At Cinema City
K.J. Hannah Greenberg
Sufit pulled Pashosh’s hand. Mommy had just thrust four hundred shekel at each of them, had marched them into the family car, and then had dropped them of at Cinema City. Mommy told them that they could not leave the venue until she picked them up a half hour after she left her office. It was a vacation day for the girls, but Mommy had to go to work.
Pashosh gasped and pointed. The lights illuminating the tiles beneath their feet shifted in hue and location as the two traversed the entrance corridor. In the main hall, many meters away, a fountain surged and spilled to music. Colored beams played upon that water, too.
The smaller girl lifted her arms toward the top of the atrium as though by creating the maximum possible breadth between her shoulders and her shoes, she could take it all in. There was a lot to see. Lifelike Smurf statues stood in military precision beneath the escalator. Queen Elizabeth, Marilyn Monroe, and John Kennedy rode on the outside of the glass encased elevators. Images from contemporary movies, and from classics, melded into each other on many of the two story walls.
Under the atrium’s transparent ceiling, as well, an ice skating ring had sprouted. The cost was thirty shekel per half hour for students. Skate rental was extra.
Near the ice rink, a heavily made-up woman was instructing line dancing. Men and women the age of Sufit and Pashosh’s grandparents were twisting and shouting.
Sufit felt the tug of Pashosh’s hand. Her younger sister was pulling her toward the escalator that would take them to the roof. There, a large ark guarded by fiberglass animals, arranged in pairs, awaited exploration. The gate cost was 50 shekel per student. Sufit urged Pashosh to look from outside the exhibit’s rope.
A sign near the fake boat explained that it was part of Bible City and that it, like the “city’s” other components, was available for hire for parties. Inquiries were to be made at the manager’s office.
Pashosh shrugged her disinterest in, respectively: the story of Noah and the flood, the story of Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors, and the story of David and Goliath. She asked her older sister why people would charge for stories that were taught for free in school and why the Bible City Museum was crowded when the Israel Museum, which was only a few blocks away, cost nothing on certain weekdays. Receiving no answer, Pashosh started to whine.
At about the same time as those unhappy sounds began to come out of Pashosh’s mouth, Sufit spotted Hagit and Mya, two of the most popular girls in her class. It would be awful if they caught her traipsing around with a crybaby.
Sufit developed a sudden need for ice cream, served not in inexpensive cones by the stand beside the rink, but on a lavish salver as supplied by the waffle shop. She jerked her sibling downstairs, in that shop’s direction.
The girls shared a “Waffle Supreme,” a monstrous confection whose base was a golden piece of crisped batter marked with regularly spaced craters and whose middle consisted of not one, but two, scoops of overly sweet frozen stuff. On top of those quickly melting hills was an equal amount of whipped cream, plus sprinkles and a few halved strawberries. On the side of the plate were a pool of some brownish syrup and a dusting of chopped nuts. A wee mound of coconut flakes and a pile of green, halved grapes, too, garnished the dessert.
Pashosh sighed, having wished more for sachlav than for a waffle. She also didn’t like that Sufit intended to take the cost of the treat out of Pashosh’s funds. The smaller sister had seen the food court’s hoodie store and had wanted to buy a bright turquoise sweatshirt. She figured that such a delicacy as she and her sister were sharing would use up all of her money.
Worse, her big sister had also ordered hot chocolate. Pashosh didn’t like chocolate in any form and had insisted that Sufit, alone, pay for that drink. She remained troubled, however; Pashosh had not yet gotten to subtraction in school and had to rely on Sufit to figure out their bill.
By the time the girls left the waffle restaurant, two things had become evident; Hagit and Mya had evaporated, and Pashosh, who had forced bite after bite of waffle into her mouth, claiming that if she was paying, she was eating, was sick to her stomach. At least the restrooms were clean.
Pashosh lingered over a toilet. After, she spent long minutes at the sinks, where the faucets and soap dispensers were automated. The hand dryers, similarly, were fascinating as they were, similarly, preprogrammed. Pashosh couldn’t get enough of watching her hair stream beneath them.
A little under an hour later, the girls took the wrong door back into the main hall. The sun filled the atrium with bright light. Birds sung from hidden nests. Recorded music added merriment.
Sufit tugged Pashosh toward the ice rink. She figured she was good enough of an athlete not to fall down too much. Pashosh could sit and watch if she was too scared to join her.
