Korbi’s Girl
Written by Etgar Keret- Narrated by Kirby Heyborne

 

Korbi was a punk like all punks. The kind that you don’t know whether they’re uglier or stupider. And like all punks he had a beautiful girlfriend, who no one could understand what she was doing with him. She was a tall brunette, taller than him, and her name was Marina. And whenever I passed them on the street with my big brother, Myron, I would get a kick out of seeing him move his head from side to side in a kind of slow “no” movement. As if he was saying to himself, “What a waste, what a waste.” Korbi’s girlfriend must have gotten a kick out of these head movements too, because whenever we came down the street opposite her and Korbi she would smile at my brother. Until at a certain stage it turned into more than smiling, and she began coming to our house, and my brother began kicking me out of the room. At first she only came for a little while, in the afternoon. Afterward she would stay for hours, and everyone in the neighborhood began to know about it. Everyone, except for Korbi and his dumb friend Krotochinsky, who spent all day sitting on upturned crates outside the Persian’s grocery shop, playing shesh besh and drinking Sprite. As if apart from these two things there was nothing else in life. They could sit opposite the board for hours, and add up thousands of points of wins and losses, which didn’t interest anyone but them. When you walked past them you always had the feeling that if the Persian didn’t shut the shop in the evening or if Marina didn’t show up, they would stay stuck there forever. Because apart from Marina, or the Persian pulling the crate out from under him, nothing would make Korbi get up.

A few months had passed since Korbi’s girlfriend began visiting our house. And my brother’s kicking me out of the room already seemed so normal to me that I thought it would go on like that forever, or at least until he went to the army. Until one day my brother and I went to Youth City. It was quite far from our house in Ramat-Gan, something like five kilometers. But my brother insisted that we walk instead of taking the bus, because he thought it would be a good warm-up for him for the Youth City ball bouncing championship. It was already evening, and the two of us were wearing tracksuits, and when we passed the Persian’s grocery shop we saw him throwing out the dirty floor-washing water next to the tree opposite his shop and getting ready to lock up. “Have you seen Marina today?” my brother asked him. And the Persian answered him with a half sucking noise, which is the kind of sound that even without knowing Persian you know means “no.” “I didn’t see Korbi today either,” said the Persian, “the first time this summer that he didn’t show. I dunno why, it’s a nice day today.” We went on walking. “I bet him and Krotochinsky have gone to Youth City too,” I said. “What do I care where they went?” my brother snapped. “What does anyone care where they went?”

But Korbi didn’t go to Youth City. I know, because we met him on the way, in the Yarkon Park, not far from the artificial lake. He and Krotochinsky came toward us on the path. Korbi was holding a rusty iron bar and Krotochinsky was scratching his head, and they weren’t talking, as if they were concentrating on someting important. We didn’t greet them, and they didn’t greet us. And only when we were right next to them, when we had already almost passed them, Korbi opened his mouth and said, “Sonofabitch.” And before I understood what was happening, he hit Myron in the stomach with the rusty bar, and my brother fell on the asphalt path, writhing in pain. I tried to go up to him, to help him get up, but Krotochinsky grabbed me from behind. “You.” Korbi turned my brother over from his stomach to his back with a few kicks. “You stole my girl when we was going steady,” he yelled, his face was all red, and before my brother could reply Korbi put his shoe on his neck and transferred almost all his weight to it. I tried to free myself, but Krotochinsky’s grip was too tight. “You know, Gold, that there’s one of the ten commandments against what you did,” Korbi hissed between his teeth. “‘Thou shalt not steal’ is what it’s called. ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ but you? With you it’s like water off a duck’s back.” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” I said, I don’t know why, on the ground I saw my brother’s eyes roll up. “What did you say?” Korbi stopped. When he turned to me a little weight was lifted from my brother’s throat, and he began to cough and retch. “I said that it was ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ what you meant,” I mumbled, “that it was another commandment.” I prayed to God that Myron would manage to get up now, and that he would beat the shit out of Korbi. “And if it was another commandment,” said Korbi, “you think that makes any difference? That because of that I’ll take my foot off your sex-maniac brother’s neck?” He leaned forward again. “No,” I said to Korbi, “not because of that, I mean. But let go of him, Korbi, you’re choking him. Can’t you see that he’s choking?” Korbi took his foot off my brother’s neck, and came up to me. “Tell me, Gold, you’re a good student, right? You look like a good student to me.” “So-so,” I mumbled. “Don’t give me that so-so crap,” said Korbi and touched me on the face with the back of his hand. I moved my head back. “You’re a hot-shot student.” Behind him, on the ground, I saw Myron trying to get up. “So you tell me, Gold.” Korbi bent down and picked the iron bar off the sidewalk. “You tell me, what was the punishment written in the Bible for breaking the ten commandments?” I kept quiet. Korbi began bouncing the iron bar in his hand. “Come on, Gold.” He twisted his mouth. “Tell me, so’s I’ll know, ’cause I’m thick and not such a hot-shot at school as you are.” “I don’t know,” I said, “I swear on my mother. I don’t know. They taught us the commandments and that’s all. They didn’t say anything about punishment.”

