“ID,” the soldier said in Hebrew. There were two of them. The tallest one, the one speaking to Sinan, had sunglasses on even though the sun had long since set over Jerusalem. Streetlights cast shadows over the four figures on the road—the soldiers, Sinan and Kate. Sinan could see himself reflected in the soldier’s glasses; he looked shrunken, like the wire dolls his sisters Khowla and Helema used to make. They would make a cross out of two wires for the body—the horizontal piece the arms and the vertical the chest, torso and legs. Then they would swaddle the wires in cloth embroidered with bright colors to create the thawb. A piece of stuffed fabric fastened atop the body became the head. Most of Sinan’s brothers liked to play fedayeen, freedom fighter, but the girls spent all day imagining their dolls were farmers in Ramallah, just like their father’s mother, and her mother before that, and hers before that. The dolls tirelessly lifted their little wire arms up and down, picking imaginary olives and placing them in imaginary canvas bags to be pressed for olive oil. Sometimes Sinan’s father sat beside them and smoked a cigarette, describing their grandmother’s land, the rolling hills lined with trees, their trunks as brown and gnarled as her sun-baked skin. “She was the land,” he would say with faraway eyes. The girls could only imagine—the Israelis had taken the land years ago; the trees had been demolished.
Khowla and Helema would play until mama called them to help prepare za’atar for breakfast the next day or knaffeh for dinner. Sinan and his brothers usually destroyed the wire dolls, abandoned on the floor. Arms and legs were splayed across the carpet and heads rolled underneath furniture. Khowla and Helema would run out of the kitchen to mourn the dolls, fingers sticky with lemon juice and sugar for the pastry as they gathered the delicate, disparate parts.
“ID.” The soldier’s Uzi was slung across his shoulder like a purse. He nodded at Sinan, offering an expectant palm. He removed his glasses, revealing a dark scar, half an inch wide, running from his right temple to his jawbone. He had slate grey eyes. It had to be his first year in the IDF, Sinan thought. He looked like Sinan’s youngest brother, Musab. The same proud, puffed chest—the irrational pride of youth. Eighteen or nineteen. Too young to have such a hardened gaze. But then, the intifada could do that to a soldier quickly, Sinan imagined. Grey eyes like the stones pelted at him.
The soldier shifted his Uzi and told his comrade, a shorter, fidgety man, to “talk to the girl” in Hebrew. The second soldier gestured for Kate to follow him across the road. “Come on,” he said. She glanced at Sinan, her green eyes flashing a stop sign. Just a minute ago the two of them had been laughing, walking back to the Muslim Quarter after seeing a movie at the Cinematheque Theater on Hebron Road. Kate wore a long white skirt that danced in the nighttime breeze, revealing hints of skin beneath. The click of her cowboy boots on the cobblestone streets echoed through the Christian Quarter along with her laughter. American girls laughed loudly, Sinan noticed.
“What’s your name?” Sinan heard the second soldier ask her in Hebrew.
Kate opened a small leather bag resting on her hip, just where the soldiers’ guns lay. Sinan knew her reporter’s notebook was inside. Earlier that day she had scribbled notes from a refugee camp he took her to in Gaza. Gaza was boiling; all of Palestine was, but in the camps you could feel the restlessness of the brown-eyed, fatherless boys. Earlier that week a nine-year-old was arrested for throwing stones. One stone struck a soldier in the cheek. Another bounced off a soldier’s metal helmet. In response, the whole camp was put under house arrest for three days. There was no opportunity to pick fresh fruits and vegetables. Jaws ached with hunger.
Kate and Sinan watched on the fourth day as the gates to the camp were opened to welcome a bread truck. The children ran from their front doors, forming an eager circle around the truck. Three Israeli soldiers climbed out and unlocked the back doors. The smell of fresh bread invaded the air; mothers readied their tables. Suddenly, a title wave of loaves came tumbling out of the truck. One child started for them, but the soldiers stepped in, driving the fallen loaves into the mud with the heels of their combat boots. The children stood still. The soldiers got back in the truck and left.
Kate handed the soldier her American passport. “My name is Kate,” she said in English. “What’s yours?” The soldier said nothing. “Ma shimkha?” she repeated.
