DevMode
I had to stand face to face in front of death, or to choose between two deaths: to be killed or to see my son being killed. But I threw the stone out of all-embracing fear for my child. The stone landed on his forehead. His eyes protruded and set on me. He completely absorbed me. Did he blame me? His eyes turned into two dead glass balls. It was horrible. My heart quavered. It seemed to me that the soldier had lost his eyesight, but he didn't collapse. Was he scared? Did fear cause a state of nervous breakdown? In a few short moments, less than heartbeats, could a man see through himself and bring to his mind all the periods of his life?
He became numb. His hand died on the rifle, and he withdrew to the military vehicle. I testify that he showed a total lack of reaction and I became curious despite my fear. He didn't wipe the thread of blood which gushed from his forehead, covering his head and reaching the angle of his mouth. Did he sip hot blood? I also bear witness that he pushed away the soldier who came to nurse him. Was he raging angry? Why didn't he become a monster like all soldiers? For a moment I thought I was dead, piled on the ground. A touch on the trigger and he would sweep the place with lethal bullets, people would fall dead, massacred in a blink of an eyelid. But he did not shoot. All I am aware of is that I threw the stone at him, and that my son Hussam ran away, and the soldiers moved quickly. The children dispersed. The camp people were infuriated; we smelled tear gas and took shelter in the alleys whose narrow passages scare soldiers. The fire became thicker. We sneezed, and so did the soldiers. As our tears fell, the sting of gas burned our membranes and stimulated our skin pores, and the havoc increased. People stood together and the soldiers withdrew. As usual, it was the crowds which determined the result of the round, but the soldiers' rifles had a hand in this, too. Stones were hurled at the microphone which started screeching, cutting through the crowds. "Attention! Attention! By order of the military governor ... " I rushed into the house. I shouted: "Where is Hussam?" Haifa beat her breast. She cried: "My son, did they shoot him?" She fell down. I ran through the alleys scrutinizing the faces of young kids. They were jumping up and down in disregard of the warning and the military governor. They were preparing the camp for the next round. My younger brother followed me, and asked: "What is wrong? Why are you wandering about?" "Abdullah, have you seen Hussam?"
"What happened?"
"He didn't come home."
"None of the children went back home! How could they see the procession and go home?"
"Man, I have seen the soldiers aiming at him!"
"The wounded were transferred. No one saw Hussam. Had anything happened to him, people would have mentioned it." Abdullah understood my worry about my son, and said, trying to alleviate his own worry: "Why should it be Hussam and not someone else?" Why should it be Hussam and not any of the children, and why should it be David and not any other soldier? Is it fate? Is it war? But, then, I found myself in the midst of many people. I started to dissolve, to melt. It is the Intifada! "Attention! Attention!" Hussam was fast asleep because of his exhausting, hard day. Yet his smile never left his lips. What is he dreaming of? Will he see David in a horrifying dream? Don't worry, my child. You're safe in my lap now, and nothing bad will happen to you. "By God, father, when he pointed his gun toward my breast, I became scared. I shouted; and then, as if he was splattered by a poisonous snake, I jumped away from between his legs!" Haifa said, with her breast panting alongside her child: "O.K., go to sleep now. May God grant you health." She smiled, sucked her lips, and whispered:
"Thank God for your safety." Her face reddened and she said:
"Tomorrow you'll see him a man who will make you happy." She winked with inviting eyes.
"He takes after you, Mahmoud."
She buried her head in my breast. She smelled my skin pores. She fondled, with her fingers, under my armpits. Her voice became hoarse. "These kids are genies. Truly, they are curfew children."
She curled herself in my lap, and licked the hairs on my breast. I was lost in deep thought about my child, my hope and my future. I stared at the brick ceiling, where the army's stone-throwing machine had made many openings which Haifa covered with pieces of nylon. She pinched me, and she was lusty. A tear came down her cheek, and she said, resisting her need to cry:
"You're angry because you 'opened' his head ... but what about Hussam?"
Like a snake-bitten person, I put my arms around her. I hid myself in her, seeking for a shelter, and so did she. We became one, we quavered together, we bathed in the moonlight which sneaked from the brick windows. The light is reflected upon us. She was white and plump and glowing. We were not ashamed of our nudity, and Hussam was fast asleep. He was still smiling.
