Five-minute memoir: The wrong boyfriend

Stuck in a dirty hostel in Jerusalem with an ill man, Tamar Cohen realised the error of her ways

One summer many years ago, I found myself stranded in Jerusalem with the Wrong Boyfriend.

This was regrettable.

I was 19 years old and had decided to spend a couple of months after my first year at Manchester University working on a kibbutz in Israel. Which is where I met a group of shaven-headed Germans on the first leg of their round-the-world tour.

Which was also regrettable.

In the mid-1980s, shaved heads were synonymous with dodgy skinhead ideology, and Germans – particularly tall, blue-eyed, aloof, Aryan-looking Germans – were still viewed with mistrust by many Israelis.

One of the group was different. Ralph had brown hair, brown eyes and an immense energy for life. “I am Ralph Heppenheimer!” he shouted at the moon. “And nothing can bore me!” We became close quickly, bonding over our love of the slab-like chocolate sold in the kibbutz tuck shop and our hatred of the 5am starts. Ralph spoke fluent English, in direct contrast to his friend Martin, who had little in the way of conversation. However, Martin looked like a Greek god and I was young and shallow. Reader, I have to tell you, I chose the Wrong Boyfriend.

I realised my mistake fairly quickly when Ralph withdrew and Martin failed to laugh at my jokes, but nevertheless, when they announced they were absconding from the kibbutz to travel down to Eilat via Jerusalem, I decided to join them.

In Jerusalem, we wound up in a squalid hostel in the Muslim quarter run by a couple of grumpy hippies. We slept on thin mattresses on the floor in a unisex dorm, and almost as soon as we arrived, The Wrong Boyfriend got staggeringly, hideously ill. Raging fever, sweats, hallucinations. The others stared at their non-refundable bus tickets to Eilat dated the following day and blew air out slowly from their cheeks. It would be stupid for us all to miss out, they said.

So they took their bus, arranging to meet back in the bus station in Tel Aviv in 10 days’ time. Waving goodbye to Ralph felt like a bereavement. I was left behind in that cockroach-infested hostel in Jerusalem with The Wrong Boyfriend.

The hippies were none too pleased at having a sweat-soaked, shaven-headed German languishing in the dorm all day, and keeping other guests awake at night raving in another language. One night, when his temperature was so high he looked in danger of self-combusting, they insisted I took him to the public hospital a few streets away.

A few streets is a long way when it’s 1am and you’re wearing the clothes you chose to pick lemons in in a progressive kibbutz, not stagger through the religiously-conservative Muslim quarter with a shaven-headed German draped around your shoulders.

When we arrived at the hospital, a woman shouted at me, her outraged face inches from mine. “It’s forbidden for you to touch him because you’re not married,” a weary orderly translated, gesturing to my naked left hand.

So I propped The Wrong Boyfriend up against the tiled walls and retreated to a smaller, women-only waiting room, hoping he wouldn’t topple over in my absence.

The doctor we saw a few hours later had the air of someone who had seen it all. He told us The Wrong Boyfriend wouldn’t die, though it might take some time for the antibiotics to take effect.

For the next few days, Martin sweated out the remainder of his sickness. One afternoon, desperate to be free of the hostel, I ventured out in my inappropriate clothes, braving disapproving looks and the odd salivary missile, and caught a random bus. The bus wound its way up into the hills outside of the city, and it wasn’t long before I rang the bell to get off.

I didn’t know it at the time but I’d arrived at the top of the Mount of Olives, a site steeped in Biblical history. All I knew was that the views were spectacular and the landscape deserted. For that whole afternoon I sat under an olive tree and gazed out on the scenery, and something in me shifted, the worry of the last few days crumbling into the dust around my filthy feet.

Martin and I said goodbye a couple of days later, he re-joining his friends in Tel Aviv and me going, cap in hand, back to the kibbutz. I had a letter from him when I got back to Manchester, written in stilted, text-book English. He’d given up on the round-the-world trip and gone home, enrolling in college and growing his hair.

Ralph, meanwhile, was travelling on, still shouting at the moon.

Tamar Cohen’s third novel, ‘Someone Else’s Wedding’, is published by Doubleday

News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions