To the End of the Land
When they get to the meeting point, Sami pulls into the first parking spot he finds, yanks up the emergency brake, folds his arms over his chest, and announces that he will wait for Ora there. And he asks her to be quick, which he has never done before. Ofer gets out of the cab and Sami does not move. He hisses something, but she cant tell what. She hopes he was saying goodbye to Ofer, but who knows what he was muttering. She marches after Ofer, blinking at the dazzling lights: rifle barrels, sunglasses, car mirrors. She doesnt know where he is leading her and is afraid he will get swallowed up among the hundreds of young men and she will never see him again. Meaningshe immediately corrects herself, revising the grim minutes she has been keeping all day she wont see him again until he comes home. The sun beats down, and the horde becomes a heap of colorful, bustling dots. She focuses on Ofers long khaki back. His walk is rigid and slightly arrogant. She can see him broaden his shoulders and widen his stance. When he was twelve, she remembers, he used to change his voice when he answered the phone and project a strained Hello that was supposed to sound deep, and a minute later he would forget and go back to his thin squeak. The air around her buzzes with shouts and whistles and megaphone calls and laughter. Honey, answer me, its me, Honey, answer me, its me, sings a ringtone on a nearby cell phone that seems to follow her wherever she goes. Within the commotion Ora swiftly picks up the distant chatter of a baby somewhere in the large gathering ground, and the voice of his mother answers sweetly. She stands for a moment looking for them but cannot find them, and she imagines the mother changing the babys diaper, maybe on the hood of a car, bending over and tickling his tummy, and she stands slightly stooped, hugging her suede bag to her body, and laps up the soft double trickle of sounds until it vanishes.
It is all a huge, irredeemable mistake. It seems to her that as the moment of separation approaches, the families and the soldiers fill with arid merriment, as if they have all inhaled a drug meant to dull their comprehension. The air bustles with the hum of a school trip or a big family excursion. Men her age, exempt from reserve duty, meet their friends from the army, the fathers of the young soldiers, and exchange laughter and backslaps. Weve done our part, two stout men tell each other, now its their turn. Television crews descend on families saying goodbye to their loved ones. Ora is thirsty, parched. Half running, she trails behind Ofer. Every time her gaze falls on the face of a soldier she unwittingly pulls back, afraid she will remember him: Ofer once told her that when they had their pictures taken sometimes, before they set off on a military campaign, the guys made sure to keep their heads a certain distance from each other, so thered be room for the red circle that would mark them later, in the newspaper. Screeching loudspeakers direct the soldiers to their battalions meeting points a meetery, they call this, and she thinks in her mothers voice: barbarians, language-rapistsand suddenly Ofer stops and she almost walks into him. He turns to her and she feels a deluge. Whats the matter with you? he whispers into her face. What if they find an Arab here and think hes come to commit suicide? And didnt you think about how he feels having to drive me here? Do you even get what this means for him?
She doesnt have the energy to argue or explain. Hes right, but she really wasnt in a state to think about anything. How can he not understand her? She just wasnt thinking. A white fog had filled her mind from the moment he told her that instead of going on the trip to the Galilee with her he was going off to some kasbah or mukataa. That was at six a.m. She had woken to hear his voice whispering into the phone in the other room, and hurried in there. Seeing his guilty look she had tensed and asked, Did they call?
Excerpted from To the End of the Land by David Grossman. Copyright © 2010 by David Grossman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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