Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Strong as Death


             “Your shoes are all wrong.”
            “Excuse me?” David Shemesh asked as the man surveyed the long length of his body before his eyes rested on his non-descript brown dress shoes.
            “Your shoes are wrong,” repeated Boris Gurevich, who after independence would change his last name to Gurviel.  “They’ll know you are from Palestine.  An Arab shoeshine boy has nothing to do all day but think about shoes.  They can’t read; they don’t go to the cinema.  That is what they do all day: pray, shine shoes and make little Muslims.”
            David Shemesh stood in front of Boris Gurevich, the official was somewhat concealed behind his desk by a hedge of stuffed file folders.  A column of white hair stood atop his head, like some primeval glacial poised to fall. 
            Behind him, the window shade was tightly closed.  But even so, the Jerusalem sun infiltrated the room through minute pin pricks in the cotton fabric illuminating a galaxy of floating dust.  A tram rattled below in the street.  In the far distance a siren from a British patrol wailed.  In the face of Gurevich’s disapproval, Shemesh felt he was standing in front of his father.
            “I know you are from Iraq. I’ve read your file carefully.  Otherwise, we would not be asking you to do this.  Fluent in Arabic,  you went to a Muslim secondary school…”
            “A secular Arabic school,” Shemesh interrupted, but Gurevich continued, the point moot.
            “You can pass as a Muslim in a crowd or at a dinner table; this is not in doubt,” he said gravely as he looked at Shemesh through narrow eyes.  “But I have found, in this business, that it isn’t the big things that snag you.  No, it is the little things that fuck you up: the shoes made in Palestine; the Hebrew word which slips out in the wrong crowd.  The bit of knowledge that you shouldn’t have about a street corner in Tel Aviv, or a garden in Jerusalem, which you reveal, and  snags you.  The little things we don’t account for fuck us up.”      


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