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First Recompense

by Sabra Sanjani

 
  September 2011 Fiction Anthology  |  Contents  |  Authors  |  echapbook.com  |  First Recompense Part I

 

Part II

Like herded cattle, men, women, and children came rushing through iron-barred traps and cages to reach the gates of the check point. Here, surrounded by tangled barbed wire and cement berms, lines of Israeli soldiers trained in crowd control tactics met them.

“Go back! No! Go back!”

It was the theme song of the crossing, rising time and again over the din of a thousand conflicting voices in four defiant languages.

“Next time, have your papers in order,” one soldier barked into a woman’s face, ignoring her tears.

“But I am born in Jerusalem,” an old man wailed. “I have a right to pray in El-Aksa before I die!”

“Not without the right permits,” a soldier answered.

“Back! All of you! If you push you can’t come through!” Another voice ordered.

Her head stitched, her face pale, Rachel was determined to stand her ground. Splitting open her head at a rave club wasn’t reason enough to miss work. All hands were needed on the last Friday of Ramadan.

Here there was pushing and shoving and voices raised in anger. And, as always, there was the crying of women and children.

Rachel stood as part of a human chain of soldiers. Each time the people surged en masse to break through, the soldiers joined hands and held the line against them. Other times, they met them face to face, dealing with each case as swiftly as possible.

The teenager from Nablus seethed, “We have every right to worship at the mosque.”

Rachel, standing toe to toe with him, shouted back, “Not without the right permit!”

“I told you I forgot the damned permit. I’ll bring it next time.”

“Which does nothing for you this time!”

When he turned away, Rachel choked down two gulps of air and looked up to find a mountain of a man taking his place. Bugs on a windshield came to mind, as she looked up past the man’s belly and into his face.

“Now, of course, I am crossing,” he informed her. “You can do nothing to stop me.”

“Your permit, please,” she said firmly, extending her hand.

He chuckled gravely, stepped forward, and gave her a push.

“Shioaw!” Rachel shouted. “Don’t push me!”

He did it again, this time using more of his strength, nearly knocking her off her feet. She quickly regained her footing, while he looked away, ignoring the impudent mite before him, choosing instead to address those on either side of her.

“Someone please remove this ugly little ass wipe,” he said disdainfully.

“Show me your papers,” Rachel snapped in the general direction of his enormous belly.

“I will not show you anything.”

“You want to pass, you show me the right papers,” Rachel repeated defiantly.

“Kiss my ass!” he thundered and put his hands on his hips.

She called him a son of a bitch in his own tongue, and he struck her shoulders with both hands, sending her stumbling back on her ass.

“Hey! Hey!” other voices shouted, as soldiers on all sides took notice and joined hands over her to keep the bully away.

She scrambled to her feet just in time to see the giant come unhinged, shrieking at the top of his lungs, doing all he could to break through the line to get at her.

“She’s a vulgarity,” he clamored, spit flying everywhere.

As he was muscled away, he managed a last look back at the target of his rancor. “Damned slut — shlok’keh, hohsh b’teezuk!”

Rachel hadn’t noticed the officer standing beside her, until he put his hand on her shoulder and said, “You’re too small for this.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but he directed her away from the melee, saying, “Go over there.”

She hurried to another part of the line, where the mob was just as determined to cross.A Second Lieutenant welcomed her with, “Stand right here, and don’t let them get the best of you.”

She turned to an old woman, who was wearing a threadbare chador.

“Papers, please,” Rachel said.

The woman presented her permit.

“Stop being so nice,” the soldier beside her snapped. “You aren’t a waitress. We don’t say please to these people.”

Rachel thought to herself — Well, maybe we should.

She glanced over the old woman’s permits.

“These are in order, you can pass,” she said, but the woman put her hand on Rachel’s arm and looked urgently into her eyes.

“Please, my daughter is ill.”

“Where?”

“Over there,” the woman pointed through the mob.

After some effort, Rachel saw a young woman at the rear of a group standing behind a high metal fence.

Wearing the khimar, with arms folded, the woman was surrounded by three small children, who Rachel could see were emotionally distraught.

“She has no papers,” the old woman informed her.

“Then she can’t go through,” Rachel said.

“Her husband, he runs away, he takes papers,” the woman explained. “I have papers, but she does not.”

“I can’t let her through on your papers,” Rachel said.

“Please, she must see doctor. Mebbe last chance to save her.”

“Only you can go through on these papers.”

“But she is dying.” The woman’s grip became firm. “I am her mother, and my daughter is dying.”

Rachel glanced around. Nobody was watching her and there seemed to be a lull on both sides.

