Raji Bathish | from:Arabic

Fifty Shekels

Translated by : Andrew Leber

1

The three men headed out to Tel Aviv on the rough road. Two Palestinians and a Jordanian—or rather a Palestinian with a Jordanian passport, to be precise.

“50 shekels.”

“At least.”

“If one of them wants you to stick it in him, tell him ‘allawi. It means more than 100 shekels.’”

“And if one of them wants to stick it into me?”

“Don’t be stupid! We’re just the men they fantasize about. We don’t take it, and we don’t give in to the world of dicks and all their pleasures.”

“Try to make it so they just feel you up for 50 shekels, and don’t cum so quick or they wear you out after two times around, and take your cash in advance so they don’t jip you and run.”

“If we say ten customers per hour…”

“Believe me, I’ve worked here for five years and those foreigners really can’t get enough—  they love their Arab stallions! You’ll be able to work over more than ten, believe me.”

The Jordanian, called Jihad, stared at the veins that criss-crossed his palm and said:

“You’re sure? What about the police? I’m worried you’re going to screw me over…”

(A man walks along a winding dirt road to avoid trouble at the first checkpoint, then crosses a long wide river of turquoise stones and golden spray to avoid death.)


2

‘Awni decided to take this day off and spend it in Tel Aviv, a city that meant nothing to him aside from the possibility of hooking up with transient men who often had Northeastern European features. They left just a light titillation running through his body for a week at most, without any risk or a scandal like the ones in one of Nazareth’s forests or in the dark corners of who-knows-where.

Awni lied to everyone today. He took a day off with no real excuse on a day as ordinary as any other, not even a national or religious holiday in some distant country as a pretext. He told his wife that he was taking a training course on “pediatric psychological health in modern society.” In response to questions from his mother, who lived downstairs, he said that he was on his way to an important conference about “globalization.” Likewise, he told his one close friend, Aziz, that he was applying for a work visa at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv. Aziz looked doubtful and was immediately consumed by jealousy.

What a delicious lie, like a breeze tickling the back of his neck!

The shared taxi headed out from the garages in the center of Nazareth, carrying Awni to Arlozorov Street, near the train station. He was in the middle of an urban jungle that he frequented once a season, usually for the same reason: men.

Your breeze is amber and your land is sugar and I love you more. Your hands are trees but I do not sing like all the other nightingales. The chains teach me to fight…

This is what was running through Awni’s head as he plunged into Jabotinski Street, heading west: “a song by Umayma al-Khalil… finding love on the passages of the hills of old Amman, at times dark and at times smooth… If only we would let things last a little, after they’ve peaked, then I wouldn’t be headed down this strange and twisted path… Mu’anas al-Shibl… or any other name I could convert into gold at one of these ATMs in my veins.”

 My songs are daggers made of roses, my silence a childhood’s thunder… And you are the soil and the sky and your heart is evergreen.

“Excuse me – how do I get from here to the intersection of Dizengoff and Frishman Street?”

Your heart is evergreen… How could I not love you more?

 

3

Most people leave their houses in the morning, head to work, return in the evening and, depending on the type of work, plop down in front of the television and such. A life preserved in a jar of pickles, sometimes adorned with things such as: money, a spouse, children, strange hobbies, or extreme conflicts.

What a thing for a “prestigious” mustachioed man to set all this aside and head to a city he had never heard anything about, or at least anything good, in order to mingle with its men (easier than mingling with its women) and receive a decent sum of money for his pleasure (taking into account the gap in the standard of living between these places that are so deadly close to each other—Israel, Palestine and Jordan.)

The “prestigious” mustachioed man has green and/or honey-colored eyes that characterize many of Palestine’s historic and a historic inhabitants. He wears a slightly worn formal suit that conceals the body of a young man despite the signs of his advancing 40s apparent in his white tufts of hair. His shoes shine despite the dust of the road, leaving only a memory of the original shoe shine. The man looks like he has arrived to sign a deal for some cheap cosmetics; half of the men in Tel Aviv wouldn’t give him a second thought.

The three men went into the streets of the city, heading instinctively west towards the Kaplan intersection.