Korbi turned round to my brother, who was lying on the asphalt, and gave him a kick in the ribs. Not viciously, calmly, like someone bored kicking a Coca-Cola can. A small noise came out of Myron’s mouth, as if he didn’t even have the strength to yell. I began to cry. “Do me a favor, Gold, don’t cry,” said Korbi, “just answer the question.” “I don’t know, motherfucker,” I cried. “I don’t know what the punishment is for breaking your fucking commandments. Just leave him alone, you shit, leave him alone.” Krotochinsky twisted my arm behind my back with one hand, and gave me a punch on the head with the other. “That’s for what you said about the Bible,” he spat out, “and that”—he punched me again—“is for what you said about Nissan.” “Leave him alone, Kroto, leave him alone,” said Korbi, “he’s upset on account of his brother. Please, tell me,” he went on in a hoarse voice while he lifted the iron bar into the air, “tell me or else I’ll smash your brother’s knee.” “No, Korbi,” I cried, “please don’t do it.” “Then tell,” said Korbi, holding the bar in the air, “tell me what God said somebody deserves who steals somebody else’s girlfriend.” “To die,” I whispered, “anyone who breaks the commandment deserves to die.” Korbi swung the bar right back and threw it with all his strength. The bar landed in the artificial lake. “Did you hear him, Kroto?” said Korbi. “Did you hear Gold junior? He deserves to die. And I didn’t say it.” He pointed to the sky. “God said it.” There was something in his voice, as if he was going to cry too. “Come on,” he said, “let’s go. I just wanted you to hear Gold junior say who’s right.” Krotochinsky let go of me and they both walked away. Before he left, Korbi touched my face again with the back of his warm hand. “You’re OK, kid,” he said to me, “you’re OK.”

In the parking lot next to the park I found someone to take us to the hospital. Compared to what it looked like Myron got off relatively lightly. With an orthopaedic collar for two months and a few bruises on his body. Korbi never came near my brother again, or Marina either. She and my brother went steady for over a year and then split up. Once, when they were still together, the whole family took a trip to the Sea of Galilee. Me and my brother sat on the shore and watched Marina playing in the water with my big sister. We looked at her and the way she splashed the water with her tanned legs, the way her long hair fell forward, almost completely covering her perfect face. While we were looking at her, I suddenly remembered Korbi, how he nearly cried. I asked my brother about that evening when they caught us in the park, I asked him if he still thought about it. And my brother said yes. We kept quiet for a bit and watched Marina in the water. And then he said that he thought about it a lot. “Tell me,” I said, “now that she’s already with you, do you think that what happened then in the park was worth it?” My sister now turned her back and held up her hands to protect her head, but Marina went on splashing her and laughing. “That night,” said my brother, moving his neck slowly from side to side, “nothing in the world is worth that night.”