At the time I couldn’t imagine ever needing another single thing.
We’d been traveling for three weeks when we settled in a campground on the shore of a lake in Zurich.
One afternoon, my travel mates wandered off to the campground store while I drove the last plastic peg into the pebble-hampered soil. Our small tent was up once more. I referred to it as the Taj Mahal. I spread a towel on the ground and sat down to admire my handiwork.
My friends returned, carrying Cokes and oranges.
I called out. “They speak three languages in Zurich! They speak a blend of German, French, and Swiss!”
My companions exchanged sour looks.
“We should avoid the weird Irish people at the ping pong table,” I continued.
My friend Chris sighed heavily. “Please. You have to be running out of information.”
What?? When I had kept them both entertained for three weeks already, regaling them with one fascinating anecdote after another.
Chris sighed again. “Thirty seconds. That’s all we ask. Can you sit quietly for 30 seconds?”
I frowned. “What a thing to say. Of course I can.”
Her boyfriend Jim consulted his geeky high-tech wristwatch and set the built-in timer, presumably for 30 seconds.
“Really, you guys are—“
“Thirty seconds! Starting now!”
I rolled my eyes (which required no verbal expression) and stared at the lake, fuming.
“You’re half way there.”
Honestly—how childish. I hugged my knees to my chest and cursed them both while at the same time noting the appearance of a small of group of swarthy-looking young men. One of them, the tallest and swarthiest, carried a large block of Swiss chocolate.
The sultry one stopped in front of me.
A giggle rose. “I’d love some!”
My friends groaned in exasperation. I wondered if he was a sheik! He asked what he’d done to merit such a reaction.
He introduced himself as Abnir; officer in the Israeli army.
I introduced myself; student from California.
“But to me you will be Little Chicken,” he purred, eyebrows twitching.
“Of course,” I twitched back, having no idea why I reminded him of poultry.
A willing audience! Heaven! I immediately relayed in detail everything that had happened since we left Madrid, adding colorful details where they happened to be missing.
My friend Chris muttered, “Has she been on the same trip as we have?”
Now it was my turn to send her a sour look. Did she realize that an animated discussion for the two of them usually involved an earnest and detailed examination of the weather?
And they were still holding a grudge against me because I once spent money on an éclair instead of on bottled water.
I turned back to Abnir.
“And it was so cold at night in Germany that I just sat in the tent and cried. Sure it helped to be right next to the beer garden but only so much…”
He nodded, sympathetic; he was such a nice man. When he motioned that we should walk by the lake, I gladly followed.
“And I had just hung up my wet underwear all over the train compartment when I heard a knock at the door. It was the handsome stranger I spied earlier and secretly vowed to follow to the ends of the earth! Did I tell you I bought stamps in France and then got on the train and crossed the border into Brussels? No, I couldn’t use them. They were completely useless to me.”
Abnir watched me, slightly dazed. An hour later his friends joined us and I paused to breathe.
One of them mentioned to Abnir that he had missed his date with a woman friend.
“Oh, when was I supposed to meet her?”
“An hour ago.”
Abnir turned to me reproachfully.
I shrugged. “I didn’t hold a gun to your head.”
He smiled indulgently. “Not a gun, Little Chicken, but a tongue!”
His friends thought that was hilariously funny and I told Abnir that I had enjoyed his company but should return to my tent. He looked crestfallen. His eyebrows even drooped a little.
“Then I will call for you later in the evening.”
I hesitated. “Oh, I’m not sure what we’re doing this evening.”
“I will call for you later,” he murmured.
I gave him a look that he might interpret as provocative and wandered away.
Who says no to a sheik? Not me.
Back at the tent, I slept the afternoon away and woke up refreshed. The sun was just dipping toward the lake when I opened the flap and hopped out, just to slam into Abnir.
And slamming into Abnir was like slamming into the trunk of a California Redwood.
He stood there grinning, a deflated air mattress slung over one shoulder.
“Shall we go for a walk, Little Chicken?” Those eyebrows just never took a breather.
“I think you mean “chick,” not Little Chicken.” Just a quick lesson in American slang.
“To me you will always be Little Chicken.”
Always or for the next hour and a half.
I gestured vaguely toward the air mattress.
“What’s that for?”
“What? This?” He seemed perplexed that I was asking.
“What do you plan to do with it?”
Abnir sighed, ever patient, or at least for an hour and a half.
“Now, Little Chicken. I’ve heard about you American girls.”
I spluttered a little. “Oh.”
Suddenly I missed my staid companions. I wondered if they were walking to a neighboring country to get a better price on toothpaste.
“I’m only half American.”
He laughed. “The top half or the bottom half?”
Who knew sheiks were so funny?
“Well, Abnir, you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.”
He gazed at me for a full minute and then tossed the air mattress into a clump of bushes. He extended one swarthy hand and bowed slightly.
“Then walk with me by the lake, Little Chicken, and tell me a story.”