Thursday, June 7, 2018

What If Mo Stood For Moses, by Jessica Sofizade

 A story of a girl on the verge of losing two of the most important men in her life.

You would have thought that at least hospitals would have some English translations. The worst thing about Hebrew is that you cannot even guess what those little symbols might mean. In a moment of panic, the inability to read the simplest signs can make you feel like a lost animal.

I ran after the first person I could see with a badge attached to their white blazer. At least, in general, people in Israel speak English.

“Please, excuse me! I’m lost, I’m looking for my cousin…”

“The information desk is down the hall, on the left”, was the man’s swift reply, before he quickly entered a patient’s room, shutting the door behind him. I started down the long corridor, all the while checking the names written beside the doors. “Avram… Haviv… Rosenberg…” no, no, no! Finally, I turned a corner and came across a large desk. A woman was sitting behind a computer which looked like it was decades old. “Excuse me, I’m looking for my cousin, David Yaron. Do you know which room he’s in?”

The woman glanced at me, and clearly taking pity at my panicked state, started typing.

“3rd floor, room 3.18. You can take the elevator on your right, over there.”

As I made my way to his room, terrified about what I would find there, I couldn’t stop thinking about Mo. How would my family ever be able to understand now? If before, it was improbable, now we had reached impossibility. And yet, if I closed my eyes, I could still feel the warmth of his arms wrapped around me, his soft lips pressing against my ear…

I found myself suddenly in front of room 3.18. Two policemen were standing at the nurses station nearby. They must be here for David, I thought. Looking through the small window into the room, the sight of my cousin was blocked by two people standing at his bedside, a woman sobbing into her husband’s arms. The anguish displayed by David’s parents made my stomach drop. I knocked, and opened the door.

His parents turned and embraced me, their wet faces leaving marks on my grey t-shirt. Somebody stirred in a chair by the corner – my twin sister. She moved towards me and threw her arms around my waist. The way her body lightly shook told me that she, too, was in tears.

Finally, my eyes moved slowly to the bed. I heard my breath catch in my throat as I saw the battered figure of my cousin lying helplessly in bed. He was barely recognisable. Bruises covered his face, and one of his eyes was so swollen that it would have been impossible to see out of it. David was asleep, or unconscious, I didn’t know. I suddenly felt weak, and moved to the seat which my sister had just vacated.

Silence crept across the room, except for the rhythmic beeping which confirmed that David was still there, still with us. Every so often, a nurse would enter the room, check his vitals, and promptly leave again, without uttering a word. My hurry to arrive seemed ridiculous now that all we could do was wait.

I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket.

“R u there? How is he?”

I put my phone back – I couldn’t think about Mo right now, or I might just fall apart.

The door to 3.18 opened once again, and my mother rushed into the room. Normally a tall, elegant woman, today she was barely recognisable with her uncombed, blonde hair and her face darkened with worry. I only saw mum in such a state once before, when my sister Rebecca was in a car accident. Becca’s recovery ended up being even quicker than mum’s.

“I got here as fast as I could. How is he? What have the doctors said? Tell me again exactly what happened”, the words tumbled out of my mother’s mouth before the door had closed behind her.

“Fucking animals, that’s what happened. All of them. They beat him and stabbed him, stabbed him 16 times! And for what? Our David… he never… he never…” Michael’s anger turned to sobs, and he turned to face the window. Having been in the army, Michael had seen his fair share of violence. But never directed against his own child.

David’s mother, Sarah, continued where Michael had faltered. “They’re snakes, all of them. You cut off one head, and they’ll grow two more. We’ll never be in peace until they’re all gone!”

My stomach started to squirm, and I felt a wave of uneasiness wash over me. “Do they know when he might wake up?” I asked her, trying to change the subject.

Sarah turned to face me, anger and despair giving her a look akin to madness. “No. But I promise you, when he does, and when he can tell us who did this… They will pay. Those vermin, all of them should pay!”

My phone went off again. Mo was downstairs.

“I’m just going to get some fresh air” I said, standing up. Walking past Rebecca, I noticed that an expression similar to Sarah’s was spreading across her face.

Downstairs, I found Mo smoking by the hospital’s exit. We walked silently, until we found a small alleyway dark enough to shield us from prying eyes. I fell into his arms, and I could feel myself crumble. I no longer needed my strength, now that I could have his.

Mo kissed the tears falling down my cheeks, running one hand through my hair. “It’s ok”, he whispered. “I’m here now. How is David?”

“Alive” was all I managed to reply.

“He’ll be fine, I’m sure. He’s a strong guy.” He wrapped his arms around me. “It’ll be ok.”

“You don’t get it”, I mumbled into his shoulder. “It’s not just David… I just… what will we do now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you see? They’ll never, ever accept us now. David was the one person who might have understood, might have been on our side. But now, with what’s happened to him… How could my family ever be ok with our relationship?”

“Listen”, Mo looked me straight in the eyes, “you love me, right? That’s the only thing that’s important to me.”

“But you’re a Muslim!” The words burst out of me, like they had been waiting for an opportunity to escape.

Mo paused, with a serious expression on his face. With most people, Mo was a quiet person, only talkative after a few drinks. But not with me. With me he had always said what he felt, often without even thinking. So this pause started to make my heart race with anxiety. It was as if that name, that label which I had so carelessly used, had reminded him that he was not only ‘Deborah’s boyfriend’, but ‘Deborah’s Muslim boyfriend’.

