The Next Stop


The Next Stop

By Alana Goldman


I’m often asked why I chose to be a bus driver. It’s long hours with little pay, and the frequent strikes are an added benefit. The passengers can be hit or miss in terms of politeness, but they’re more often a miss. They’ll shout at me when I’m late, and it’s rare that I get a “Shalom, Eitan. How’s it going?” If I’m lucky, I’ll receive a grunt of acknowledgement as my passengers disembark. Gotta love Israelis. I started driving after retiring from my job in manufacturing because I needed something to do. Also, my wife Shoshanah was sick of seeing me so much.
So why choose bus driving over a job easier for seniors? I loved getting to experience Tel Aviv in a myriad of different ways, observing the people, absorbing the sounds and smells. Challah baking on Friday mornings, the scent wafting down from high-rises; eavesdropping on conversations between enemies and friends; kids arguing on their way to school a beautiful cacophony of Hebrew and other languages. I drove the same route, #4, through Tel Aviv every day except Shabbat, but every day was never the same. Sure, the buildings didn’t change because it took them so long to build anything here, but the people were always different. I could experience change without changing a thing. As a bus driver I got to listen in, learn about their unique lives—where they were going  and where they had been.
I wished I knew where my life was going. I loved Shoshanah when I married her forty-three years before, and I still loved her just as much, if not more, but after over five decades of waking up to the same face every day, life starts to feel monotonous. At least, that’s what Shoshanah said to me this morning over shakshuka when she asked how I felt about opening our marriage. Usually I couldn’t eat enough of Shoshanah’s shakshuka, but that day I felt my appetite disappear as soon as she uttered that sentence. I laid down my fork and got up to clear my dishes. The creak of my chair scraping against the linoleum kitchen tiles cut through the mounting silence. I’d thought we were happy. I thought she loved me. I stood at the sink, even though we had a dishwasher, and scrubbed my dishes clean, with little bits of the sponge flaking off. 
I could feel Shoshanah’s stare burning into my back as the hot water burnt my hands. I was sure she had her hands clasped in front of her and was resting her forehead against them, her position whenever she was stressed. Yesterday I would’ve taken her hands in mine, massaging them in slow circles, rubbing out the wrinkled folds in her skin. I would’ve brushed away that loose gray curl behind her ear and offered to make her a cup of tea. Today I told her that I was late for work and that we would talk about this later.
Sinking into the familiar driver’s seat was a welcome relief. I thrive off mundanity. You couldn’t get hurt if nothing ever changed. That had been my motto since ’73. My phone buzzed, alerting me that it was time to start the route. I turned the key in the ignition and set off.
My route starts in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, on Hatayasim Road. For the first few hours of my shift, I sank into the banality of Tel Aviv, reveling in the continuity of faceless passengers getting on and off. Then I heard my phone buzz. Probably a text from Shoshanah. I didn’t have many friends, and the few that I had left were unlikely to be texting me. The best part of your only friends being the husbands of your wife’s friends was that you never had to talk to each other or make plans. We’d see each other at the next social occasion our wives arranged.
I didn’t want to read Shoshanah’s text while driving so I told myself I’d open it during my break. I kept driving, my head full of not very nice thoughts about my wife. My pride is everything to me—Shoshanah knows this—and her telling me that I wasn’t enough to make her happy, that she wanted to be with other men, was offensive. Even thinking about this was driving my blood pressure to levels that would instantly have caused my doctor to send me to the emergency room. I racked my brain, trying to think of ways I could distract myself for the rest of my shift to prevent a heart attack. I glanced up to the rearview mirror, catching sight of one of the passengers.
I could tell she was American because of the large handbag she carried, but she wasn’t a tourist because her clothing was professional—much more professional than anything the average Israeli would wear. She had gotten on the bus in central Tel Aviv, and the further I drove into Ramat Gan the more curious I became about her destination, as we were heading into the religious neighbourhoods and she looked secular. I reached the final stop on my route and slowed the bus to a smooth halt. The intercom sounded its warning, “Next stop: Hatayasim Terminal.” She didn’t move. I started flipping switches to power off the bus.
“Excuse me,” a timid voice asked in English. “Does this bus go back into Tel Aviv?”
