DevMode
The night was one. In the distance their voices rose with their laughter, and the music that never faints. The usual chattering mingled there with the sounds of women. We made ourselves ready. One and all we examined our clothes, and the equipment we had been given. I had been given Moshe Dayan. With the General's insignia, with the black plastic eye-patch. And not only I was Moshe Dayan. Ibrahim Nasrallah, my heroic friend, was also Moshe Dayan. And the crazy Khaled Almajid, he too was Moshe Dayan, seven years old. Also Abed Ali, known as A.A., and Yusuf, and Walid. Among us were also: Mickey Mouse, a sailor, a street sweeper, a monster, a cowboy, cosmonauts, and soldiers. Many soldiers were there. Many identical witches. Many twin clowns. Very many Arabs. Like a military parade. Like a procession by the National Circus of Riga. Like a troop of pupils on their way home from school. Like the funeral of Ziyad, who was soon to die, a senseless death. There were many doctors among us. Many wounded men with plaster casts, with bandages, with pictures of blood. Many Moshe Dayans. Charlie Chaplin was there. A blue policeman holding the arm of a religious Jew from Jerusalem. A king came, a robber, a Japanese, Siamese twins joined at the shirt, noblemen, Napoleons, counts and knights, janitors and servants, and princesses, and dwarfs, and drunks. One William Tell. One Indian fakir. A youth who had turned himself into an old man, and an old man who had made himself young. One as the Angel of Death, another as a skeleton, and another who had turned into a demon with red horns, who had turned into Satan. Someone disguised as Pinocchio. Someone as Snow White. The sound of a multitude of clowns. The sound of a multitude.
Let no one say that these things never happened. Let no one say, the child Jaafar Omar Ismail Zakut is imagining things again. I saw it with my own eyes, the right one and the left one, how the first among us broke down the door of the sewing-shop of the black man Ahmad Said Charles Latif, who had offered his three sewing machines and his four family members to sew faces for the enemy's festival of masks. To sew Moshe Dayan, and Mickey Mouse, and sailors, and policemen, and soldiers. The son of the black traitor was with us too. Faiz Latif, who colored his black skin with charcoal and covered it with a straw skirt, made by his mother, and dressed up as a cannibal.
The dirt and asphalt road streamed between the houses. Silvery puddles of sewage water decorated the dead village, multiplying the doors and windows and sky, and the children ashamed of being left out of our procession on its way toward the soldiers. Many paths run down to the main artery, which is the street of shops and businesses paved by the army, netting the village like the palm of a grape leaf. Many paths and alleys run down to the road, but they never succeed in meeting it. At first the enemy stationed soldiers in all the alleys, to guard their motorcars. We rebuffed them to the main street, and within the hour they had closed the entrances with welded iron bars. The gates smiled at us, inviting us to throw stones through them at the yellow cars. As soon as we did so, the enemy retaliated with balls of wool made of barbed wire. They laid down rusty barrels, one stuck on top the other. They put up a giant fence to block the smooth, arching stones which we flung at them. The wall was so high that the soldiers had to stand on the roofs of red buses to tie the wire netting to the poles. First gates, and balls of barbed wire, and barrels, and roadblocks of rocks, and a giant fence. And after these a brick wall, and steel netting, twice as high, so anyone who climbed it, like my beloved, my brother, could touch the clouds and the stars.
With my own eyes, the light one and the dark one, I saw how the first cut the twelve protective walls surrounding the main street, and pushed the other through the holes, and marshaled them into a column of fancy-dress costumes and masks and grotesque disguises. High on top stood the princes and the knights, and the rabbits. Beneath them were the priests and the counts and the vampires. Under them the Scots and the witches, and at the bottom the Red Indians waited to lead the procession. Our main street is not a terraced avenue, nor a curving promenade winding down to the sea. Rather it resembles an abyss, a steep plunge. Rather, anyone bouncing his legs down to the newspaper-seller's stand will need the help of a car engine to haul him up again. Rather, our whole village stands on its side, crooked in the front. The gray houses teeter as if to test their balance. The lampposts lean to the right, and lean to the left. The trees are bent from birth. The
animals are born with their forelegs slightly longer. The people with their foreheads close to the ground. The mountains topple over, and the hills, and the sewage froths and churns and sweeps the alleys down to the street of the shops. A man puts his shoes down next to his bed and in the morning he finds them waiting for him at the door to the room.
