Dark Hair and dark eyes and white, white teeth. I remember only a string of Arabic going back and forth between them, getting louder and louder as they finished each other’s sentences. The two little boys were both looking at me with their dark, dark eyes, and my bike slowed to halt. Working themselves into an anger, I can hear them repeating what they heard at the dinner table, in the street, I heard them recognize me, ‘American’ mixed into the Arabic, it confused me when they said it like a curse. And then, the universal deciding factor for children across the world- the smaller one said it, Bad. Bad and American and Israel and Bombs all together like they meant the same thing, all of them. Screeching, racing, accelerating fear, I was frozen, still, unmoving. One of them picked up a stone the size of a baseball from the ground or from the wall, and I saw his small brown fingers grip around it and dig in and tighten like he was trying to choke the stone. I saw a fear in his eyes that mixed with the hate, a hate that came from somewhere bigger than him and was all focused on something bigger than him and an image comes to my mind of this fire burning through his little body like kindling, using him to stay alive, consuming him. He pulled his arm back, awkwardly, convincing himself to throw it, to hurl it at me as hard as he could and run away, and I couldn’t move. I saw the raw muscle in his small arms, and I cringed at how much I knew it would hurt. I felt the danger like you feel it when you burn your finger on a pan, but I couldn’t run, I couldn’t drop the pan, something was forcing me to be still and keep holding the heat that hurt me so, so much. He was going to throw it, I could see it in his eyes, I saw the other boy looking at him like he was a man, and I saw the boy with the stone feel himself becoming bigger and bigger the more and more scared I became. And then something cracked in his face of hate, the instant before he smashed my face or my body, something cracked, and the rock changed course and everything was sliding and I saw his face and the hate return and the disappointment in himself that he had only thrown it so low that it echoed into the purple piping of my bike, twisting it and denting it like he could have done to my face, his childlike, underlying relief mixing in the shame, as the hate beat at the little boy for failing. His shame. He had been on the edge of becoming a man, he had almost jumped across, but in that moment that decided the course of my life, his childhood broke through, and I saw that he was just a boy, just a boy who was growing up in a twisted, violent, threatening world, a boy who wanted to be strong and brave and feared and admired, but still a boy. And as my legs started to pump my bike faster than I had ever gone before, veering out of control, barely staying on the road, until I was far, far away and I let myself crash into a little bush at the side of the road and I cried big, shaking sobs for all the things I didn’t understand.
A Little Bit of Palestine
November 15, 2010