I held back a laugh. “In about half an hour it will.”
“Oh.” She looked stressed. “I, um, I didn’t realize I got on the bus going in the wrong direction. I kept thinking it would loop back around, but it never did.”
“You can get off the bus and wait for another one to take you back to Tel Aviv,” I told her, not unkindly. “I’m going on my break but another #4 should be here soon.”
Her face brightened. “Toda raba!” she exclaimed.
B’vakasha.” I nodded at her and ducked inside the gas station to buy a cup of coffee. I chuckled to myself, thinking about the American. An Israeli would’ve cursed at me out of frustration, but she said “Thank you.” A typical polite American. I sipped the instant coffee and checked my phone, remembering that a text from Shoshanah was waiting for me.
My thumbs twitched as I waited for WhatsApp to open, my phone taking far too long to load the messages. I knew that ten years was too long to hold onto a phone and that I needed a new one, but I didn’t want to have to get used to new technology. I missed pay phones. The app finished loading and I went to open Shoshanah’s message. I couldn’t tell if my fingers were trembling from my arthritis or my nerves, but it took several tries to successfully click on her name. The message read, Please drive safely today. We need to talk later.
I would’ve thrown my phone into the wall, but then I would’ve had to get a new phone. Maybe I wouldn’t drive safely today. That would show her. I could see her bent over my hospital bed, her forehead crinkled in concern as she begged me for forgiveness and took it all back. “I love you, Eitan. I was wrong. I don’t need anyone else.” Music to my ears. I settled for leaving her on “Read.” My grandkids said that’s the most savage thing a person can do. I didn’t know what it meant, but I felt it applied to this situation.
When my break was over, the American was gone. I hoped she made it to her destination. I powered the bus back on and went on my way, picking up passengers as I headed back into the city.
As I followed my route, I decided to preserve my blood pressure by distracting myself and eavesdropping on the passengers like I used to do when I first started this job. I chuckled as a group of teenagers argued over the merits of Omer Adam’s new song. The boys thought it was cool but the girls disagreed, their acrylic nails clacking against their phones as they shouted over each other. I drove closer to the city and the intercom chimed: “Next stop:  Hahaganah Train Station.”
I pulled to a stop in front of the Haganah Train Station and the teenagers got off, one of them screaming “Toda” as she pushed past me. A group of soldiers got on and sat where the teenagers had been. I could tell from their green uniforms and the guns they held, currently resting on their knees like a child’s doll rather than deadly instruments of war, that they were in a combat unit in the army. They each carried extra large duffel bags with straps to go on their backs and they wore weary smiles of relief. They were likely about to go on their ten days of allotted leave, headed home to parents eager to see their children and give them home-cooked meals. This group looked like soldiers toward the end of their service, the youngest in the group probably around twenty and the eldest approaching twenty-two.
I’ve always felt a special affinity for combat soldiers since I was one myself during my service, back in the seventies. It was challenging and I lost a lot of friends in the Yom Kippur War, but it also made me appreciate life more. It was rewarding to be able to give back to my homeland in such a tangible way. The year they stopped calling me back for reserves training was the first year I really felt old. Shoshanah still gets called back, but that’s because she worked for the IDF’s intelligence unit. She’s always been a lot smarter than me. Was it possible in her request this morning that she was considering factors that had never occurred to me? Maybe, but I still thought she was wrong. The fact that she’s won almost every argument, both because she approached fights with logic and because I wanted to make her happy, was irrelevant here.
I continued driving further into Tel Aviv. Some of the soldiers got off at the central bus station but most of them stayed, discussing their plans for their leaves as they texted rapidly on WhatsApp, letting their family members know when to expect them. An old man got on at “Derech Begin. Allenby.” I watched out of the corner of my eye as he slumped against an upholstered blue seat at the back of the bus. The woman in the seat facing him looked mildly disturbed. The lines on his face were as deep as the Galilee, several tufts of white hair protruding out of his head like the Golan Heights into Syria. He wore an orange shirt that perhaps had once been a bright neon and fitted him well, but was now dull and muted, and it hung off his frame, his skeletal arms barely emerging from the short sleeves. If Shoshanah left me, I would probably look like that too. I noticed that he made no move to pay, either by an app or the electronic RavKav card, but it wasn’t my problem. I was paid regardless of whether he did, and it looked like he could use a free ride.