The masked youths measured the road plunging into the abyss, and found it to be 1,209 meters from its highest point, at the house of the barber Abu Tufik, to its lowest point, at the newspaper stand of the teacher Jaafar Hussein. After the stand came the camp. On purpose, the enemy chose to pitch his tents there. None of us youths would dare to cast his stones at the soldiers, and then climb back up the terrible steep slope.
Everything needed to live sparingly exists in the main street of the shops.
A grocery store, a barbershop, a newspaper stand, a tailor in his sweatshop, in other words the boot-licking black man Ahmad Said Charles Latif, a pharmacy which became a cafe, and a tire shop which would soon burn down because of the treachery of the owner. A long time ago the street was full of trade. Twenty-nine shops operated, and made a profit, and supplied goods. One man sold shoes for ornamental purposes only, one books for study and books for enjoyment, and one sweetmeats deserving of a stall of their own. Today the whole street is a patchwork of businesses shut down behind their iron curtains. Their owners have chosen to spend the years of curfew in their homes. Some of them chose to go and work in the ice cream factory for the prince of merchants, Sayyed Zakut, my esteemed father, who conducts most of his business with the help of the prayer books. The esteemed ice cream manufacturer opens the Holy Book with his eyes closed, sets his fat finger on the lines, and says: "Let us pray; let our prayers be answered. The Holy Book commands and instructs me do to so-and-so!"
If only I had the Koran with me, I would open its pages, point a blind finger at one of its verses, and know by the first letter which of us was soon to die from the soldiers' bullets. I would know who it was who had been advancing on the village for several days now, and his shape was the shape of a cloud. Who was coming to us riding on wheels of dust. Who was coming closer and obliging me to concern myself with him, while the troops of clowns and knights and animals were silently rolling past the enemy's camp. The masked procession descended, and on the way I examined the rubbish of the street impaled by the wind on the crosses of the fence, in the hope that Allah would return my pages to me. The Arabic language textbook, brought me by my beloved, was missing the first eight pages.
In all the houses of the village the light is yellow in the rooms and weak.
Only in the soldiers' camp the light is white. In all the houses of the village the light is weak, and the heat of the stove is weak, and the running of the water is weak, and the sound of the radio is weak, and the voices of the people are weak. As soon as the road was flooded with resplendent light, the leaders knew that the end of the descent had come, and they stopped outside the entrance to the camp. From the tents rose the voices of the army, and their laughter, and music, and the usual chatter, and the sounds of women. Group by group the adults divided the street between us. In a few hours the world would wake, the enemy would wake, and find us hiding behind fancy-dress costumes and masks, so they would not know us. He would find us stationed in groups of two-legged cats, and butterflies, and the heroes of cartoons, and messengers from outer space, and Ramseses and Cleopatras, and strawberries, and carrots, and ducks, and zebras, and monkeys, and parrots, and a snake, and a wolf, and belly-dancers, and priests ..
The feet drummed their last steps, and were still. Surrounded by the figures of General Dayan, including Ibrahim Nasrallah, the brother of Ibtisam, and the crazy Khaled Almajid, and A.A., in other words Abed Ali, whose father is blind, and Yussuf, and Walid, I rested my elbow on the stones of the road, and I rested my ear on my hand. I thought of Ahmad Said Charles Latif. The thoughts turned into dreams, the dreams took on the semblance of reality, and I myself turned into the treacherous black tailor, whose father's father once set out from Sudan for Mecca, lost his way and ended up in our village. In my dream I sat in my car and chased the thieves of the fancy-dress costumes. In my dream I traveled slowly down the street of the businesses, peeping into every alley, to seek out those who were hiding from me. In the end the masks surrounded me, held on to the steel and glass of the car, and began to shake me again and again, up and down, to and fro, until my whole belly shrank, until I fell dead on my steering wheel. A long hoot sounded, like the long beep of a resuscitation machine. In my death I saw my son - ¬my friend Faiz Latif standing helpless at the side of the picture, dressed up as an African, his tears white as he cried: "Why, Father?!! Why?!! Why are you called Charles?!!"
