Sitting Five

Iz and Pal huddled and cried for a solid hour, shivering, sobbing, trying to speak, but diminishing to painful sighs and groans.

Bruised.

No father ever knows how deeply the rejection goes into the soul of a son who wishes to disagree but is cast into the role of the delinquent prodigal.

Night was falling—a desert night, black and chilly, clear and cold—the human blood still boiling from the day’s heat, but the skin releasing its warmth, beginning to freeze body and then, soul.

There had been no time to build a fire, so the two boys entwined inside the tent for heat and comfort. They whimpered and shuddered.

At length, Iz spoke. “Pada isn’t always that bad.”

Pal was speechless, unwilling to agree, yet not wanting to begin a useless discussion. Iz continued. “No, I mean it. He is a good man. He just has never understood my ways.”

Pal inserted, “Our ways.”

The boys soon discovered that having no fire allowed the creeping, squeaking, squawking and wiggling living organisms all around them to remain unseen, but certainly lively. The desert at night was terrifying. Some conversation was needed to keep them from thinking about the legendary, man-eating sand worm.

“Why do our people hate each other?” Iz asked.

“I don’t know,” said Pal, because he didn’t.

Iz objected. “‘I don’t know’ will not keep the conversation going and keep our minds off the bugs and slime.”

Pal growled, “I think your father thinks I’m bugs and slime.”

Iz attempted to soften his tone. “And what would your father think of me?” he asked.

Pal did not hesitate. “Probably just slime. Jew-boy slime.” Pal peered at his friend in the darkness. “Our skin is not different.”

Iz moved closer, agreeing. “No. In color, we could be brothers.”

Pal continued. “We eat, drink and live in the same places.”

“That’s right,” said Iz. “You don’t get pork, either, do you?”

“Nope,” said Pal matter-of-factly.

In the brief moment of silence between them, there were more buzzes and cackles in the surrounding bleakness. Iz inched even closer to Pal.

“I could never hate you,” he said.

“Why would you want to?” asked Pal.

“They want me to,” replied Iz, aggravated. “Because your God has a funny name.”

Without missing a beat, Pal replied, “And your God has a common name.”

Iz found this funny. “Maybe we could solve the whole thing by coming up with a new name for God that would please both of us,” he suggested.

Pal laughed. “One day in the desert and you’re ready to rename God.”

“How about Frank?” offered Iz.

Pal nodded. “The Americans would love it—and it sounds honest.”

Two friends giggling. The best sound ever.

Iz paused. “I need to tell you,” he said, “we’re almost out of water.”

Pal slowly shook his head. “Not a good thing in the desert.”

“What are we going to do?” inquired Iz with a slight creak in his voice.

Pal sat up on an elbow and said, “I think we should take this tiny tent down, and wrap ourselves in it for warmth, to keep all bugs and snakes far, far away.”

Iz eagerly agreed and the two friends turned themselves into a living, human cocoon. They tried to continue their conversation, but words began to fade into dreams. Dreams were displaced by moments of recollection—only to be interrupted by the sounds of the night creatures.

Iz dozed off, thinking about water.

Pal fell asleep, wondering where his family was.

Published by Jonathan Cring