We circle, weapons drawn, two as one, ready to kill.
I raped the boy in April 1948, in a dark corner in the garden of a villa in Talbieh. A few minutes before he had leapt out from between some bushes, a butcher’s knife flashing. Boaz, a pace away from me, had his eye on the balcony above, fearing a sniper, so he never saw the kid who brought the knife down between his shoulder blades, with a shout of Allah akbar!, or perhaps it was something else. The stars were just coming out, but I saw my friend murdered. I saw the blood spurt from his back and chest as he crumpled.
I did not shoot. Our men had surrounded the house and I might have hit a friend. So I said afterward, but I was such a good shot that no one was in danger. It was that such a death would have been too merciful for Boaz’s killer. Instead, I took off after the boy. He sprinted toward a back corner of the garden, where a tall cypress stood among a wild undergrowth that might have once been a flowerbed. I was the faster. I caught him by the collar before he reached the wall he meant to climb. He tried to struggle free, but I was the stronger. I let go of my rifle and grabbed his chin and turned his face toward me. I wanted to see who I was about to strangle.
To this day I wonder how, in the heat of battle, I could have been able to grasp that I was gazing at a face of godlike beauty. I had always assumed beforehand—and, indeed, all my experience since then has confirmed—that when your life is on the line, when you stand on the precipice between life and death, the mind focuses only on keeping you alive. Your eye takes in every detail of the terrain, every clue to where your enemy lies, but nothing of the harmony of the shape of the landscape. Color may be a sign of danger but never moves the heart. Yet, at this instant of vengeance I was nearly unnerved by the splendor that I saw.
He was perhaps sixteen, with the down of his first beard on his cheeks, and tight curls of hair. I could not make out their shade, it was dark. Perhaps the darkness softened his killer’s face, blinded me to the real nature written on his features. I think I saw him as he really was.
But one thing I learned as a soldier is that hatred and beauty are not exclusive, nor are love and revenge. For as I pulled at his belt and pushed down his pants and pressed him against the wall, as I undid my fly and covered his mouth to stifle his scream, I thought: This is worse than death for him. This is what he deserves. So ran my mind. But my heart, my heart was full, electrified, full of longing for unification with this other human being, and my climax was revenge but also an act of giving, of giving my friend’s murderer my love.
When it was done I pushed him away and trained my rifle at him. I did not want him to go but I knew he must. I hoped that someone on the other side of the wall would kill him as he made his escape and I hoped he would survived. “!Ruh! !” I whispered fiercely, desperately. “!Ruh! !” He gazed at me, stonily, as he did up his pants. He did not weep. He probably thought I would shoot him as he clambered up the wall, twice as tall as he. There were iron rods sticking out of it here and there; he must have planned the route. He was up and gone. I heard no shots.
A year later I married. With Ayala I felt the same electricity in my heart, the same mysterious wonder, that I felt during those moments under the cypress, pressing against the Arab boy. That’s how I knew it was love. Nineteen years later, when war again broke out, we were still in love. Unlike some of my friends, I did not feel, as I approached the age of forty, any need to roam beyond our bedroom. We had three children. Yaron, the eldest, helped take the Golan Heights with his tank battalion. I was with my reserve unit in Jerusalem, where we have always lived. We were deployed at Mt. Herzl and then, on the evening of the first day of the war, we moved on foot toward Ramat Rachel, the kibbutz to the city’s south, on a spur that jutted into Jordanian territory. Our mission was to conquer the village Sur Baher, which lay on the same ridge as the kibbutz, and the Jordanian outpost, the Bell, that stood between them. The village offered almost no resistance. Most villagers holed up in their homes in fear, but a few men and boys stood outside, along the road, with stony expressions on their faces.
He was not on the road itself, but stood a few paces behind, leaning against the wall of a house. He was older of course; his hair had flecks of gray, his face was lined and sunburned, and his beard was rough, not soft as I remembered. We had seen each other then only in the dark, but our eyes met and we were both certain. We knew. And I saw hatred in his eyes, but, yes, I was sure, I also saw his need to be one with me.
Our detachment moved on, took the Jordanian outpost with ease, and left a small force to occupy it, which I arranged to be assigned to. For the remaining five days of the war I remained there; I wrote to Ayala each day, to comfort and reassure her and to ask for news of Yaron.
On the night of the seventh day, when victory was complete and as the country rejoiced, I slipped away and went back to the village. I walked down the central street and found the house. Villagers looked fearfully, suspiciously, viciously from their windows. I had my rifle, and four grenades. I was not frightened.
I circled the house. There was a low, unpainted concrete wall, set back from the road, with an opening that led into a garden. I entered. The scent was overpowering, a heady perfume of blooms and fruit. In the shadows I saw trees, and grape vines, and beds of herbs. I walked among them like a pilgrim in paradise, walked and walked, the garden seemed enormous. Then I saw him. He clipped a small branch from a tree with a large blade and gently parted its leaves to find the next place to prune. He raised his head, pivoted and held the knife out at me. I cocked and shouldered my rifle. We circled, our weapons drawn, two as one, ready to kill.
I will not say what passed between us. What I can say is that we hated and loved, both at the same time. We took vengeance and we took comfort. We were silent but much passed between us. And all the while we circled, our weapons drawn, two as one, ready to kill.
We have met again many times in the fifty years since. After each knifing, after each suicide bombing in the city, I seek him out. I find him in the village, or in a field, in a park or a shopping center. Here and there we have tried to talk, but it only made our passion unbearable. For fifty years now we have died at each other’s hands and in each other’s arms, hating each other as only those who are one flesh can. Fifty years that have been a single moment for me, and for him. For fifty years we have circled, our weapons drawn, two as one, killing each the other and each himself.
Necessary Stories, a collection of twenty-four of the best of Haim Watzman’s short fiction, is now available as an e-book, paperback, and hardback on Amazon and all other vendors. Click here for purchase links and more information.
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