Sharon Ya’ari, ‘Mosaic (double exposure at 90-degree turn),’ 2013

Courtesy Meislin Projects, NY

The Kid’s Demise

Reflections on October 7th

Orian Morris
November 21, 2023
Sharon Ya’ari, 'Mosaic (double exposure at 90-degree turn),' 2013

Courtesy Meislin Projects, NY

This article is part of Reflections on October 7.
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The question that will always linger: Am I to blame? I don’t know who’s asking this question—the dog that passes by me in the street, looking at me, his gaze heavy with suggestion: You could have stopped it, had you been a little less selfish. I confront his gaze, insisting, “That’s not true, it’s not! It isn’t as straightforward as that. How was I to know?” But then I realize—the dog isn’t the one asking the question.

There’s a voice in my head. It hurts. It reminds me of every disappointment I’ve handed my boy. On his eighth birthday I showed up, even though I wasn’t supposed to. We had agreed on separate celebrations, but she had invited all of our friends, and I couldn’t stand the idea of being excluded, of having everyone there without me. So I appeared. And he said: “Dad, you’re not supposed to be here.” Still, I belted out with defiant cheer, “Happy birthday! …”

Years later, he said it was his worst memory of me. The one day he’d like to forget. And I replied, "... Sorry.” By that time, we had sort of figured out how to communicate; he was 15, followed his own mind, never listened to me. Which, in a way, allowed me to speak more openly with him. I told him I was sorry, that I really shouldn’t have come, but I was not in a good emotional state at the time. My pride was wounded, and I had let it get the better of me.

He said he understood. And that he was sorry, too, if he had upset me. I told him that I was probably too foolish and hurt to even notice. But that he was right; these are the moments I’m most grateful for now, those exchanges that we had.

The dog in the street makes a motion with his hind legs, kicking back the dirt where he did his business, or perhaps his imaginary business, as I didn’t see him actually do anything. It’s just the two of us in the street. He’s wandering about without his owner, and I’m strolling down a side street in this small town. When he scuffs back the dirt with his hind legs, I feel dismissed. Left to the whims of the wind; of the dust, to what’s past.

And that’s precisely where I stand now—existing as mere residue, devoid of purpose, yet stubbornly persisting without clear reason. My kid, he’s calling out to me. He never really desired my presence, always had this gesture of brushing me away from him, like I was some kind of pest. But now, though he’s dead, he calls out to me all the time: “Dad, where are you?” Now, he needs me. But how do I reach him? If I were to drive my car to the desert and then off some ravine, would I find my boy who’s calling for me?

I doubt it. I think all that will remain of me is my son’s call. I won’t even have eyes to see a dog on a side street. I won’t have the sense, of a single moment of peace, only the howling echo of my son’s desperate cry: “Come!” That’s all that will remain, if I heed his call. So, I cling to existence. Yet, I feel like such a coward. Still lacking the courage to save my son, not now in his death, and certainly not in his life.

I feel dismissed. Left to the whims of the wind; of the dust, to what’s past.

I’m here. That’s a fact. I’m here in a place where dogs do their business, or don’t, and just act like it out of reflex. I’m still here, where this dog is now sniffing the plastic trash can, maybe some leftover food has clung to it. He lifts his head toward me for a moment, checking me out.

And now, I’m thinking, maybe this dog is the boy. Maybe he’s come to pay me a visit, and when he says “Come,” he wants me to come closer. To embrace him. I move toward the dog, who seems to recoil slightly, much like my son, who would comply with a hug, but only out of courtesy. Always that physical reluctance. As I bend down to the dog, he moves his head slightly away from me, and as I draw my face nearer, he suddenly screams, a peculiar scream, and runs off. As if struck, when all I wanted was to hold him.

It’s a medium-size dog, a mutt. White with patches of ginger. Not the kind to get much love. My son used to always let his hair fall over his face. In his early teens, it was his way of hiding his acne. It pained me because I wanted people to see how beautiful he was. But he wanted to hide how ugly he felt.

I never had that problem. I was always athletic, a known heartthrob in my younger days. That allure stayed with me. I knew it caused my son deep pain. He resented me for it, too. Once, in a moment of what I thought was sensitivity, I tried asking him if he wanted to do something about it, maybe go see a dermatologist. His response was bitter, though I can’t recall his exact words. He said he wanted those blemishes, wanted them to be visible, just so he wouldn’t be like me—seemingly perfect on the outside. But we both know how miserable everything was beneath the surface.