Pashosh was not scared; she was nauseous. She lay on a bench outside the rink and fell asleep.
Sufit paid for a single student admission and for skates. She gently placed her shoes next to her sister and stuffed her money beneath the tongue of one of them. She kissed that sleepy sibling, the one covered with a mist of cold sweat, and then hobbled, on ice blades, to the rink.
For more than ten minutes she pretended she was one of the birds in the atrium’s hidden nests rather than a fourth grader gliding uncertainly on skates. Pashosh’s scream broke her reverie.
Two teenage boys with slicked back hair and low hung jeans were tossing Sufit’s shoes back and forth over Pashosh’s head. With each toss, more and more of Sufit’s coins and bills dropped out of one of the shoes.
Sufit, still strapped into her skates, tried to jump the wall closest to her sister. The “guardian penguin,” i.e. the grownup being paid minimum wage to make sure that the school kids created only minimum havoc on the expensive, frozen expanse, grabbed Sufit and deposited her at the entrance to the rink.
So delayed was Sufit at getting to Pashosh that the boys would have made off with her money had Pashosh not puked on one of them. That boy squawked, and then flung puke, money, and shoes at Pashosh. He and his pal fled from the approaching “penguin.”
A few minutes later, those juvenile bandits were “arrested.” Cornered while cleaning up in the boys’ latrine, they were informed, by the ice rink guard, that some enterprising kids had caught the entire episode on the video feed of their smart phones, hence providing the cinema complex with more than enough evidence to get the punks in trouble with their parents and the courts.
Both not-so-tough teens began to cry. The “guardian penguin,” who had downloaded those incriminatory images onto the complex’s security computer, shook his head. Rolling his eyes toward the bathroom’s ceiling before addressing the young offenders, he told them that if they apologized to the sisters, paid restitution, and promised never, ever, to visit the cinema complex again, he’d let them go without reporting them.
Hastily, those boys, with the guard looming behind them, thrust their own collection of shekels at the sisters. Their mother, too, had shoved money at them, had dropped them off, and had told them to have a nice day while she worked. She had figured that the worst they might do was watch a 16 ans et plus-rated movie.
After Pashosh finished crying enough tears for her entire first grade class and after the building’s janitor cleaned up the floor, the bench, and the wall of the ice rink closest to her seat, Sufit took her to the hoodie shop. She allowed her little sister to spend as much as she wanted on the leisurewear top of her choice with the condition that Pashosh promised not to reveal the incident about the bullies and the “penguin” to their mother.
Pashosh selected a turquoise hoodie with neon pink laces. She managed to keep quiet about the horrific event until breakfast the following morning.
Sufit thereafter took her sister to the sushi shop for hot tea. The older girl had long wanted to see dead, uncooked fish, but wound up shrieking her way out of the eatery when some boys that were standing further down the ingress line had begun to stage whisper about seahorses being served.
Pashosh saved her and Sufit’s place, waiting, with arms akimbo, for her sister to return. When she did, Pashosh pointed out the koshrut sign. There would be no seahorses on the menu. Pashosh nodded about how good it was to be able to read.
While their waitress did not appreciate that the sisters only ordered a hot drink and that they likely knew nothing about leaving tips, the two enjoyed themselves. Though Sufit had insisted on handling the pretty porcelain teapot exclusively, Pashosh got much pleasure from her own thin, china cup. Moreover, although Pashosh got bored before the pot of tea was finished, Sufit allowed her to leave the table and to look at the restaurant’s aquarium.
Sufit wisely neglected to tell her little sister that the pretty swimmers were destined to become lunch. In censoring that datum, she felt like such a big girl.
After the tea, Pashosh’s tummy felt much better, but she was still tired. Sufit covered her with her own jacket and let her sleep on a bench far from the ice rink. While her sister dozed, Sufit played with her smart phone. She couldn’t believe that when Mommy was a girl phones couldn’t take pictures, run movies, or access the Internet. She believed even less that Mommy and her friends had had to make do with wall phones.
A bathroom break succeeded Pashosh’s nap. Afterwards, the girls wandered into the cosmetics store, the one replete with rows of powders and glosses that were free to try on. A saleswoman shooed them away before Sufi had managed to match Pashosh’s right cheek with her left one.
The girls then ambled through the clothing store. The skirts and shirts were all sized for women. Equally, none of the sunglasses in the indoor sunglass hut had frames small enough for kids.
