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Exchanging glances in Jaffa

He’s secretly making a list of all the ways she would never fit into his life; the daunting distance between them, between Arab and Jew

Two strangers bump into each other on some nameless street on an ordinary Monday night. And immediately, and for no good reason, the pleasant Jaffa sea breeze turns into a full-on electric thunderstorm.

She walks towards him in slow motion; a holographic image projected onto the screen of his retina. She morphs into a collage of a million moments from his past: all the times war made enemies out of lovers, all the Shabbat dinners that could never make room for an Arab, all the times he turned towards an Arab soulmate only to watch himself morph into some unknown Israeli colonizer.

He smiles at her from the doorway. He’s the next data point on a spreadsheet she’s been compiling of her projected Year of Failures. He’s wrapped into the cells of her worksheet; locked inside Excel functions and color-coded columns. She’s giddy with excitement, as she pastes him into her codebook, so sure that she has finally found a way to make heartache feel like nothing more than a headache.

He ushers her into an antique chair that doesn’t quite seat two. She notices a tiny patch of bare skin, where his shirt rides up past his pants, and accidentally fingers it. He pulls his entire hand up into her hair, watches dark brown strands coil around his pale palm, his guitarist’s nails tickling the back of her neck.

Two strangers bump into each other on some nameless street on an ordinary Monday night.

He’s making easy conversation; words roll off his tongue as easily as his fingers find guitar riffs. He’s animated and energized, he sometimes sways to music that only he can hear. But he doesn’t mention that he’s secretly making a list of all the ways she would never fit into his life; how daunting the distance between them has already begun to feel: Jerusalem to Jaffa, Arab to Jew, Hebrew to Arabic.

She’s amused and curious, leaning in to listen for lyrics she hasn’t yet written. She crosses her legs neatly and scoops her hair to the side. But she doesn’t let on that she’s scanning him for flaws; that she’s trying to make sure each pleasurable revelation is offset by an equally troubling observation. As if she can build scaffolding strong enough to prop up mysteries; as if she can keep them from falling apart just long enough to file them away in some logical file cabinet, labeled and tagged and saved in chronological order.

Two strangers bump into each other on some nameless street on an ordinary Monday night.

They make their way to that park in Jaffa right by the ocean where, if you show up at just the right time, you can catch a burning orange sun turn the sky into a million dazzling colors before finally yielding to the sea; where you can lose yourself inside guitar riffs and leitmotifs, repeated and redone, over and over, until the dizziness floats you right out of your body; where you can hallucinate yourself into a much kinder world where people are just people and outside wars just magnifications of inside hurts displayed for us all to see; where no one is contained and all of us are free to make life up as we go; where magic is real and everything else just a hallucination.

About the Author
Nora Amr is a mediator, conflict resolution professional, researcher and writer. She is involved in a number of co-existence projects and is dedicated to non-violence and social justice. She is a combination of Arab, European and American. She loves Jerusalem.
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