Why “miserable?” I asked defensively.

He answered bluntly, “You know why.” Then, turning away, he added under his breath, “Don’t act like you don’t.”

I betrayed his mother, yes, more than just a couple of times. It’s true. But she knew what I was like from the very beginning. She once said to me, “You’re too handsome. My mom told me the first time she saw you, ‘Don’t marry a handsome man. It’ll only bring you headaches.’” But my wife claimed she loved me for things about myself I hadn’t even realized. A certain deep-seated shyness, she said. Working in real estate, I was always surrounded by women, both at the office and beyond. I found it hard not to enjoy what the world offered, and I didn’t see any harm in it. Not that I’d ever want her to act like me, God forbid. But eventually, even that became something I could live with.

Toward the end, she had a boyfriend. Some guy in security named Saul, whose job I never fully grasped. But I understood she was drawing a line here. “Think long and hard, or you’ll lose this family life. You’ll lose both me and parenthood.” I must admit, not only did this not deter me, it lightened my load somewhat. My guilt no longer weighed so heavily. She had her boyfriend, I had my girlfriends. And both of us would fetch the kid from day care, cook, and lay him down to sleep. But animosity began to sprout between us.

The boy was clearly on her side. I don’t know how he figured out there were sides, but he definitely picked one. And then those little comments started coming. “Saul’s taking me to the zoo tomorrow. Can’t wait!” I didn’t want to overreact, but I told her that this was crossing a line—what’s with Saul suddenly taking my kid out? Her response was firm, pointing out those were her hours, because, as usual, I was buried in office work. She had managed to schedule an appointment with a specialist for the next day and didn’t want to cancel, so Saul stepped in to help. And she was certainly not going to say no. The kid enjoys his company, and they get along so well.

I was genuinely shocked and asked her when had she introduced our kid to the boyfriend. She told me that about four months along, she realized things were serious and it was time for them to meet. “Why didn’t you think to ask me first?” I demanded. Clearly, I would never have agreed. But she was firm; said she didn’t see the need for my permission. “You have your life, and I have mine. Isn’t that pretty much the arrangement you wanted?”

We were in serious trouble. That was the moment when I knew this couldn’t go on, that staying any longer might lead to something awful. I actually felt the urge to go to Saul’s house and shoot him before he had the chance to take my son to the zoo. But I knew he probably had a gun, and I, ironically, did not. So, it was a somewhat strange idea, but so overpowering that I struggled to shake it off. Then it hit me: I needed to release her, to step back before things really went south.

Within two minutes, I laid it out for her: It was over. I told her that she could live as she pleased, but I wanted a divorce. And she better get herself a good lawyer because I had no intention of being especially nice anymore.

And that’s exactly how it unfolded. The proceedings began, assets on the line. I’d been the main breadwinner, funding our home, our investments, and maintaining a separate business account. She knew I could make it tough for her—and I was prepared to. She asked me to be considerate, suggested we skip the lawyers who would just make everything messier, and to remember our child’s well-being. But I wasn’t there. “All is fair in love and war,” my father used to say. And this was certainly war—my wife telling me that I had no say over whether our son saw her boyfriend or not.

I instructed my lawyer that we were not looking to destroy her. She still needs to be able to make a living, to work, and to do the kid’s laundry. But that we were definitely going to bring her to her knees before anything gets signed. And that’s exactly what we did. We dragged things out, piling on endless expenses, knowing full well she didn’t have the money to cover them. Six months down the line, Saul’s name was no longer part of her vocabulary. Seems like Saul wasn’t cut out for dealing with a woman swamped in problems. He’s the type to play the hero, but things had become muddled, anything but pleasant or charming—a neglected woman in need of consolation. It was a prolonged, grueling mudslinging battle. He must’ve packed up his stuff and moved on. She didn’t tell me, but I read it between the lines.