The lone employee of the sunglass hut had looked the girls up and down when they had entered her shop, had shrugged, and had gone back to texting. Her wage wasn’t sales-based and the little ones seemed harmless.
That is, they seemed harmless until Pashosh accidentally bent the frame of a 1200 shekel Ray-Ban. Just before she keened, Sufit pulled her out of the store. Behind them, the clerk shrugged once more; insurance paid for damages. Her salary wouldn’t suffer any deductions. It was a grace, though, that she didn’t have to comfort an unhappy child.
Back in the main vestibule, Sufit wanted nothing more than to hide. Hagit and Mya could be anywhere. She really didn’t want them to see her babysitting. She pointed to the marquee. She and Pashosh ought to see a movie.
Pashosh puffed out her lower lip. There could be a movie, but no popcorn, no caramels, and no drinks. Food was the last thing about which she wanted to think of or to smell.
Sufit purchased a jumbo soda, anyway. She was in charge and whenever they were with Mommy, they had to make do with small cups of drink.
Among the center’s twenty film halls was a room devoted to screening kids’ films. Each of its chairs was adorned with Mickey Mouse. Pashosh objected to sitting on the little guy’s face. Sufit pointed out that all of the other kids and their accompanying parents were sitting thusly.
Those words proved erroneous. Pashosh had seemed rested after her nap and less nauseous after the tea, but she started to cry, anyway. She wanted Mommy. Everyone else had Mommy or Daddy with them.
While she quieted by the time that the titles played, she watched most of the feature behind her sister’s hand, spreading Sufit’s fingers only when the accompanying music indicated it might be safe to peek. Further, Pashosh wanted to leave the hall before the credits finished rolling.
Sufit, though, had spied Hagit and Mya leaving the very viewing chamber in which she was sitting with her sister. She was determined that she and Pashosh would be the last to leave and that her classmates, in no way, would detect her compromised presence.
Eventually, an usher urged them out. There were just minutes between shows for the cleaning crew to gather up stray wrappers and to wipe down sticky seats and ushers who helped empty the hall got a cut of that crew’s commission. The crew could share their fee since staff members working the kids’ hall received extra money, i.e. “hazard pay” and were automatically entered into an ongoing wager over most filled diapers collected. For all employees involved, mopping up the kids’ screening room was profitable.
When the sisters surfaced to the main activity court, Pashosh surprised Sufit by running into the midst of the line dancers. While she shied from the large hands that reached to clasp hers and to pull her into their twirling circles, Pashosh smiled as she jumped up and down in the middle of the group. She liked clapping and stomping. Four songs passed before Sufit even tried to prod Pashosh off of the dance floor.
About that time, Pashosh spotted Mrs. Gadinsky, an elderly neighbor, who had come to the complex to dance. She ran up to the old woman, who then seamlessly spun her around and around. She giggled. Mrs. Gadinsky giggled. Sufit fumed.
Mrs. Gadinsky took one look at the calendar on her smart phone, one look at her two young neighbors, and then extended her hand to the older of the two. “School holiday and Mommy has to work?”
“Phewy,” offered Mrs. Gadinsky. “When I was raising children…”
Pashosh’s lower lip trembled.
Mrs. Gadinsky stopped short. “Come, let’s explore the Rose Garden.”
Sufit shifted from foot to foot. On the one hand, Mrs. Gadinsky was not a stranger, so it was probably okay if she and Pashosh had an adventure with her. It was only eleven in the morning and Mommy wouldn’t be back ‘til five. Sufit was already getting very tired of babysitting.
On the other hand, she had promised not to leave the building and a promise was a promise (unless the bribe involved chocolate). “We can’t. Mommy said we have to stay here.”
“In the building.”
“Does that bridge over the street which connects this building to the next one count?”
“I guess so.”
Does the outside of a building count as good as an inside side?”
Pashosh said, “Sufit, we did go upstairs and outside to the Bible Museum.”
“Shhhh. I guess so.”
“So, if we walked on the bridge linking these buildings, and then walked down that building’s staircase, we’d be in the Rose Garden without ever crossing the street. That’s still within your mommy’s rules.”
“I guess so.”
Pashosh smiled. “Come on, Sufit. My tummy feels much better. Mrs. Gadinsky is nice and Mommy always says fresh air is good for us.”
“I guess so.”