“Take me to her,” she told the woman, who turned and led her through the mob into enemy territory. Following close, Rachel spoke over the woman’s shoulder.

“Do the children know how ill their mother is?”

“No, they cry because they have no food today.”

They were bumped by people on every side. When they came to the woman, her children crowded around.

“I need to speak to her,” Rachel said.

“My daughter has never spoken… She is born without words.”

Rachel made eye contact with the young mother. The mute woman did her best to smile, but her response was understandably sullen. Rachel hurriedly took small bags of M&M’s from the pockets of her uniform, handing one bag to each child.

“They aren’t much,” she told them. “You’ll need to share.”

They nodded, keeping their eyes turned down and away from the Jewess.

“Bless you for giving the children food,” the old woman said and grabbed Rachel’s hand as she gazed into her face.

“I pray now every day that God will give you big husband, very much blessing, and long life.”

Rachel knew she was out on the shakiest of limbs. It could be knocked out from under her at any moment. Her job was crowd control. Getting personally involved was the fastest way to get your ass chewed.

Her mind was working on the problem, when the sound of heavy feet on the asphalt caught her attention. She turned to glimpse the furious rhino in full charge. She and two of the children were knocked rolling, but she alone was the target of his fury. Kicking her again and again, the giant, whom she had narrowly survived only minutes before, meant now to finish her. Blocking kicks to her face left her chest and stomach open. He zeroed in with deadly accuracy. His second kick drove the wind from her. The next seemed to tear both tits completely off.

When one of his hobnail boots came down squarely between her legs, she grabbed her crotch in agony and didn’t see the kick to her face.

new section

“So, what the fuck is N. E. B.?” Rachel asked Naomi as they walked from the hospital, two days after the attack.

The newspaper in her hand detailed the recent death of the thirteen year old Jewish boy along Route 60 in Hebron.

“New Exodus Brigade. They’re saying it’s a movement growing faster than anything we’ve seen,” Naomi answered.

“How many attacks so far?”

“Eight in the last ten days. Seven were fatal,”

Naomi pulled out the keys to her van as they approached it. She continued, “They say they’re going to murder Jews until we leave the way we came. They want another exodus, only this time back to Egypt.”

Rachel snorted, “On foot, yeah? With a guy named Moses leading the way.”

“Fuckin’ A,” Naomi laughed. “Charlton Heston can split my legs any day, just like he did the Red Sea.”

“Maybe they’re just some guys lashing out,” Rachel said. “Or do they seem organized?”

“We think they have meetings, leaders, and ranks, the whole bit,” Naomi said, as she circled her van then got behind the wheel. “They mean to murder us till we piss our thongs and get the hell out of Dodge.”

“New Exodus Brigade,” Rachel sighed. “Well, every club should have a catchy name.”

Rachel thought to herself, You’ll die in this shitbox — you don’t fucking get out, you’ll get your head ripped off some goddamned night and be forgotten sooner than yesterday’s piss.

Naomi started the engine, silenced the radio, and fixed her friend with a deadly serious stare.

“I know you’re thinking of re-enlisting, but you seem to have a serious bullseye on your ass, and whoever’s marked you hasn’t missed yet.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Rachel said and turned to the window. Something told her not to look at Naomi.

“I do worry,” Naomi’s voice shook. “You’ve been in the hospital twice in four days. Next time might be the morgue ...yakiri.”

Rachel turned from the window. Naomi’s face was wet with tears, and Rachel fell into her arms.

“I can’t lose you,” Naomi said, squeezing her tightly.

“You’re not going to,” Rachel whispered into her ear.

“You’re careless,” Naomi said, “and so goddamned hot headed. Sometimes you scare the shit out of me.”

“I’ll try to be careful,” she told Naomi then pulled her still closer. “I’ll work on my temper and try to think before I act.”

“Promise?”

Rachel wiped Naomi’s tears and kissed her wet cheek.

“Absolutely,” she whispered.

They released each other, then stared into each other’s eyes. When their lips brushed, Rachel flinched as though startled awake. Their mouths came together hard, in a crush of wet lips and excited tongues.

They had never kissed before. Neither had they expressed any special attraction. But when Naomi whispered the word yakiri, or darling, Rachel had felt herself pushed in a harrowing dive to the rocky ocean. She now held Naomi’s head with both hands, her eyes closed, her heart beating. Naomi’s kisses were intense and aggressive, her tongue dueling Rachel’s.

“Neshama Sheli,” she breathed between kisses — My soul!

new section

Knowing Naomi was still at work, Rachel chose to walk home after getting her stitches removed. And in her mind, that ended the forgettable incident at Dante’s Descent. She had been drunk and also ripped on ecstacy. Now sober and reasonably sane she knew she had been lucky that nothing more happened that night than seeing Jesus and falling onto the guy dancing below her.