The powers that be (God? The Ministry of Transport?) disagreed, however, as a ticket inspector dressed in the customary blue uniform got on at the next stop, “Allenby. Lillenblum.” Passengers obligingly held out their RavKavs or apps as the inspector made his way down the bus, stopping to scan the documents against his device. The screen lit up green and made a satisfied chirp as he pressed one of the soldiers’ RavKavs to it. It was a quick accountability practice that everyone was used to. You didn’t have to speak Hebrew to figure it out.
The ticket inspector reached the old man at the back of the bus. The man grimaced and slid the lime green RavKav out of the front pocket of his shirt. It looked like it had seen better days. The screen turned red and made a grating beep. The inspector tried the man’s card again, harshly slapping it against the screen. Same result. “Just a moment. Don’t move,” he said to the man, before going to check the remaining three passengers’ documents. After being checked, the woman in the seat across from him moved to a different seat, clutching her bag tightly in front of her. God forbid Shoshanah ever did that to me. The inspector returned to the man, who set his face in a defiant smirk, bones visible through his wizened skin. “Why didn’t you pay?” the inspector demanded.
“My RavKav is expired.”
“So? Renew it before using the bus. Or use an app!”
“I don’t want to!” the man shouted at the inspector.
“Next stop: Beit Knesset Hagadol,” the intercom interrupted. I cruised to a stop. The man tried to duck around the ticket inspector and run away. The inspector followed him off the bus and easily caught up to him, grabbing his arm. I think society’s lack of respect for the elderly is a major problem. I understood that day that there are rules and consequences for not following them, but there should be exceptions to the rules, especially for those in positions where they are unable to afford their fare. At his age, this man had already contributed plenty to society—why did we have to hound him over a bus ticket? Shoshanah said if I care so much about politics, I should run for the Knesset, but all that arguing would hurt my head.
As much as she made me crazy, I couldn't live without Shoshanah. Then I would actually go crazy.
Outside, the man was still trying to get away, but the ticket inspector was holding him in place. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he tried to wrench his arm away.
“You have to pay.” the inspector ordered.
“I have no money, I have no money,” the man cried desperately. The fact that being unable to pay for a bus ticket warrants a hefty fine is ridiculous to me.
My passengers were starting to grumble in displeasure and I knew I had to get a move on. I didn’t want to have to listen to Israelis complain even more than usual.
I could still hear the elderly man and the ticket inspector shouting at each other as I merged back into traffic, a substantial feat in Tel Aviv. Delivery drivers whizzed around me on electric bicycles as I headed out of the Florentin neighborhood and towards the market, with irritated car drivers honking on all sides. Yesterday I wouldn’t have been able to imagine being in that old man’s situation, and how he must feel. Today, I could see myself decrepit and alone, subsisting entirely off the generosity of strangers. Maybe, just out of self preservation and for no other reason, anger wasn’t the best way to respond to Shoshanah. Maybe. I continued down Allenby, mindful of my passengers pushing the yellow buttons for me to stop, pulling over at “Allenby. Balfour.”
Passengers poured off the bus and onto the sidewalk as soon as I opened the door, to be immediately replaced by a new group. Among them was a woman with buoyant blonde curls. If the crowd had been bigger, and if her hair had been less conspicuous, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed the dog.
The law about dogs on public transportation is ambiguous, so it’s pretty much up to the drivers if they want dogs on their buses. I don’t like dogs, but I can usually ignore them as long as they’re small and stay out of the way, but this dog was enormous and taking up seats human passengers could’ve used. Also, I was still irritated with how the ticket inspector treated the old man, and between that incident and Shoshanah I needed to be in control. I needed to feel like a man.
“Yalla! Off the bus!” I shouted to the woman. I felt my blood pressure rise, forming a steady beat in my ears and causing my fingers to twitch. My heart was pounding so ferociously, I felt that my ribs would crack open and it would escape from my chest. The dog was so big, like the wild dogs I’d seen in the Golan Heights during the war.
 “I bring him on the bus all the time!” the dog’s owner angrily replied.
