Lili walked down the dirt road from the bus stop with her daughter on her hip. They stopped to watch a brown man behind a parked wheelbarrow filled with sabras. A larger man approached him, stood thoughtfully examining the prickly pears, then pointed to one. The seller, holding a worn knife in his calloused hands, peeled the fruit in three swipes and handed it to the larger man, who pushed the fruit into his mouth, chewed twice, and swallowed. He pointed again. Again the seller swiftly peeled the sabra and the man ate it, juice dripping from his mouth and hands. Lili watched the man point again and again until finally he wiped his hands on his clothes and nodded. The seller held up one hand—five fingers. The man pulled five crumpled liras from his pocket and handed them to the seller, who rolled up the sticky notes and put them in a Coca-Cola bottle with several other notes and sand and sesame seeds that had fallen to the bottom. The sun slid down at an angle, adding a shine to the scene for only a moment. Lili shifted Merav over her pregnant belly and moved her shoulder bag to her other hip.
“Doggie.” Merav pointed.
“Goat,” said Lili.
“Maaa Maaa,” said Merav.
“That’s right,” said Lili. “Let’s get our money.” They had only enough agorot for the bus. She could exchange her American Traveler’s checks for currency here in Kev, but not in Tel Amon, where they were renting an apartment during her husband’s sabbatical year. Kev featured a concrete plaza with two banks, many dirt roads, and the sky was hot, cloudy gray. Airplanes roared overhead as they took off or landed. The city appeared in shades of black and white like perpetual night, and the water was bad.
Before Lili’s family had left the States the neighbors had said “Get used to drinking Schweppes.” Two days ago, on one of her first free mornings, Lili didn’t remember the comment when she asked for a glass of water from the falafel seller. The woman at the falafel stand did not look happy; she wanted to sell bottled drinks, but she filled a glass and handed it to Lili anyway. The water was gray, opaque, and Lili had said quickly that she had forgotten she was late, she needed to go, she couldn’t drink it, but thanks anyway, and turned, feeling the heat in her face, up her neck and down her back. The invisible finger had pointed at her: “Foreigner!”
“Maa Maa,” said Merav again. Lili saw a goat in the bank, heading for the tellers. Several people rushed over to shoo it out. The bank was one of the few places it wasn’t customary to elbow your way to the front of the line, but the goat didn’t know this. Merav was getting heavy, but Lili saw that they were next. A dark-haired teller behind glass motioned her over. Lili took her wallet out of her bag and placed it on the narrow ledge in front of the teller.
“I need to put you down a minute, Merav. Stay with Mommy.” She lowered
Merav to the thinly carpeted floor and let go. “Mama!” Merav screamed and began to cry. Lili looked down. Merav was in a heap and her bottom lip was bleeding. Thinking Merav’s feet had been on the floor, Lili had dropped her and Merav had bitten her lip. Lili squatted awkwardly to try to pick up her little girl, who was crying and bleeding. The invisible finger pointed: “Bad mom!”
“Uri has his brother’s truck. Maybe he can take you to a doctor,” said a man holding out his hand, who had left the line to join her.
Lili adjusted the clinging Merav around her belly and gripped the man’s rough hand to stand. A teller approached them, holding a plastic bag with three ice cubes and a paper towel. The first man was gone. Lili blotted Merav’s lip and Merav let her hold the cold bag on it. It would heal.
“Come! I will take you home!” said Uri, the sabra seller.
Uri pushed his wheelbarrow up a wooden board, loading his truck while Lili and Merav, as a unit, climbed onto the taped-up bench seat in front. There were no seat belts.
He drove fast the way the sherut drivers did, the way the bus drivers did, the way everyone in this country did, with the windows open and one hand on the horn and one arm out waving at other cars, shepherds, buses, and camels, like they were driving for their lives. Lili braced her feet against the floor so she and Merav weren’t flung side to side. Hot air blew her hair across both of their faces and Lili’s head bumped the ceiling a few times as they raced along the semi-paved road. Every family here had lost a son, daughter, cousin, or neighbor, so urgency, but also hope, were woven into the everyday life of getting groceries and going to work. Lili hoped that the ride would be over soon. Merav seemed curious, unafraid.
“Nice!” Uri parked in front of the apartment building in Tel Amon.
“Thank you, “ said Lili, reaching around Merav to her bag, thinking she should give him something. But her wallet wasn’t there. She checked around again. She found a baggie of crushed crackers and a rotten apple.
She thanked him again and, got out of the truck, the invisible finger pointing at her: “Hopeless!”
“Ca-kuh,” said Merav, reaching for the baggie.
Tomorrow. David would be home with Merav in the morning. Lili would take the bus back to Kev to get her wallet and money–surely someone in the bank will have kept her wallet for her. She would point at five sabras, maybe ten, giving Uri as much as she could without embarrassing him. She waved to the sabra seller as he, in his late brother’s truck, screeched away.
Alisa Golden writes, makes art, and teaches bookmaking at California College of the Arts. She is the editor of Star 82 Review, and her work has been published in several magazines including Transfer, Generations, 100 Word Story, The Monthly, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK). Info: www.neverbook.com