Several hours later, the girls and Mrs. Gadinsky, who would take a very long nap upon returning home, arrived back at Cinema City. Mrs. Gadinsky insisted on treating for lunch at the Italian Emporium.
Mrs. Gadinsky ordered ravioli and white wine. She ordered a second glass of wine, too. Pashosh ordered fish and chips. Sufit ordered a salad topped with cheese. Both girls ate from the kids’ menu, but neither finished their meals.
“Did you eat a treat before I got here?”
The girls shrugged.
Sufit asked for hot chocolate for dessert. Mrs. Gadinsky consented.
A short while later, kissing both of them on the heads, Mrs. Gadinsky stuffed their hands with more shekels than had Mommy or that had the mischievous boys. As she walked away, she muttered about a headache and about irresponsible mothers.
“That was nice.”
“Yup,” Sufit frowned. She still faced many long hours of watching Pashosh.
“I’m bored. Let’s race.”
“That guard penguin will call his friends and they’ll throw us out. Mommy will be mad.”
“Not here. There.” Pashosh pointed to a door leading to a stairwell.
“You’ll just puke, again.”
“Will not. Didn’t ya notice I ate only one fish stick? I covered the rest with my napkin so Mrs. Gadinsky wouldn’t feel bad.”
“Last one to the top is a monkey’s bum.”
“You have to give me a start. I’m smaller.”
Forty minutes later, the girls bought two bottles of plain, unchilled water from the cigarette booth. They spent the subsequent hour looking at super hero cartoons on Sufit’s phone.
Pointing to the marquee, Pashosh said, “we could watch them on the screen.”
“And the monsters they fight?”
“Ah, no. I think your phone is best.”
Across the floor, the skating rink guard nodded at his walkie-talkie. Security cameras had recorded the sisters wandering around the cinema complex for hours. Except for the time when they had disappeared out the exit closest to the Knesset and except for the time they had wandered through the doorway leading to the stairs, they had been recorded. There were no laws prohibiting unaccompanied minors from patronizing the theatre’s shops, and many kids spent part of their vacation day traipsing through the complex’s corridors, but it was odd for two remarkably young girls to be left alone for so many hours.
Hence, the “penguin’s” boss reassigned him to watching them. A different grunt would take over managing the safety of the ice rink.
From the rear of a replica of Charlie Chaplin, which stood near a replica of Barbra Streisand, the rent-a-cop minded the girls. His feet would have been noticed by less preoccupied children, but the sisters had just entered the complex’s purse shop.
After handbags, the girls looked at socks. Pashosh bought two striped pairs; one in pastel colors and one like a rainbow. Sufit bought a pair covered in glittery polka dots. The guard hid behind a plastics recycling container.
“Let’s get something for Mommy. I bet she’d rather be here, playing with us.”
The girls went into the house goods store. They weighed the respective worth of buying a silicone spatula or a polypropylene mandolin. They settled on the former, figuring that Mommy wouldn’t want them to cart around anything sharp. While they made that decision, the guard bought a large coffee at a hot drinks kiosk.
The girls caught up with him while he was slurping.
”Why are you following us?”
“I thought you were the guard penguin at the rink.”
“And so what?”
“Is the coffee good?”
“Do you want to try some?”
“Ew, no. You’re a stranger. Plus, coffee is bad for you. Mommy says so.”
“Sufit! Stop talking to him.”
“He got my shoes back and my money back and made those bad kids give us their money. It was almost as much as Mrs. Gadinsky gave us. He’s okay.”
“I’m telling Mommy.”
“Go ahead. We won’t see her for at least three and a half hours.”
“I’m going to learn how to tell time in second grade, just wait!”
The guard groaned. “I don’t really want to chase you all over the complex for that many hours.”
“I’m tired of playing on my phone. There’s nothing else to do on the benches and she doesn’t want to see another movie.”
“Movies have monsters!”
“… and our tummies are a little sick. We can’t eat any more food, not even chocolate.”
“I don’t know how to skate and I don’t want to learn. Skating rinks have monsters, too!”
“We already bought Mommy a present.”
“We already bought me a hoody.”
Ori, the guard, turned his back to the girls. First, he told them to wait. He then spoke into his walkie-talkie, muffling the exchange with his hands.
“Settled. Come with me!”
“No! You’re still a stranger.”
“I’m gonna’ scream.”
“Better watch it, if she screams, the guards, I mean other people, will come running.”