“Not this bus!” I retorted. My hands were frozen in place on the wheel. I had to get rid of the dog.
“But I already paid.”
“I don’t care! I’m not moving until you get off the bus.” I felt myself start to hyperventilate. It was so hot. I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs.
“He’s so well-behaved, though. Look, he’s even wearing a muzzle!” She gestured to the black muzzle strapped to the overgrown head of her insolent hound. Slobber dripped from its mouth. My best friend Ari coated in slobber. Ari, shot in the head by the Syrians, in the Golan Heights. Huge, monstrous wild dogs. Ari torn in half. Dogs eating Ari’s body, tearing him to shreds, and I couldn’t stop them because bullets were everywhere.
“It doesn’t matter,” I spat through gritted teeth. “No dogs on my bus.” The dog shifted in its stolen seat and I could see the wiry yellow bristles it left behind. I didn’t want to vacuum later. Tears escaped from my eyes, betraying me. I prided myself on my ability to be stoic. Israeli men don’t cry over dogs.
“Come on, lady, some of us have places to be!” a man in a suit shouted, coming to my rescue. His foot was anxiously tapping and he kept checking his phone. The rest of the passengers voiced their agreement. They hadn’t noticed my state. For a moment the bus was silent, thirty pairs of eyes surreptitiously watching the woman as she sat, fuming, with her oversized dog. She sat towards the back of the bus, but I could feel the heat emanating from her at my place behind the wheel. The symphony that is Tel Aviv traffic continued to play, cars honking and grown men screaming at each other from across the street. I took the lull in the argument about the dog on my bus to try to calm myself, pressing my hand to my chest and slowing my breathing.
Basa!” the woman spat. Curses continued to flow out of her mouth like the gushing of the Jordan River. The dogs ran and played in the Jordan, gnawing on Ari’s limbs. His blood stained the river red. The woman kept cursing, and I waited silently. She wilted under the stares from the other passengers. “Fine!” She picked up the beast’s leash, which I now realized she hadn’t been holding, and got off the bus.
Once the doors closed behind her, we all released a sigh of relief. I breathed in and out, reminding myself I was safe in my routine. This is why I hated change. If I could bury myself in monotony, Ari would remain a ghost from my past, a periodic figment of my nightmares that I forgot the moment I awoke.
I hadn’t thought about Ari in years. Shoshanah didn’t understand why I needed to keep things the same, but I never told her. I knew I should. As I drove down Allenby and passed the market, the road became congested with pedestrians. Carmel Market is both a tourist stop and a hub for locals. Smarmy vendors ensnared tourists with their wares: glittering rings and necklaces, t-shirts with Sababa emblazoned across the chest, and knock-off sneakers and designer bags. Locals knew to continue past them to the produce and deli sections of the market, where they could purchase groceries far more cheaply than at the AM:PM, a grocery chain ubiquitous throughout Tel Aviv, and well-known for its high prices.
“Next stop: Allenby. Bialik,” the bus’ robotic intercom interrupted my reverie. As I approached the next stop, a group of elderly women nearly jumped into the road to wave me down. Passengers usually leaned almost into the street to let us drivers know to stop for them, but we could see them on the sidewalk. They didn’t have to actually jump into the road. They also didn’t have to wave us down. It was a trade secret, but we could actually see them when they were all grouped up by the sign for the stop, and we knew that meant we should stop. We chose to let the Israeli public think we wouldn’t stop unless they waved for us like a group of clowns, enthusiasm for us painted in a red line across their faces from cheek to cheek because it gave us something to chuckle about.
I pulled over for the women and they nearly doubled over in relief, gasping for breath, physically spent by the exercise of alerting me to their existence. I opened the doors and they filed on, the scents of patchouli and vodka lingering as they passed me, scanned their RavKavs, and slumped down in the seats up front. Sometimes I wondered if there was an official uniform for elderly Russian women because it seemed like they all had the same hair, cropped close to their heads and dyed the same shade of red. Maybe it was a holdout from the Soviet era? Shoshanah said I read too closely into it, and that it’s a popular trend for older women. Then I asked why she didn’t adopt the hairstyle, and she said she isn’t Ashkenazi, which is fair. Her family’s Syrian.
