SOMETHING DIFFERENT (SHORT STORY)
Ever since she’d been a teenager, it had been the same refrain.
“Why can’t you meet a nice Jewish boy?”
Rachel sighed. “But I don’t want to meet a nice Jewish boy,” she thought to herself. “I want something different. I want a bad boy.”
Her mother was off again. “Mrs Fishman’s daughter’s just got engaged and she’s two years younger than you.”
Rachel shrugged her shoulders, uninterested in the dating successes of her mother’s neighbours’ offspring.
“You could find yourself a nice accountant, or even better, a nice Jewish doctor,” and here, a tear sprang to Rachel’s mother’s soft brown eyes.
“A doctor, that would be one in the eye for Mrs Goldbaum. Perhaps even a specialist?” Rachel’s mother had to sit down quickly, overcome at the thought.
No, Rachel didn’t want a nice Jewish boy. She wanted something different.
There had been boys at uni, of course. Bad, bad boys. There was Tariq, who took her out on his motorbike; Christopher, the teacher who gave her lines that were totally unconnected to detention, and Ho-Sung, the martial arts fanatic …
“Or a solicitor, maybe. Or a barrister?”
Rachel’s mother was off again. Rachel smiled. Barrister! The closest she’d been to that was that barista, Carlos, she’d met at the student coffee bar. He’d certainly been close to the law a few times but not in the way that Rachel’s mother had ever had in mind.
All too soon, though, uni came to an end. And, unable to find a job in London that would pay to rent more than a shoebox, Rachel had had no choice but to come back home to Leeds, and suffer her parents’ rules.
“But what if I don’t want to meet a nice Jewish boy?” Rachel asked her mother, for the umpteenth time.
“Not want to meet a nice Jewish boy? Rachel, really. You have to marry a Jewish man, so you can bring your children up Jewish. Saul, come and listen to this.”
Rachel’s father, Saul, put down his newspaper, wearily. It had been so nice to have Rachel back home but, all too soon, the arguments had started up again. He reached for his cheque book and a clipping from the Jewish Chronicle newspaper.
“Rachel, do me a favour. Just join this. Here’s the money. Keep me and your mum, happy, eh?”
Rachel read the clipping. A new Jewish dating website called Dates All Ready had just been set up: “Have we got Jews for you!” ran the headline, accompanied by an eye-watering joining fee. “Find the Smoked Salmon for your Bagel,” continued the ad, accompanied by photos of simpering, happy couples.
“But I don’t want smoked salmon,” replied Rachel, “I’m a vegetarian …”
“While you’re living under our roof …,” began Sarah, Rachel’s mother.
Saul looked over at her, pleadingly. Anything to preserve the peace ….
“OK, OK. Thanks, Dad, I’ll give it a try,” Rachel conceded. “I’ll just go up to my room and sign up.
Wearily, she turned on the computer, logged into the Dates All Ready website. Search males: 20-45, she instructed. It was all so predictable.
“Benny: already know him from school. Mummy’s boy. No thanks.”
“Paul: went on a date with him once. What he lacked in personality, he made up for in perspiration. No wonder, he’s still single…”
“Joe: he’s still on the market,” and then, remembering his rather excessive interest in her clothes at the youth club dance: “Thought he’d be a Josephine, by now.”
There was a knock on the bedroom door. Rachel’s mother popped her head round the door.
“Just brought you a cup of hot chocolate. Seen anyone you fancy yet?”
“Not yet, mum.”
“Oh, he looks nice, what about this one?” said her mum, pointing at a picture of an older guy with a scowling face and greying hair.
“I recognise that one: Bernie Fox,” said Rachel. “But didn’t I hear that he’d got married?”
“Twice,” said her mum, “But, hey, hope springs eternal … Anyway, keep looking. We just want you to be happy….”
“Thanks, Mum, I just need to join up first before I can contact anyone anyway.”
“I’ll leave you to it,” said her mum. “Good luck.”
To humour her parents and to keep the peace, Rachel started filling in her online profile.
She didn’t really want to meet anyone on the website, anyway, so decided not to put too much effort into it. Once she finally found herself a job, and could leave home for good, she wouldn’t have to submit to any of this pressure anymore. For now, she guessed with a sigh, she’d just have to toe the line.
She searched for a photo of herself which didn’t make her look too attractive. She uploaded one particularly unprepossessing one of her with her long, dark hair scraped back and wearing no eyeshadow on her almond eyes. Anything to scare any potential suitors away …
After all, it was not as if she had anything against Judaism itself. She’d grown up in the comforting rituals of her parents’ religion, and looked forward, as much as anyone else, to the songs and candles of Sabbath and Chanucah, the big family meals at Passover, even the hungry, soul-searching of Yom Kippur.
