Everyday she passed through the checkpoint on her way to work in her father’s clinic. She noticed him on his first day, she watched them come and go, the Israelis. Mostly they weren’t memorable, but he had thick wavy red hair. He smiled at her, she acted as if she hadn’t noticed. She looked a lot like a girl he should know. Why was that? Of all the most impossibly absurd places to notice a girl. He laughed to himself. That was 3 weeks ago when he started his Reserve duty, now, seeing her was the highlight of his day, why his week, maybe even this whole Gd forsaken month. She somehow made it easier to manage the days, the tedium, the emotional pressure. He scanned the sea of faces waiting to pass through, always with a grip on his weapon.
So much desperation. So much anger. He still couldn’t get over their anger. That was something one wouldn’t exactly be able to alter this millennium. Somehow she always managed to get into his line, except when she traveled with a couple of guys, they were probably her brothers or some relatives. Those days she’d always picked another line. He could only imagine the dangers she faced if they picked up on what he was feeling. Her name was Hajar. He knew from her identity papers.
Gradually he worked out a way to learn about her as part of his interrogation, Where are you working? Who is your Father? What village are you from? Is this right, your birthday is May 14? Where is your husband? In silence he waited. No husband, she had answered. After he let her through, sometimes the other women would pat her reassuringly on the arm thinking he had been especially hard on her. The days passed. He thought of other questions. Where did you study? Have you lived in other villages? Do you want to be a doctor? He questioned her about as many things as possible while not drawing attention. He took to asking many of the same things of the others around her to cover his tracks.
One day as she came towards his position, he noticed she was carrying a box in her hands. Oh shit, she was going to blow herself up and take him with her and everyone else in the whole fucking zone. Women had started to do it too. What an idiot he had been? You could easily make the case that he had been too hard on her. Was it just him she was after? Maybe if he traded places with Dan she would change her mind, not go through with it. He glanced at her again she wasn’t looking at him, but then she never did. Gd he’d been out here too long. He felt sick. He had always been able to see crazy coming. Now all he could see was the box everything else was starting to blur. She was right after the old man. Someone had to check the box.
Dan …yo Dan cover for me I need a break. Dan stepped up beside him taking over. What’s in the box, Dan demanded. She looked up for the first time. She looked up at him as he backed away. She had beautiful eyes the color of olives. He caught something in her eyes. What was it? Maybe that’s just how they look at you right before they go off. Turning, he walked quickly towards the command post. He took a long break even made coffee. He was finishing his stint in this miserable place anyway. Tomorrow he’d go to his mother’s for a good meal, a decent shower and sleep. Then he’d spend the day on the beach in Tel Aviv with some friends. He went back out carrying his coffee and a cup for Dan. She hadn’t seen him return she had been hurrying to catch a ride. The box had been confiscated, as she planned, but by the wrong guy. All that work and they would probably just get thrown away.
He stared at the box. He looked at Dan. Did you think there was anything funny about her? Who? That girl with the box. What box? That one he said, pointing his Uzi at the offending object, balanced on the barrier. Why did you take it? I didn’t, she sort of just left it here. They looked at each other nervously. He walked slowly towards the box and carefully lifted the lid with the end of his gun. They both stared in amazement. The box was full of what had to be about the best looking baklawa either of them had ever seen. Honey was starting to pool around the edges. Maybe it’s the latest in explosives, a baklawa bomb? They laughed. There hadn’t been anything suspect here, except maybe his reaction. Dan was eyeing him. Had he really thought it was a bomb, how could he possibly have left it to Dan to deal with? He was no kind of coward, was he? Were they meant for him? No! Maybe? Now he was really disgusted with himself. Against all protocol and as if to repair damages to any and all injured parties, he dove his hand into the box and lifted out a perfect diamond dripping honey and dropping nuts. The thin layers dissolved in his mouth, as words formed in the back of his mind. Then he did something he hadn’t done in years, he said the blessing for mezzonot aloud.
Elsa Wolman Katana
…written in the late 1990s after returning from living for some years in Jerusalem