Raul didn’t have helmets. So when we rode I held on tight.
He tucked me into the sidecar with a very serious look on his face. The sidecar, which I’d learn later was built by the classic Steib Metallbau, looked so sleek — almost like a bullet. Raul was usually so playful that any serious moments really stood out. He was always serious with the bike.
He walked around the beautiful machine, inspecting its sturdy frame. He checked the fuel tank. He knelt down and applied a pressure gauge to each tire in turn. He even tested the tension and lubrication of the chain.
It was a BMW from 1954.
It was always this way. A bit of preamble before we ever got going. The funny part was, he’d settle me in the sidecar before the inevitable ten minutes of fiddling around. But I didn’t mind. His love for the bike showed and his attention to its every detail impressed me. It made me look at the bike with a critical eye as well. It was a BMW from 1954, styled in a way that exposed the motor, gas tank, suspension… everything.
I hadn’t been into motorcycles before I came to Israel, to the Kibbutz Maayan Zvi, just south of Haifa. But my deep feelings for Raul included the bike as well, because it was a part of him. It’s not like he talked to me about it. He barely spoke English and neither of us spoke Hebrew.
When he felt content that everything looked right, he fired up the engine. He looked perfectly at home perched on the saddle. His muscular forearms tensed as he gripped the handlebars and the motor growled. He finally allowed himself a smile, looking at me and raising his eyebrows. He kicked the bike and twisted hard, so we shot forward with incredible velocity.
The beginning of the ride was smooth. We fired out of the compound and onto the highway, toward the sea. His eyes were fixed straight ahead, pure concentration. He seemed like part of the bike, his sculpted limbs melding perfectly with its contours. The air rippled his shirt and the blonde hairs of his beard.
He seemed like part of the bike, his sculpted limbs melding perfectly with its contours. The air rippled his shirt and the blonde hairs of his beard.
Then we began tilting forward, and the pit of my stomach dropped as we flew down the steep hill. The bike went faster and the sidecar vibrated violently on the road’s rough surface. I screamed into the wind, but it didn’t make a sound. We soared down the massive hill, the entire Mediterranean laid out in front of us.
The ground finally flattened out. I tried to steady my beating heart, but it was trying to jump out of my chest. Just when I thought things were calm, Raul jerked the handlebars and we veered off the road onto a dirt path that led to the sea. On the way lay a collection of wide, round fishing ponds ringed with dirt paths. Raul sped around each pond, gunning the bike so the g-force made it feel like I would be flung out of the sidecar. Around and around we went, first with the bike on the pond side, then with me in the sidecar next to the water, sure I would break free and crash any minute. The tension was almost too much to take — my hands ached from gripping the steel frame of the sidecar. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it any longer, Raul pulled out of the curve, angling directly for the clear blue water. When he finally parked, I threw myself onto the sand and panted, loving the feel of the solid ground.
It was that way all the time. The Ulpan is intended to be a group experience, and at many times — meals in the dining hall, wine in the dorms — it was. But Raul would often show up unannounced and pull me away from the group for rides down to the sea, searching out the secluded beaches that no tourists could find.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take it any longer, Raul pulled out of the curve, angling directly for the clear blue water.
Once we got to the beach, we’d build sand castles and run around. We barely talked the entire two months i knew him. It was like our relationship was pre-linguistic. There were only about 10 words we had in common. It was all smiles and laughter.
I had a pair of overalls that I loved to wear. One time I looked for them and couldn’t find them, only to see Raul wearing them. He was easy in that way, smiling and talking and thinking nothing of it. When he brought them back to me, he had filled all the pockets with flowers. Dozens of flowers were pouring out of every opening. It made me laugh so hard.
From tidbits of conversation with him and others, I gathered that he was from São Paolo and had been traveling all over the world. Israel was one of his stops after India and the Far East.
The night before I was to leave, we were dancing in the courtyard and he leaned over and kissed my neck. I knew that if I kissed him back, we would go inside and to his room. But I was leaving the next day, and the innocence of our relationship was too much to lose.
Later that night, I climbed into his sidecar and rode down the mountain to the shore one last time.
I don’t think my 18-year-old self processed that intellectually, but in my heart I knew it. I just held him, and we swayed back and forth. Later that night, I climbed into his sidecar and rode down the mountain to the shore one last time. There was no moon and the sky was dripping stars. We lay on our backs and drank in the magnitude of that moment.
I woke the next day and left.
In my suitcase I later found a long note written in Portuguese. I kept it for a long time, but never got it translated. This was before the internet and what could have been an easy translation. Instead, I would look at how he slanted his letters, how he capitalized a group of words, how he had drawn a flower, and imagine so many different things that he would have said in farewell.