That was the moment when I dialed it back a bit, leaned in and said, “Let’s just sort this whole mess out, get an agreement on paper. No need to drag this out and make it uglier than it already is.” She was on board with everything, and I made sure she had a place close by, with a decent mortgage, since selling the house was our only real option. And so, life continued. We ended up living just a neighborhood apart, in the same community. I didn’t exactly want to be near her, but I also didn’t want to add extra hassle for the kid, shuffling back and forth between homes. Handed her the keys to the nice car I had, and leased myself another ride through the company. And if all this drama had any impact on my work life, my business ventures, it was all for the best. I had my time back in my own hands, and the sting of her leaving for another man gradually faded.

But then the real wound started to hemorrhage—my relationship with my son. One day he told me that Saul left because of me, and that he, this young cub, was angry with me. I didn’t know how to begin to respond. I assumed she was turning him against me. When I called to confront her directly, she said, “Have you completely lost your mind?” She swore she never said any such thing in front of the kid. Why would she even talk about it? She hadn’t mentioned Saul in his presence for over a year, not since he left. I thought about it, not quite believing. “Don’t lie to me,” I said. She hung up on me. That evening, I texted her an apology. Then it started to dawn on me: Something was happening here that I wasn’t fully grasping. My son had his own perspective on what had happened.

I wasn’t sure if his views were based on facts, intuition, or something else. But he was definitely keyed into everything. I wasn’t in a good place with him, that much was clear. Yet, it was a tough pill to swallow; I had kept telling myself, “Look at the money piling up in the bank account. That’s a good sign, right? Look at the ex-wife, not doing too badly with her house, part-time job, and the better car. Things are gradually falling into place for all of us.” But for him, things weren’t falling into place, I realized.

Then came the real trouble: the drugs at a terribly young age, which, again, I was the last to notice under all that long hair covering his face. He got in deep. Not only did the police crack down hard on his whole bunch, but it turned out he was the one dealing to his friends. God knows why, because it’s not like he couldn’t get money if he’d asked for it.

It ended in house arrest. First they put him on probation to make sure he stopped, after already being interrogated once and not confessing. It didn’t deter him one bit; he kept dealing at school, in the neighborhood, on his scooter, in clubs. Turns out, I raised some sort of drug lord. And now they finally caught him, dismantling his whole network.

The ex-wife declared it was my cue to step up, and the kid arrived to serve his eight-month sentence under my roof. My entire routine went to hell—no more guests, no nightly escapades with female companions. Nothing. Just him and me, coexisting in seclusion. He holed up in the safe room, which doubled as a sort of studio, while I kept to my own spaces. The living room, by some unspoken rule, became a demarcation line—if he occupied it, I retreated elsewhere. He respected my space too, not bothering me during my evening routines, if I was watching the news or whatever. Meals were another matter; I would deliver his food to his retreat. He insisted we never dine together. That was our new, odd normal.

I was itching to boot him out of the house. But I was extremely careful, never allowing a slip that might reveal that urge. I sensed that we were being tested, and I clung to the hope that maybe, just maybe, something positive would come out of this whole ordeal. The ex-wife, too, nudged me with hints, suggesting there was a real opportunity for us in this mess. But whatever that opportunity was, I couldn’t see it. I simply resigned myself to the unspoken agreements he had imposed. I never barged into his safe room to lay down the law, to tell him, “This can’t go on!” or “If you’re living under my roof, you follow my rules!” Mostly because I was certain he’d retort with, “Fine, then I’ll just inform the lawyer to shift my house arrest to mom’s place.”

I could’ve also taken a softer approach. Just told him, “Stop eating in your room. Want to eat? Join me in the living room or at the kitchen bar.” I could have just asked him, in a nonchalant way, “What movie would you like to watch? Maybe we can watch it together?” Or suggested, “Hook up your laptop to the TV, let’s see what series you’re into.” But the truth is, I was scared. Scared of that offhand dismissive gesture, a slightly turned shoulder, the hair over his face that drove me mad.

I finally blew up at him a couple of times. I’d had it with talking to a haircut instead of my son. “Get that hair out of your face already,” I told him. “Just so you know, it’s giving you zits. Hair collects dirt and oil, you need to wash it once in a while.” After those outbursts, a cold war began. Sanctions followed; his glares turned to contempt. And I learned my lesson—never again would I comment on his body or face. He started to mock me openly: “You’ve got a call, idiot,” or, “Answer it already, are you deaf?” Our communication had spiraled down to places so low, I wouldn’t dare let his mother glimpse them.

