Friday, December 19, 2014

Austerity, iv


                   “You muzt try to understand dis,” the man said, his bald head gleaming with sweat despite the drafty auditorium.  His great brown glasses were crooked on his face, like a seesaw which had broken irrevocably to one side.  His Hebrew had a strong Romanian accent.
            “It iz vvery important, children,” the man continued, blinking excessively.  “Hherr in Izrael, the new comer muzt get the zame dings az the nnative born.  Iz it fair, den, children, for you to get two pairz of zhoes and the newcomer one?  Oor for you to eat two eggz, and the immigrant one?  Only wit de rationing will dere be fairness in Izrael.  Only den will dere be fairnezz…”  The man paused to remove his lop sided spectacles.  His large round eyes were now small and pink without the refracting glass, as if shrunk from the incantation of his words.
            “Aand de criminalz who zell food and clothez – and I will uze da word because you are older boyz and girlz and can underztand – on the Black Market are ztabling a knife in the heart of the Jewizh Ztate.  Dey defame de six-thousand dead who fought to make dis land free two yearz ago.  Dey fight for the Arab who wishes to crush uz and drive uz into da zea…”
            When the man was finished the teachers let the classes play in the yard.  Arye sat on a stone, contemplating the high sweep of the blue, Jerusalem sky, clear for the first time in nearly a month, the hint of spring lightly kissing the damp air.  The sun sent plumes of light down upon the earth which landed, Arye imagined, somewhere over the Jordan River, on the Plains of Moab, like broken pieces of the firmament.
            “It iz vvery important,” a voice behind Arye Levin proclaimed.  “Dat hhere in Yizrael, the new comer muzt get the zzame as the nnative born…”  Arye turned, thinking that the Ministry man was behind him, watching the sun perform its ballet over the Holy Land.  Instead a short, brown boy, a fine mesh of black hair over his upper lip, which quivered with delight over his feat of imitation, was next to Arye Levin, standing squat but firm.
            “What an ass,” the boy added, sitting beside Arye on the broad stone.  “That fool can’t even speak proper Hebrew and he comes here to lecture us about who deserves what, and when.  Fucked up.  Hey, don’t I know you?”  The boy asked.  Arye recognized the facial features: the reconstituted parts of Mar and Giveret Mizrahi. 
            “Yeah, I do know you,” the brown boy continued, leaning toward Arye, his face awash with the type of placid curiosity one often finds in a dog.  “You live in our apartment block.  The Levin kid.  The older one.  I’m Ezra Mizrahi.”  The boy wore a tan sweater and short brown pants.  He had two bandages on his knees and a hole the size of a fist in the very center of his sweater.  His arm thrust out as if to shake Arye’s hand, but then it dropped, as if he thought better of the gesture.
            “You know there is a Hungarian Restaurant my father goes to for his business.  And it is well known that this place does not take ration coupons.  And who does my father see, sitting down to a plate of gulasch, but Levi Eshkol….”
            “The Minister of Agriculture?”
            “The one and only,” Ezra Mizrahi answered, his hand outstretched as if to accept a well earned bit of bakseesh.  “If the highest members of the government, the cabinet itself, don’t respect austerity, what kind of example is that for regular people?  Both da nnew commer and de nnative born, as our friend in there said.  This is a small country.  Everyone knows everyone’s business, from the Cabinet members to the street cleaners.”
            The boys stopped talking as a group of children kicking a scuffed football across the pitted asphalt. 
            “Your father is in the Black Market, right?” Arye asked, just as the group disappeared from sight behind a tree at the far end of the yard still clinging tenaciously to the shards of last year’s leaves.
            “It’s all bullshit,” Ezra Mizrahi answered, his jaw firm, his eyes cast low.  “This whole country.  This is the Promised Land, my father says, the land of milk and honey.  Milk and honey are rationed, you know, and can be found on page lamed and dalet, and are available in section 17 this week.  Shopkeepers do what they can to get around the regulations, just like that crook Eshkol.  They water down milk and put breadcrumbs in ground beef.  I heard of one manufacturer who was hired by the government to make a certain kind of boot for the army, and he figured out how to use less leather, and he sold the rest on the black market.  And this man was a millionaire! 
            “It’s all crap, and my father has a thousand stories like this.  Dov Yosef, the austerity man, is worse than Joseph in the bible, lording his hoard of food over the people, making them bow and scrape.  Joseph’s brothers in the bible were right in getting rid of him, only they should have killed him instead of selling him to those Ishmaelites.  This whole place is a sham.  When some small fry gets caught buying a coat on the black market, they force him plant a tree and the newspapers make it front page news.  What kind of country is that?  What good is a goddamned tree if it doesn’t give you fruit or if you can’t cut it down to make a house?”
            “Why do you say such things?” Arye asked, aggrieved.  “Its  unpatriotic. Israel is a desert.  Planting trees redeems the land.”
            “You sound like that cheap Jew in there,” Ezra flicked his thumb backward, as if the Romanian from the Ministry was standing behind them, breathing down their necks with his litany of collective sacrifice.  “A man needs bread and a roof, and the government makes us eat the same kind of thin black bread and forces us into their damp apartment houses, Block Alef, Section 11, Flat Gimel blah blah…”
            “Your father told you all this!” Arye spat, standing up.  “He’s fed you lies.”
            The boy chuckled.  “At least I’m fed.  Well fed…” and he patted his round belly. “Come to our flat, eggs are stacked up to here, chickens hang from the rafters… we’ll feed you lies and we’ll feed you eggs and delicious cookies from overseas…” and the boy continued to talk ebulliently of his hoard of plenty, but Arye Levin had already walked away.

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