“You’re sure you know the address?”

“I told you, I know Tel Aviv better than the people who live here, better than Barak, even. Look, we’ll take this path…”

The three men glanced over the posters that surround the buildings of the Ministry of Security and the General Command of the Army, as a song by the Syrian singer Asala floated by:

If only you knew how much we loved you, and cherish you…ta ta ta…Value even the earth we toss out for you to tread on…

The three drew near ibn Gabirol Street, the true heart of the city…

“When they finish the subway very soon this will all be much easier.”

“Subway? I can’t see any stations, or anybody digging to make way for it.”

“What do you know? They’re like the Germans; they only work at night when people are sleeping. Nobody notices them.”

The third, the silent one, roused himself from his thoughts:

“Abu Khalil, the truth is that your dick could carve out twelve metro lines in a single night.”

The three chuckled out loud. Abu Khalil, the green-eyed one with the moustache, said:

“What do you think, do I have to get it up first?”

 

Their laughter rolled down an elegant narrow street crowded with the patrons of European cafes. The three sang the refrain of Asala’s song:

Don’t persuade us not to love you, you are always in our heart. Nobody cares about you more than we do…

Suddenly the guide shouted in a strangled voice:

“Run – the police!”

4

The moon appears in the morning from the East, like the sun. It heads to the last wave, where it shatters and turns into a bird circling towards an engine of an airplane leaving the land of broken promises or ones that ended in a mysterious death. The moon dawns there in the East and casts a gloomy shadow. Then the promiscuous nightly encounter in an old Jaffa hotel turns into a pool of pure clean blood.

5

Awni thought to himself I can’t possibly have travelled all this way, lied all of these lies, wasted an entire day off like an idiot to come here and have no one signal to me or turn to me…Even that old man with the limp dick won’t respond to my glances. My eyes are already starting to look inward and call up the kind of man I can only find in my dreams! One after another they appear, but the only ones left here are the old, the disfigured, the shifty, and the ones I hate the most, the everyday sluts. “Lord, is this all because I’ve put on a bit of weight?”

Awni drew near one ugly specimen, as if begging for a last chance at success before dying of despair:

“Good evening”

“[In broken English] I’m sorry, I don’t know Hebrew.”

“Where are you from?”

“Romania.”

The smell of beer poured out of the man’s mouth, mingling with the scent of vodka, tahini, and great desperation:

“Do you want me…?”

“I have a thing… maybe later…”

This was in the famous sauna club for gays of all shapes, types, social classes, and identity intersections in the middle of Tel Aviv.


6

In that same club, the three men took up their positions, each according to his role. The guide stood outside the secret rooms, the last stop for those who hadn’t yet attracted another’s gaze. In barely audible Hebrew, he’d set an entrance price in a tone that did not encourage bargaining, a price on tasting formerly forbidden fruit.

The silent one took up his place in one room, with Abu Khalil splayed like a peacock in the room facing him. It was as if there were appreciable gaps between the ambience of the place, the job they were doing, and their motivations—all reflected in the garish smile that hovered beneath Abu Khalil’s thick, grey moustache.


7

Those young men are drawing back from the point where I’m standing, crossing the frame of a cinematic long shot… just like that my days and hours fall away… and the diary of my lips… and I sweat… and I sweat…

8

Awni entered the room of the man called Abu Khalil, after desperately agreeing to all the terms and the degrading price. Abu Khalil was crouched like a cat waiting for its master to bring him some food.

“Do you like Arab dicks?”

“I don’t have any ethnic obsession with them—I’m Arab.”

“Really! You don’t look it.”

“I’ll leave you completely satisfied… where are you from?”

“Nazareth.”

“From which family?”

“Watch it…”

“I have a lot of relatives in Nazareth.”

“Which family?”

“Tell me first and then I’ll tell you.”

“Who do you know there?”

“Do you know the Khalaf family?”

“I’m from the Khalaf family.”

“Who’s your father??”

“Qassim!”

 

Qassim Khalaf was the half-brother of Abu Khalil. But the old accumulated family disagreements and political barriers led them all to forget that vital and important matter.

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