Burn Another One: Part Seven
By Fathima Begum
Adeela carried a glass of sugared water for Berel and placed it near him. Refusing to look at her, he slowly lifted the glass and took a sip, staring into it as though he were unsure of what else may be in there. As instructed, Adeela offered him a blanket but he shook his head and as he did so, Abbas snatched the moth-eaten blanket from Adeela.
“My grandfather says that you will stay here for another week at least” she told him, and he glanced at her indifferently and then gazed at the ceiling. She felt sorry for him, being stuck here so far away from home. Her brother Abbas made his dislike for Berel obvious by eyeing him suspiciously whenever he was at home, though he didn’t dare to treat him badly in their own home.
They’d had a lot of visitors since Berel had been bought to their home, over a week ago. Curious visitors, angry visitors and surprisingly someone from the government had also paid a visit. Distrusting the intentions of the party in power, Adeela’s grandfather had stood by his decision to keep Berel in his own home, even though the Hamas representative had offered to take the boy away so that he wouldn’t be a burden on them.
Berel had silently endured the looks, the visitors and the stagnant position he had been confined to on the thin and worn out mattress that he had been lying on since he had arrived. Although Adeela loved the attention their household was getting in the community, she could see the fear in Berel’s eyes and she watched him carefully as he recited prayers as often as he could, quietly, to himself.
Usually Adeela loved to sneak out and escape the home, with her friends, and they would run to the valleys outside of their village to play. But since Berel had been here, she had not left home. Her grandfather went out to harvest olives and left her there to take care of Berel, knowing that only she would do so willingly.
“Are you sad that no one has come to look for you?” Adeela asked, in a quiet voice. He heard but didn’t respond, though she noticed that he grimaced in discomfort. She knew that his friends would be too afraid of what might happen to them if they were to come looking for him and his family may be thinking that he is dead. She knew that he was afraid that he’d never be able to get home.
“Don’t be so afraid. My grandfather said that you will be taken home, safely. And my grandfather always does what he says” Adeela reassured him. Yet he continued to stare at the ceiling, vacantly.
A week passed and Berel seemed to have made a good recovery. He could get up and move about all by himself. They’d had discussions about how to take him to his home near Tel Aviv, but the road closures that had recently been imposed meant that they couldn’t take him. He wanted to leave and set off by himself, but after realising how dangerous that would be for him here in Gaza, he decided to wait for them to come up with a plan.
In the meantime, having become restless with nothing to do all day, Berel had offered to go along to the plantation to help pick olives. Adeela’s grandfather had protested, but Berel had gone along anyway. Adeela had followed them, and had stayed by Berel’s side all day, showing him how to pick the olives and gather them all together in bags. Many of the fellow olive pickers had stopped what they were doing to stare at him, but he ignored them and picked olives tirelessly until it was time to go home.
He carried on picking olives for them for about a week, everyday. It was a way of thanking them for their hospitality, perhaps, or just a way for him not to have to have to stay at their house all day long, avoiding Abbas. Adeela wanted to ask him about the city, Tel Aviv, and if he had been to the other place, the special city that her grandfather had told her about. But Berel didn’t want to talk to anyone, and worked hard in silence, though at dinnertime he gave some of his food to Adeela. He could see that their portions were rationed, but that they were grateful.
Berel had told Adeela’s grandfather that he was a student, and that he wished to one day become a doctor although it would be difficult for him because his father expected him to become the breadwinner for the family soon. His mother wished to see him fulfil his dream. He wished to move USA, he had said, and perhaps also to take his family over there one day. Yet his father would never want to leave their land, their home, so he didn’t know if his dream would ever come true or not.
“I can understand your father’s plight” Adeela’s grandfather had said, no bitterness in his voice, causing Berel to look away.
“But you must also pursue your own dreams. You will do a lot of good for others once you become a doctor”
After another week had passed, preparations were made to take Berel home. When the day to leave finally arrived, Berel took his leave respectfully from Adeela’s grandfather, her father and even Abbas and then set off with the group of boys who had bravely volunteered to take him home.
As he walked away, Adeela watched him turn back to get a last sorrowful look at their home and at her as she waved goodbye.