Mirrors? Are you surprised that no one should be able to look themselves in the eye these days? Omar Yussef sat forward in his chair and gave his choking, cynical laugh. They lead us further into corruption and violence every day, and no one can do anything about it. The town is run by a shitty tribe of uneducated bastards whove got the police scared of them.
George Saba spoke quietly. You know, Ive been thinking about that. The Martyrs Brigades, they come up here and shoot across the valley at Gilo, and the Israelis fire back and then come in with their tanks. My house has been hit a few times, when the bastards did their shooting from my roof and drew the Israeli fire. I found a bullet in my kitchen wall that came in the salon window, went through a thick wooden door and traveled down a hallway, before it made a big hole in my refrigerator. He looked down and Omar Yussef saw his jaw stiffen. I wont let them do it again.
Be careful, George. Omar Yussef put his hand on the knuckles of George Sabas thick fingers. I can say what I feel about the Martyrs Brigades, because I have a big clan here. They wouldnt threaten me, unless they were prepared to face the anger of half of Dehaisha. But you, George, youre a Christian. You dont have the same protection. Maybe Ive lived too long away from here to accept things. He glanced up at Omar Yussef. There was a raw intensity in his blue eyes. Perhaps I just cant forget what you taught me about living a principled life.
Omar Yussef was silent. He finished his coffee. You know who else has returned to Bethlehem from our old crowd? George Sabas voice sounded tight, straining to lighten the tone of the conversation. Elias Bishara. Really? Omar Yussef smiled.
You havent seen him yet? Well, hes only been back a week. Im sure hell stop by your house once hes settled in. Younger than George Saba, Elias Bishara was another of Omar Yussefs favorite pupils at his old school. Wasnt he studying for a doctorate in the Vatican? Omar Yussef asked. Yes, but since then hes been living in Rome as some kind of apostolic secretary to one of the cardinals. Now hes back at the Church of the Nativity. I know, Elias and I are only asking for trouble by coming home, Abu Ramiz. Perhaps you cant understand what it has been like for us. We grow up in this dismal place, wanting desperately to leave for another country where we can make money and live in peace. But the day always comes when you imagine the savor of real hummus and the intoxicating brightness of the sun on the hills and the sound of the church bells and the muezzins. You miss it so much you can taste the longing on your tongue. Then you come back, no matter what it is you are giving up. You just cant help it.
Ill go to the Church and say hello to Elias as soon as I get a chance.
Next month is Christmas, so I wanted to invite you to come with us to the Church to celebrate, George said. And then you and Umm Ramiz will come for Christmas dinner at my house.
I would be delighted, and so will she, too. The two men argued over who should pay the check. Both threw money onto the table and picked up the others cash to force it back into his hand. Then the shooting began. It was close enough that it sounded big and hollow, not like the whipcrack of faraway firing.
George looked up. Those sons of whores, theyve started again. He stood, leaving his cash on the table. Abu Ramiz, I have to go.
They went to the door. Omar Yussef could see the tracer striping across the valley toward a house along the street. The big, bass bursts of gunfire from the village were directed toward the Israelis in the Jerusalem suburb over the wadi. The gunfire emanated from the roof of a square, two-story house only fifty yards away. There was a dark Mitsubishi jeep in the lee of the building. George Saba stepped into the street. Jesus, I think they might be on my roof again.
Excerpted from The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees © 2007 by Matt Beynon Rees. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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