The stone skinned the head, and left an open scar. It bounced off the helmet. The blood gushed and covered the whole face. They bandaged the face. They called the headquarters to report an injured soldier in the incidents of Al Shati Camp. Meanwhile, David sat staring at them with his rifle stretched on the car floor.
A young woman ululated when they passed by her. She made the victory sign in their faces. The captain was infuriated. He shot tear-gas canisters to dispel the echoes of the ululation. A soldier said angrily:
"The boy was between his hands. He let him go ... why?" The captain said:
"How was he injured?"
A soldier stretched his lips and said nervously:
"Do you think we were in a picnic?"
In the hospital, the doctor emphasized that the stone was thrown from a very short distance, and could have caused a crack in the skull. He decided to transfer the wounded soldier to the X-ray section.
Note: "The evening news bulletin completely ignored the camp's incidents."
You came back, David? What a difference between this visit and the previous one! Your first visit was to bless the birth of Hussam. Esther was with you, then. You were a bridegroom, and Hussam's birth present was a new crib. That day Esther was so delighted as she caressed the baby in his bed, singing, and hushing the flies away from him.
"Khusam! Khusam!"
She was fond of his black eyes. That day she was hanging around your neck, David, and in a crazy manner she said:
"What if we have a baby girl with Arab eyes!" That day you put your arms around your wife, and kissed her in front of everybody. My young sisters reddened with shame when they looked. My father turned his eyes away so that he'll not commit a sin by looking. We all laughed a lot.
At lunch, Esther sat cross-legged, so she was half-naked. My brother Abdullah panted, and my mother threw her shawl on her to cover her nakedness. You burst out laughing. It was a kind of Arab shame and fear which you didn't expect. But, then, you continued in Hebrew, talking to me.
"Next time when we visit, Esther will put on her slacks."
When my mother asked me about your wife's name, she found it difficult to pronounce Esther. The old woman said:
"Thank God, she is all right."
We laughed heartily again. The younger woman was fascinated by the visit.
In her eyes, questions and speculations abounded. She was as if discovering things, like a new-born baby. She went around the camp with Haifa and the young girls. She washed her feet in the sea, and watched the fishermen. One of them gave her a beautiful fish as a gift. He put it in a cup of water. She brought the fish with her. She also came back from her visit with a shell necklace bedecking her breast, and shell bracelets around her wrists. She was chewing a hot piece of a taboun - baked loaf given to her by an old woman who was baking her bread in the clay oven at the side of the alley.
If only you would remember, David! That day, it was a wonderful visit, and you promised to do it again. I said to myself that it was the pleasure of discovering a new world. Esther was chewing the taboun bread so happily, crying out that it was "fantastic," and she was so stingy that she would not give you a bite out of her loaf. My mother interfered:
"Give him a bite. He is your husband and darling!"
Esther was like a playful child, learning, absorbing, fascinated by taboun bread and seashells. That day she visited us wearing a dress that showed her half-naked and went home, at the end of the day, wearing a Majdalawi dress - a gift from my mother, and an Arab scarf decorating her head, a gift from Haifa.
When Haifa, Hussam and 1 visited you, David, Esther welcomed us wearing the dress and the scarf. The clay pot was placed in the middle of the sitting room, and in it there was a bunch of white, fresh roses, surrounded by a necklace and bracelets made of seashells. Esther took the baby in her arms, kissed him, and asked you:
"Take his photo, David!"
She kissed Haifa. She told me in Hebrew: "1 dream of a baby girl with Arab eyes."
1 translated that to Haifa, who said:
"They dream of our black eyes, and we dream of their blue eyes and white skin. What about that?"
Now, here you are, coming back, David, but without Esther. Did you ever imagine that such a thing would have happened? That they will send you to kill me in self-defense. That I would throw a stone at you to defend Hussam! Did you come to kill Hussam, to break his ribs, to batter his limbs, then put him to bed? The same boy whose birthday you blessed! Would you imagine Esther caressing a boy with broken limbs, a boy whose black eyes are lightless! But you did not shoot, David!
