June 3, 2013
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“Now, let’s see, let’s see, let’s see”, my mother gazed, flashes of the TV screen behind me bouncing out at me from her dark brown eyes.

“Anything, any story”, I responded.

My mother pondered this latest filter (or lack of filter) and shoved a hand through layers of grey matter. Clenching the mush of a tale, she thrust her elbow back, and the mind she disturbed settled back into place.

“Your father…”

Khalil Bdeir adventured gallantly as a child; at only twelve years of age, he and his friends pulled at the strings of home and loosened their leashes. The heavy heat and sun that seemed to explode from every dusty particle in the air defined the ground in front of them, so they tread upon it.

Palestine was a home that found its way into Khalil’s memory so well, that now, most days, he can live in it in his mind. Even then, he knew the land with such definition; he could singlehandedly plot its map in the dirt between his toes. He and his friends lived a life where it was possible to walk off the square of property their families owned, picking up more young Palestinians as they went, and leave the neighborhood entirely. Often, they stepped, power in each foot, down the main street of their village and out to the farmlands.

“It was a big lesson for them.” The TV danced in mother’s eyes, playing tricks.

When Khalil Bdeir and his friends split off the main street and ventured into the gravel roads between farms, they laughed and absorbed summer at its finest. The farms, unfenced, were beautiful borders in the picturesque painting of several companions strutting a road for an immeasurable distance.

It was so simplistic.

In mid-laugh, something less picturesque broke the gravel: a snake slithering across the road. Being a group of children, Khalil and his friends declared themselves the deciders of fate immediately. Let’s kill it! Let’s kill it!

The snake was a tube of shimmering scales, yellow and striped with brown. Its black eyes shivered in the sight of little boys. Khalil could see the warmth compressing it into the gravel, making it strong and muscle-clad. It twisted through the dusty air, and it was so hot, so, so, so hot. Khalil felt like the snake was a direct product of the sun, some monster propelled outwards into space by the supernova of blue, white, green, red behind it. It must’ve landed somewhere in the dirt and found its way here.

It found its way to sticks and stones covered in dry dirt in the hands of twelve year olds. And it found its way under these sticks and stones, under them more than once. It was under them abruptly and sharply, and the sun snake became an inversion, instinctual waveforms projecting from the outside while its muscles hung on the inside as abstractions. Khalil watched it coil up defensively, retreating in the shadows of little arms that grew large very quickly then shrank again as they came up after every beating. The snake backed away and raised its head, aware of everything in a mile in every direction.

The storyteller before me swallowed as the film in the whites of her eyes revealed an explosion of red, only red, bleeding under her eyelids.

Even when surrounded in a ring of weak and grubby young fingers, sticks shine with the steel of bullets or shimmering swords in the glare of battle. The poundings did not stop in the snake’s ever tightening body – scales stretching and eyes squinting, a tongue swallowed forcefully – but rather they ignited an eruption in the very earth all around. A full 360 degrees of mischief, misjudgment, and misguided misery ignited like a drop of water in a pond. Even the stones in their limited view of the small circle of children with sticks and stones rising above their heads and then disappearing in the crowd again experienced the tension.
Khalil Bdeir observed as a friend used nature to fight nature. He obliterated half a stick on the surface of the sun snake. The friend brought it down again, another attack, playing the role of the executioner. The dry, tall grass fled away from this particular boy, leaning away. The ground below the tenderized mass of animal wished it could have chosen to flee in the same way. Even the thinning huddle of children took tentative steps away from the animal, the one tensing and flexing by the snake. The heat could not fill in the gaps in the air made by the quick, even quicker motion of the boy standing up and bringing his weapon down again. The stick shattered once more. Shorter, shorter, shorter, he broke it. He was beating the snake with air and unattended aggression. Khalil saw a snake dying, a beast falling.

The friend was the beast falling, soon realized by everyone. The sun snake flashed forward.

“I could only imagine the fright,” My mother continued. Her voice was almost drowned in the sterilizing lights emanating from the screen on our wall.

Shrieks became the dust in the air; the fangs of the sun sank into the child’s hand. Empty, empty, empty, the snake emptied. All, Khalil saw all of its venom unleash upon his friend. His laughter became anguish; his stick, pleading. The venom of the Palestinian Viper, one of the most dangerous snakes of the area, literally and completely dissolved the veins in his hand. It was a nuclear explosion of karma, an abomination in the human anatomy. The boy was not part of nature; he used nature to fight what was natural. With the wave in the pool of the earth settling, the executioner opened his mouth to impossible width. His tears rejuvenated the dirt, which stood up screeching for the snake that would not unclamp its interminable jaws. His scuffling feet brought up a storm of dust that could not veneer the piercing horror of two beasts becoming one shadowy form, one twisting and screaming form. The tissue in the poison’s path broke down, becoming the ingredients that made it up once. Khalil’s tears were unrelenting.

As was the heat of the summer day.

As were the shrieks.

“Oh, it’s horrible”, said my mother. “Your father, he was traumatized. He didn’t return to those farmlands for a long time.” Our TV fell silent; her eyes dimmed.

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