The moss-green wooden cart, its side panels painted light blue, framed with deep red, stopped in the cobblestone alley between the Armenian pottery store and the Bedouin robes store. Ahmed looked at the small child sitting on the step in front of his cart. The child, tears of fear dribbling down his cheek, looked up into Ahmed’s black eyes.
“What’s the matter with you?” asked Ahmed in heavily accented Hebrew, his voice unusually soft, on his face an expression more of concern than of irritated anger.
The five-year-old didn’t reply. He continued to gaze upwards at the lanky Arab youth.
His cart still in the middle of the narrow alley, Ahmed sat on the step next to the child.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
The child edged away.
“My name is Ahmed. Will you tell me yours? You know, I need to deliver all this stuff,” he said, pointing to the blankets wrapped in plastic covers piled in his cart.
Still, the child did not answer, but his wet black eyes met Ahmed’s, and their gaze locked.
It did not matter at this point that Ahmed’s people were locked in conflict with Ya’akov’s. It did not make a difference to him that Ya’akov’s nation was fighting against his own, not on the borders of its land, but within its borders, using tanks and weapons, encircling Arab towns and enforcing curfews, in order to defend its citizens, both Jewish and Gentile, against terrorism erupting from these towns and villages, even just a few miles from where they sat on the cobblestone step of Jerusalem’s market.
Unlike many of his counterparts, Ahmed despised those who used terror to justify their cause. Ahmed’s family was one of the few who spoke openly against violence in any form.
“It’s against the Qur’an to kill Jews,” his father would teach him and his eight siblings.
So, instead of pushing Ya’akov out of the way, instead of hollering at him to move, instead of showering the child with foul insults, Ahmed stayed sitting on the step.
“Would you like a ride on my cart?”
Ya’akov edged further away, vigorously shaking his head. Now he sat against the store of Bedouin robes, and Ahmed could have moved his cart down the alley to the far end to deliver his blankets.
But he remained sitting on the step, some feet away from Ya’akov, contemplating the child’s dark olive skin, like his own, his short-cut black hair, like his own but for the hair growing down in front of his ears, framing his full cheeks. Even their dress was similar: plain short-sleeved white shirts and dark trousers. Ahmed did not know that Ya’akov shared his name with his, Ahmed’s youngest brother, Ya’aqub.
“What if I had been born to his parents, and he to mine,”thought Ahmed as he slowly rose to his feet, brushed the dust from his pants, and broke into a run with his moss-green cart clanking through the long alley of the market.
This story first appeared in the International Literary Quarterly April 2012