The taxi driver who lives next to the mosque in the village just across the road from me has a whole docket of regular passengers – friends, he calls them.
(Turns out, I’m not that special.)
He called me today right shortly after the Memorial Day siren and said he has a story for me about one of these friends:
“He is one of my favorite passengers,” the driver says. “He is an old man who lives around the corner from you – on your side of the road.”
The driver tells me that the old man is mostly blind now – with white hair like cotton candy in little tufts over his ears. He wears a yarmulke.
His daughter dresses him in the morning, and tucks him in at night.
He can’t remember how to put the buttons in the holes or how to buckle his belt, but the taxi driver tells me that if you squint, you can see that once he was very handsome and very strong.
“He was part of the army during the Nakba,” the driver says. “But that was a long time ago, and he’s very old now.”
“Did you ever talk about the war?” I ask.
“No. Even before his memory went so far ppaway, we didn’t talk about the war. I think I would get angry if we did,” the driver answers. “My family lost everything during the Nakba. His family thinks he’s some hero. I don’t want to think about any of it. But he’s very very old now and I like him. I like him now. He is my old friend.”
The driver tells me he picks his old friend up every Wednesday to take him to the clinic for his weekly appointment.
“He’s getting older every time I see him. I am watching him disappear. I walk in with him to make sure he’s ok, and I wait for him in the waiting room. Usually, his daughter comes too – she doesn’t drive so that’s why they need me – but sometimes it’s just us. He doesn’t remember how to use the toilet she can barely see, but he sees me and he remembers me.”
I can hear the taxi driver smiling.
“So did you take him today?” I ask.
“Yes,” the driver says. “Come on! That’s why I am calling you. I picked him up and his daughter says she can’t come with us, so it was just the two of us. That’s fine. We went to the clinic and I waited for him. But then as we got in the car, I looked at the clock as we drove off after his appointment, and I realized we’d be on the road at 11 when the Memorial Day siren goes off. I felt this pain in my stomach. I didn’t know what to do. I normally try to be off the road so I don’t have to pull over when the siren goes off. I also try not to be in public so I don’t have to stand , and I also don’t want to ‘davka’ not stand like some of my friends do – I’m sorry but I must speak the truth: I don’t hate Israel, but I don’t mourn on Memorial Day. Holocaust Day is different – and I’ve stood for the siren before – but Memorial Day…” he pauses and his words just hang there “it is not my Memorial Day. Still, it brings up bad memories — Two of my cousin died in clashes in the second intifada. My grandfather lost his left eye in the Nakba … this isn’t my Memorial Day, but I remember “
“So what did you do?” I ask.
“I didn’t decide what to do until the last second. I really didn’t know. But then the siren goes off and my hands are shaking. I want to keep driving but I look back at my old friend and he hears the siren, too, and the light goes on in his eyes and his eyes are so clear and he starts tapping the window. I try to ignore it but then he starts banging the window and I think about my grandfather – and I hope he will forgive me – but I pull over, and get out, and help my old friend out of the backseat. He has trouble standing , but he stands, and he’s shaking a little like old branches in the wind so I put my arm his shoulder to steady him, and he stands there and we stand there by the side of the road with maybe 10-12 other people, my friend is still trembling and he has tears in his eyes and I feel sad for him, and we stand there together – my old friend, me, and the other people – like trees by the side of the road.”
“My grandfather planted fruit trees with his family here before the Nakba. I don’t know if those trees are still there, or where they were to begin with. But my grandfather also planted other seeds – and I am one of them and I am here, and I stood like a tree for my old friend to lean on. Maybe we are all really like trees. Living, breathing trees by the road. Me, my old friend, all the others standing… We aren’t going anywhere. Our seeds and roots are everywhere and here forever.”