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The Nike Cap

The Nike cap.

Leon’s anger had been simmering for a long time, threatening to erupt each time Robbie annoyed him.

Robbie never knew Leon when they both lived in South Africa some 40 years prior to the event I’m going to recount in the following story. But he had known people who had known him and even had their nerves singed by the fire of the crazy fellow’s temper.

Robbie played with fire, forever provoking people by word and deed. His presence alone posed a challenge; everything jutted out of him, his square jaw, covered by prickly grey and black hairs, like assegais in the hand of a Zulu warrior, ready to be flung at whoever came within reach, his barrel shaped belly, held back from bursting by a pair of braces, stretched to their limit. Robbie was always doing or saying something explosive.

Leon gave the appearance of being passive, he never gave vent to his anger. People who didn’t know him in the old days never dreamed that he could ever be angry.

Leon had in fact healed his anger by practicing Buddhism. No earthly provocation, even a slap in the face could rouse him to anger.

Somehow Robbie sensed that Leon could be made angry, he just had to hit the right nerve. He was the only person in fact who Robbie had failed to anger and he posed a challenge.

Their friendship was the work of Shaul, a fellow with the strange characteristic of introducing himself to strangers and getting them to make friends with each other. Without him it’s doubtful that Robbie and Leon would have met, even though they had many friends in common, because in his younger days Robbie had frequently visited Krugersdorp, selling calendars.

The trio had evolved a custom of meeting each Friday morning at exactly 10:30 at Coffeez, on the Jaffa Rd sidewalk. All expended considerable time and effort getting there, even risking danger.

Robbie travelled an hour and a half by bus from Efrat, the town between Hebron and Jerusalem. The journey took him through two tunnels, built by Israel to avoid the more troublesome spots on the road, like the town of Bethlehem, under Palestinian control.

Being on the high risk list for Corona, Leon also experienced a bit of bother; to his utter disgust Etti forbade the use of public transport and insisted on driving him to the meeting.

Shaul’s effort was also noteworthy; he arrived by bicycle from Motza, an out of the way neighborhood at the entrance to Jerusalem.

Each week one of the participants bought the drinks; decaf for Shaul, regular cappuccino for Robbie and tea for the ex-hot- tempered man from Krugersdorp.

Leon, still smarting from the indignity of being driven like an invalide, carried the hot liquids in paper cups, almost scalding himself in the process. Neither of the gents seated round a little red table, reading the newspaper, offered to help.

Robbie was speculating on the possibilities of the cap that forever covered Leon’s head. The black Nike cap, with the silver eagle, tantalized him.

Relieved that the hot liquid hadn’t scalded him and smiling with pleasure at the prospect of a cup of tea, Leon plopped into a chair without removing his precious hat.

That headpiece had covered his bald pate almost continuously from the moment Etti had bought it specially for their trip to Lisbon, two years previously.

The morning after their arrival, he donned his new black Nike for a before breakfast stroll along Avenida de la Liberdade, the beautiful boulevard, Lisbon’s equivalent of Champs Elysees and 5th Avenue.

The cap stayed on his head throughout a memorable visit, a year later to Rome. It became his trademark as tourists followed it, as Leon guided them along the alleyways and bazaars of the Old City of Jerusalem. The priests at the Holy Sepulchre Church nodded their heads and declared, “ah there is the tour guide with the black Nike cap”.

Then it happened, at that lovely moment of expectation of pleasure, Robbie stretched out a hand and ripped off Leon’s Nike Cap.

He exploded, banging his fist on the table making it shake so badly the whole town thought another earthquake had struck Jerusalem. “That’s it”, shouted Leon, “I’m leaving and you will not see me here ever again, I’m sick and tired of your behaviour Robbie, you treat people like objects, talking rudely and loudly, and now I’ll have no more of this, I’m going”.

Like a building covered in lava, the friendship he’d worked hard to create, was being buried. Shaul jabbered something like a workman desperately trying to move the hot molten stuff away, but only burning his hands. Leon looked at him with hatred in his eyes, regarding all the goodness of Shaul as meaningless nonsense.

Leon was like a fuming volcano. He wanted to stop the angry outpouring of his wrath but there seemed to him no prospect of success.

Robbie was satisfied, Leon finally treated him the way everyone else did, and he smiled, saying; “I knew this was going to happen, I’m used to it”. This melted Leon's heart and his hate and anger at Robbie turned to love, first for him and then for all the world.

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