I walk around the camp. I march forward with the people. My pockets are filled with stones. I run faster than the kids and youngsters. Whenever we spot a military patrol, we'll shout with full throats:
"Attack them! Attack them!"
We march forward with our stones going ahead of us, and with tear-gas canisters and showers of bullets racing us. When cars chase us, I take a side path, attaching myself to the walls of the alleys. I look, closely examine the faces of soldiers, looking for a soldier with a bandage on his head. I feel sad. Was his wound deep? Could we ever meet again? Should I find the clay pot placed in the sitting room again? And, Esther, would she keep the dress, and the embroidered scarf? David, do you still remember Sheik Awad's agreement? Your blessing, Sheik Awad. I received employment with the famous Israeli building company Solei Boneh. I worked with a digging contractor; we were carrying out the sewage project for the housing suburbs on the shore of Ashkelon. David was the company engineer in charge of supervising the execution of the project. He was quiet. He would come early in the day, fix the digging spots, and then come back at the end of the day to register the amounts of digging and the safety signals and to measure the levels. The contractor didn't like David. But I felt safe with him around. He smiled at the workers, and would feel bad when the contractor yelled at us. The housing suburbs occupied a long space in front of the sacred Maqam of Sidi - Sheik Awad. When I told my father about that, he became confused and agitated.
"Over my dead body," he said, holding out his fist. But he soon cooled down, and brought his fist down.
"Can the fist stand against the awl?" He abluted, asked God for mercy and forgiveness, and after evening prayer he asked me:
"Will the digging reach the big raspberry tree?"
The big raspberry lies in the heart of the main axis of our work. I nodded emphatically. Having taken a decision, he said to my mother:
"Haja Safiya, the day after tomorrow, we'll visit the sacred place."
My father lay in the shadow of the wall of Sheik Awad, while my brother Abdullah went toward the sea, looking at the waves breaking on the bodies of the naked women on the beach. My mother lit the fire under the cooking pot, making a lunch of grain which is my father's favorite. At the end of the day, when the site was empty, my father surveyed the place with his eagle eye, then suddenly commanded:
"Let's go."
Totally disregarding his old age, he went like an arrow to the raspberry tree. A shiver went into his body and through his skin. He prayed to heaven and begged for God's mercy. He went down on his knees submissively, like a man taken. My mother stood behind him like a fresh spear of pomegranate; her head-cover falling onto her shoulders, and showing two braids of her thick hair. I realized that she had put kohl around her eyes, and had combed her hair with great care.
She was getting older but she was still a young woman.
My father stood up, planted one of his feet near the trunk of the raspberry, took three strides eastward, stopped, then made a turn towards the north; in the middle of the space between the step where he began, and the step where he ended, he stood stock still. He called me:
"Come here!"
I hesitated. I looked around surveying the place. What if we were seen by someone! What if the contractor passed by? His voice came back again more compellingly:
"Come here, young man!"
He knelt down, scrabbling with his sweaty hands. I felt the pulse of his veins and I was afraid. I heard a voice from behind, a voice which I knew well.
"Who is he, Mahmoud?"
David! Exactly what I feared had happened! I poured out my worries all
at once.
"This is my father, and this is my mother."
My father said, while my mother stood proud and disturbed:
"Tell him we want to save the legacy."
David was stunned. He whispered to himself "fantastic" and gazed at us, dividing his vision between us and the raspberry trunk. He hastened to his car. I was sure he was going to do something. I became afraid for the two old people. But soon he came back with a shovel, which he firmly handed to me.
"Dig, Mahmoud!"
The earth responded to the shovel. My father started to pant until the shovel hit something. The old man raised his hand. I stopped. He started to move the earth away carefully until the legacy became visible. My father was in tears. David stood baffled, carried away by the scene. My father took out a small clay pot and leaned on the raspberry trunk. David came near, trying to get it, but the old man clutched it firmly, and my mother stood between the two men. She prompted Abdullah and myself do to do something.
David asked:
"What's in it?"
I said: "At any case, it isn't gold."
My father lifted the rag from the mouth of the clay pot, and inserted his hands checking its contents, while looking at us all. He said:
"This pot is mine!"
David nodded in agreement.
My father drew a paper from the pot. It was folded a number of times. He
unfolded it. Its length was unusual.