The bruises left by the checkpoint monster’s boots were another matter. It would take time for them to go away completely. They had begun to fade on her face and tits, which were still sore, but felt fine every time Naomi kissed them.

Rachel’s pace was fast; she’d be home in ten minutes. That was plenty of time to freshen up for her roommate. The sky was blue. The trees were green. People all around were cheerful and friendly. When she remembered she had the next two days off, it was all she could do to keep from skipping.

She hadn’t yet spoken the words in her mind, but the symptoms were undeniable. In the middle of her crazy, mixed up life she had swerved ass backward into something wonderful. But for the moment, she wouldn’t speak of it to anyone, not even herself.

She kicked up onto the curb, giggling inside. Never before had she felt like this. They had done it no less than eight times in the two days since she had left the hospital, completely blowing out the carbon with the kind of orgasms neither had guessed were anything but the stuff of fiction.

How the exact spot was immediately familiar to her she would never know. It was in passing two office buildings that she glanced to her right and stopped dead in her tracks. Maybe it was the unusual formation of the old stone wall behind the buildings, or maybe it was something else. But the wall did appear to be very old, even ancient.

Perhaps the place was easy to remember because of who had been waiting for her there; certainly any place associated with the Son of God would be forever etched into a true believer’s mind and memory.

Stepping between the buildings, she stared long and hard at the dark stain on the wall. And when she crossed the small parking lot, she wasn’t surprised that the ugly red mark was exactly level with her nose and mouth and chin, which is where she had struck the wall when the rabble had thrown her against it.

There was still a feeling of his presence here, along with a residue of the fear she had felt when at the mercy of the violent crowd. This was the exact spot.

“You think you’re special because you gave candy to the children?”

It was the voice of an old woman, but Rachel saw no one until she turned to her left. She flinched badly, for there, sitting in rags atop an ant-covered mound, was a hag so withered and cruel looking that not even Shakespeare could have dreamed her up. Her hair was a tangle over her head and shoulders, while the expression on her face was deeply cut by the lines of age.

Rachel was as frightened now as she had been when bullied by the mob. She started retreating at once.

“You think when you’re good to your enemy’s children you’re better than they are.”

Rachel told herself not to answer; if she held her tongue the hag might go away. It was only a hallucination, either from being kicked in the head or from doing so many damned drugs.

But the hag wasn’t finished. “A great wrong has been done by Israel. Jacob is guilty of stealing The Beautiful Land from those who have always lived here.” She slid from the anthill and approached Rachel, who had stopped backing away.

Just a few steps separated them. The hag raised her finger and pointed it straight into the young woman’s face. “Someone must pay for these sins.”

Rachel was surprised by the sound of her own voice.

“God gave us this land. It’s in the Bible, and it doesn’t matter what they say or what you say. It’s our fucking land — they’re trespassing, and so are you.”

She turned away and stepped toward the street, which had reappeared along with the roar of the passing traffic.

“Your name is Rachel,” the hag said, and Rachel felt two withered hands pulling at her.

She spun around, her clenched fist coming up, but the old woman was gone.

Rachel was much closer to home, when she heard the raspy voice again, every bit as real as her own.

“You have been chosen,” the hag resumed, and Rachel stopped in her tracks. “You will make the first recompense, or there will never be peace here, only war.”

The next thing Rachel knew she was running along the sidewalk.

new section

“Where are the damned drugs?”

When Naomi came through the door, she was confronted by a woman gone mad. The apartment had been ransacked. All of their things had been tipped over, kicked aside, or turned upside down.

Rachel, in only a thong, was soaked with sweat. Her hair looked like she had been practicing Krav Maga for hours and hadn’t yet taken a shower. She screamed, “I know you took them — just like you did before!”

“To keep you from getting kicked out of the army,” Naomi answered.

“What gives you the fucking right to play God? Give them back or I’ll kick your ass from here to base!”

Naomi laid down her purchases from the store and came the rest of the way into the room. She stepped around the overturned couch, coffee table, and book shelves. The books littering the carpet were all Rachel’s. Knowing how her friend revered books, Naomi was forewarned about how bad it was this time.

“Why do you need drugs again? You’ve had a bad week, I know, but haven’t a few good things happened to you?”

Rachel’s eyes raced back and forth, narrowed menacingly, and Naomi knew the love they had spent hours giving and taking had slipped off the table.

Something enormous was at play here, and with plenty at stake. Naomi was smart enough to know that if she didn’t tread carefully the immediate situation could turn catastrophic.

