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Free Apples in Honey / Ayman Sikseck

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Free Apples in Honey

Ayman Sikseck

                   The recent Rosh Hashana holiday was not celebrated in Jaffa as in previous years. In fact, within the city's borders it was impossible to feel the holiday at all. Those wanting to remember the Jewish New Year had to go to Tel Aviv.
On the eve of the holiday I took that same road with a few friends to the Rosh Hashana's celebration party on the beach opposite the Opera Tower. "A party for the New Year?" I wondered. "And we're going? Why?" The group that gathered meanwhile in the car, with only one Jew among its four components, reminded me that there was nothing to do in Jaffa on New Year ever since the October 2000 riots, and that if we celebrate the Christian New Year's Eve without asking any questions, there was no reason that we should refuse a nighttime beach party with free apples in honey.

We drove through the old alleys to the Ajami neighborhood, where one of the four lived, in order to collect some CDs to listen to on the way. The car had to maneuver between the huge trash mounds near the neighborhood that the municipality has been piling up for years. Some have become large and wide enough to create a barrier between the inhabitants and the sea. "They say there's a plan to clean them up," said Yoav, who sitting in the back and noticed us looking at the numerous heaps. "I read it in the newspaper."

"A plan?" Mahmoud responded with a sardonic snicker and diverted his gaze from the wheel. "I've been living in this neighborhood for eight years. You see those lamps?" He indicated with his hand to a chain of three successive street lamps on the side of the road leading out of the neighborhood, all broken. "There's been a plan to fix them since I finished elementary school."

On the main road heading toward the promenade the familiar round signs of the Gesher Theater welcomed us. They're going to perform a new play there. "Isn't Gesher that Russian theater where we saw 'The Slave'?" Yoav turned his head toward me.
"Russian theater?" I laughed. "What do you mean? They just have a Russian director who is responsible for all the plays. You've already turned it into Russian territory?"
"It doesn't really matter, Ayman. Most of the actors there are Russian, aren't they?"
"I don't know…."
"Yes, they're all Russian there." He turned his head toward the window. "It's turned into a kind of island, where they can make Russian theater in Israel."
"Hey guys, how come there's a Russian theater in Israel but not an Arab theater?" Mahmoud looked through the CDs.
"Who says there isn't one?" I asked.
"There is such a theater? Really? And where are they hiding it, in Kalansawa?" he laughed.
"Not in Kalansawa, don't exaggerate," I tapped his shoulder lightly. "And no one's trying to hide it."
"So why don't we hear about it all the time like we do about Gesher theater? Do you at least know what it's called?"
I turned away from him and looked down in embarrassment. "Are we close to the beach?"
"Yes, in a couple of minutes."
"Are you sure about this idea?" I turned my face to those sitting in the back, biting my lower lip. "It doesn't seem wise to me, to come here on New Year. Even on a regular day there aren't enough Arabs in this area."
"Don’t worry, I'll tell them you're clean." Yoav put his hand on my shoulder and laughed aloud. "Besides, who says they all have to know you're Arabs?"
"They don't have to," I said and immediately looked away, because the taste of the words made me nauseous.
"Will we have to take our bags out at the entrance to the parking lot?"
"No, but Mahmoud will have to show them his identity card," Yoav answered. "They always ask the driver for ID."
"I see," I said uncomfortably and my fingers started tapping the window.
"Don't look so worried," Mahmoud looked at me smiling. "What could go wrong? Will they stone us with apples?" he laughed and took the wallet out of his pants. "Besides, I've been living in Jaffa all my life, just as you have, and I know exactly where the wind is blowing." He took out his identity card from a small rectangular compartment and gave it to me. The nationality row in the series of details was missing.

"Wise ass," I returned the ID to him. "Don't you think your name is enough for them to understand?"
"Understand what?" Yoav looked at us, confused.
We turned our heads towards him, looking at each other without saying a word.
We stood behind a winding trail of vehicles before the parking lot gate for a long time. "Can you hear it?" Mahmoud pointed out of the window. "Just as I thought, only Israeli music. Lucky we stopped by my place," he said and put his hand on the pile of CDs.
"You want to tell me that you intend to bring this to the beach?" I looked at him, stunned.

"Yeah, sure," he seemed to be surprised at my response. "Why do you think we passed through my place on the way here? Yoav brought a portable stereo, it's in the trunk."
"But look at the records we have here, they're all very old. Most of them are Umm Kulthum anyway."
"So, what's the problem? I though you loved her."
"It depends on the timing," I muttered angrily, and suddenly the CDs looked very dusty to me.
"There, it's our turn."
The security guard at the entrance asked to see an ID, and Mahmoud gave it to him. He looked at it for a few moments and then returned it and said: "Happy holiday."

Without meaning to do so, I let out a whistling breath of relief.
While Mahmoud was searching for a vacant parking spot, I took the CDs and wiped them with my hand, one after the other, as if trying to clear them from any guilt.
"Are you calm now?" Mahmoud smiled at me and turned off the engine.
I smiled back at him but insisted on not answering.
When we left the parking lot and went into the beach itself, with cotton candy and alcoholic drinks crowded next to each other above improvised tents apparently placed by the partygoers, Mahmoud turned on the little stereo and put it on his shoulder.
I looked sideways worriedly and wanted to ask him to turn down the volume, but before I could say anything he put his arm around my shoulder, pulled me closer to him with undeniable proximity, and I understood that on that night I could no longer hide.
At the queue to the small Carlsberg bar an old, fat woman wearing tattered red overalls was waiting in front of us and looked at us intently. I diverted my eyes to Mahmoud's loud stereo and nodded my head, embarrassed. .
When we got our drinks and turned to leave we heard her saying, in front of all the people, "You there in the back. What are you doing here? You'd better get out of here, you're not wanted here."
We looked at her, speechless and amazed, and too many moments passed before we understood that she wasn't looking at us.
"You parasites," she continued. "Are you coming to settle here too?"
We looked back to where she was aiming her voice. Behind the DJ stand, near the low garbage cans, we saw a man with a black hat, long tassels hanging down from his coat, quickly lifting a small child onto his shoulders and hurrying to leave the beach.



Ayman Sikseck, born in 1984, lives in Jaffa. Published in Maayan 2.

Translated by Anat Rotem.