"This is the title of the orchard, sealed and signed by witnesses," he said. David nodded in agreement.
My father drew another paper, and looked affectionately at my mother.
"This is my marriage certificate, Safiya and I."
My mother was moved, and her patient face was colored with shyness.
She smiled to David, and he smiled to her.
My father said: "This is my bride's anklet, the last item of her jewelry." He then added:
"These are the bullets of my rifle which they confiscated." My father put his papers and bullets into his vest. My mother guarded her anklet.
The sun was approaching sunset, its redness changing into an exquisite purple projected on the yellow sand near by Sheik Awad's. The sand glittered in warmth. Creatures were praising their Creator, and were silently praying.
David whispered beseechingly:
"Would you give me the pot as a gift, old man?"
My father resisted a tear that came down his cheek. He handed him the pot. My father said to David:
"Keep things which are dear to you inside it."
With the first breaths of the morning, waves break at the sand of the shore. The tide spreads, lightly and hissingly caressing the low houses. The breath of creatures is enveloped by a delicious sense of ether. The voice of the Muezzin cuts through the sky, velvet-like, playing on tired eyelids. The alleys of the camp welcome the new-born light, and the shadows of masked ghosts embroider the walls, with their slogans, victory signs, martyr commemorations. They were assigning the agenda of the coming days. Workers have an uncertain and elusive work schedule for the day. No longer would the buses wait for them nearby the camp gates. No longer would they crowd in the market square. Their steps scatter, ashamed and lonely, while the needy mouths color the taste of the alley with a new taste. Mahmoud carries his food for the day. He is going away to work after a long absence. He said to his wife:
"If I am late, I'll sleep there, and visit David."
His wife didn't welcome the idea. She felt that he might be betrayed. Yet she didn't let her anxiety stand in the way of his desire. A military jeep approaches. Its lights overpower the lights of dawn. It blinds our eyes, and nails our feet in the headlights. A commanding voice is heard:
"Come here!"
He advances, watches those men who went ahead of him. Soldiers move quickly. Kicks, fists and slaps on the face. Clubbing, silent groans and painful bones. They lined the men up and body-searched them even in the tiniest spots. They stole their identity cards; the faces of the soldiers show great resentment. The morning breaths didn't change the cruelty of their looks. The captain of the patrol said, waving his club: "Bring the (PLO) flag down, and wait till I return!"
He went away. One of the workers said:
"They're making our day from the very beginning." Another answered him through his pain:
"What do you expect from an enemy?"
A handsome young man who had absorbed a generous amount of blows replied:
"Mercy, of course!"
He burst out laughing but the pain in his bruised jaw was stronger.
Mahmoud feels his face. Tears fall from his eye. The damned soldier hit him because he was slow in handing over his identity card. His eyelid swells, and blocks his vision. His eye swims in a salty lagoon, heavily shedding tears.
The flag flutters proudly; a slingshot of two stones and a thread; one stone ties it to the electric cable, and the other hangs down to keep its balance. The flag flutters, announcing its birth. The morning is a birth of a new day. And the workers' day was terminated before its beginning. Sun rays survey the alleys; the alleys eject their armies. The children tread the ground. The workers are ashamed when they look at the kids. A woman brings along a reed stick. One person mounts the shoulder of another to add to the reed's length. He approaches the flag's center. The workers' eyes are fixed on the children, and their minds worried about the soldiers' clubs and the possibility of getting another searing beating. Their anger agitates them. The end of the reed stick touches the thread of the flag. The children hailed the action:
"By our souls! By our blood!"
A boy threw his slingshot high, and a new flag was balanced, touching the sun rays, smiling to the cheers of the kids who use their school bags to beat the manly rhythm of their exuberant songs.
"By our souls! By our blood!" One of the workers said:
"It seems that our I.D.s will not be returned today." Another said:
"Keep the reed stick for the new flag."
Mahmoud looked at the flag. He had to lower his eyes because of the burning in his eyes. He leans on the wall to protect himself from the heat of the sun. He has a killing headache. He does not know why David insisted.
The building is located at the comer of the market. The first floor is finished. The neighbors had protested. The Mukhtar interferes.
"The building is high, Abu Asi, and its windows violate the privacy of the neighbors."
