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Fiction

Photo by Ashish Sukhija

In The Wild (excerpt)

On the Day of Atone­ment, a young Israeli cou­ple vis­its a fam­ily in an Arab vil­lage, where their prej­u­dices are tested and challenged.

 

My daugh­ter saw it first, and she yelled: A fox! A fox! There! And true, there was a fox, stand­ing on the edge of the foot­path point­ing his sharp muz­zle at the traf­fic, try­ing to decide what to do. His red coat glowed in the dark under the street­light, his fox­tail paus­ing behind him. In a flash I was trans­ported to a dis­tant day, in a dis­tant land, sit­ting by a fish-breeding pond and lis­ten­ing to the ‘plop’ sounds of jump­ing fish. Our car stopped at a red light, and the fox turned around and dis­ap­peared back into the Fitzroy Gar­dens. My daugh­ter was very excited. It’s the first time I have seen a fox in the wild, she said, and I wanted to say to her, I know how it feels, because I remem­ber the first time I saw a fox, sit­ting by the water. But the light turned green and I had to give Sally direc­tions, she nearly missed the city bypass. My daugh­ter told her about the day Banjo, her teacher, took the whole class and the par­ents to spots a fox on a golf course where he usu­ally played. All evening he kept going, shush, shush, be quiet and the fox will come, but the ani­mal didn’t show up. And now I have seen it, she said, with a sense of achieve­ment. Then the con­ver­sa­tion moved on and I never got the chance to talk about my fox.

In any event, I couldn’t pos­si­bly have told that story between the city bypass and out home, which is less than five min­utes drive. Because I think it’s impor­tant to tell about all the events of that dis­tant day, you can’t sep­a­rate those from the fox bit.

 

I hap­pened in ’78 when I was young and had a hus­band named Itzik who drove a red Bea­tle and had lots of colour­ful ideas. Of course it was his idea to visit Ahmed in his vil­lage smack on the day of Yom Kip­pur, no more and no less. But what about the stones, I asked. My daugh­ter, for exam­ple, who didn’t grow up in Israel, wouldn’t have a clue what I am talk­ing about. So I have to explain that Yom Kip­pur, Which means the Day of Atone­ment, is the holi­est day in the coun­try, and whether you are reli­gious or not, in Israel you have to behave like an ortho­dox Jew on that day, or at least that’s the way things were back in ’78. First you were sup­posed to fast for twenty-four hours, and if you didn’t fast, you cer­tainly wouldn’t eat in pub­lic, or even fry an egg to send the fra­grance waft­ing into the stair­well of your build­ing upset­ting all the starv­ing neigh­bours – that would really get you into their bad books.  There was no TV or radio, every­thing was closed, and dri­ving was the worst sin of all, at least as far as pun­ish­ment went. The chil­dren made sure of it, stand­ing on the side of the road with piles of ammu­ni­tion. Even the police weren’t spared from the children’s ston­ing, and what could an Israeli police do to gang of Israeli chil­dren? Cer­tainly not shoot them. So the cops avoided the road as much as pos­si­ble on that day. Even my friend Miki was stoned when he drove his sick kid to the doc­tors, and the poor guy thought he had cov­ered him­self when he stuck the ban­ner TAKING SICK BABY TO HOSPITAL on both sides of the car. I could be that the chil­dren thought they were being tricked since the sick kid was lay­ing on the rear sit – there weren’t any child restraints in those days – or maybe there hadn’t been a car on the road for hours, and they were get­ting impa­tient. You couldn’t totally blame them, it’s a bib­li­cal thing this ston­ing, and maybe that’s where they got the idea in the first place.

So I said to Itzik, Be’hiat dinak – it means ‘in the name of your faith,’ That’s an expres­sion in Ara­bic, where most of the Israeli slang come from – why exactly on Yom Kip­pur? But he replied that we could leave at six o’clock in the morn­ing, before any child opened even one eye.  The road will belong to us, he said, and any­way, on other days there is always some­thing more inter­est­ing to do, but not on Yom Kip­pur when one can lit­er­ally die of bore­dom, that’s the per­fect day to visit Ahmed.

So that’s how it was, we left at six o’clock on Yom Kip­pur, and true, apart from the few devo­tees who gave us weird looks on their way to the syn­a­gogue, the street of Tel Aviv were ours. The Coast Road was empty too. It felt spe­cial, trav­el­ling like this, king-of-the-road style, we got in a really good mood, laugh­ing and car­ry­ing on. After less than an hour, we turned right to the Lower Galilee. Among the Arab vil­lages there were kib­butzim, and each of them had a water tower and small houses with tiled roofs and fields of cab­bages planted in rows. We laughed about it, and how it looked so Zion­ist, like the pic­ture on the dona­tion tin of the Keren Kayement le’Israel. And from here to there, we got into laugh­ing about Ahmed. I bet there is a wall­pa­per of a trop­i­cal beach in his house, said Itzik. No, not a trop­i­cal beach, I said, it’s rain­for­est, his favourite. I learnt about his rain­for­est wall­pa­per pref­er­ence when I tried to teach him how to do a Span­ish fin­ish on our lounge­room walls with white cement-mix. He had started spray­ing the cement and I showed him how to dip a hes­s­ian rag in the cement, then rub it on the wall in cir­cu­lar move­ments. I think it was frus­trat­ing for him to be shown how to do his job by a woman. But he spread the cement too evenly, so I had to say, No good, this fin­ish is only for out­side, not inside. Why don’t you put a wall­pa­per in here? What wall­pa­per, I said, and he replied, A beau­ti­ful one, with a pic­ture of a for­est. Ahmed, I said to him, this is a Jew­ish home, not an Arab home. Ahmed sort of smiled, but I saw a vein throb­bing on his fore­head. Itzik had hired all the trades­men at The Slave Mar­ket in Jaffa. Most of them came from Gaza or The West Bank, they stood there at dawn with their plas­tic buck­ets full of tools, hop­ing to get a day or two of work. On the morn­ing Itzik picked him, Ahmed was the only one who came from an Israeli vil­lage, and actu­ally owned a util­ity. He was more con­fi­dent than the oth­ers, and after a week of work­ing for us he even invited us to visit him in his village.

 

First pub­lished in 2004, Heat #8, New Series