One day, I received an extraordinarily peculiar phone call. It was from Saul. He wanted “us” to meet. At that moment, I was so desperate, I even considered reaching out to Super-Nanny on TV to figure out what to do with myself and my son. So, I didn’t dismiss Saul outright. He started, “Listen, I’ve been talking to Estie. Over these past few years, I’ve been supporting her through all the school issues and stuff. I’m now a director in the Education Council of the juvenile unit. A position I took after my discharge from the service, and I have some influence in the system. We’re not really in touch, except that I keep tabs on what’s happening with your son and help out wherever I can.”

I agreed to meet, thanked him, and apologized for how I’d answered the phone. We decided to meet at the BIG Mall in Beit Shemesh; there’s an Aroma cafe there, and it was close enough for me to arrange a shift in the house arrest supervision. I had a recently discharged soldier helping me out with the house arrest situation, giving me a chance to breathe now and then. As soon as the soldier arrived, I dashed to the BIG. Saul was already sitting there. Somehow, I recognized him instantly, looking exactly as I had imagined. A man with a broad base, a bit of a belly, balding, and a thick, confident smile. He stood up and shook my hand. I don’t know why I found it flattering to shake his hand, but it felt good.

He told me he thinks a lot about Omri. That he knows it might be out of place to share this with me, but what remained for him from that relationship was a deep affection and concern for the boy. And in that, he was sure he and I could be closer rather than adversaries because we were on the same side. I told him that anything good for Omri interests me too. And that I don’t really see the world in those terms—camps and sides and all that.

He said great. And then he said something else. He felt the kid had accumulated a not-so-good pile of emotions, some sort of negative baggage, and it was crucial that he unpack all that because he was entering a new chapter soon. He was very encouraged that I had registered Omri for external studies next year, and that the boy would start preparing for his matriculation exams. But soon, he would be out of house arrest, and we needed to make sure he breaks this self-destructive pattern.

That really spoke to me. I knew he was right. I asked him, “What do you suggest?” He said, “Look, this might sound absolutely wild at first. I’m organizing a motorcycle trip in northern India with three friends from the service. We do this every year. We have a regular agent who arranges top-notch bikes, all safety-checked, complete with communication systems in the helmets. We’ve got years of experience and pick our routes based on the season. Every stop is mapped out ahead of time. We have a satellite phone, like those used in emergency services, at every stop. You can be in contact with us 24/7, someone will always be there to respond. Plus, there’s an open line to two of the guys who are high-ranking and need to stay available for consultations. So you can rest assured.”

“What I was thinking,” he continued, “is that more than anything, the boy needs a turning point. To clear his environment, steer clear of the people he’s gotten tangled up with, for better or worse. To see a different world, different landscapes. To feel responsible for himself, capable. Because I know what house arrest does. It’s like being turned into an infant. And so I was wondering, how would you feel about joining us, you and Omri?

I said thank you, but there is no way I could come, we were preparing for a huge sale of 38 flats, in a new high-rise that was failing to sell. The flats had to go right away, otherwise the whole project would sink into bankruptcy, and the state would empower someone else to deal with it. It wasn’t something I could back away from, being sales chief. It was supposed to be my big hour.

“See,” he said, “I thought that might be the case, I know you have a lot on your hands. I’ve really thought this through: What if just Omri comes? I’ll ride at the back, and he’ll always be right in front of me. My sole task will be to watch over him, ensure he’s safe and well. But of course, this is only if it works for you. If you agree.” That’s how he put it, and I could see he had a real grasp of the situation, as well as goodwill.

I told him, “Give me a few days to think about it.” I must admit, the idea was compelling. House arrest was set to end in two weeks, and I was genuinely anxious about what would happen next. I couldn’t just dismiss the opportunity for him to be around such people—solid, reliable men from a different era. It could be an excellent influence. Plus, the idea of riding high, through a vast country. Who knows what effect it might have on him? It could distance him from his current circles, in every way. And I also knew that I was dealing with a highly reliable and competent person, offering a genuinely kind proposal.

He said, “Just so you know, we need an answer within five days. We’re finalizing ticket bookings and everything. If the answer is yes, then the day after Omri finishes his house arrest, you’ll go report that he’s completed his term, and I’ll accompany you to the police station. It’s important he sees us together. That he knows you’re fully on board with this. And the day after that, we fly out. If that’s the plan we agree on.” He added, “Of course, I’m not saying anything to the kid. I’ve also told Estie not to mention anything until you decide it’s all suitable. OK?” He stood up, shook my hand, and said, “I need to get back to the office. But you have my number. I’m available for any question, any doubt. Anything, I mean it.”