“Deb… we always knew this. Yes, I’m an Arab, I’m Muslim. But we’re both people, what does it matter? I don’t torture myself wondering if my family will accept a Jewish girl. That’s their problem.” He smiled, a lovely, childish smile. “And believe me, once I cook dinner for your parents, they’ll never let me go!”

I chuckled, and held Mo tightly. “But in Israel… it all seems more real. At home, I might have agreed with you, that people are more open to the idea. But here, it’s not the same. Soon I’ll have to join the army myself. And then your family will see me the same way that my family sees you, that’s for sure.”

Mo frowned, and remained silent. I realised that it wasn’t the right moment for this conversation. It was difficult to think clearly through my anguish, and I could feel the need to be close to David, to my family. The five people waiting for me in that hospital room were the only relatives I had ever known. My mum’s parents died when she was young, and Becca and I never knew our father. Sarah and Michael were like a second set of parents, and David, he was a brother to me.

“I should go”, I murmured. Kissing Mo on the lips, I turned and walked back to the illuminated hospital entrance. Behind me, Mo lifted another cigarette to his lips. I knew that he would wait there all night if I asked him to.

Entering 3.18 once more, I was greeted with a hostile glare from Rebecca.

“Where were you?” she hissed.

“Outside, why?” I replied. This was strange. Becca and I never argued, and on the rare occasions we did, at least I knew why

“What’s wrong?” my mum asked her. Rebecca paused, glaring at me. My stomach dropped once again: she knew.

“Becca, just don’t…” I realised that I should have kept my mouth shut as soon as I uttered those words.

“I’m sorry, Debby, but for fuck’s sake, David’s lying here, dying, thanks to those parasites, and you, you…” Becca hesitated.

“She what? What do you mean Rebecca?” mum said, giving me a concerned look.

“She’s been dating one of them! A fucking Arab!” Becca spat the words out, then burst into tears again.

The room fell silent, and all eyes turned to me.

“Deborah. Outside.” Mum very rarely used my full name. I dreaded what was coming next. We stepped outside the room, and my mum took a deep breath, preparing herself for the tempest which was about to envelop us both.

“You just had to, didn’t you. Always the rebel. Always thinking about yourself. Totally ignoring how your actions may affect the people around you. Becca’s timing is awful, but still, how long did you think you could keep this from us? How long have you been with this, this… Arab anyway?” She said ‘Arab’ as if it was a dirty word. I could feel the heat rising to my face.

“Please, mum, I didn’t want to hurt anyone. It just sort of… happened.”

“We’ve only been living in Israel for 4 months now. And straight away, you find one of them? Are you fucking crazy?”

“Come on, mum. He’s a person, he’s no different to us! Why can’t you see past your own bloody prejudices and understand that?” My voice was rising the more I talked. “These preconceptions, this discrimination, don’t you see, they are not ‘all the same’. Stop trying to paint every Arab as if they were terrorists, trying to kill us all. The people who hurt David are monsters, yes, but Mo isn’t one of them.”

“Mo? Like Mohammed!? My lord, Deborah, why didn’t you just choose Allah himself. This Mo, he might not be like the animals who attacked David, but his friends, his family, his colleagues, who are they? In the end, it will always come down to us and them. And as long as they keep trying to kill us, I will never respect them.”

I could feel the anger rising within me. But this wasn’t the right time or place for us to be making a scene. The police were already glancing in our direction.

I took a deep breath, and said in a calmer voice, “mum, please, do we have to talk about this now?”

“Debby, when you made this decision, you made it a problem for the family. What am I supposed to tell Sarah and Michael? That they can soon look forward to calling one of these murderers their nephew?”

“He’s not a murderer”, I hissed.

Mum continued without a pause. “And! That’s another thing. What future could you possibly have with him? Don’t you understand, you could never marry him under a chuppah. You could never be married by our Rabbi. And your children? What in God’s name would they be?”

I wavered in my response. Mum, as usual, had managed to root out my deepest worries, and strangle me with them.

“Listen, mum, I’m not thinking about marriage right now. Or kids. And to be honest, you could just be happy that I’ve finally found someone that’s there for me, that actually cares about how I feel!” Tears were rising in my eyes, and I struggled to fight them back.

She was on the edge of her reply, when a loud beeping sound came from 3.18. Suddenly, a flash of coats rushed past us, into the room. Michael, Sarah and Becca soon joined us in the corridor, sharing a look of horror and fear.

In that moment, I forgot everything. Mo, our relationship, Becca’s betrayal, mum’s anger, everything. The tension that moments ago was unbearable, was instantly replaced by the kind of bond which exists only in a family. We hugged and cried together, and prayed for David.

Memories jumped involuntarily to my mind. I thought of when David showed Becca and I the market in Jerusalem, when we first arrived in Israel. We ate the best hummus I’ve ever had in my life. Or when we went to the beach, and he told us about his future plans to travel, now that he was no longer a soldier in the army. The racism and the violence, he told us, were the things he was impatient to leave behind.

Yet, it seemed that they did not want to leave him. Instead, they put him there, in that hospital bed. And they wouldn’t let him go.

The end of David’s life was the end of my relationship with Mo. Sometimes, I find myself daydreaming about what our future could have been. Would our children have been raised Jewish? Could we have lived happily in Israel together? Would my family invite us over for the holidays? Would his family speak to me, once I started wearing an IDF uniform? Would our children have had a bar or bat mitzvah? Would Mo have been unhappy?

It’s easier to tell myself that he would have been unhappy, that our families wouldn’t have accepted us, that life would have been difficult for our children. Convincing myself of the impossibility of my daydreams made it easier to forget them.

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