23 March 2013

Paradise water

New novel, new characters. meet Saleh, Amit, and Maya.
For my new readers, this is a fragment of my second novel, "Shai at the Checkpoint". It's a raw piece of writing still. Check out other segments of this novel under the label "Shai at the Checkpoint" on the left sidebar of the blog.
Enjoy reading. As always, feedback is welcome.

Saleh walked into the crammed kitchenette, grabbed a tall glass from the shelf, put it up to the light and wrinkled his forehead. Two yellowish lines were running down the side of it, and the memory of a woman’s red lipstick was smudged across the edge in a slightly distorted kiss. He looked at the other two glasses; they were in no better shape. He turned on the tap water and scrubbed the glass clean. Clean as it could get. He then turned to the mineral water cooler, spelled out the name of the water company in his mind – Mey Eden, Waters of Eden – and poured himself a glass of lukewarm tap water. As he was gulping down the water, he heard a smirk behind him.

“Even in this mid-August heat?” It was Amit, his colleague. He walked to the shelf, took a glass and, with complete disregard to its cleanliness, poured himself a glass of ice cold water from the cooler. “Mmmm, there’s nothing like cold Eden water in this heat.”

“Never. Not as long as they have a contract with this supplier. I’d rather drink this warm water, even in this impossible heat, so long as that,” pointing to the upside down translucent blue monster of a water bottle on top of the cooler, “comes from the Occupied Golan Heights.”
“Oh, you’re such a nationalist. Come on, get over it!”
“I’m not a nationalist, Amit! I’m just a man with principles.”
“Nobody will know that you drank it. Here, take a glass of Paradise water.”

Saleh just shook his head slightly and smiled under his thin mustache. Amit and he have been working together for almost two years now, and they became friends. Not close friends, but still. As close as a slightly leftish Jewish man and a Palestinian man can get. Although Amit did define himself as moderate left, for Saleh he was never left enough. Amit recognized the claim of Palestinians on parts of this land and their right to live as equal citizens. But they always got stuck when the discussion reached the refugee problem or the demographic “threat.” His biggest fear was to live in a state where the Jews would no longer constitute a majority. Saleh could only sympathize, but not understand rationally. Personally he had no problem living as a national minority – if only he were treated as an equal citizen in all respects.

Amit, on the other hand, couldn’t understand Saleh’s claims of discrimination. For him, Palestinians citizens of Israel had all the rights – within some undefined limits, of course. It seemed only logical for him that people who served the army should have some merit over those who didn’t.

After some heated discussions, raised tones and animated body language, they settled into some sort of a routine. They had a silent pact not to go deeper than the surface on these issues. Over time, their political talks were replaced by friendly stings. When Saleh couldn’t get the printer to work, he asked Amit for help. Amit only clicked on the printer icon and the document printed out smoothly. “It’s because I’m Palestinian. The printer knows it.”
“Yup, sure is. One racist printer we got here.” And they would laugh it off.


After they had drunk water, Saleh reached for his thermos and winked at Amit. “Kafe Aravi?”
“Only if you boiled it seven times,” Amit was already reaching for two finjans and patting his pocket to make sure he had his cigarettes. Saleh had explained to him that Arabic kahwa had to be boiled seven times exactly to come out just right.
“I think it was seven. Hey, I made it at five in the morning, so maybe it was six, or eight. But I’m sure your Jewish taste-buds won’t even know the difference.”

They walked out to the narrow balcony, Arabic coffee was on Saleh, cigarettes were provided by Amit. Amit slurped from his finjan. “Hmm… yes, it’s seven.”
Saleh inhaled from him cigarette, then he took a slow sip of his coffee. He let the hot, bitter liquid swirl inside his mouth for several seconds before swallowing. “I think it’s closer to nine,” he laughed, “but I told you that you would never taste the difference.”

Amit made a face as if offended and took another sip. “You could boil it twice for all I care. Still it’s the best coffee in Yerushalayim.” He pronounced the last word slowly and deliberately, trying to hide a wicked smile.
“Alquds,” Saleh mumbled.

