Sitting Eight

By midday, Iz and Pal had developed a brand-new game. They called it, “Your Book, My Book.”

They mentioned the various names that were in the Talmud and the Koran, and were shocked to find out how many were the same. Abraham was in both, as was Joseph, Isaac, Ishmael, Noah, Adam, Eve, Moses. Yes, they were all there.

Iz’s book had some other different names and Pal’s mentioned both Jesus of Nazareth and Mohammed, but it was really quite surprising. Kind of freaky.

They also realized that the two of them looked much the same. By now they smelled the same. They both believed in God. Both had never touched pork and had strict families. They came from desert Bedouins and they both really, really liked Hershey chocolate bars with almonds.

Aside from Iz being shorted by circumcision and Pal not really having a country, they should be brothers.

It made them wonder if anyone had ever thought of it before. They were so preoccupied with their new game that neither noticed the arrival of a guest—a slender, lanky young man with dark brown skin, curly hair and pieces of coal for eyes—piercing but still permitting some of the warmth of childhood.

Iz did not recognize the stranger but Pal knew him.  He spoke quietly. “Hello, Talsan.”

The young man stood tall, staring off into the distance. “It is hot, my little brother. You will sicken yourself in this heat.”

“I drink as much as I can,” said Pal, continuing his calm tone.

Talsan chuckled. “In the desert, by the time you think to drink, it is already too late.”

He sat down next to his younger brother.

Iz spoke up. “I am Jubal,” he stated. “Amir’s friend.”

“So,” asked Talsan, “are you the trouble-maker?”

Pal interrupted. “No, I am the trouble-maker. No, I mean—there is no trouble. We are just enjoying being together.”

Talsan shook his head. “Papa is worried. He has talked to the elders.”

Pal quickly shifted to his haunches. “Why did he talk to them?”

Talsan raised his voice. “Because he wasn’t going to talk to you out here in the desert, running from family and Allah.”

“I’m not running,” said Pal. “All my life I’ve done whatever I was told to do, even though there were questions exploding in my mind.”

“Questions?” scoffed Talsan, “what questions?”

Pal paused as if deciding whether to continue the conflict. “All right, Talsan,” he said with intensity. “Answer this. Why do we live in a religion, in a culture, that speaks so highly of family, friends and love, but then teaches us to hate these people walking nearest to us in the village?”

“We do not hate them,” Talsan spat. “They hate us. We are merely protecting our lives.”

Iz jumped in. “I don’t hate you. I don’t hate Pal. I don’t hate your father. I would just like to live—and have some fun.”

Talsan laughed scornfully. “Now I know you are a boy. Fun is out of the question. We are to become men and take our place—first at the universities and then, in leadership of our communities.”

“Without fun?” asked Pal.

Talsan heaved a deep sigh. “Papa has explained all of this to you. It is time for you to come home. He will not pursue you. He will pray for you but he will not come to you. It is a shame and a disgrace that you would wish him to defile himself by chasing his son down in the desert.”

“I don’t want him to chase me,” shouted Pal. “I want him to leave me alone and let my friend, Iz, and me, start a new life. Maybe a new town.”

“Or even a country,” piped in Iz.

“Iz,” said Talsan. “Listen to yourself, little boy. Our country has existed for thousands of years, filled with tradition and rich spirituality.”

Iz interrupted. “But how can it be spiritual when it is so full of hate?”

Talsan shook his head. “Do you hate the lamb when you take the wool? Do you hate the chicken when you collect its eggs? Do you hate the animal when you spill its blood to provide meat for your table? What you call hate is merely the way of nature. Things that are alike seek their own. In the process, they reject different species so as to keep purity within the ranks.”

Pal screamed at his brother. “You make no sense! Is this what they teach you at the university? These are just weird stories that don’t mean anything. My friend, Iz, here, is not a chicken. And I’m not an animal stuck in some herd. Talsan, you cannot tell me that you believe this.”

Talsan drew a deep breath. “What I believe has no power if it cannot change what I see. All of my wishes for peace and love are meaningless when I live in a world of bigotry and intolerance. I don’t want to change the world. I just want to keep the world from changing me.”

Both boys squinted at him, confused.

Talsan grabbed Pal’s arm, pulling him to his feet. “You will go with me,” he stated.

Pal collapsed, forcing his body to the ground, as Iz grabbed the grenade.

Talsan spied the weapon extended in the young boy’s hand. “So this is your answer to violence?” he posed. “How are you any different than anyone else? You would kill me to maintain your little society?”

Pal, lying face-down in the ground, spit back, “Talsan, I don’t want to kill you. You are my brother. I just don’t want you to decide my life.”

Talsan released his hold on Pal’s arm and stepped a few paces away, then turned and said, “I will tell Papa that your mind is deranged by the desert sun, and that you are under the power of some evil spirit. This should comfort him.”

He continued. “My little brother, I do not know what you’re doing. I do not know what in the hell this ‘Iz and Pal’ business is all about, but you are skin of my skin and blood of my blood. I will not hate you because I do not understand. This is where I am different from Papa. I pray you will change your ways, but I do not want you to starve and die of thirst. I will have food and water delivered here every morning until you decide to come to your senses. You are a childish idiot—but that should not be a death sentence.”

Pal stood to his feet and gingerly gave his brother a hug. Talsan nodded at Iz and concluded, “I do not hate you Jews. I just don’t believe that God chose you any more than He chose me.”

“No argument from me,” said Iz simply. “And thanks for the food.”

The boys perched in silence and watched as Talsan made his way down the hill. With each step he took they realized they were growing further and further away from their families and communities. Soon there would be nothing but the sand under their feet and the love they had in their hearts.

Still, it seemed like enough.

Join us every Sunday for another fascinating novel in the making.  

 

Published by Jonathan Cring