A string of shots pierced the black of the sky, startling my sleeping eyes, jolting the weapon of the sentry, who noticed the mysterious figures standing in a silent demonstration opposite his post. The leaders barked commands to the rear, and threw their stones in the direction of the naked soldiers rushing out of the tents. The ranks shouted: "Allah akbar! Allah akbar!" Those of us who managed to, shed their outer forms and heaped them into little bonfires before they were caught by the enemy. The burning costumes and the soldiers' gas grenades grew flowers of smoke and filled the street. A chimney of smoke on this side and a chimney of smoke on that. Pillar after pillar. Arc after arc, opening into the mouth of a cave above our heads. High into the air rose the mist, and dropped towards me, and kissed my mouth like the smoke of a cigarette.
Two seized hold of me. An officer and his helper. Attached to each other with a long cord, like a camel and its driver. The officer tore the General's insignia from me together with the eye-patch, and flung them onto my shoes. The soldier's fingers felt my body and thrust into my pockets. There were rings of blood on the street. The enemy ordered everyone who had been caught to advance towards "the pissing wall." As in the Oabka dance we all held hands. I gave my hands to the others, the others gave me their hands, and we were all hand in hand. A band of beggars, a swarm of wasps, a coterie of kings, and a flock of fairies. Some as monkeys. Some as supermen. A thousand pirates. A thousand Moshe Dayans. Among the dancers I saw my beloved, my brother, spectacles of blood painted round his eyes.
For many years my father, my master had attempted to subdue the stormy spirit of my brother. The best war against the Jew, in his opinion, was not by means of the stone and the shabab: in other words, we, the youth, but by developing our Palestinian economy. "The white piaster will help on the black day!" He would quote his wisdom. An ice cream business, my father argued, was good both for times of peace and for evil days. At the honored command of our master, my beloved was sent seven years ago to study refrigeration engineering in the foreign city of Riga. For seven accursed years he was away from us, and only now had he returned to contribute his experience to the struggle.
From here, from where I stand, I cannot tell which of us is which. Who is the bee, and who the robots, and who the scarecrow. I can only recognize the soldiers confiscating the papers of the masked youths. Among them bands of pirates, and bands of vampires, and a band of Greeks and Romans. Like the eyelid quick to shelter the eye against every harm, so God protects his believers and shelters them. No sooner did the berets advance to constrain my brother's skull-and-crossbones in white handcuffs and load him onto their car, than the tire shop on the hill put on a coat of black wool and attracted their attention. The army and the citizens mingled with each other and turned into a chorus. Out of the clouds of fire billowing from the windows of the shop and its door they took Ziyad Hafez Elkhatib, and he was a burned shadow. O Ziyad, O Ziyad, what kind of a senseless death did you choose for yourself? What made you slip away from the soldiers rounding us up, and climb heavily up the hill on your crutches? Your real legs were shorter than the silver legs joined to your hands. What made you twist the dead half of your body on that pair of irons, and advance like a skier between the puddles? Your face hidden below the pirate's mask was raised towards the tire shop. My beloved did not wait to examine "The Shadow's" revenge, he took my hand and smuggled me back into the house.
A goat will remain a goat even if it grows wings. A man remains a man even if he disguises himself as Moshe Dayan. When I returned, the neighbor's dogs came out to greet me. My donkey smiled at me and laughed, he twisted his neck around me, and chased away his friends so they would not bother me on my way to bed. Behind the walls the gate creaked ominously. The sound of threatening footsteps crushed the gravel on the path leading to the front door. Since I did not recognize those who were corning to us, since I did not know who they were seeking, I opened the shutter of my room a crack and I saw

The Letter Ba
The Second Letter in the Alphabet of the Holy Tongue
The first chapter from the novel Letters of the Sun, Letters of the Moon. Translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu; courtesy of The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature. <

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