something so gentle about the way he talked to her, something so weightless, that it was as if he hadn’t said anything at all. She explained to him that the timing was bad, told him about her boyfriend, who was some technical something in the air force, about how they’d known each other since high school. And he just smiled and nodded and moved back to his regular spot on the steps of the hut. He didn’t speak to her anymore, but kept on looking. Except that actually, now that she thought about it, he did speak to her one more time, on the day she flew back, and he said the funniest thing she’d ever heard. Something about how, between every two people in the world, there’s a kiss. What he was actually trying to tell her was that he’d already been looking at her for three months and thinking about their kiss, how it would taste, how long it would last, how it would feel. And now she was leaving, and she had a boyfriend and everything, he understood, but just that kiss, he wanted to know if she would agree. It was awfully funny, the way he spoke, kind of confused, maybe because he didn’t know English well, or he just wasn’t much of a talker. But she said okay. And they kissed. And after that, he really didn’t try anything, and she came back to Israel with Lihi. Her boyfriend was at the airport in his uniform to pick her up in his army car. They also moved in together, and to spice up their sex life a little, they added some new things. They tied each other to the bed, dripped some wax; once they even tried to do it anally, which hurt like hell, and in the middle, shit came out. In the end, they split up, and when she started school, she met me. And now, we’re going to get married. She has no problem with that.

She said I should pick the hall and the date and whatever I want, because it really doesn’t matter to her. That isn’t the point at all. Neither is that Dutch guy — I have nothing to be jealous of there. He’s probably dead already from an overdose or else he’s lying drunk on some sidewalk in Amsterdam, or he went and got a master’s degree in something, which sounds even worse. In any case, it’s not about him at all, it’s that time in Mombasa. For three months, a person sits and looks at you, imagining a kiss.

 

Etgar Keret’s most recent book is The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God: And Other Stories. He lives in Israel.

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