Your Holiday Romance

Peter Slater

His Name was Ophir and he was, I suppose, about the same age as me - 19. I had been on the kibbutz for a couple of months before he appeared, tousle-haired, perpetually smiling, on leave from the Army. I was glad he hadn't shown up earlier. By that time I'd recovered from an attack of sunburn and my skin had had a chance to heal, and then tan. I'd settled pretty well into the life of a kibbutznik.

The first time I saw him I had returned from the fields - sweaty, covered in dust, aching and feeling, as one did then after hours of strenuous physical work, that I could live forever. There is no joy so great as physical labour - providing one is well-fed and not mistreated. Ophir was hosing down a muddy trailer beside the dining hall. I remember the flecks of light falling through the pomegranate tree on to the skin of his bare chest - he wore only a pair of tatty denim jeans. Directly he saw me, he turned the hose on me. The fierce icy blast almost knocked me down, but after an initial gasp of horror I held my ground and gloried in the grateful delicious coolness - swearing angrily at him all the while.

So we became friends. It's easy, somehow, if you can break down the barriers so dramatically. We quickly discovered shared interests in literature, music, the movies, and used to go for long walks in the hills of Galilee with bread, olives and water. Among our topics of discussion was whether people have national characteristics. "You English are so afraid of the physical!" he would say, throwing an arm around my shoulders, or perhaps linking arms with me as we strolled round the kibbutz in the cool of the evening. Sometimes he would kiss me spontaneously on the cheek or lay his head upon my chest as we lay together in the cotton fields gazing up at the sickle moon.

We both had girlfriends on the kibbutz. I assumed he was not gay - his physical affection being merely a "national characteristic" of Israelis - and assumed that he assumed I also was straight. Indeed, even though deep down I recognised my true nature, I could not bring myself quite to believe it. Gays, surely, were men like Quentin Crisp and Larry Grayson, not ordinary non-mincing types like me - or Ophir.

Ophir was my first love. I can never know what difference might have been made had we had a physical consummation - although I think perhaps something might have been lost. Sometimes one can't help thinking that the age of consent for both men and women should be raised, so that more can experience the sheer uncluttered joy of early, non-sexual romance.

He returned to barracks and a week later I went back to London. We exchanged a few letters, but it wasn't the same, and our correspondence tailed off. I have his photograph and a T-shirt belonging to him. The first time I washed that shirt, several months after I had been back in England, I felt a new, intangible, place in my heart. It's still there.

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