Rachel stamped her feet.

“Where are my fucking drugs!”

“I didn’t hide them,” Naomi said, telling the truth.

“You’re lying,” Rachel shouted and stepped ominously toward her. “You always take them, and I need them goddammit!”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“The whole damn world is fucked,” Rachel bawled, her face twisted. “We’ve got to give it all back to whoever the hell we took it from!”

“Who? Hamas? Hezbollah?”

Naomi was rewarded with a two-handed shove into the wall.

“Don’t make fun of me!”

“I’m not! What’s wrong with you?”

Rachel turned away, her hands in her hair, her eyes opened wide, as though seeing some private vision of hell.

“We’ve got to give back the land we’ve stolen. We’re fucking trespassing, which means the bastards we thought were in the wrong are in the right — and we are all totally fucked.”

“Did you see something weird again?” Naomi asked.

“There will never be peace until I’ve paid the price for our sins,” Rachel said with deep conviction.

“Okay, first you see Jesus and now you are Jesus.” Naomi hadn’t intended sarcasm, but that’s how it sounded.

Rachel pushed her again, harder this time.

“Don’t make fun of me, damn you,” she threatened. “And give me back my drugs. Why would you do this to me?”

“Rachel, even if I had your drugs I wouldn’t give them to you, until you tell me why you’re so fucking unhinged.”

Naomi didn’t see the punch coming. When she woke an hour later the house was even more trashed than before. Rachel was gone. Naomi’s cell phone was ringing from her pocket.

new section

“Where the hell are you?” Naomi snapped.

Rachel sounded like her old self.

“I’m at dad’s airport,” she said, “in the snack bar, while he takes Mom and Davy up flying.”

Naomi slid down the wall to sit on the floor.

“Oh, yeah, the new plane,” she said, moving her hand to her jaw. “You sound okay. I guess you got your hands on some good shit.”

“Yeah,” Rachel said, “and I’m sorry I hit you.”

Naomi heard her friend sniffing.

“I’m so sorry I hit you, baby,” Rachel whispered. “I’m so fucked up — I wouldn’t blame you if you never spoke to me again.”

“I love you, Rachel,” Naomi told her. Tears trickled down her face. “I don’t want to marry you, because you can’t give me kids or a family, but I’ll never love anyone more.”

They cried together until Rachel whispered, “I better go. People are staring.”

“How long will you be gone?”

“They’re just up for a few minutes,” Rachel told her. “I wanted to go, but I was sick to my stomach.”

“Can you see them?”

“Yeah, they’re just circling mostly,” Rachel said. “I love you.”

“Come home soon,” Naomi told her, “and I’ll take you flying, too. Kisses.” Naomi disconnected.

Rachel was in a dream state. She felt tingles of heat and deep longing. She went to the big window at the far end of the snack bar. It was a better view here, and it looked like her dad was already bringing them back. The white dot in the blue canvas of sky was her whole family. Rachel hurried downstairs to make sure they could see her watching from beside the runway.

By the time she got downstairs, her dad was dipping one of the plane’s silver wings, like a great seagull. He was headed straight for the runway over some far buildings and fences. There were other planes on other runways, with tanker trucks nearby. She imagined the friendly chatter inside the cabin and she wondered if they could see her standing outside watching them.

In another moment, Rachel realized she’d misunderstood the scene before her. Not far out, and from very low altitude, her dad banked the plane steeply to the right. And then, as if her father were playing around to scare his passengers, it twisted all the way back, banking steeply left. The plane swerved.

Rachel saw the fuel truck. The plane dropped.

Oh, god — ! Daddy! Lift it! Lift it! Oh, god — no, Daddy!

She heard the massive explosion that followed. The fuel truck was an orange and black tower of flame. She ran onto the runway, but others hurried to stop her.

“Nothing you can do, honey,” she heard one deep voice say, his massive hand on her forehead, his arms wrapped around her. “They’re gone. All of them — son of a bitch!”

Rachel puked on the tarmac. Still retching, she dropped to her knees and pounded the ground with her fists.

God! God! God — no!

She heard her own screams.

No! God! Don’t do this to us!

A very big man, who smelled of oil and grease, had pulled her into his hairy arms.

Why would you take my family — God?

She started clawing at the man as she gasped, Why would you do this to us — God! No! It’s a fucking dream, a goddamned nightmare — no, God, no!

