Nomi and I had a snail. We placed it in any empty ice-cream packing, on a bed of lettuce. We took turns spraying it with water drops. Morning come, Nomi would emerge from our bed, her face disheveled, and sleepwalk to enquire how the snail was doing. She rejoiced with every black-rimmed bite, clapping her hands and drawing me to witness the tiny miracle. She replaced the perforated leaf with a green and dewy one about once a week.
At first, her minuscule charge concealed itself among the decaying greenery. Nomi spent hours, patiently awaiting a revelation. Crowned with a set of dark, huge earphones that I bought her, she pounded her keyboard, keeping a lovat eye on the snail’s abode.
When it finally emerged one day, the music stopped and she exclaimed elatedly.
Later that year, I was sentenced to a prison term. On the way home, courtroom echoes reverberated in the hushed interior of the car. Nomi said: “Let’s go somewhere before….” And I responded: “Let us go to Eilat, to our hotel.”
“A pity the jazz festival is over.” She frowned. “A pity,” I agreed.
At home, an air of doom, we packed a hasty suitcase and booked the flight.
A thing I said reminded Nomi of the snail. She held its lair in both her hands and placed it accusingly on the glass top table in the living room.
“What shall we do with it?”
“Let’s leave it enough water and food for a whole week,” I suggested. “His needs are few, he is so teeny, so I don’t think there’ll be a problem.”
Nomi secured an errant golden curl behind her ear: “You sure?” I was and so we entombed him beneath some salad leaves and showered him with water and Nomi giggled: “To him it’s rain”. Then she grew serious.
It was an early morning. Nomi felt my swollen eyelids, pausing her finger on the protruding veins. On the way to the elevator, she stopped, unloaded a laden rucksack and hurried to the entrance door, wildly rummaging for the keys in her multicolored purse. She returned to me, flushing and panting and uttered: “It is fine! It climbed through some lettuce sprouts,” she reported. Her morning voice was moist and hoarse, Edith Piaf-like. I cast a virile hand over her shoulder and guided her outside.
We spent four days in Eilat. We slept a lot and swam the pools, among the waterfalls and artificial rocks. My sister happened to be staying there with her newly minted family. But it was already chilly and autumnal and, four nights later, we decided to return. My imminent incarceration loomed and Nomi was atypically broody. I tried to comfort her, thinking what a consummate liar I had become.
When we reached home, Nomi dumped her suitcase, precariously balanced on its two hind wheels. I heard the metallic clinking of unfurled bolts and she was gone. A minute or two later: “I can’t find it!” and then “It is not here, Sam!”
We cautiously separated one gnawed leaf from another. We studied the inside of the box and its immediate neighborhood, the marble counter. The snail was nowhere to be found.
Nomi was restless for the remainder of that day. Down hill, at a crossroad, concealed behind a gas station, stood an intimate French restaurant. It was our crisis eatery, a refuge of self-administered great wines and nouvelle cuisine. But today its charms failed. Nomi was crestfallen throughout dinner. She sat and gestured and chewed the food mechanically.
Still, ever so practical, faced with numerous arrangements before my disappearance, she recovered. But she refused to discard the now orphaned container and she made sure the leaves were always fresh and glistening. She thought that I didn’t notice how she inspected the box, hoping to find her snail in it, revenant.
“It must be bigger now.” She sighed. “Today I plan to clean the entire house. It is your last weekend here.”
On cue, I went to the public library and spent a good few hours reading Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”, a story about a respectable clerk turned loathsome insect in his sleep.
We used to clean the house together, Nomi and I. She would sluice the floor and I would dust, scrub the bathrooms and the kitchen. It was one of the last things we did together before we stopped.
The afternoon was muggy and I walked home, immersed in thought. I found Nomi slouched on an armchair, surrounded by heaps of furniture and bundled carpets. Her face wore tearful makeup, her eyes were distant, and her hair bedraggled. I upturned a chair and faced her, silently.
She pointed speechlessly at the general direction of the kitchen and then subsided.
“I stepped on it, I squashed it. I didn’t mean to! It is still so small and I don’t know how it made it to that corner!”
“It must have climbed the refrigerator and descended to the floor,” I ventured. She signaled me to keep away.
“I had to clean the house because of you, because you are going.”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I tiptoed to the kitchen and contemplated the mess of snail and concha on the floor.
“Shall I wipe it off?” I enquired meekly.
“Now, I don’t even have a snail.” Tears blended with startling exhalations. “You will be gone, too! I thought we could fight the world, you and I, that we are invincible. But it is not like that at all! We can’t even look after one snail together!”
“Are you mad at me?” I asked, and she snorted, part pain and part contempt. She scooped the shattered snail with a paper towel and dumped both in the overflowing trash bin. She froze like that awhile and then she deposited the box, replete with lettuce leaves, in the garbage can.
“I don’t think I am going to need it. I am never going to have another snail. At least not with you.”