Suddenly, Amit became serious. “Listen, forget Yerushalayim. Next week there’s a party for the staff.”
Saleh’s cigarette was halfway finished, and he was hoping to get another one from Amit before they went back to work. “Aha, I think I saw something in my email about it. Anyway, I’m not going.”
“Look, Saleh. I’m not going to try to convince you.” His back was to Saleh and he was looking down at the street below. “We both know it’s going to be a Jewish party. Usually only about three or four Arab staff members attend them. But I was thinking that,” he took a deep breath, turned around to face Saleh, and cleared his throat. He spoke slowly, as if weighing the significance of each word, “you know, Maya… I mean… it’s obvious to all there’s some attraction between the two of you. The only two who are either ignoring it or denying its existence is you and Maya.”

“Maya is Jewish. I’m Palestinian. End of discussion.” The vein on the left side of Saleh’s forehead became visible. His left hand holding the cigarette shook ever so slightly. He drowned his cigarette in the remains of the coffee and turned around to walk inside. “Coffee break over. Back to work.” Amit mumbled to himself as he followed him in.

Saleh walked back to his office, passing Maya’s desk on his way. Only her auburn curls were visible from behind the large computer screen. But as he approached, she peeked out from behind the screen. “Saleh! Just my man. Can you come take a look at this? I can’t get the letters line up on this vector.” Saleh’s vein receded when he saw her. “Let’s see what I can do. Move it, redhead,” and he scooted her chair with her in it aside, grabbed another chair and took over the computer. After playing around with the functions for several minutes, the letters were neatly lined up exactly where Maya wanted them. “There you go, Mai. Did I tell you my grandmother’s name was Mai?”

“How many times, Saleh! It’s Maya. For you, M A Y A. Get it?”
“Aha… I see… well, my grandmother’s name was…” and he got out of the way before she had the time to grab at his shirt. “Maiiiiiiiii,” he screamed as he headed down the corridor, laughing. “And she was a redhead, but not a real one like you, Mai. She hennaed her hair. All the way up to the age of ninety eight!”

He sank down into his chair. He had two designs to finish before the end of the week: an annual report for a human rights organization and a poster for a book fair. Let’s get the poster out of the way first. He looked at his watch. It was twelve forty seven. I’ll work for an hour and then ask her for a cigarette.

Two hours later, Saleh was still at his desk. He had finished four versions of the poster and was working on the fifth when he finally realized he was just passing time. Three versions were more than enough for the client. The fourth and fifth one were only very slightly different in the fonts and shades of the background. He discarded them, pushed his chair back and stretched his arms. Something was still missing from his designs - they were all too cold. Uninviting. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. Something was missing from his designs. They were too cold. Uninviting.

Maya was fresh from Wizo. She finished her degree in graphic design only several months earlier, and already was accepted to work by one of the larger companies in Jerusalem. Her designs were known for their playfulness. There was something clean yet fresh about them. Different. Saleh looked at the poster on his computer screen. He was satisfied with it, yet compared to Maya’s work, it seemed to him a bit on the dark side. Maybe too serious for a book fair.

He opened his eyes, and rushed down the corridor. “Maiiii, I’m sending you something in the mail. Open it and have it ready. I’ll be right there.”

“Maya!” came an echo from the far end of the corridor.

“You need some tola'ot in there.” They were both staring at the poster on the screen.
“I need what?!”
“Worms… you know… bookworms?”
“Aha… I see..,” he leaned closer over her shoulder, her curls just barely tickling his neck. He smelled the freshness in them. And stopped breathing. “Right there, see?” she pointed at the image of one of the books in the background. “Not too conspicuous. And make the worms in earth tones.”

Earth tones… bookworms! How come I didn’t think of it? Stupid. It’s so obvious you need some bookworms to go into a poster for a book fair! YaRab! She’ll think I’m so stupid.

(c) khulud khamis, 2013


  1. Jamie AtariMarch 25, 2013

    IM ENJOYING THIS BLOG..I like this story too. good job.. do you have it in book form too? print?

  2. thanks Jamie for reading my blog. At the moment, my first novel is being edited by Spinifex, an Australian press. It should be out in bookstores in early 2014. The piece you just read is a new piece of writing. this story is still in the process. more to come soon.
    in solidarity,

  3. thank you, Khulud, I will be back to read this!


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