the short story project


Iyad Barghouti | from:Arabic

The Orange Ribbon

Translated by : Raphael Cohen




As she waited for the train, she grabbed an orange ribbon out of the hand of a settler who had a blond beard and a white kippa. Then she sat down again in the shade. The ribbon rippled in the breeze, and the station PA announced a five-minute delay to the arrival of the Haifa train. Her head dropped into her hands like an orange landing in snow. Tel Aviv’s sweltering heat was oppressive, her metal seat would never be comfortable, and the sheer longing to embrace him had become torture. “Come on, just arrive,” she thought.

Those against the separation from Gaza had tied orange ribbons to their bags and car wingmirrors and aerials. They had decorated intersections in that vibrant colour and, on that hot day, blocked them by burning tyres and chanting “Jews don’t expel Jews”. So he had been forced to take the train to see her.

She was against separation too.

They met for the first time at the NGO where she worked as director of a “housing” project. He had come to design the annual report on its activities to prevent house demolitions in the Arab neighbourhoods of “mixed” cities. He was against her suggestion to make orange the background colour of the report and annoyed her. They got involved in a discussion about colours, people, and work. But their eyes discussed something else.

She told him that she was sure she had seen him before; she just had a bad memory for names. He insisted it was their first meeting because he knew her name and his memory was better than Zorro’s.

They discovered that her father and his mother both came from the same ruined village Sidna Ali, 1 whose mosque continued until that hot day to contemplate the Mediterranean coast and its brown rocks. Like him, she didn’t like the Rotana channel with its simpering female singers. She loved Fairuz and he loved her son Ziyad. Both of them were reading Gate of the Sun after having finished The Yacoubian Building. They talked about everything except for the annual report. He went back to see her again with a mock-up of the publication with an orange background.

She didn’t really like the colour orange. It merely reminded her of stories her dead grandfather had told her about his orange groves and her time as a party activist during the unrest of October 2000. 2 Orange became a new colour for politics once red collapsed to the embarrassment of her father, who accompanied her on demonstrations that went round in circles.

The settler with the blond beard and white kippa hovered around her looking sideways, like an amateur thief, at the orange ribbon after he heard her talking Arabic on her mobile and made out the last word, habibi.

The sun played on her nerves even though she was sitting in the shade. The settler too.

She waited for him as the orange ribbon rippled in the breeze. Before ending the conversation, she asked him, “Where are we going to live?”




Her soul had been waiting millennia for him, and those five minutes were a thousand years more. Come on… He had been roving in search of her for thirty years. Now the journey knew its destination, but the trees had grown along the line and the driver waited longer than needed at every station. Come on…

Both of them had been waiting for a coincidence.

The days they were together raced by in what seemed an hour. Longing threatened the butterflies in their stomach with a long stretch. Their bellies refused food a licence and they slept little. “It’s love,” they said and dropped out of ordinary life. They saw symbols everywhere and supernatural power. The torrent of emotions swept them away and they cried, “We belong together.” She embraced him. Pronouns changed.

Once they had got past their first kiss, they decided to buy rings to make the marriage of their souls official, to announce it. Their fingers entwined and they walked hand in hand; the city wasn’t big enough for another couple.

He took the train to see her. Every minute of the rapid journey dragged. He hadn’t seen her for five days!

Their love had a different timescale. Boundaries lost their boundaries and went mad. They willingly entered the gardens of the irrational. Numbers were no longer just random. He only felt half a person without her, or more accurately he came to believe that a person was really both male and female.

Given his bad luck and the misery of the present, he had never expected to meet her. When he saw her, he shivered and revered the universe. On wings of joy, he returned to his true habitat to be what he had always wanted to be. “How did I exist without her?” he wondered but did not struggle for an answer.

There was no stage of getting to know one another. She did not need one; it seemed she knew everything about him. She knew his secrets and deferred talking about them. His words were familiar and his embrace was loving for all eternity. She did not ask him about himself or ask about him, but told him things that he did not know about himself or was unsure of. She had waited for him and refused compromises. She had been on the verge of utter despair when he gave her wings to fly with him to their true habitat. She smiled and her eyes sparkled. She became a woman, he became a man, and they soared.