The women on my bus sipped their iced coffees bought at the Aroma Café on the corner of Allenby and King George, as they chattered about their Shabbat plans and what they were going to cook for their families. Challahs from a local bakery stuck out of all their matching, navy blue bags. One woman mentioned that her grandson was on leave this weekend and was going to visit her. I wondered if he was one of the soldiers who had been on my bus earlier. It’s a small country, anything is possible. Then she added that he was in the air force and that she was really proud of him for being chosen to train as a pilot, since it’s a very prestigious role, and I knew I was wrong. The air force’s uniform is a different color.
I merged into the left lane and waited at the light to turn down Geula. The old women were now arguing about the best way to make borscht, at which point I decided to tune them out. Ashkenazim weren’t known for their cuisine. They thought hummuswas too spicy.
Shoshanah was an amazing chef. After she retired from her job at the university—I’ve mentioned how smart she was: the woman spoke five different languages and published multiple books about Mizrahi culture during her tenure—she decided to spend her new-found free time cooking. Food was the way to my heart, and marrying her was the best decision I ever made. There was no way I could fend for myself without her. Back when the kids were growing up, if Shoshanah was away on a research retreat or reserve duty, I had to cook dinner. This typically meant coming home from work with a pizza, because the kids learned very quickly that unless it was just to make a salad, I couldn’t be trusted in the kitchen. Take-out was fine for a week or two, but not for the rest of my life.
I pulled over halfway down Geula at “Geula. HaKovshim,” for a young couple. The man was Israeli, but the woman wasn’t. Maybe she was British? When she spoke, asking the man where they were going, I realized she was American, like my ditzy passenger from earlier.
“It’s a surprise,” the man told her in accented English. The woman frowned, but scanned her RavKav and sat down, laughing when her boyfriend struggled to get the app on his phone to work. “I’ll just use my military card, even though it’s only for emergencies.” She rolled her eyes at him as he pulled the card out of his wallet and scanned it against the screen, before sitting down next to her. He started stroking her thigh as she leaned closer to him, their heads bent together as they looked at something on his phone.
I turned onto Herbert Samuel. I love this part of my route because it’s parallel to the beach. I find it fascinating how the bustling metropolis that is central Tel Aviv disappears into the boardwalk, turning a sidewalk jungle into a Mediterranean paradise. The bus had nearly emptied out, so I could overhear the couple’s conversation clearly. Shoshanah always called me a nosy old man.
“Try to read this,” the man said to his girlfriend, gesturing to something on his phone. She frowned as she tried to sound it out. “Zeh… kiseh… gadol?”
Ken! ” the man beamed at her.
“I’ve been practicing.” She glowed. “I know so much! Shalom, ma nishma? Ani kol beseder.” Her American accent was very prominent.
“No!” The man shook his head and laughed. “It’s not shaloooom, it’s shalom. And it really isn’t an “r” day for you, is it?”
“Shalom, beseder,” she tried, attempting to mimic the throaty r sound that Americans struggle to make.
“That’s better.” It really wasn’t. She laughed and pulled his hand into her lap, playing with his fingers. “Your hand is so small,” he said to her, holding his up to hers and comparing the size.
“Or maybe yours is really big,” she retorted.
“Maybe,” he said.
I chuckled to myself. Oh, to be young and in love. Sometimes I missed the youthful energy, the ability to get up every day without my back and knees smarting in pain, and do whatever I wanted without thinking about my sciatica and high blood pressure. Being old wasn’t that bad, though. When my hair started falling out and my skin wrinkled up and still Shoshanah didn’t leave, that was how I knew she really loved me and enjoyed my personality more than she let on. Shoshanah was just as beautiful as the day I met her, if not more beautiful, although obviously I loved her for far more than her looks.
I don’t think I’ve told Shoshanah in a long time how much I love her.
If she really loved me, there had to be a good reason why she wanted an open marriage.
“Back in my day,” the woman said loudly in a silly voice, pulling me out of my thoughts, “we walked a mile to school in three feet of snow. And we liked it.”
The man laughed and added, “Back in my day, we had to write letters and wait three days to talk to our friends. And we liked it.