“I heard this morning. No screaming, please. Just give me a minute. Please listen to my idea. You could see the secret guard station. You passed the door to it on the landing in the staircase…do you remember it from when where you were racing?”
“You saw us?”
“A guard station should be safe.”
“What if he’s really a bad guy and is lying? Maybe, he’s a tricky monster.”
“I’m no monster. I’m not tricky. I didn’t even see you on the stairs. Yoseph did-he sits at the control table.”
“I don’t have my secret spy ring. I can’t get in.”
Ori flashed a badge. “I have this. Even better. Come on.”
For almost two hours, the girls watched screen after screen. Only twice were the sprinklers accidentally activated. Only once was the men’s bathroom locked down.
“Well, my shift’s up. Take care girls.”
“You’re leaving us?”
“We’re prisoners! The bad guys captured us!” Pashosh began to scream.
In no time, the director of security was paying Ori triple to take an additional shift to watch the girls. That shift would end when their mother came to collect them.
“I’m not a babysitter. I was kravi. Givati Brigade. Fought in Aza. Made it out alive.”
“… and front row tickets to the next Beitar Jerusalem game?”
“I’m part of La Famillia.”
“… hmm…and front row tickets to the next Hapoel Jerusalem game, too.”
“Can’t babysit. I already punched out on the clock. Enjoy them. They’re energized.”
“…and a free dinner at the sushi restaurant?”
“Get out of here!”
Ori took the girls and left the “secret” security room.
One of Ori’s army buddies managed Cinema City’s steak house. That supervisor draped the girls with aprons and hair nets and gave them a tour of his kitchen. Later, he watched them wash dishes.
“Mommy never lets. She says we make too big of a mess.”
“Yonadov lets and his dishes are HUGE!”
“This is the best part of the day. Thank-you, Ori. Thank-you, Yonadov. These pots are as big as me!”
Later, Yonadov offered Sufit and Pashosh his chef’s special desserts, but both girls yelled as if in pain.
Ori shrugged. Yonadov laughed. A little while later, when the dinner rush began, he escorted them out of his restaurant.
Ori sat with them on a bench. He was very tired. So, he made up a new game. “We’re going to sit here and count people by color.”
“Shirts, not skin. I get yellow since my boss is with La Famillia.”
“I get blue.”
“I get turquoise.”
“Pashosh, maybe you want to pick a different color. Turquoise is not so popular.”
“Don’t care. I looove turquoise!”
Three hundred and twelve patrons, two cups of fizzy water, and one shared frozen yoghurt later, Mommy came into the complex. She didn’t see Ori, who was on a bathroom break.
“Okay girls, time to pack up. I’m parked on the level between Batman and the Green Lantern.”
“First, you have to pay Ori. He babysat us.”
“And Mrs. Gadinsky bought us lunch.”
“And Hagit and Mya saw the same movie we did. It was sooo scary. There was an octopus and a sea lion and a witch and an evil queen and….”
“Okay. So, no movies for a while.”
“And I threw up…a couple of times.”
“And some really bad kids…. I mean, scary movie people were ….”
“Did you forget to brush your hair this morning? I can’t believe I let you out of the house like that.”
“….and I bought a hoodie. I love it! Guess what color?”
“No fair. Guess again.”
“But it is turquoise.”
“You’re stupid. I don’t care if you’re my big sister. I wanted to tell Mommy. Anyway, Mommy, we bought you this.”
“Wow. I guess we’ll have to make pancakes tonight. Maybe even with lots of whipped cream and syrup.”
“Mommy, please, no.” Pashosh covered her mouth.
“Hot chocolate then?”
“Please, no. Mommy, please just oatmeal and hot tea.”
“Did you girls snack? I thought I gave you enough money for healthy food.”
“We did healthy things. We got fresh air. We drank tea. Sufit ice skated.”
“I met the guardian penguin.”
“He fights bad guys.”
“He’s a brave soldier.”
“He’s friends with the coolest restaurant manager.”
“Mommy, next time, you don’t have to work. You can have a vacation day with us. We made enough money today for forever.”
“Huh? Put it back into the fountain, now! I should have hired childcare.”
“We didn’t fish it out from there or from anyone’s pockets. Maybe you could use it to buy yourself that nice pair of slippers in Mr. Horwitz’s store window.”
“You can pick out the color, but I think turquoise would be great!”