Irish skin in Tel Aviv

It didn’t happen all at once. I arrived in Israel and survived for two days. A friend and I had flown from St. Petersburg, Russia to Tel Aviv at the end of a year spent wrapped in scarves, traversing snow and ice, and learning to text with gloves on. The sun had become but a distant acquaintance. So in a desperate attempt to reignite the spark in our relationship I booked a ticket to the shores of the Mediterranean and shamelessly threw myself beneath the sun’s fierce gaze.

I played it cool to begin with; I ignored the blue sky and glittering sand at first and went sightseeing instead. On the second day of the trip we visited Jerusalem and I returned to the hostel with a red neck. A small red tinge along the line of my t-shirt. I was encouraged by this, the sun and I had flirted and I was enraptured. That patch of warm skin made me nostalgic for the beaches of long-past summer holidays. All I wanted was that special one-on-one time that I had so craved while in the northern wastes.

The next day I stepped outside and exchanged a knowing smile with the sun; that would be the day we rekindled our love. The sun and the sand were waiting for me; I could hear them from the hostel window and my knees trembled. I did remember my weak white skin and I bought some sun cream, protection if you will, in anticipation of my communion with that heavenly body.

The sun was hypnotic and time shimmered to a stop. I walked across the sand and felt that glorious heat on my feet, my forearms, my shoulders, the tips of my ears. As I lay on the sand I was engulfed. An embrace. Now and then I ran between the beach and sea, the water a warm blue, and my towel a crackle of sand. As I sank further into hypnosis soon all I knew was the sun, my thoughts fragmented at its touch, and I scarcely knew my own name.

Two people from the hostel joined us on the sand. Their presence imposed a chronology on my blissful delerium with the sun and it appeared to be lunchtime. We prepared to leave the beach and in doing so I caught a look from one of them. A pained crease of the brows and an awkward twist of the mouth directed at me. “You’re looking a little red”. I laughed and inwardly rolled my eyes, I was used to that. Practically every summer there had been a day when my skin would show its allegiance to my father as we sat red and uncomfortable amidst a sea of olive skin. I paid it no attention and smirked that I was used to it. I walked back to the hostel to change.

Mirrors can be cruel things. In the bathroom I was forced to see what that look had expressed. I had underestimated the sun; I had been so enamoured by it that I had failed to see that we were not compatible. I was not emotionally and physically strong enough and so I was burnt; a transcendental, cross your chest and pray to God kind of burnt. I looked like I had been held under an iron, the skin around my eyes crispy and raw. What’s more I had two white hand prints in the middle of my chest. I thought I had clean forgotten to apply sun cream in the blur of time and heat when in fact it appeared that I had simply stopped mid-way through. The sun a screeching harpy, inducing me to lower my hands and lie supplicant on the sand. I looked like I had either been branded twice by the white hand of Saruman, or like a ghost was hugging me from behind.

Needless to say I got loads of compliments for my new look. I turned heads walking along the promenade, while shopping in the supermarket, just about everywhere in fact. One women was so impressed at how the colour of my legs matched my t-shirt (a fetching crimson of course) that she stopped and stared, her mouth hanging open in awe.

I cursed that light in the sky.

The next day I attended a party. I covered my legs and body as much as possible. My trousers and shirt hid the evidence of my tryst with the sun, while also providing me with a pleasurable rubbing massage. I felt ashamed and used. I desperately hoped that my attire would disguise the pain I was in, the fact that it hurt to blink, and that every ten minutes I had to excuse myself from whatever conversation I was in to go to the toilet, roll down my trousers and splash cold water on my legs and face. I remember neither names or faces from that evening, just trousers wrapped around ankles, shiny red flesh, and despair.

It so happened that I only stayed for two more days in Tel Aviv after that. England welcomed me home, her rolling grey clouds a welcome and cooling relief from the sun, which was a good thing too, since we were no longer on speaking terms.

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