When she couldn’t cry anymore, she stopped pounding the man’s chest. All that was left was her, the man and his tender words, and the sounds of sirens.

break

For days, that was all Rachel could remember, that and the orange burning flame, which remained in the corner of one of her eyes. When she had been a little girl, she had stared too long at the sun during an eclipse. Her father had warned her, but she was excited and didn’t want to miss anything. That dark spot had stayed in her eye like a time stamp, affecting everything she saw, burning like hell whenever she cried.

new section

Tom, her god dad from Colorado, sat with her in the front row during the memorial service in Yadin Hall. He had flown over at once and hadn’t left her side since she had run into his arms, just as she had a hundred other times when he’d flown in to visit her family over the years. His presence made up for Naomi's absence. Her best friend couldn't get out of working a double shift and was unable to be at her side.

People were rising, one after another, all of them sharing memories about her folks and her bratty little brother, Davy, who today would have been twelve. Rachel didn’t want to cry, didn’t want to make a public spectacle of herself. Every time she felt herself caving in to emotion, she turned to Tom. He would look into her eyes, wipe the tears away, and squeeze her hand yet again.

“Daryrush was a shrewd businessman,” Mr. Meir was telling every one. “I always said, I never want to do business with anyone else, because he is so honest. Still, I never once come out on top.”

Everyone was touched. Everyone chuckled.

Rachel glanced to her right to see what Davy would think about one remark or another, but he wasn’t there anymore.

“Ori was a brilliant woman,” Mrs. Suissa said. “You don’t get appointed to head up three major charities if you are not a woman of exceptional intellect and grace. No one was ever discouraged in her presence.”

She was to Rachel’s left, a woman so out of place in this gathering of finely dressed mourners that Rachel thought at once of the rotten apple in a barrel of shining red ones. The woman’s hair was heaped in tangles, her clothes tattered, and her face was creased with so many lines she was nearly disfigured.

Rachel couldn’t pull away from the sight of her, and the hag didn’t blink the whole time their eyes locked.

“I need to use the restroom,” Rachel whispered into Tom’s ear.

When he nodded, she kissed his cheek, leaving her lips beside his mouth for much too long. People could think what they would.

And then Rachel left, even as Mrs. Gera was extolling her late mother’s habit of visiting the sick in hospitals.

As she hurried from the hall, from the midst of those who had known her most of her life, Rachel couldn’t guess how long it would be until she was returned to them.

new section

Blood soaked her white-linen thong, turning it deep red. Her tits and stomach were covered in stripes of blood which dripped off her to be caught by the wind. She felt weaker now than she could ever remember feeling.

“Ben Gurion, Mrs. Meir, Moshe Dayan, all of them were great leaders,” she was still ranting, trying to say everything she imagined the hag wanted her to say. Anything to get the devil off her ass, anything to bring her loved ones back.

“But every one of them were wrong! In this tragedy, there is no partly wrong, no little bit wrong — these great people, our leaders, all of them holy people, were totally wrong!”

Now there were those in the crowd who had heard enough. They shouted back, challenging her even as others urged her to sit down. Three men at the back of the steadily growing crowd had been yelling, “Jump to the goddamned pavement and be done with it.”

She saw that Tom had come outside. She could tell that he was pleading with her to stop, but Rachel dared not look at him or listen. His was the one voice that could make her stop, so she shut him out. Her toes curled over the roof’s edge as she continued to rant.

She was doing this for all of them; she didn’t think they would agree, or understand, but this was her duty, and Rachel always did her duty.

“You will make the first recompense,” the crone had told her.

Rachel shouted, “And why in God’s name does Israel need Palestine? We could start again on the moon and create a fucking paradise! You all know this! It is undeniable! If Moses were here, he would cast shame on this generation! If Father Abraham, or Jacob, or King David, or Solomon were here they would denounce this generation of Jews and cry shame! Give Palestine back to its rightful owners! Give The Beautiful Land back to the beautiful people we found here when we came to take it! Give Palestine back to the Palestinians — and then fall on your faces and beg their forgiveness and God’s mercy!”

She glimpsed Tom standing below just before her body tilted a centimeter beyond the point of return. She heard the crowd gasp as she fell.

In that instant, she saw someone reach out. After that there was only darkness, only pain, only the far off echo of her own voice begging God to bring her family back. After a moment, that was gone too.

new section

“The Naked Oracle”, as she was dubbed in the papers, would regain consciousness after five days and two surgeries to relieve pressure on a brain that had struck asphalt.

Her goddad’s broken arm mended as did his fractured collar bone. He would wear a neck brace for six months. Every time she looked at him she would grit her teeth in shame. But there was this, too. With every day that passed, she would feel a little more deeply loved.

And from that day to this, a small circle of orange flame still shows in the corner of her eye. Whenever she cries, it burns like hell.

end of story

<<< Part I

© 2011, Sabra Sanjani

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