Israel Stories

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Vendor

The Vendor

Afula bus station isn’t the most prestigious bus station in the country. Some might call it retro some might be more honest and call it bloody ugly, but whatever your feelings and architectural eye, you can still catch buses to all over Israel so its serves its purpose.

All bus stations in Israel (the old ones anyway), I think by law, must contain certain characteristics and characters. The ticket booth must be just a little too high to see the teller, get your ticket and retrieve any change before it falls to the street. The bus station must smell of fumes and falafel. Speaking of falafel there must be a least one independent falafel seller. There must be a group of at least 10 male soldiers sitting on a bench to fit two and another 10 sleeping under it. There must be at least two Arabs selling Jeans out of a plastic bag, a group of spiky haired pre-teens smoking, a gaggle of females soldiers, two beggars, two street peddlers selling bootlaces and string, one man collecting shekels outside the toilets and a hardedi family with 14 kids who are hopelessly lost. There must be one Habad rabbi asking if you would like to put on teffilin, two policemen, one security guard, one rubbish collector and 500 taxi drivers lurking around the exit.

Afula is no exception. A glimpse of all that is great in Israeli society, well maybe not.

I forgot one other character, the guy who sells telephone cards. But in Afula he was selling telephone tokens, you know asimonim, the special telephone tokens with the holes in. Now I know enough about business to know that since all phones use cards, asimonim aren’t exactly a growth business. But that’s where I was wrong.

So I walked over to the guy, sitting on the ground in his rags, smelling of anything but rose petals, and mentioned that none of the phones in the bust station use tokens and that maybe selling cards would be a better idea.

“Mind your own business”, he snapped. Fair enough I thought, I shouldn’t have interfered.

So I stood there watching him, wondering what on earth he hoped to achieve by sitting on the ground hoping to sell out of date tokens.

A little while later a group of school kids gathered round him, each one waving money in his face. Then another person and then another. OK, I thought, so I just learned a lesson in business. I went back over to him and apologized for my comments. I told him it actually was a clever business.

“Business”, he laughed (the laugh of a man that’s smoked 100 cigarettes a day since he was 5) “this isn’t business its nostalgia. I’m not in it for money. For 30 years I have sold asimonim, now they don’t use them anymore, I have over 1000 left in my store. All my life I sold them why should I stop now?”

Nostalgia, I thought. How sad. There he sits all day, a sad and downtrodden human being, ignored by the State, by his family, with no friends. This is all he has, a dream of a former life he refuses to let go.

Then for an instant I was 15 on holiday, walking through a bus station, I see an asimon vender, buy three and then thread them on a chain around my kneck.

I looked down at him, “I’ll have three please.”


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