The man licks his lips. "It is envy. By God, it is just envy!" But people of noble descent will behave in a noble manner; he will close the windows from the east and north sides, and he will be content with the western side and the sea breeze.
The second floor is erected, and the third, and the building stands tall in the center of the camp. It becomes a landmark by which one would be guided to the different passages of the camp.
When the conditions of the camp changed, the market became a battlefield, with burning tires, sites for assault, and lines of defense. The soldiers took the building as a shelter. They mounted it, and posted their (Israeli) flag on top of the T.V. antenna which the arrogant Abu Asi has used to lord it over his fellow camp residents. Abu Asi's name was no longer popular.
In the morning, the soldier on duty surveys, with his binoculars, the mouths of alleys, checking the gatherings of youths, and the centers from which hostile activities will be launched. He leaves his binoculars and plays with his machine gun. Wild wind moans through the sky of the camp. The camp is restless. To break into the building becomes a daily act, a dream of the young and adults alike.
At night, things are silent. The two things which stand out are the sea and the dreams of the children under their blankets. The soldiers are horrified. They give up their sleep and go after solar heaters and water tanks upon the roofs of buildings. The neighboring houses get their share of stones, which fall upon the asbestos sheets, and on old bricks. In the times of curfew, doors are knocked at, men are dragged to the building, as if hunted. At the end of the night, the "hunted" hurdle together with broken limbs, bruises and cuts. The neighbors return them silently to their families. And in their hearts fires boil silently, too. The night changes into daylight. The pots of anger stir the hearts of the people. Angry shouts reverberate, the agitation is directed towards the building.
The slingshots of the young ones protect the moving procession. Wireless sets bark in the camp. All the camp moves toward the building. Bullets are showered in every direction. Hussam cries: "My uncle Abdullah!"
Abdullah crouches bleeding heavily. Soldiers surround him, forbidding people from corning near him. A young girl comes quickly and throws herself upon him. They are both clubbed. Abdullah glares around. His eyesight is blurred. The sand sucks his flowing blood, going through the pores of the earth, and taking on the shape of a red circular mattress. From afar, the U.N. car emerged. The soldiers dragged the wounded to the military car, while the Red Cross representative gave first aid to the paramedics.
Abdullah disappeared. He was neither admitted to any hospital, nor was he reported in any prison or detention center. His tracks disappeared. The Red Cross went to search but didn't bring back any news. The frustrated U.N. representative is ready to pull his hair out, shouting at the military governor:
"I saw him with my own eyes!" The governor replies sarcastically:
"We'll look into the matter!"
My father was haunted by this silence about Abdallah's fate. He would go about in the alleys examining the people's faces, absorbing them with his increasing fatherly emotions.
"May God grant him patience!"
The children smile. He turns and turns. He sits where Abdullah fell down.
He crushes the sand between his fingers, and smells an odor which he knows well. He weeps, and his tears wet his white beard. It shines in the glow of the sun. He distributes stones among children. He returns home, avoids looking at my mother, who has unbraided her locks, and wiped away the kohl from her eyes, swearing that she would not bathe before Abdullah's return, dead or alive. She cries wistfully, and takes Hussam between her arms. She whispers:
"Did you see your uncle when he fell on the ground?"
The child nods in agreement. He looks at his grandmother's eyes. He shrinks beside her silently. The old woman mutters the verse of Kursi in protection against a night dream that had bothered him incessantly since Abdullah's fall. Hussam wakes from his sleep scared. She caresses him. He takes a nap for a while, and then he calls for help, terrified. She becomes more worried about him. The house is changed into eyes which look at one another, and tears that hang on the eyelashes. Conversation becomes a long silence and a dumb hope.
The renunciation, which was pronounced by a passer-by, was like a dream. "Abdullah is alive!"
Has this been a dream or a reality? How and where? "He is at Tel Hashomer Hospital."
He was found by a guard watching over an orchard. He was naked, unidentified, and stabbed. He was taken to hospital (in Israel) on the assumption that the background to the incident was criminal. I was almost driven mad. How did I fail to catch an item of information in the news bulletin about an unidentified person who was found in one of Ashkelon's orchards, and whose identity was still being investigated.
