'What Did You Say, Four-eyes?' Assaf Gavron Was on Basic Training

It was 1987 and the answer to the question should have been simple.

"What are you looking at?”

He was an ars, a yahoo. From HQ or someplace. Supplies, driver, I don’t know.

I’m in basic training, on a base not far from Eilat. It’s 1987, and I am a pale, bespectacled new recruit.

“What are you looking at, squint-eyes?”

The answer to his question was simple. I was looking at him. But looking back, I can’t play innocent. I know what he was really asking was, “Why are you looking at me?” But he was able to convey his feelings in a slightly different wording and tone.

Between us, it was a legitimate question. Why in fact was I looking at him? I no longer remember. I was probably daydreaming and my eyes fixed on him. Or maybe he caught my attention by shouting or behaving in an untoward way.

“At you, what do you think?”

“Say what?” He turned around from where he was, about 10 meters from me, and started to move in my direction. He had two buddies with him. They too looked like soldiers who were employed in the base’s service branches. “What did you say?”

“What, are you deaf, too? Isn’t it enough for you that you’re ugly?”

I don’t remember if that’s what I actually said. But I do remember two things. The palpitation in the heart that led to choking in the throat that led to irrational rage. And what happened next:

He reached me. He was at least 10 centimeters taller, broader than me by at least 20 and more muscular by at least 30. There was a mole on the tip of his nose. He growled something in reaction to what I’d said and then he strangled me.

He held me in a hug, his strong arm around my throat, my nose up close to the IDF tag sewed to his chest pocket, one arm bent painfully behind my back. When I rotated my head on its axis, I could see his hate-filled face from below and smell the blasts of tuna that flared from his mouth. “What did you say, four-eyes?”
My right arm was free, dangling below. I had nothing to lose. With a quick, round, perfect, almost athletic motion, fingers spread wide slicing the dry desert air with a whoosh, I smashed the open palm hard on his face.

And then I took advantage of the shock that seized us both and sprinted out of there.

He ran after me.

I laughed out loud. “Ha!” I shouted, and went on running.

When I was young I could run fast, even in a uniform and heavy shoes. But I knew I couldn’t run forever. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to head into the desert areas on the edges of the base. As I ran, as I fled, I figured that it would be better to surrender and take what was coming to me, but to do it on territory where I would have a relative advantage − where someone might come to my aid, say. I ran to the nearby officers’ quarters. I entered the compound, he and his buddies close behind. I ran up the stairs and turned into the corridor toward my commanding officer’s room. He caught up to me next to the door. He knocked me to the ground and kicked me. Vented on me, as the saying goes, his wrath. And kept on venting. And kicking.

And invited his buddies for a round. He must have muttered, or roared, “I’ll tear you to pieces, you squint-eyes! Four-eyes!” He really did tear me apart. Every kick forced air out of me, pierced me with pain. But I remember that I smiled. I was happy. Because I knew − and, more importantly, I knew that he knew − that even if he went on kicking me all night, he would never be able to wipe the slap off his face.

Assaf Gavron’s novel “The Hilltop” ‏(in Hebrew‏) was published in January