"So are you coming?" my mother asked me on the phone on that pleasant Friday afternoon. "Nu, daddy, please," the children begged, scampering around me, when I replied that I had a little work to finish and maybe we would go tomorrow. "Why tomorrow? We haven't had a proper visit with you for a long time."
"Please, please," the children continued.
"You know what, mom," I decided on the spot, "okay, we'll leave in a little while."
"Great!" the two children shouted and ran to their rooms to pack pajamas and clothes, while singing rhythmically, "We're going to sleep in Tira, we're going to sleep in Tira."
Like the children, I also wanted to sing "We're going to sleep in Tira." It had been a few months since we last slept there, mainly because of my wife. "I don't feel comfortable using your parents' bathroom," she said once again, and with good reason. Once all their children left the house, my parents decided to renovate, and somehow the new bathroom became an integral part of the living room. Its door is located between the adjustable recliner from which my father rarely gets up, and a three-seat crimson-colored simulated-leather sofa. The policy that guided the retired couple in their renovation was that "everything should be close by." The result of this is that my father sometimes shouts at whoever is using the toilet, "Don't flush now, I want to hear what Roni Daniel has to say!"
Interior design is not a strong point with Arabs in general and my parents in particular. Long ago I used to go into gift and houseware stores and be shocked by all kinds of wooden swans, clocks in the shape of the Taj Mahal or vases that disgorge dried bamboo canes. "Who in the world buys this stuff?" I would ask myself. Now I know. My parents.
But there is nothing to be done. Like my children, I also like being in my parents' home, like my children I get excited at the thought that I am going to sleep in a room reserved for guests, knowing that mom and dad are sleeping in the next room and will rush to my bedside if I wake up frightened and screaming.
The weather in Tira on Friday evening was wonderful. The children ran immediately to granddad and grandma to get the presents purchased for them in Mecca, from where my parents recently returned, and then hurried to play with their cousins, with whom they get along marvelously. "We brought you a present, too," my mother said, and showed me a landscape shirt with the imprint of a young man holding a surfboard standing on the beach and gazing at the sunset. "What, it's not nice?" she asked when she saw the look on face. "It was the most expensive shirt in Mecca."
What a pleasure to be in Tira, I thought to myself as I played with the new Sony PlayStation at my brother's place - like we used to do with the Atari, only without the fights over whose turn it was. "You still don't know how to play anything?" my younger brother half asked and half declared, and everyone laughed, recalling how miserable I always was at computer games. My turn was always short, which upset me every time anew, but this was all now transformed into a childhood memory that filled my heart with joy.
Immediately after supper and taking their showers, against the background of the weekend newsmagazine on TV, the children went to bed with smiles on their faces. My parents also went to bed relatively early. "Ah," my mother announced on the way to the bedroom, "tomorrow we will make stuffed vine leaves."
"I love this place so much," I told my wife, who was delighted that my parents had gone to their room and seized the opportunity to use the toilet. "Me, too," she admitted when she emerged, now far calmer. Later on we had to stifle our laughter, so as not to wake the sleepers, at an Egyptian movie that had no plot but was still funny enough to drive you to tears.
"I'll sleep on the mattress," I told my wife, "you take the bed." There's no place like home: that was the feeling that surged through me as I pulled the blanket over my daughter, asleep on the mattress next to me.
Immediately after breakfast, my brothers and their wives and children gathered at my parents' home, and the delicate filling and closing of vine leaves got underway. My father, instructed to buy a few items from the nearby store, spotted the chance to take his grandchildren and buy them, as usual, sweets that are prohibited under their parents' laws.
A village never changes. The women worked in the kitchen, laughing uproariously, while my brothers and I drank coffee on the terrace on a sun-drenched morning and talked about how things were at work, about cars and electrical appliances. The children came running back ahead of granddad, holding chocolate bars and hiding lollipops in their pockets.
"Someone was shot to death this morning," my father reported as he handed the bag with the items to my mother, who had come out to greet him and was smiling broadly.
"When?" she asked.
"As he came out of the mosque in the center of the village, after the prayers."
"You still don't like spicy?" my mother asked me, smiling, and knowing the answer. "I'll make you a pot on the side without pepper."
The children ran out to the garden with a ball. "Play nicely," my big brother requested, "and let the little ones play, too."
"Seaside weather," my father announced as he joined us for coffee on the terrace.
"How old was he?" my younger brother asked.
"Sixty, less," my father replied. "Well, you know him," he said, telling us the name of the murdered man, a name my brothers knew, but I didn't.
"He was an all right guy," my older brother said. "Maybe after lunch we'll take the kids on an outing?"
"Sure, it's a beautiful day," I replied. "Why was he murdered?"
"There doesn't really have to be a reason anymore," my father responded.
"Kids," the wife of my older brother called as she came out onto the terrace, "come quickly, there's watermelon."
"Sweet as honey," my father said.
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