Snow-siege day 5: Sayed Kashua can’t bear the sight of his kids
He takes to shoveling snow - almost like a true pioneer.
When we got up a few Thursdays ago at the usual time of 6 A.M., there wasn’t a snowflake to be seen. The TV news said schools in Jerusalem would be open. Around 7, snow mixed with rain started to come down, school was still on, and Danny Rup, the popular TV weatherman, was smiling into the camera and saying things like “window of opportunity,” and that there was no way of knowing whether the snow would stick and pile up.
“Do you have enough food in the house?” my younger brother asked me on the phone.
“They don’t know if it’s going to pile up,” I told him.
“It’ll pile up, it’ll pile up,” he declared with the tenacity of a weather freak and an avowed lover of snow. This time, he didn’t come with his kids to stay with us for the snow in Jerusalem – he’d planned a surprise birthday party that day for his wife. “The snow will come down heavy until the middle of the day. Then it will stop for an hour and start again in the afternoon. There will be five centimeters [two inches],” he declared. “Go buy food.”
“But on television they’re saying…”
“Bro,” he interjected, “trust me. They don’t have a clue. According to satellite imagery and data I saw on weather forums, you guys won’t be able to leave the house until next Sunday.”
“Maybe we’ll let the kids stay home, after all?” I tried to speak softly to my wife, knowing her theories about my anxieties and her favorite sentence: “If you could shut us up in the house for all time, you would do it.”
The truth is, she’s right. I know this place isn’t all that safe, either, but it’s definitely a lot less dangerous than “outside.”
“But they’re saying on television there will be school today,” she replied. I noticed a tone of hesitancy in her voice, which I decided to exploit fully.
“Shall we wait a little longer?” I suggested. The snow was coming down more thickly, but not yet sticking. She nodded in agreement. I said I would make a shopping list, but my wife said we didn’t need anything. I said I was short of cigarettes and went to the neighborhood supermarket, which was empty. Besides the cigarettes, I bought some bread, a few potatoes and enough tins of preserves for a week. I didn’t want to overdo it; my wife doesn’t like it when I overdo it.
By the time I got home, City Hall had already announced that school was being canceled for the day. My wife became sad; I was happy. The children and I stood at the window and watched the snow come down, magically. My wife made breakfast in the kitchen. “Come and look,” I told her.
“And who will feed your children?” She didn’t come.
“Good morning,” I said to my wife as I sipped coffee in front of the screen after five days of Jerusalem snow-siege.
“Is there school today?”
“No,” I told her. “Nothing has changed.”
There were tears in her eyes, and I spotted that familiar threatening and accusing look. As though I was the one in City Hall who had decided the kids would stay home yet again.
“All in all, we were lucky,” I said like an idiot, hoping to console her. “We had everything: power, heating, a warm and cozy apartment, food. We should be thankful.”
“Be thankful?!” she snapped back. “Probably to you? Right? Thanks to you we didn’t become homeless people freezing by the roadside and shivering from cold and hunger – isn’t that so?”
“No,” I shot back, even though she was right. I wanted to take credit for the fact that, thanks to my hard work, we have a pleasant apartment that didn’t suffer from a power failure and the awful cold. “Just to be thankful, to look at the half-full glass.”
She gave a look that unmistakably said, “You’ll be better off if I don’t see you” – a look that added, “Scram, just get out of my sight!”
After five days of snow-siege, my wife simply could no longer stand looking at me, and neither of us could stand the kids. She stirred coffee dejectedly and opened the refrigerator to take out things for breakfast – one of four meals the children ate every day, without doing much between one meal and the next other than being bored and trying to kill one another.
“Ahhhhh,” I said, knowing full well that I should get out of the house if I had any hope of deferring the reasons for divorce. “I’ll go out to remove a little snow in the…”
“Excellent,” she said before I could finish the sentence.
“The neighbors have a shovel – I saw it in their garden.”
At 7 A.M. I found myself borrowing a shovel from the neighbors without their permission, positioning myself in front of our building and trying to shovel the snow. But what I’d imagined would be a simple act of removing feather-soft snow from the path turned out to be tough work of chopping stubborn ice. I hit the ice hard with the shovel and made slow progress, perspiring, panting and feeling blisters starting to develop on my hands.
I won’t give up, I decided, pounding the ice in an attempt to break it, knowing that I mustn’t hurry home. That would be too dangerous. Like an idiot, I’d thought that in the end it would be a romantic weekend. I’d even bought two bottles of red wine – both of which remained unopened.
“Well done,” a neighbor, whom I hadn’t seen before in the neighborhood, told me as she walked past the building and saw me laboring mightily to clear the path of the slippery, treacherous ice.
“Thanks,” I replied proudly.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Sayed,” I said, and paused for a moment, leaning on the shovel like a true pioneer, wiping the sweat from my brow and enjoying the word “Thanks” for my noble volunteering.
“If I give you a hundred shekels [$28], will you shovel our snow, too?”
“No, no, I’m not…” I stammered, reeling with shock.
“Two hundred,” she said, “and I’ll make you a cup of tea, too, so you’ll be happy. What do you say, Sa’id?”