Friday, July 28, 2017

ET: Almanac

They're getting themselves killed again and when they get themselves killed we have to shrink and lower our voices and mind not to laugh even at some joke that's got nothing to do with them. This morning on the bus when the news was coming over the radio Issam was talking in a loud voice and laughing and the Jews in the front of the bus turned around and gave us a dry sort of look, and at once Hamid, who's always so serious, who reckons he's responsible for us even though he's not our boss officially, touched Issam, nudged him with his finger, and Issam shut up right away.

Knowing where to draw the line, that's what matters, and whoever doesn't want to know had better stay in the village and laugh alone in the fields or sit in the orchard and curse the Jews as long as he likes. Those of us who are with them all day have to be careful. No, they don't hate us. Anyone who thinks they hate us is completely wrong. We're beyond hatred, for them we're like shadows. Take, fetch, hold, clean, lift, sweep, unload, move. That's the way they think of us, but when they start getting killed they get tired and they slow down and they can't concentrate and suddenly get all worked up about nothing, just before the news or just after, news that we don't exactly hear, for us it's a kind of rustle but not exactly, we hear the words but we don't want to understand. Not lies, exactly, but not the truth either, just like on Radio Damascus, Amman or Cairo. Half-truths and half-lies and a lot of bullshit. The cheerful music from Beirut is much better, lively Arab music that makes your heart pound, as if your blood's flowing faster. When we're working on the cars that they leave with us the first thing we do is switch off Radio Israel or the army wave bands and look for a decent station, not a lot of talking, just songs, new and attractive songs about love. A subject that never tires. The main thing is to have none of that endless chattering about the rotten conflict that'll go on forever. When I lie under a car tightening brakes the music in the car sounds like somebody walking over my head. I tell you, sometimes my eyes are a bit wet.

I don't exactly hate the work. The garage isn't such a bad one, big enough not to be always tripping over one another and getting on everybody's nerves. My cousin Hamid isn't far away, he pretends to ignore me but he makes sure they don't pester me too much. But how can I tell them, I wanted to go on studying, not work in a garage. I finished in primary school with very good marks. The young student teacher was very pleased with me. In Hebrew classes I even used to think in Hebrew. And I knew by heart maybe a dozen poems by Bialik, though nobody ever told me to learn them, something catchy about their rhythm. Once a party of Jewish teachers came to the school to check up on what we were doing and the teacher called me up to the front of the class and I stood there and recited by heart two verses from In the City of Slaughter, they nearly dropped dead on the spot, they were that impressed and maybe that's what the teacher intended, he wasn't exactly a great lover of Jews. Anyway, I could have stayed on at school, the teacher even went to my father to try to persuade him, "It's a pity about the boy, he's got a good brain." But my father was stubborn, "Two studious sons in the family are enough for me," as if we're tied together with a rope and if one goes to college it makes the others educated too. Faiz will be finishing medical school in England soon, he's been studying there for ten years already, and Adnan's going to the university next year, he'll be studying medicine too, or electronics. And I'm the youngest so I have to work. Somebody's got to earn a bit of money. Father's decided to make me a master mechanic like Hamid, who earns lots of money.

Of course I wept and cried and pleaded but it didn't do any good. My mother kept quiet, she didn't want to get into a quarrel on my account, she couldn't tell me why it was Adnan and Faiz and not Na'im, she couldn't say it was because they were the children of another woman, an old woman who died years ago and Father gave her his word before she died.

It was so hard at first getting up in the morning. Father used to wake me up at half-past four, afraid I might not wake up by myself, and I really didn't want to wake up. Darkness all around ad Father touching me, pulling me gently out of bed, sitting there and watching me getting dressed and eating breakfast. Leading me to the bus stop through the village that's just beginning to wake up between electric lights and firelights through side streets full of mud and puddles among donkeys and sacks. He turns me over to Hamid like.a prisoner. They put me on the cold bus with all the other workers, Mother's homemade bread in a plastic bag in my hand. Slowly the bus fills up and Muhammad, the driver, takes his seat and starts running the engine and shouting at late comers. And I look through the steamed up window and see Father sitting there hunched up under the awning. A wrinkled old man wrapped in a black cloak raising his hand to everyone who goes past, starting to talk to somebody but all the time watching me sidelong. And I used to get angry with him, laying my hand on the rail in front of me and pretending to be asleep and when the bus started moving and Father tapped on the window to say good-by I'd pretend not to notice. At first I really did sleep the whole journey and I used to arrive at work dead tired. Yawning all the time and dropping things. Always asking the time. But after a while I began to get used to it. In the mornings I woke up on my own and I'd be one of the first to arrive at the bus stop, sitting down not far away from the driver, no longer feeling sleepy. At first I tried taking a book with me to read on the way but they all laughed at me, they couldn't understand it, me going to work in a garage with a book, and a book in Hebrew at that. They thought I was crazy. So I gave it up. I couldn't concentrate anyway. Reading the same page over and over again but not taking it in. So I just look out at the road, seeing the darkness disappear, the flowers on the mountains. I never tire of this route, the same route day after day, an hour and a half there and an hour and a half back.

At four o'clock in the afternoon we're already standing at the bus stop waiting for Muhammad's bus and from all over the city the people of our village and villages nearby are assembling, construction workers, gardeners, garbage men, kitchen workers, manual laborers, domestic help and garage hands. All of them with plastic bags and identity cards ready at hand in shirt pockets. Jews get on the bus too, Jews of all kinds with heavy baskets, most of them get off at the Acre Road. And in Acre more Arabs get on and some Jews as well, a different kind, immigrants from Russia, and Moroccans too. They hardly understand Hebrew. And on the way the Jews thin out and the Arabs too and in Carmel the last of the Jews leave the bus and only Arabs are left. The sun on our backs is nice and the road flies. Haifa disappears from the horizon, Carmel is swallowed by the mountains, the electricity pylons thin out. No smell of Jews now. Haifa disappears from the horizon, Carmel is swallowed by the mountains, the electricity pylons thin out. No smell of Jews now. Muhammad tunes the radio to a Baghdad station that broadcasts verses from the Koran, to entertain us. We go deeper into the mountains, driving among orchards on a narrow road twisting among the fields and there's nothing to remind us of the Jews, not even an army jeep. Only Arabs, barefooted shepherds in the fields with their sheep. Like there never was a Balfour Declaration, no Herzl, no wars. Quiet little villages, everything like they say it used to be many years ago, and even better. And the bus fills with the warbling of that imam from Baghdad, a soft voice lovingly chanting the surfs. We sit there hypnotized, silent at first and then crooning softly along with him.

A. B. Yehoshua - The Lover

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