I remained seated there, feeling deeply self-conscious. Embarrassed that I don’t have the answers, and I don’t have such friends, or strong hands like his. Security-trained. I felt very small, as a parent, barely surviving this house arrest period, that could utterly ruin the relationship with my son if not handled correctly. But at that moment, I also knew that my feelings, our current relationship, wasn’t what mattered most. It was all about the kid’s welfare. Just that. And this man here, could be a sort of a lifesaver, arriving at a much-needed time.

I went home, thanked the neighboring soldier, still on his discharge leave, and handed him a 200 shekel note—a good sum for just over 50 minutes. I decided to get straight to the point.

“Omri,” it took a while for him to come out of the room. We were so tired of each other.

And I told him everything. About meeting Saul just now and the offer. It was hard to gauge his reaction; for a moment, his eyes seemed to light up, but then they dimmed again. And all the while, that hair of his.

He said, “Are you serious? Mom would never agree.”

I told him, “She already has, and I’m waiting to see what you think. And if I see that you really want this for yourself, then you have my consent too. I met him, he seems a very reliable man, and I feel we can absolutely trust him.”

He looked at me with disbelief and even brushed his hair aside, gracing me with a glimpse of his face in his astonishment. And I saw that much of his skin had healed. He must have taken some care of himself, ordered some products, and treated his skin during all this time in the safe room. But he was very pale, in a somewhat unhealthy way.

“We have five days to decide,” I said.

The boy looked down at the floor and said he was a little scared. That maybe he wouldn’t know how to ride with them. That maybe he’d even have a panic attack on the plane. He had never flown alone.

I could see he wanted to go, but something inside him was contending against the idea, against him; a harsher voice. I said to him, “Come here, kid,” and he stood up. I stood next to him and suddenly he just crumbled in my arms, nearly as tall as me, sobbing uncontrollably within his slight frame. His whole body trembled. And I hugged him, just held him.

And he said, “If you think it’s a good idea, then I’ll go.”

I told him I thought it was a good idea. That it was right. Worthwhile. And we laughed together, out of sheer fear. Then he went back to his room, probably to broadcast this exciting news across all his networks. I made myself a coffee, and as I did, tears started rolling down my cheeks. I couldn’t even say what I was feeling, just this overwhelming release, like finally, after all this time, a good moment was coming for my boy. After such unbearable tension in the house, with his strange smells from being cooped up, maybe from his ointments too. I don’t know. But here, at last, something good was happening for this odd, smart, lost child. Whose life had become so messed up because of me.

I remained seated there, feeling deeply self-conscious. Embarrassed that I don’t have the answers, and I don’t have such friends, or strong hands like his.

We were now on Saul’s schedule. Together, we reported to the station, and I let him do most of the talking with the officers, almost as if he were a lawyer. He showed his ID, and everyone listened. My son was cleared. They said all the monitoring showed he hadn’t violated any conditions and was free to go, but warned him not to get into trouble again. Even the boy managed a smile under those messy curls, which he had actually washed the day before.

For the first time in four years, since his bar mitzvah, Estie and I were in the same car, riding side by side. In her car, she drove. We were accompanying him to the airport. And he said, “It’s so great you guys are taking me, together.” His voice almost broke on the last syllable, but he managed to pull through as he turned toward the passengers’ gate with his suitcase. Saul was already waiting for him, with an open, welcoming gesture, guiding without touching, a bit like leading a suspect to custody. We had exchanged hugs before parting, and some warm handshakes too. Then, awkwardly, we were alone, me and her, as if nothing had ever passed between us, ever.

And that was it. Every day, Saul would send me updates on the boy’s condition. Encouraging things like, “Rides like a pro.” I was part of the WhatsApp group that buzzed all day with messages they wrote to each other, and their wives back home. This went on for four days. And Omri, at the end of each day, sent me a couple of photos. Then the phone rang at 5:42 a.m. I answered.

