Friday, May 30, 2014

Not That Far from Tel Aviv (excerpt)


A cold breeze welcomed them at the summit. A few dark clouds traveled overhead. Talia zipped up her sweatshirt.
       “Since the ‘70s we have been fulfilling the biblical promise of populating this land, from the sea in the west to the Jordan River in the east,” Gideon’s booming voice sounded. “For the past few decades we were able to reclaim much of our ancient land. With God’s will, we shall have it all before too long.” He stopped for air, before concluding, “As someone famous once said, we stand here on the land of liberated Israel.”
       “Haven’t these people lived here for a long time?” asked Talia, pointing to the Palestinian village at the hill’s foot. “Shouldn’t they have some of the land too?”
       “And how do you reckon our country was made possible?” replied Gideon. “It was always us versus them.”
       “But—“
       Gideon turned to the group. “Let’s keep walking,” he said. “I have much more to show you.”
       Talia stood there confused as everyone began descending the hill. Noam smiled at her. “Shall we join the herd?” he whispered.
       Stepping down the hillside the two trailed behind the others.
       “I wish I could meet these people,” Talia said, gesturing to the village below.
       “It’s illegal for us to go there.”
       “I know.”
       “And dangerous, of course.”
       “I tend to believe they won’t harm a seventeen-year-old girl.”
       “You’re naive.”
       She shrugged. “I‘ve heard that before.”
       “And they’ll probably force you to marry one of their ugly old men.”
       Annoyed, she replied, “I will push you down if you keep talking like this.”
       “I actually believe you,” he said with laughter, then asked in a more serious tone, “You’re leaving tomorrow morning?”
       “Yes.”
       “Will you visit here again?”
       “Not sure. I might have enough material for my paper, and I do have lots of exams coming up.”
  “I hope to see you again.”
       “You could come to Tel Aviv.”
       “My parents won’t be crazy about the idea.”
       “Well, I might visit during Passover vacation, I’ll see how things go.”
 Seeing his pleased expression, she added with a playful smirk, “But only ‘cause you’ve asked.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Africans, White City, and a Pint of Guinness (excerpt)

I see him before he notices me, sitting on a bench, his long legs stretched forward. I let go of my backpack’s left strap, hug the bag with my right arm, and glance around. Rotten luck, nobody’s anywhere near. I could turn around, or cut into a side street … no, that might prove counterproductive. Well, I’ll just put on my combatant demeanour. As Maya mentioned, you can see them everywhere around the city, so no big deal, just keep a steady pace.
            As I pass him, I realise he is looking at me, and my eyes can’t help but meet his. I issue a tiny smile and keep walking, hoping my steps seem poised.
            “You Israelis think we Africans bad people,” I hear him complain behind my back.
            I stop and slowly swing around.
            “I beg your pardon?” I say.
            “You hear me,” he replies, turning his face away from me.
            “Well, I don’t know you, but I don’t think you’re a bad person,” I say.
            He nods with exaggerated motions. “You do, you do, all of you.”
            “No, really, I don’t.” I take a step in his direction. “Look, I know about all the trouble your people have been going through. I read about it in the newspaper all the time, and I’m really sorry. I wish it was different, you don’t deserve to be treated like that.”
            “If you care, you tell government,” he says in disdain with his face still turned away.
            “Right, the government,” I sneer. “If only they had ears.”           
            His eyes meet mine again; I see a hint of amusement in the corners of his mouth.
            I take a step forward, saying, “It’s not an easy country, you know. Even for Israelis.”
            “Better than my country,” he mutters, then asks, “You no like it here?”
            I suppose for him Israel is a version of the Promised Land.
            “Well, I don’t live here, I’m just visiting,” I reply.
            His brow springs up. “Where you live?”           
            “America.”

            His face softens as he gets up from the bench. Glancing at my left hand, he grins.
            “No husband?”
            Caught off guard I say, “No.”
            “Ah,” he exclaims, his eyes glimmer with warmth, then narrow when he inquires, “boyfriend?”
            “Eh … well …” Hesitant to lie, I search for an elegant way out.
            ”You marry me and take me to America,” he announces, taking a confident step forward. “I make you very happy.”
            I observe him more closely. Not a bad looking guy: pleasant features, broad shoulders, and that smooth coffee-tinted skin. I could be his Stella, and he will bring back my groove. Well, he’s not that much younger, but he probably has some groove for me, even if it lasts no more than five minutes.
            He looks at me and his face gives off fumes of fondness. He takes another step forward. 

