Wednesday, September 26, 2007

lead: It was icy sitting on the steps

An icy wind blew as they struggled out of the warmth of the café into the warren of streets that meandered through the Arabic section of Jerusalem. She looked over at her traveling companions and realized that Sarai was shivering inside her short jean jacket. “We have to buy her a scarf,” she mumbled to Caren, her own mouth tucked inside the brilliantly striped Mexican rebozo wound around her neck. Caren nodded and they huddled closer together to retain the warmth, Sarai in-between them like a protected nestling. Because she was a teen-ager, she normally would resent the inhibiting closeness but with this biting cold, did not protest.

Fortunately it was one of the days that the shops were open. The intifada had succeeded in shutting the city down for three days, thank goodness, before the cold hit. They had spent the time sight-seeing as pilgrims, taking in the garden tomb, the Church of the Sepulcher, the pools of Bethsaida, and Solomon’s stables. They only had a little money to duck into the warmth of a café for scalding hot, sweetened mint tea. It felt like pure luxury.

When they found a vendor who sold scarves, they let Sarai choose, carefully pooling their shekels from their pockets. They were left with twenty argarot and one shekel, about sixty cents USD. But it was worth it to see the look of gratitude on her face, chapped pink by the cold. Just as they exited the shop, drifts of snowflakes started to fall. Snow in Jerusalem! Unusual although not unheard of. Where would they spend the night? She hadn’t told Caren that when she had gotten up to use the restroom, a man had approached their table and offered to buy her for an afternoon. Or was it Sarai he wanted? This chubby, shy, tag-a-long was terrified of this strange adventure and fortunately she hadn’t been paying attention to the strange man’s broken English or hand gestures.

Although her feet were numb and her hands shoved deep into jean pockets were icy, she was thrilled to be in the holy city of Jerusalem. She remembered that on their way into the city, a man they met on the bus had given her his card. A Christian Arab, Ali repeatedly invited them to stop at his home and meet his family. Impressed that they traveled in the name of Jesus, penniless, adhering to the original Gospel lifestyle, he was respectful. He shook their hands warmly when they parted at the central bus station.

“Let’s call Ali,” she said to Caren, their eyes meeting over the top of Sarai’s blond curls. They had to have a warm place to sleep out of the cold.

“Tomorrow I think we should go north, to the Galilee,“ Caren suggested. “We’re not dressed for this weather.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” She was disappointed to be leaving Jerusalem after waiting years to be here. But she would come back. She knew it. To add her prayer to the Wall. To wander the streets in a mystical trance. To find her lost soul crying out for a way to find home.

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