Uneasy Peace

The Muslim shopkeepers were hospitable, politely inviting them to look at their wares, from wooden carvings to colourful carpets and shisha pipes. Even though their stores were empty, the shopkeepers didn’t seem desperate to make a sale.

It was well past noon. She tugged at her husband’s shirt. “I’m famished. You?”

“Yes,” he said and opened his guidebook. “The Abu Shukri restaurant boasts the most delicious hummus and falafel in the Old City.”

She smiled and squeezed his hand. “Sold.”

They were the only customers. While they scooped up the hummus sprinkled with ground beef and pine nuts with pita bread, the owner approached.

“I am happy you are enjoying my food,” he said in a heavily accented English. “You are the first to come to my restaurant today because of the troubles.”

There was something in the man’s voice that made her want to tell him how much she wished everyone could live in peace. Her chest felt heavy. She couldn’t eat another bite.

They continued along the narrow, uneven cobblestone lanes of the Muslim quarter. Theresa noticed that her husband had a certain determined look, and knew at any moment, he would do what he always did in foreign countries: stop for a shave.

The barber, dressed in an Oxford button-down shirt and tie, welcomed her husband and ushered him to the chair. He snapped open a starched white cape and wrapped it around her husband’s neck. The barber placed a hot towel on her husband’s face for a few minutes and then lathered him up. He brandished a straight razor and went to work. Did the barber know that her husband was Jewish? Her stomach clenched.

“My family has owned this shop since the early days of the Ottoman Empire,” the barber said. “We have seen so many civilizations come and go. Right now, the Israelis control Jerusalem. Who knows who will be next?”

The barber patted David’s face dry and lifted the cape off. Theresa snapped a photo of David shaking hands with the barber. Then David looked at Theresa and mouthed the words, “Are you feeling safer now?” She nodded.

“Would you know of a good tour company who could take us into the Temple Mount?” David asked the barber.

“Yes, just down the lane to the right. Ask for Rami,” the barber said.

Rami sported a black beard that grazed the neckline of his long white shirt. He gathered the twenty-member tour group and walked them to the entrance of the Temple Mount. As the group approached, Israeli soldiers pushed them back, yelling “Sakanah!”

“Danger,” Rami said. “They have found an abandoned knapsack near the turnstile and have called the bomb squad,” Rami told the group.

Theresa pulled on David’s hand. “Do we really want to go through with this?”

“We’re far enough away that we won’t be hurt,” David said. “Let’s see what happens.”

Before the bomb squad arrived, a sheepish, shaggy-haired youth reclaimed his bag. Still, the group stood at the head of the line for another hour before they were allowed entry. The wait had her pacing, her adrenaline pumping. Theresa and David moved closer to Rami.

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author
June Rogers is Canadian journalist. She recently graduated from the University of Toronto’s Creative Writing program. Her non-fiction has appeared in Maclean's, Chatelaine, enRoute, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star.
4 Responses
  1. author

    Carolyn Taylor-Watts5 months ago

    June, is is wonderful, beautifully written and intertwined with a simple and clear history. Well done!

    Reply
  2. author

    Lucinda5 months ago

    June,
    Such a well written historical account–your descriptions were visual and beautiful–your dialogue, a wonderful device for moving the story forward. I was completely absorbed from the moment of reading your powerful opening to the end. Congratulations.

    Reply
  3. author

    Kalman5 months ago

    This is a wonderful story that threads together history, geography, religion, politics and culture in a complex quilt that is Jerusalem. June’s evocative tale of visiting the Holy City is well-written and a joy to read. Mazel Tov!

    Reply
  4. author

    Irina Yakobson4 months ago

    You chose a very interesting subject to write about. Interesting for me 🙂 Also I like the way you show it – from outside. All the way through reading I was hoping they will not go there.

    And this question has been haunting me for years: ““Why would they want to leave the relative safety of their home countries?” she asked.”

    This description is amazing, I can feel the taste: “At the old Mahane Yehuda market, hawkers, vendors, and beggars clamored for their attention. She sampled sweet halvah made from sesame paste, honey and a variety of fillings such as pistachios or cashews. She gawked at softball-sized artichokes and fresh pomegranates cracked open to reveal their ruby seeds. She drank chalky goat’s milk mixed with secret Yemeni health elixirs.”

    I recognize that exact feeling: “She felt cold in the hot sun.”

    Reply

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