The doctor was dumbfounded.
"He's recovering quickly. His body is responding unusually well to the treatment."
A man lying in a nearby bed said:
"God be blessed for He is the One who brings back life to dead bones."
The man was a citizen of Khan Younis waiting for a cartilage surgery in his back. He said:
"We didn't know his name, except after one week, when he was able to speak. They thought he was a kidnapped soldier, but no one reported him missing."
Abdullah was comfortable and pleasant-looking. He was contained by my father's looks which penetrated the pores of his skin, conveying a glow of affection. This was projected onto my mother who braided her hair and put kohl on her eyes, and stood looking like a fresh branch of pomegranate. Hussam was hanging around his uncle's neck murmuring and laughing. Abdullah remembered and whispered:
"Esther visited me two days ago!" I was stunned by the surprise.
"She was accompanying David in a visit to the neurologist!" Abdullah pointed to a vase in which there is a white rose, and said:
"They asked about you!"
My mother asked, seeking reassurance:
"The wife and her husband, Abdullah!"
She let go a twinkling ululation which awoke the patients and set them babbling in several languages. They smiled, each in his own way, for the happiness of safety. My mother's face turned rosy. She winked to Haifa and they both ululated simultaneously. They went around distributing candies for the safety of Abdullah to all who were present. The patients accepted the candies and chewed them with enjoyment. They were happy. Peace and safety fluttered around people. My father murmured to himself:
"If you only knew how Abdullah fell!" A tear dropped down the old man's cheek.
Between one strike day and another, there are confrontations. We sneak around looking for a job to protect ourselves against the coming unknown days. During the confrontations martyrs fall, and the people are deeply agitated. With the news of the strike, the camp remains tense. It moves willingly, like an arrow, with the confrontations. People carryon and wait for the results with a collective feeling of optimism. Haifa is busy with Hussam who renews his slingshot every day. Father and mother welcome and bid farewell to those who come to visit Abdullah to congratulate him on his safety.
David was recovering from a state of depression which lasted for several months. It left a long scar in his forehead, whose jutting end plastic surgery failed to hide. He refuses to answer the question of his fellow soldier, "Why didn't he grab the boy?" "Why didn't he shoot him in spite of his injury?" Haifa collects shells and forms them into an exquisite necklace and jingling bracelets. She misses Esther. How would the meeting be? How would the questions and answers be, David?
I hesitated, my heart beats with feelings and emotions that are mixed up with Haifa's words: "I'm afraid you'll be betrayed." But Haifa, beautiful and graceful, goes in front of me, confident and insistent, like a bride with her Majdalawi dress and her embroidered white shawl. She stands by the door holding Hussam's hand.
The door was opened. It was David himself. We faced one another, and Hussam stood between us. I was afraid for my child. I almost decided to go back. But David went ahead, kissed the child, and took him inside. Haifa rushed after him. She was strong. Esther's voice could be distinguished from within.
"Haifa! Khusam!"
The two women hugged and kissed. I was mesmerized while David caressed Hussam's hair, and whispered, "Wonderful."
I took him in my arms. I kissed him on the scar over his forehead. I felt the mark of the scar between my lips. I wetted the scar with my saliva, trying to avoid the wound's swelling. He was pleased. He was quiet, and I looked into his eyes, searching for answers to questions that were ringing in my head. But he looked at the old clay pot surrounded by a necklace and bracelets of shells. We went into a deep silence while Hussam went around the house as if he was born in it.
Esther emerged wearing her Majdalawi dress, and her white scarf. Haifa was decking her with bracelets and necklaces. They stopped behind the pot. Each carried a white rose. Esther said suddenly:
"David, take a photo!"
She kissed Haifa. She whispered, licked a tear, and said:
"I'm still dreaming of a baby girl with Arab eyes."
I looked for Hussam. He was gazing from the verandah, his eyes following a number of soldiers waiting at the bus stop. He looked at me, and sighed. I saw him like an armless giant. He was looking for something.
He said: "I wish I had my slingshot!"
My heart beat quickly. David's wound was still open. Hussam sat quietly in my lap. He gave David a white rose from the clay pot.

Translated from the Arabic by Dr. G.K. Rishmawi

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