Saul said, “I’ve booked you a first flight out this afternoon. Something terrible has happened; the boy has disappeared. I’m in Chandigarh, where our last stop together was. We went to bed, and he got up and vanished. The motorcycle too. We think he just decided to go somewhere alone. Kidnapping or anything criminal is hard to believe. It’s the calmest city in India, virtually no crime. And we were staying in a good part of the city. We believe he simply decided, for some unknown reason, to head out on his own. I’ll wait for you here. There’s a flight landing at Chandigarh airport this evening. I’ll be waiting for you at arrivals. Itzik and David have split up to try and track possible routes he might have taken. And we’re in constant touch. They’re interviewing people, bikers on the road, and asking around at chai shops. Nothing so far. I believe he’ll be found by tonight. But I want you here with us.”

That’s how the disaster began. Saul was there, waiting, shaking his head in a gesture that meant, nothing so far. We stayed another day in the same place, hoping the boy would return to where he had left. We stayed at the same hotel. Saul contacted his friends, connected with the local counterpart organization, who were actually in the city installing a new surveillance program, and they said the last known location of the boy was just 200 meters from here. He had probably ditched his device. “Smart,” Saul said. “Watches a lot of shows,” I offered.

And so it went; we speculated, made suggestions, looked together at road maps. And they checked, traveled, but turned up nothing. Nothing. After six days, they left. Had to return to their own affairs.

Saul stayed with me for three more days, giving me lessons on the motorcycle. He bought it after settling things with the rental agent. He suggested we search together, but it was clear to me that he was eager to get back. He had work, and a family and issues of his own to deal with. I told him, “Go, please. I have nowhere to return to, but you do.” He gave me all the police contacts who were helping with the missing persons case, and suggested that maybe I should also consider hiring private investigators, who might help in the search. Since local police here are not of much use.

I wandered around with his picture in my wallet, showing it to anyone who would talk to me. Everyone thought they had seen him, but no one knew where or when. I ended up in Parvati, realizing it’s a haven for heavy smokers, a likely place to find him. The area was in terrible condition. There had been some sort of storm or disaster. Mudslides, roads scorched by electrical failures—I was there for three days.

Then the phone rang again. They informed Saul they had found Omri. He was buried under a heap of mud and debris in the flooded river bend. They told me I had to get to Delhi as soon as possible. He recommended giving up the bike and taking a car or plane to the embassy. It was good advice.

It’s hard to explain to what extent I lost control over my body. My hands kept seizing up, muscles I didn’t even know existed, suddenly cramped and contorted. I couldn’t hold onto anything. My passport kept slipping from my hand throughout the flight. They explained that there was a formal procedure; although he was found with some of his documents, I needed to confirm, to identify him. They warned me it wouldn’t be an easy sight to handle. They told me it probably happened eight days ago, during the second day of the storm, and that he had been in a moist environment for most of that time. There was swelling. I had to be prepared for that.

But it was him. Though I no longer know what “him” is. Or “me.” There is no him. Or me. Because there’s no him and me. And there’s no him because he isn’t. Because he is not here. And me.

I am just here in the flesh. Writing. I was told to write. But I’m not here. I don’t think I ever will be. I can’t elaborate on that. I can’t talk about the body, the flight, the unloading, the funeral, the shiva. I wasn’t in all the places where all this took place. I’m just not here.

And I don’t want to return. Because I’ve got nowhere to return to.

I am where I am. A place where there’s nobody. A place where, even if I just casually walk down the street, a dog might blame me for it. For what happened. For thinking of myself first. Of what would be convenient for me, not understanding him. I should have beaten him senseless, made him talk to me. Explain himself. Stop hiding behind that hair, already. Told him enough with all this crap he’s been feeding us, that it’s impossible. But now it is impossible. Because I have nothing. I have no one to talk to. That’s why she suggested I write.

The dog in the street looks at me before turning to go home. I think he knows where my kid is, better than I do. I think my kid is inside him; maybe, he is reincarnated in him. But how? This dog is about 4 or 5. And I think, maybe. Maybe in dog years, it exactly matches my son’s age.

What strange thoughts are moving through my head. I never thought I’d be thinking such thoughts. I say to the dog: “Hello. Maybe you can send my regards … just in case, you run into my son, or to me, I don’t know.”

Translated by Gila Primak

Orian Morris is the author of Le-ragel ‘avur makhom acher (With My Little Eye).