The Other End

Tomer Y. Avni, Contributor

Tomer Y. Avni (MS/MBA ’22) takes us on a fictional journey along the Mediterranean Sea.

As soon as the bus started moving forward, Kfir fell into a deep sleep. Although his M16 was strapped to his body, his hands cradled it cautiously. The seat next to him was empty, so he could have relaxed, stretched his legs, and breathed deeply. He could have done that, but he did not. He sat huddled, his cheek pressed up against the rattling window pane, his legs crossed, his thoughts gathered. The journey was long, from Gaza to Tel-Aviv, from one world to another, from the smell of gunpowder to the smell of the sea—it was an intoxicating smell, if only it would intoxicate and obliterate what happened. As the way twisted and turned, as the sleep deepened and encompassed him, the noise surfaced and exposed itself, firing memories at him continuously, hitting the most painful spots, screaming.

When he left the base, he just wanted to run away, as far as possible. He had only 24 hours. He stood outside in the burning sun, spinning around himself, calculating aloud how long the trip would take—to and from the beach, including the time needed to buy a bathing suit. He craved going into the sea—deep, embraced by the water. The silence, the absence of people, the flow of the water, and the return of life all seemed enchanting. And when it was time, he started to walk, then run, toward the base’s fence, running faster than he had ever run before. The guard at the entrance noticed the runner from afar, signaled to him to stop and shouted at him, but Kfir didn’t hear a thing. He just imagined the sound of the waves; he knew that if he stopped imagining, the real noise would return.

With his first step into the store, Kfir felt that it was finally happening; he was stepping into a new world. He immediately put his bags and M16 down in the corner and went to try on some bathing suits. When he found one, he went to pay. He planned on paying with a gift card he got from the army for Rosh HaShana. “They call it a gift card from the Chief of General Staff,” he thought to himself and smiled. Kfir handed the bathing suit and the gift card to the saleswoman. He was already picturing himself in the deep water, wondering whether he would go back, and if so, where to. And amid the tranquility, in a store in Tel Aviv, the screams came back, and the faces appeared in his mind; he remembered each one of them—they looked so serene the moment before, maybe because they knew they would not return.

The card did not work. “There is no money on the card. You probably did not charge it,” the saleswoman said briskly. “Try calling them. Otherwise, it won’t work today,” she added with finality.

He was exhausted, his body was heavy, burnt from the sun back there, and yet, he desperately desired the sun by the sea. “Could it be the same sun?” he wondered to himself. He sat on the floor, among the bags and his M16 and made the call.

“Hever Consumers Club, how may I help you?” asked the service representative on the other end, with an accent so familiar to Kfir that he did not pay attention to it.

“Hey, I’m trying to use the gift card from the Chief of General Staff to buy something, but it’s not working.”

“You are an officer, right?”

“Yes,” Kfir answered, remembering how it all started.

“And what’s your name?”

“Kfir. Kfir Yona.”

“I’m checking.”

“Thank you.”

While he waited, he relaxed his body, stretching his legs out to the sides, using them to support himself. Just as he was about to fall asleep, the service representative returned with an answer: “Kfir, thank you for waiting. It appears that you have already used the money.”

“It can’t be,” Kfir answered angrily. “I was at the base since I got the gift, I couldn’t have used it.”

He snickered and thought, “How could I have used it in the middle of everything that happened?” The longer he thought about it, the more the smile on his face morphed into a deep disturbance.

“I’m sorry, but that’s what appears in the database. I can’t do much about it…”

Kfir stood up, shook himself off, reddened, and filled with rage. “I don’t understand…I don’t understand. All I wanted was to buy something with the gift card…to buy a bathing suit…to go to the beach.”

He took a breath, did not wait for a response (that did not come anyway; the representative was busy listening to him) and went on: “And you’re saying I used it! When exactly? During the ambushes in the day or at night? Before or after I spotted the target? While aiming the weapon at it? When I screamed, ‘Stop!,’ as loudly as I could, praying he would stop, praying as hard as I could? But he did not stop, he just audaciously stared at the horizon with determination. So? When? Do you understand me? Do you understand?” He paused; he had to fill his lungs with fresh air, before he continued: “Do you understand me at all? What’s your name?”

“Salma,” she answered quietly.

“Sarah?” he asked, confused.

“Salma,” she repeated.

“Salma,” he repeated after her and gradually understood. He heard the Arab accent, and suddenly everything came back—especially the fence, the damned fence.

They kept silent for a few moments, each of them buried in thought. Kfir did not know anymore whether he wanted to go and where to. Salma wanted to reach out to him, hold him tight, and kiss his forehead. “How long has it been since he was kissed or hugged?” she wondered, wiping away a tear, hoping he would not hear that on the other end. And maybe they are on the same end.

“I’m sorry,” Kfir interrupted the silence. “I’m sorry… I didn’t know you are… that you are… I didn’t know Salma.”

It was as though she was just waiting for him to resume, for the conversation to continue, so that she could respond: “It’s alright, I’m alright, you will be alright,” she thought, hesitated whether she should continue, hoped he would manage to hear, and maybe, in the future, understand.

“Just imagine what they are escaping from. If they are escaping from hell, meeting your death is heaven.”

“I know,” he replied. “I cannot stop imagining.” As he spoke, he sat down, fatigued, with his head between his hands. His body was cold, falling apart.

Moments later he gave in: “Maybe I’ll just go without a bathing suit; I’ll just sit on the beach, rest a bit.”

He waited anxiously to hear her response, eager to hear if it makes any sense, if it is fair in her opinion. And she, Salma, who just saw her husband walking up the path leading to the front door of the house, went into a silent room to keep the conversation going. She closed the windows and the shutters and sat on the floor. “I don’t know, I have never been to the beach,” she replied, after making sure no one but Kfir could hear her.

“I work from my home in east Jerusalem,” she added, trying to anchor him to reality. He felt his heart pinch from surprise and immediately it filled with a bursting desire, with a clear vision, that he expressed out loud: “We will go to the beach together, right now.”

First, she laughed and then she grew serious, replying quickly: “No, it’s not a good idea. My husband just arrived. No, it’s impossible, the checkpoints…”

He tried to convince her for several minutes, but only when he promised to come pick her up from the checkpoint, she reconciled. She hung up the phone, packed a small bag and put it on her back. She tried to leave silently, not looking back on her way out. However, she still heard her husband from one of the rooms, kicking the table angrily and saying: “Two got killed! Two… they kill without thinking.” She just visualized Kfir, and even without knowing what he looked like, she was confident he looked different. At the store, Kfir stood up, shook himself off and went out quickly, on his way to Salma.

Tomer Y. Avni (MS/MBA ’22) came to HBS after working as an investor at an early-stage VC and also in cybersecurity consulting. He grew up in Israel and received his Bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics and Political Science.