But, she reflected, there was a whole world out there. At uni, she’d joined in just as passionately with the lights of Diwali, given up chocolate for Lent and even had a go at fasting for Ramadan…
Religion, she mused, was like a chocolate box. Some rules were hard, some were soft, but it was nice to be able to pick and choose. Why limit yourself to one religion and just one boy from that religion?
Especially when her interests and hobbies were so diverse. She loved the speed of motorbikes, loved watching wrestling, liked hunky men who were good with their hands: builders, plumbers, construction workers. And she had a particular aversion to accountants.
Dutifully, she filled in all her requirements. If the website were offering her a filling for her bagel, she knew deep down that, like the centre of a bagel, the result would be a big fat zero.
After all, she might find herself a Jewish baker but a Jewish biker, and one who liked martial arts and bricklaying? Fat chance!
Once she’d finished her registration, she lay down on her bed and flicked through the pages of her favourite fashion magazine.
Ten minutes later, there was a ping on her computer.
“Jonathan winked at you,” came the message from the website.
She quickly read his profile. No motorbikes, no kung fu but, predictably, Jonny liked jazz.
Jazz? No, heavy metal was more Rachel’s thing. Dream on.
“David smiled at you,” came another message.
She glanced through his profile. “Hoping to become a partner in my own accountancy firm one day,” it ran.
She yawned and was about to close down the website when – ping – a message came that Reuben would like to talk to her.
Reuben indeed. No way was she going to indulge in an online chat with another hopeless candidate for her affections. She was, she reminded herself, only doing this for her parents but still….
“Press Yes to accept, press No to reject,” screamed the online message.
“I should just press No,” thought Rachel, savagely. Then, looking at her watch, “If I’m quick enough, I can just nip out to the pub. Anything’s better than being stuck in with this.”
She was about to press No, when she took a quick look at Reuben’s photo. He was dressed in martial arts wear, and had masses of long, black wavy hair…
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt just to have a chat,” Rachel thought, “As long as that is his photo and not downloaded from some kung fu website.”
They chatted long into the night. Reuben told Rachel that he was a black belt in karate, that he owned a motorbike …
“It’s hardly a Harley yet, but hopefully, one day ….”
“Reuben,” Rachel said, cheekily, “You do sound like a bad boy ….”
At breakfast, the next morning, Rachel appeared quite sunny at the table.
“You were up late last night,” said her mother, serving the porridge. “Tapping away at your computer?”
“Yes, I met someone on that dating site Dad asked me to join. He’s asked me to meet up with him….”
“Oh,” said her mother, her bosom swelling with pride. “What’s his name? Is he a doctor?”
“He’s a web designer called Reuben,” said Rachel, and saw her parents exchange knowing looks. “He wants me to go and meet him for a drink tonight, at a pub in town.”
“A pub in town?” spluttered Saul, Rachel’s father. “Can’t he come and pick you up like a decent human being?”
“Dad, you did want me to meet someone from the website…”
“OK, OK, but just be careful, eh? You don’t know this guy ….”
Later, in the pub, her heart beating wildly, Rachel looked up as a tall slim man with dark hair, and clad in motorbike gear, made his way over to her.
In the pub, they talked and talked for hours.
“Yes, it’s my third motorbike …. I’ve practised martial arts for years …. I had a go at fitting my own kitchen.”
She told him of her dreams: to leave home, to find a job in fashion, to have her own line of alternative clothing one day.
Looking round her in the pub, she caught sight of Mrs Fishman’s daughter sitting at a corner table with a pale youth, each silently nursing an orange juice.
“Another pint?” asked Reuben, knowingly.
She smiled. The evening was going so well, Reuben, was, quite frankly, gorgeous and seemed to complement her wide range of interests perfectly.
“I’ve really enjoyed this evening. Would you like to meet up again?” asked Reuben, soon after last orders.
“Yes, I would,” said Rachel, with a smile. “You’re like a breath of fresh air…”
“Rachel, there is perhaps one thing I should tell you …,” said Reuben, his expression darkening suddenly
“Oh, no,” thought Rachel, “He seems so perfect. If he tells me, after all this, that he’s married or gay or …”
“I think it’s only fair to tell you that … I’m not actually Jewish. And that my name’s not actually Reuben, it’s Ronan. And I’m a Catholic…”
Not Jewish? But the website ….?
“Yes, I know it was wrong of me. But I do like Jewish girls. I guess I just wanted something different.”
Something different. Rachel laughed to herself, happily making arrangements to see Ronan the following Tuesday. And, after all, as she reasoned to herself, her parents could hardly complain. After all, hadn’t they wanted her to meet someone from the website and hadn’t she done just that? She was just being a dutiful daughter, and, as she rode home, on the back of Ronan’s motorbike, she could swear she saw the corner of Mrs Fishman’s front curtains flicker in the breeze.