            “I’m a lesbian,” I hear myself declare as I flinch back; embarrassed for my false statement, yet relieved to have found an exit.
            His face freezes for a brief moment, then twists into revulsion.
            “I no marry you!” he spits the words at me, his arm slicing through the air as if pushing me away. “You be shame to yourself!”
            Feeling obliged to defend my declaration for the sake of those it represents, I say, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay, it’s perfectly normal.”
            “No, no normal,” he retorts. “The Bible says—“
            “I know what the Bible says!” I cannot help but cut him off, my voice sharper than intended. “Do you really want to live by the Bible? You might not like all the rules and regulation in that book, you know.”
            But the exchange is clearly over; he flounces himself around and slumps into the bench facing up street. I walk away feeling ill at ease though uncertain as for what I could have done better.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Escape (excerpt)

            “Nissim, you hardly touched your food. Take some couscous, it’s your favourite.”
            “Not that hungry, Mom.”
            “But Grandma Yvonne stood on her feet all day yesterday to make it.”
            “People who buy that flavourless readymade couscous in the supermarket have no idea what they’re doing,” said Nissim’s father, moving his callused hands through his thinning hair; a habit kept from hairier days. “Eat something, eat,” he urged his son. “You’re skin and bones as it is.”
            “Is the heat,” croaked Grandma Yvonne, her head sinking deeper between her shoulders. “It kill us all.”
            “And every year summer is worse,” added Uncle Hemo, spooning rice in almonds and raisins into his plate.
            “Is good thing your father not here anymore,” said Grandma, looking at Hemo. “The heat kill him if his heart don’t.”
            “Your poor grandfather would have wanted his namesake to make something of himself,” said Aunt Mazal, turning to Nissim. “You’re already twenty-seven, you should find a wife, start a family.”
            You never married,” grumbled Nissim.
            “It’s different for women,” she replied with a wounded expression.
            “How?” he asked, this time with a genuine curiosity.
            “Enough!” Nissim’s father said. “You’re upsetting your aunt. God knows she wanted to marry, but she had nothing but bad luck with men.”
            “Sorry,” mumbled Nissim, glancing at his aunt.
            She furnished a faint smile, her face flushed. “That’s all right.”
            “Even if he had a girlfriend, where would he take her?” asked Hemo laughingly. “To that little apartment I rent him for just a few shekels?”
            You call that shithole an apartment? Nissim thought.
            “Don’t torment the boy,” said his mother, putting a soft hand on her son’s arm. Nissim noticed her chipped nail polish, glanced at Aunt Mazal’s nails, bright red and perfect looking as always, and with a mixture of sadness and guilt wondered why his mom couldn’t be as presentable as her sister.
            “Simha, you spoil your son rotten,” said Uncle Hemo to Nissim’s mom. “No wonder he can’t find his place in the world. Look at my Avi and Shmulik; I raised them to be tough, and now they’re both making lots of money in America.” He turned to Nissim. “You should join them,” he said, and Nissim was surprised by the tenderness in his uncle’s voice. “You could help Shmulik sell clothes in Miami, or Avi could set you up in that moving company he works for.“
            “He belongs here with us,” said Simha firmly. “Not among strangers.”
            “Those gentiles have no God,” remarked Mazal.
            “There are plenty of Israelis and Jews in New York,” said Nissim.
            “People abroad anti-Semite,” muttered Grandma in disdain.
            “That’s not true!” Nissim said.
            “Show respect for your elders,” his father chided him. “Grandma Yvonne is your only remaining grandparent.”
            “More arrack?” Hemo lifted the bottle, looking at Yaakov, Nissim’s father, who took his empty glass to meet the bottle midair with a clang. Hemo carefully poured the transparent liquid, sending a wave of anise into the air.
            “That’s good,” said Yaakov with a nod. Hemo refilled his own glass and replaced the bottle on the table.            
            “Yes, yes,” he sniggered at Mazal’s curled lips. “We know you don’t like the smell. Maybe you’re Ashkenazi, no?” Mazal’s expression turned offended again.
            “I have your sister in my belly nine month,” said Grandma, giving him a look of reproach.
            “Just kidding,” Hemo said, lifting both arms halfway in mock-surrender.