A week before, in a South American steakhouse, they had sat on high wooden stools next to a grinning purple flower. Their silver rings had glinted and they promised each other, “For as long as we live.” Love, happiness, fidelity, success, and humility. Their honesty was so much more delicious than the meal.

The blue seats on the train around him were giving rest to soldiers and rifles. He was stronger than them. Or so he felt, and they felt the same too. That’s what their tired eyes expressed.

The minutes were long. The ring glinted in the sun. Desire no longer knew how to sit still. The orange ribbon rippled in the breeze.

He would see her soon. Come on…




Before he left his family’s house, he said to her, “You are my home.”

The sun seared the grass at the edge of the tracks and his nerves as well. They were scared of winter’s coming. When we know the way, the journey’s shorter. When we think, we don’t notice the way at all. They wanted a warm winter.

She was his home, not the large black suitcase that held his clothes, toothbrush, and razor-like an Interrailer in Europe searching for inexpensive youthful adventures or a backpacker in Far Eastern mountain ranges seeking spiritual experiences and cheap baggy clothes in lilacs and browns. She was his home, not the flats he chose in a hurry and for which he signed a short-term tenancy and left after a year for another neighbourhood in the city. Lucky days and satisfied nights made him forget the worries of moving his expensive grey computer, his few pieces of furniture, and large cardboard boxes and plastic bags. She, not the family house, was his home. He got a shock when he tried to go back to it and realised that the house where he had grown up was his mother and father’s marital home. His mother’s remarks about his income and his sleeping patterns became annoying. In his father’s face, he spotted more wrinkles than he had expected. He worried whether he loved them. When he drank from the tap that had been out of reach when he was five years old and left alone when his mother had gone out to work, he was worried about the scrapbook of feelings buried somewhere in the garden that had turned into a lot for new cars. He trembled and returned to nowhere, and she found him by chance and embraced him. Pronouns changed and she became his home and he hers.

“Where are we going to live?” He liked big cities, but he was imprisoned in this suffocating country. Emigration was an offence to the idea of remaining, of steadfastness, of continuing, but escape was not guaranteed and remaining meant submission to vague prospects and endless paradoxical questions.

He considered Nazareth, the biggest Arab city in the country, but it wasn’t a real city. He considered Tel Aviv, the biggest city in the country, but it wasn’t Arab – no work for Arabs there. He considered Ramallah but remembered the separation wall. Haifa had potential; young people had stayed on there after university and renovated houses in the German Colony on the street running from the Bahai Gardens down the side of the Carmel. They had filled them with cafes that were crowded with stories and gossip. Would she agree to live there?

She told him she liked nature and mountains and asked him about his family’s peaceful village in the Galilee. But that was a sad and miserable margin. Like the few remaining villages in the Galilee, it had turned into a dormitory for farmers turned labourers who built Jewish cities on top of their confiscated land.

The train stopped after a long and annoying metallic screech. He saw her through the tinted window holding an orange ribbon rippling in the breeze. He squinted to let his eyes make her out. Then he opened the train door and made his way through the crowd to embrace her.




She was also against separation. She was against separation from him.

When the train arrived, she waited to throw herself into her eternal home. She embraced him. She didn’t really care about the name of the city where they would live or the name of the new city that she dreamed of building ­– she had become practical recently and wanted to start designing the nest where she would live with him for life.

She thought about the design of their house and was convinced that their style was a fusion of the old and the modern, of bright ethnic colours and dark brown carved wood, of the contemporary with its stark colours and the exotic generated by new software. She waited to choose the specifics and give form to her theory.

She embraced him and a halo of light and a blast of cosmic energy kept the people back. They looked into each other’s eyes and, unable to speak, embraced again to become one.

She tied their hands with the orange ribbon.

On the escalator, he said to her, “We’ll get married in Sidna Ali. You are my city and my homeland. I will live in you.”

“And I will live in you.”

There was a charged silence.



July 2005



  1.  See for details.
  2.  A period of mass protests by Arab citizens of Israel against police violence and in solidarity with the beginning of the second Intifada which resulted in the death of 13 demonstrators. See the official summation of the Or Commission report.

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