6

The Narrowing Way

The bombing of our homes was a sharp blow that knocked the wind and spirit out of the people of Biram.

In the scant news I heard from Mother and Father came reports that a few more families were leaving Gish each monthfor the cities. Perhaps they would be better off hidden among the poor masses in a large city than perched on the open hilltops of Galilee. Understandably, they no longer wanted to stand by the elders in their continuing appeals for the return of our land. With the bombing, they had despaired.

Unbelievably, Father and my brothers continued caring for the fig trees in our confiscated orchard, which had escaped bombing. I pictured Father walking stoically past the ruins of our house. Rudah had said it was nothing but a tumble of stones and charred beams. Father, I knew, would keep his eyes and his heart set on one thing: tending the fig trees--at least for a little while longer. Silently he would plod on, hoping that his sons would follow him in bearing the cross of persecution. It was all he knew to do. Even as I admired his courage. I detected in Father a growing twinge of hopelessness. For the first time, I think, I realized that my father was human, a man with weakness and a limited understanding of this bewildering conflict in which we were embroiled.

As for me, I entered my second year of studies in Haifa with great listlessness. I had been away from home more than a year, and that nagging, rootless feeling left me empty.Because I was not an orpan, I was never fully accepted by the other boys. This, my early adolescence, was a bad time to ber hit with so many clushing blows to my self-worth. A sense of loss--a deep mourning--threatened to cripple my spirit.

Once again, it seemed that I was not to be forsaken. In my loneliest moment, I was given the gift of a special friendship. During the first week of classes that fall, two new boys came to study at thr Bishop's school. They were Faraj and Khalil Nakhleh, and they came from a fairly well-to-do family in Ramah, another village in Galilee where there was no longer any school.

From the first moment I met Faraj, the older of the two, I sensed a special quality about him. He had a certain politenessm a joy, something quite rare that I could not touch, and yet it felt familiar. He was thirteen also, and the first thin wisps of mustache shadowed our upper lips, Though he was about my height, he was thinner and I tended toward broad shoulders, a barrel chest and angular bones. He had a quick, easy laugh and the ability to draw me out of my grayness of spirit. Even under the heavy load of lessons, there remained a flicker of fun in his eyes. Such an immediate bond sealed between us that I, rather than Khalil, might have been taken for his brother.

What most amazed me was Faraj's unusual sensitivity. Once, when we were taken as a group to swim in the nearby Mediterranean, I drew apart from the splashing playfullness. The other children were used to my occasional solitary habits. But Faraj appeared at my side, sticking close as I trailed along the hit sand. He listened quietly, nodding and studying my face as I rambled over my confused thoughts about the plight of our families and our own future under the new government.

"What do you think will happen to us?" I pondered aloud. "I don't know, Elias," he replied. "We can't go to university, that's for sure. They aren't accepting--" he stumbled over the words--"aren"t accepting our kind."

I knew he meant Palestinians. "So what do you plan to do when we're through here?Work in a factory?"

He stopped. A sweep of white foam raced up the beach and splashed warmly over our bare feet. "I'm not sure," he said in a moment. "But I believe that someone will take care of us, that much I know."

Who did he mean? The Bishop? I wasn't sure what his vague answer meant, but did not pursue it.

At the moment, I needed to be alone to think. Faraj had somehow developed, in a few short weeks, the uncanny ability to read my moods. If he was boisterous and funloving, he was also sensitive. He left me to wander and trotted back down the beach to where the others were playing in the crashing waves. I found a quiet spot and sat watching the restless surf, imagining that the great swells were the hills rising around Biram.

Biram that lay in ruins.

The home and church--those two "candles" that had taught me about the Man of Peace--now in ruins. Destroyed by the violent.

In that silence of spirit, sitting before an eternity of blue sea, a vivid image flashed before me. An image flashed before me. An image of Biram resurrected beneath the ancient olive trees, of all the ransacked hones restired and the women safe within. Palestinian and Jew--sipping coffee together again in tranquil conversation. the church was rebuilt. Each man, women and child was like a stone--a living stone--in the rebuilt village.

For a split second, it all seemed so real--so possible--that my heart leaped.

Shouting at the far end of the beach shook me from my thoughts. Three or four boys had plunged into the surf. With arms flailing, they raced while those on shore cheeted. Now I could see that the one about to take the lead was Faraj. All the girls were cheering him on. which made me smile, Our interest in girls was just drawning, but Faraj was the one whose charm was already landing him in one brief romance after another. I felt a sudden surge of brotherly admiration for him.

I got up and shuffled through the sand to rejoin the group. Faraj had waded up onto the beach again where the others clapped him on the back. His chest heaved as he caught his breath, and his lips were parted in that handsome smile the girls loved. The victor.

Fafaj would be a success at whatever he chose to do--at school, in business. He was that sort of boy. And his family had a bit of money. Maybe they would send him to America when he was old enough. And me? What would I do?