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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Khaled Jum'a: Why?

Written in January, this short piece by Khaled Jum'a is an immediate and intense evocation of life under occupation.


The dense crowds made it seem like the Apocalypse had arrived; one coach, and people still flowed into it like a river without obstruction. Suitcases filled half the coach, and what was left had to be room enough for a hundred bodies. If not… we’d be spending the night here.

The space filled up with office workers dragging their exhausted bodies, yet the soldiers on the other side insisted we keep the first row empty, four whole seats… and you can say whatever you want… but… there’s no sitting in the front seats behind the driver… it’s military orders.

A five-year-old girl, who didn’t care about orders, or borders, or waiting… filled the place up with her laughter and her jostling about that bothered some of the people, but she didn’t care. She might have been wondering: What’s all this sadness on people’s faces?

After three thousand years of waiting, the doors closed. I was still in the same position, glued to my window, watching the little girl, oblivious to everything but her, when the driver took his seat behind the wheel and the engine’s rumbling shook us all. The child jumped over everyone and sat in one of the empty seats at the front of the coach, and again might have been wondering to herself: Why’s everyone squashed together and not sitting in these empty seats?

I looked at her with a smile I’d been hard-pressed to find, and she looked back and smiled without thinking. I said: Habibti, you’re not allowed to sit here. She sprawled out without paying attention to what I’d said, and asked, simply, while turning her head to look for her mother: Why?

Finally, when the soldier boarded the coach, he looked at her sitting there on the front seat, inspected the coach with an air of contempt, and left without a word. And I thought to myself: Why?

Translated by Isis Nusair and Shaun Levin

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