Sayed - Amos Biderman - February 10, 2012
Illustration by Amos Biderman
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“We’re out of olive oil,” said my wife. “Your parents are coming to the premiere tonight, right?”

“Yes,” I said, “they’re coming.”

“So maybe they could bring us some oil,” she said. “Who knows how long it’ll be until we get to Tira again, you know? And your mother said that they bought some in the territories.”

“What’s up with you? Why are you going on and on about olive oil?” I scolded my wife. “We’re going to the premiere of the show I worked on for a whole year. There will be journalists, cameras, television crews there. Why are you so hung up on olive oil just now?”

“What do you care?” she asked. “It’ll just be in the parking lot. You know what? I’ll take the oil from her if it embarrasses you. Call your mother and tell her to bring some to the premiere.”

“Sure,” said my mother when I phoned. “That’s an excellent idea, I’ll also bring some of the goat cheese that we bought, and I’ve also got some really fresh za’atar.”

“Mom ...,” I tried to stop her.

“And you,” she cut me off. “Don’t make any scenes. Your father only agreed to come because I promised him that this time you wouldn’t get drunk in front of everyone, like always.”

“Daddy!” my little boy shouted enthusiastically. “When I grow up and go to the army, can I go shoot Assad?”

“What?!” I shouted back. “Who put these ideas in your head? How do you even know who Assad is?”

“Sweetheart,” his mother said, “you’re not going to the army.”

“But Daria” − a girl in his class − “said that everybody goes to the army.”

“Not you,” said his mother, adopting her social worker tone of voice.

“Arabs don’t go to the army.”

“What does that have to do with me?” he giggled.

“We’re Arabs,” his mother said. “You’re Arab.”

“What?!” he shouted, and then he started to cry. “It’s your fault. It’s all your fault.”

“Can you please shush little Baruch Marzel here?” I said to my wife before I got in the shower. “I have a premiere today and I don’t have the patience for this kind of nonsense.”

I got in the shower one hour before we were due to leave for the TV series premiere. First I shaved with extra care, making a valiant effort to remove the stubborn hairs below my nose, without much success. I decided to use tweezers, too. This was a premiere, after all, and I had to look my best. Afterward I scrubbed my skin for a long time under the boiling hot water. Enveloped in a cloud of steam I walked into the bedroom and took the new clothes I’d bought earlier that day out of their bags.

“Did you use deodorant?” shouted my son, waving a can in his hand.
“What’s the matter?”

“It hurts the ozone,” he yelled. “You really are Arabs.”

I kicked him out of the room, spritzed on some aftershave, and started peeling off the stickers and removing the price tags from the new clothes.

Black pants, a blue-and-white checked shirt, and a black jacket. That very morning, I’d seen this exact outfit on a mannequin in a shop at the Malha mall, and told the salesman: “That’s just what I want.” These clothes and that mannequin precisely matched my self-image: an intelligent Arab who doesn’t suffer from any identity complexes.

“Extra large,” I had said to the salesman, and he scrutinized me for a while, twisting right and left to take in all the angles, and then declared: “You’re a large at most. If you take the extra large, you’ll be doing your body an injustice. A gross injustice.”

So now I put on the clothes and looked in the mirror. Something weird was going on: I swear to god I did not look this way this morning in the shop mirror, when the salesman looked at me and pronounced: “It’s just perfect!”

Maybe because of the hem of the pants? No, it can’t just be because of the hem. That morning I really looked like a serious writer, and now I look ... I don’t know what it is I look like. Maybe it’s the shirt, maybe it’s the pants. I can’t figure it out.

“That’s what you bought?!” my wife cried in alarm when she came into the bedroom.

“What?! What is it?” I yelled. “In the store it looked so ...”
“You bought a large again?”

“The gay salesman told me I’d be committing a grave injustice if I took the extra large.”

“Injustice?” screamed my wife. “Your paunch is hanging out now. What are you, an idiot? Why do you buy large when you know you’re an extra large?”

“But this morning ...” I tried to respond.

“It’s because you went shopping on an empty stomach. In the meantime you’ve had breakfast and lunch. Look at yourself. The shirt barely closes.”
“So what am I going to do?” I sat down on the bed, tears welling in my eyes. A button popped off.

“Don’t cry,” she said. “I know, it’s a nice shirt. Just put that black sweater of yours on top and everything will be fine.”

I hurried to put on the black sweater, which really did do the trick perfectly. Now I definitely looked like a writer. Well, maybe more like an Iraqi exile who happens to be a writer, but still a writer. The collar of the new shirt was still showing, the black sweater kept my paunch hidden and the jacket, even if not buttoned, still gave the appropriate impression for a premiere.

“You look a little bit like the Syrian foreign minister,” said my father as he lit a cigarette in the parking lot outside the premiere.

“If you get drunk,” said my mother, before she shook my hand, “I’m walking out that second. I’m a religious woman now, you know.”

“So, did you take the oil?” asked my father.

“Not now,” I told him. “At the end, when we’re all finished with the screening.”

“At the end?” he grumbled. “Who knows what will happen by then? As soon as this thing’s over I’m running home. There’s a massacre going on in Homs, in case you didn’t know. You should be grateful that I pulled myself away from the TV to come to this silliness of yours.”

“All right, fine,” I said and called to my wife to take the oil from them.

“Are you nuts?” my father rebuked me. “Twenty kilos of olive oil and you want your wife to carry it? What’s wrong with you? Have you no shame?”

“But she promised ...” I tried to defend myself.
“What kind of man are you?”

“Fine, fine,” I tried to calm him down, and bent down to the trunk of the car to lift out the giant can of olive oil.

“Kashua!” called a press photographer who was passing through the parking lot just as I was lugging the oil from my parents’ car to mine. I turned around and tried to smile as the flash blinded me and heard another button popping on my shirt.