Friday, 25 January 2013

The Donkey by Atar Hadari

Read by Keon Lee

You want the air conditioning on? We can put it on. I don’t mind the extra petrol. We fixed a price, it’s OK. We want to both be in one piece when we get there and not sweaty. Your wife’s asleep in back, already? Let her sleep. There, air conditioning. If you want something here you have to ask. God, I’m tired.

I had three trucks, on this road. Owned them. Used to do this trip, up and down, Afula to Jerusalem. Every day, full of paper, going to Jerusalem, seven times a week. And then this fuck with his bombs came and – this isn’t my truck. I lease this truck. Three trucks I had – gone. Sold. Did I keep the money? You’re a funny guy. One part went to my sister – we all went in shares – one part went to my sister, she bought her son a new leg. Artificial. One part went back to my cousin – he opened a grocery store. Now closed. One part came back to me – I eat and drink. No, I didn’t keep the money – that’s why I’m sitting here in someone else’s truck – driving you.

I’m driving one time, this load of newsprint, to Ramallah. I stop at the border guard, the Palestinian he says, who are you. I tell him. Then at the end I just say, “Ok.” Because my Arabic’s no good, because I grew up in Jerusalem, he takes my ID. And he tells me, “Get out.” I get out. He says, “You Jewish?”

I say, “What does it say on the ID, in Arabic? Read that.”

He says, “You Jewish?”

I say, “I’m Ali.”

He says, “The IDF killed my brother. I’m going to kill you for him.” And he takes a gun and puts it to my head. Right here, over my eyebrow.

His boss, this big black guy, says he’ll fuck him up. If he shoots me. This Palestinian’s a sergeant. The black guy is an officer. He says, if I die, this Palestinian is fucked. Fucked. But the Palestinian won’t let me go. The boss is bigger than him, got a hat, but he’s got his gun to my eye. I’m looking at him, I say, “What do you want? Even if I was a Jew – what do you want? The IDF killed your brother – did I kill him? This is the situation. Jew or Arab. What can I do for your brother? You want to kill me? Kill me. Or let me drive out of this place. I don’t want to stay here.”

He says, “I’m going to kill you like they killed my brother. You’re not leaving this place.”

I told him to call the plant, call the guy who buys the paper. He knows me. He says he doesn’t want to know. He wants me to die. For his brother.

We sit a long time. In the heat. In the tin shack. That’s why I like air conditioning. Why suffer? I always have air conditioning now. And the black boss takes him away, says he’ll hold my ID, for safe keeping. He comes back to me, the boss. He says, “You Jewish?”

I say, “Do I look Jewish?”

He says, “You both look Jewish to me.”

I say, “Can I have my ID? I’ll wait in the truck for you to get through.”

“Yeah,” the black guy says, “You wait in the truck.”

I was out of there. Tore up the tyres. Never went back anywhere near there again. One other time. A special favour, for my boss. Into the territories. To drop a load of tissue paper. On the way out, an intersection, I’m standing. I got Israeli plates and I’m wearing these wrap-around sunglasses. I look like an Israeli. And I look in the rear view mirror and for a minute I can’t take in exactly what I’m seeing. All these women and children running up to the back of the truck. But I press the gas. I don’t think. I’m moving. And a rock – the size of my chest, I’m not kidding – comes smashing through the side window, onto the seat behind me. If I didn’t press the gas – OK, maybe it wouldn’t have killed me. But it’d have broken my arms and my ribs and I would’ve lost control of the vehicle. And I would’ve been dead. And why? Who are these people? Because I looked Israeli.

But there is nothing like this country. Nothing. You go abroad, you’ll miss it. I heard, over here, we got the best combination of weather. The rain and the sun, in Israel, there’s nowhere got weather like that. You can go abroad, but you’ll miss it. Why would you go abroad? Where will you find Jerusalem?

On this road, right here, I was stopped once, in traffic. On the other side of the road, they tied a donkey to the metal railing. Weighed down with semtex. I’m on the other side of the road, me and my truck full of paper. There happens to be a bus stopped in between me and him. That’s why you’re sitting here. The donkey… There is no donkey. The metal railing – torn – a hundred feet away. And the back of the bus – it was empty that time – caught a hundred thousand pieces of shrapnel and by a miracle, a miracle, I’m sitting here. That bus stops a second earlier, to pick somebody up? No donkey and no me. A miracle.

Here we are, the airport. You want to take my number? For the trip back. You can call me right when you land, by the time you’re out of customs… What do you mean you’re not coming back? What will you do there abroad? You don’t have to wake your wife up. We can park and I’ll help you unload. She’s carrying a lot of weight already. Let her sleep.

You’re kidding me, right, this is all you have in the country? Let me do you a favour. I’ll buy the stereo. You buy it off me when you come back. I don’t think you’ll last too long abroad in all that quiet. And if you do, I’ll remember you. I’ll say, “I knew these Jews, nice guy and his girl, they were having a baby, they didn’t want to stay in Israel. And I drove them. This is their stereo.” And I’ll listen to the music while you listen to the quiet. You need a little quiet here too sometimes, don’t you? And if you can’t get quiet, at least you can listen to old songs.

So come back, come back and take your stereo. Have a safe trip. Don’t forget to call me if you come back. I have all the old songs, on your stereo. I love the old songs. They all talk about what it was like, to be born here. Don’t get lost over there. Remember, you always have a friend, here in Israel. Don’t forget, over there, far away. Just because it’s quiet doesn’t mean you’re happy.

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