I rolled my eyes. They both looked like they were around twenty, give or take a year or two. They won’t be laughing when they’re my age and their day is long over, and she’s asking him to let her date other people. The man reached over and pressed the yellow button for me to stop. I was coming to the end of my route, in the port area. “Next stop: Hayarkon. Arlozorov,” the bus said robotically. I pulled over at the next stop for them.
“Are we getting off?” the woman asked.
Yalla. Let’s go,” the man replied.
“Toda raba,” they both called over their shoulders as they got off. I smiled and kept driving. I only had five stops left and then my shift was over.
I needed to start bracing myself for the coming conversation with Shoshanah. I knew I had to hear her out, but this was a fight I planned on winning. If it was change she wanted, I could change for her. I could be more spontaneous, take her on trips, make her fall in love with me all over again.
Shoshanah’s always hated being in one place for too long. I remembered when we were dating, and I first tried to broach the subject of marriage. She was very hesitant. “It’s not that I don’t love you Eitan, I really do, but what if I get bored? What if I meet someone else?” I told her she was worrying too much about the future, and that she should focus on the present and our love one another. It took a few tries but I eventually wore her down.
I wondered if this whole opening up the marriage thing was just those doubts coming back up, Shoshanah wondering if there was something better out there that she was missing out on because of me. If this was the case, I just had to show her she was wrong. No one else could possibly love her as much as I did.
While stopped at a light, I surreptitiously pulled out my phone and sent Shoshanah a quick text, telling her to pack dinner to go, because I was taking her for a picnic somewhere, and that she couldn’t argue with me on this. I then turned off my phone because I didn’t want to see her reply.
We would go to the beach in Ashdod, where we lived while the kids were growing up. That beach holds a special significance for us. It’s where I sat on the picnic blanket across from her and watched the wind blow back her curly hair, her warm brown eyes shining as she laughed at my jokes. It’s where I fell in love with her and knew this was who I was meant to spend the rest of my life with. It’s where I proposed and where we were married.
During dinner, we would talk and sort everything out. She would explain and I would listen. Then it would be my turn and I would share things I’ve never spoken about before. Maybe we’d fight and maybe there would be raised voices, but I was determined not to leave until we’d come to an acceptable compromise.
After our conversation I would take Shoshanah to the convenience store where we used to buy ice cream bars. We’d eat the grainy vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two wafers as we sat in the car and listened to the music of our youth. Maybe we’d go back to the beach and walk hand in hand along the water.
I’d kiss her with the passion of a much younger man and remind her that I was the only man that had ever satisfied her. The waves would crash along the shore and lap against our ankles, glittering with the reflections of light from a thousand stars in the night sky. I’d tell her how much I love her, and how I’ll do my best to make each day different from the last.
I turned onto Rokach boulevard. The bus, at this point, had completely emptied out. I hoped I wouldn’t have to vacuum after that dog. I didn’t need a tangible reminder of the ghosts in my past. Fingers crossed that that woman and her dog got off my bus before it shed too much. I looked at the seat through the mirror, but I couldn’t tell. “Next stop: Reading terminal. End of the route.” I sighed in relief as I pulled into the parking lot. I found a spot and flicked all the switches to turn off the bus. I was done for the day.
I pulled out my phone and opened WhatsApp. Shoshanah had replied “Okay” to my message. I replied with a heart and told her that I’d be home soon.
After a moment I added “I love you.”
Shoshanah responded, “I love you, too.”


Satisfied, I got to my feet and went to check the dirty seat. It was clean enough. I was ready to have a mature conversation with the love of my life about her concerns, and I was prepared to hold my own. I gathered my things and got off the bus. I didn’t see anywhere the driver who was supposed to take over for me, but this wasn’t my problem. It was time to go home to Shoshanah.


Copyright © Alana Goldman 2024 

Alana Goldman is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is completing her B.A. in Global Studies, focusing on international politics and the Middle East, and English & Comparative Literature with a concentration in creative writing. She is active in Jewish life on campus, holding leadership positions in both her school's Hillel and her Jewish sorority, Sigma Rho Lambda. Alana writes fictional short stories centering on Jewish culture and people. Although she has published several poems online, this is her first publication for a major work. 

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