He was taken aback—by the question or her Hebrew, Sinan wasn’t sure. “Mikhail,” he said, glancing back at his cohort uncertainly.
“You’re Russian!” Kate replied, smiling.
The grey-eyed soldier clenched his jaw. Kate’s soldier gestured at her purse hurriedly, telling her to hand it over.
Sinan turned to his soldier. “Leave her alone,” he said in Hebrew.
His soldier chuckled. “Maybe. Let’s see some ID.”
“I live here.” Sinan felt heat rising in his belly and a tingle in his hands. In the background he could hear the other soldier asking Kate what was in the notebook, what their business was in Jerusalem. Her Hebrew was weak. “Movie, movie,” she kept repeating in English.
“I live here,” Sinan said again. He opened and closed his hands rapidly. They felt like they were going numb.
The soldier spoke slowly. “Give. Me. Your. Identification,” he said.
Kate had stopped saying “movie.” Now she said “journalist” over and over. A cat ambled past, its tawny hair matted, ribs poking through taut skin. It paused in front of Sinan and the soldier and let out a hoarse, pathetic wail, as if to admit to them that it had no home. It limped off to nowhere.
“We went to a movie; now we’re walking back home,” Sinan said. His Hebrew was flawless. He learned it as a boy, when he would turn lights or heat on or go buy bread for his neighbors in the Jewish Quarter on Shabbat. Sometimes they would pay him later, or direct him to a drawer where the money was waiting. David Cohen, one of his neighbors, would always teach Sinan a few words in Hebrew on those days and send him off with some challah. “You’re a good boy, Sinan,” he would say, cuffing Sinan’s neck with a friendly chuckle. “You see people as people.”
David had been there for the first suicide bomb, years ago. Sinan was passing through Zion Square after a visit to West Jerusalem when an explosion cut through downtown’s everyday rush. Sound disappeared, but for a high-pitched whine in his ear. Sinan always remembered the eerie sight of children’s mouths widened in anguish; friends’ lips moved rapidly as their heads swiveled every which way in search of missing companions—but no sound, like he was watching a muted movie.
David Cohen worked as a lawyer a few blocks away, Sinan knew. He ran to the office. David’s eyes widened when he found Sinan standing in front of the building. Wordlessly, David ripped off the checkered keffiyeh tied around Sinan’s neck. When he spoke, Sinan read his lips: “Nobody can see you here. I’ll take you home.” David placed an arm around Sinan’s trembling shoulders and shepherded him through the chaos, back toward the Old City. Later they learned that a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization had stuffed a refrigerator with explosives. 15 people were killed.
Next Shabbat, David gave Sinan a Hebrew grammar book. “I think it’s important you learn as much of this as you can. For the future,” he said. His eyes were downcast, his expression wounded and searching, like something had been lost.
“Where’s home?” the soldier asked.
“You said you’re going home. Where’s home?”
Sinan pulled his identification card from his back pocket. Its light blue sleeve protected him. Orange told the soldier “home” was the West Bank. Green told the soldier “home” was the Gaza Strip. Blue told the soldier “home” was Jerusalem.
The soldier examined it. “Stand still so I can make sure this is you,” he said, holding the ID to Sinan’s cheek. “Smile,” he said.
Kate returned with the second soldier, who shook his head. “Nothing,” he said.
“Don’t waste time,” Sinan’s soldier told him. “Just go home.” He handed the identification card over. As Sinan reached for it, the soldier let go. The card fluttered toward the ground for what seemed like minutes, finally landing between them.
“Pick it up.”
Sinan stared at the card’s blue jacket. He could see the picture of himself. Tiny, again. His hands tingled. He could feel Kate’s green eyes.
“Pick it up,” the soldier said.
“No,” Sinan said, in Arabic.
He closed his eyes for a moment and braced for the impact. He, like all his brothers, had been in Israeli prison before. He could do it again. He waited for something, for yelling, for a fight.
He opened his eyes. He looked at the soldier’s scar, a twin of his own. His eyes met the soldier’s gaze. The strap that held the Uzi slipped down his shoulder, which was sagging as if suddenly sore from the weapon’s weight. A shadow came over his grey eyes. For a moment he looked at once far older and far younger than his eighteen or so years.
Silently, he turned away.