Thursday, December 18, 2014

Austerity, iii

        Arye Levin sat in the court yard beneath his flat, under a low, tattered awning.  The rain had diminished to a slow trickle, but it was strong enough to make the boy still press deeply against the cold masonry of the apartment building.  In front of him, in a flat on the ground floor, music with a Levantine flavor was seeping through the closed windows and sealed shutters.  Apartment Block Alef-Gimel was occupied by Ashkenazim -- Jews from Europe – with the exception of the Mizrahi family -- Jews of Syrian origin.

            Their Middle Eastern quirks and mannerisms were mocked by the residents of Apartment Block Alef-Gimel.  Arye’s mother repeatedly admonished him not to play with any of the hoard of Mizrahi children. 
           Yet the very questionable nature of their origins, the stink of impropriety about their status, carried an unquestionable appeal.  Arye imagined that in Syria both Arab and Jew alike carried long curved knifes and were not shy about using them to solve a dispute.  The women, who covered themselves with brightly covered flowing robes studded with gold and silver coins, were hoarders of great beauty and allure, all the more so because it was concealed.

            The reality was otherwise.  When Arye saw Mar Mizrahi he viewed a portly, squat man in an opened collar shirt and stained tan pants.  In the winter this outfit was supplemented by a coat with the lining ripped out.  He had deep lines beneath his eyes and a cigarette, either lit or unlit, dangling between his plump lips.  The man was constantly coming and going out of his flat.  Sometimes a truck would pull up on their side street entrance, away from prying eyes, idle for a bit, before rumbling off again.  Giveret Mizrahi indeed wore a head scarf but it did not cover her face.  It was loosely draped over her head, as if she was doing mere lip service to the customs of her homeland.  A gaggle of children dangled off her like spare appendages.

            Arye never saw Mar or Giveret Mizrahi with ration books.  They were never spotted on line at the neighborhood greengrocer or the dry goods store.  The residents of Apartment Block Alef-Gimel whispered that Mar Mizrahi was a big time black marketeer.  And just this rainy afternoon, as Arye’s belly was beating the slow tempo of hunger which pounded with the beat of his heart, he saw Mar Mizrahi coming up the path with a box full of egg cartons, a ration for a family for nearly two months. 
           Beneath his bushy eyebrows the Syrian Jew spied the fair-haired Levin boy and did not bother to conceal his cache.  His eyes smiled jubilantly, with an unassailable spark of victory, which seemed to say to the world, fixed with its rules and statutes, ‘fuck you.’  Yet for all the glee on his mobile, fleshy face, his lips were set firm on his smoldering cigarette, and did not budge an inch toward the arch of a smile.

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