For One Jerusalem Watch Repairman, Peace Is Just a Matter of Time

Majdi Shabani, more commonly known as Mr. Fix, makes miracles happen with old watches. If he believes in renewed peace talks, perhaps I can, too.

It’s 1 p.m. and Majdi Shabani is asleep in his office. It’s a can’t-keep-my-eyes-open on-a-hot-day kind of sleep – a midday snooze necessitated by the fact that it’s Ramadan and no human being should be expected to get through the long, warm hours of fasting without a little down time.

But Majdi’s nap is rather on display – at the mall. He’s Mr. Fix, the man who repairs watches out of a cubbyhole-sized workshop on the sunless lower floor of the Hadar Mall in Talpiot, a commercial district in south Jerusalem. And it just happens that I haven’t found time in ages to get my watch fixed, preferring instead to buy cheap replacements that always stop running after a few months. Today is the day. I have with me the Raymond Weil watch an old boyfriend gave me about 12 years ago, and it has long since lost its romantic value. All I want is a working watch on my wrist, and this one, considered a luxury brand – a fact that was news to me when I received it – is the best candidate for not dying on me after two months of use.

I wait patiently for Majdi to wake up. It wouldn’t be right to rouse Mr. Fix, would it?

Majdi wakes up with a start and blinks as if he doesn’t know where he is, or what happened to the dream he was dreaming.

We say our hellos, and I try not to give away that I’ve been watching him sleep. “Are you fasting for Ramadan?” I say as we move from Hebrew to Arabic. “Ramadan is hard, isn’t it?”

“Of course. Ramadan,” he says, and shakes himself awake. “Ramadan sa’ab,” he agrees, Ramadan is difficult. He smiles sleepily and holds out his hand to receive my watch.

Around him are the odds and ends of old watches – it’s not clear whether an aficionado would quite call them timepieces – and his tiny, precise tools of the trade. One of the motley selection of used watches says CCCP, an abbreviation for the Soviet Union, and like many of his watches, seems to be stuck in another era entirely.

Majdi opens up the belly of my watch and begins prodding at its intricate insides. In the background, there’s an old radio playing with the news in Arabic. As he picks at the old battery, he listens for updates. He’s glad they’re going back to peace talks, he says, without a shred of ennui or skepticism.

“Seriously?” I ask. “You think maybe they’ll be able to do it this time?”

“Inshallah,” he says, Godwilling. “Inshallah we will have peace. I have lots of Jewish friends, since I work here in West Jerusalem, and we even visit each others’ homes. We all want peace.”

Majdi lives in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Most people there, he says, get along just fine. Then, Majdi gives me the important news. Twenty shekels ($5.63) if I want a battery that will last a few months, maybe six, maybe a year, but probably not. Forty shekels ($11.26) if I want a deluxe battery, which will really be good and certainly last. How long? He can’t say.

I look in his sleepy eyes, circled with shadows of fast-and-feast exhaustion. Who really wants anything that will only last a few months or a year? Not a romance, not a peace agreement – and certainly not a watch battery.

I decide to gamble on the deluxe battery. He nods at my fine choice and picks a circular battery up off his desk with a pair of tweezers.

When he’s done, he offers me my watch and I pay him gladly. In how many countries can I have an important political discussion with my watch repairman? In how many cities would I ask for his number in case I want to continue our conversation at some point in time?

I leave Talpiot feeling good. I have a working watch on my wrist for the first time in six months, maybe more, and I made a new friend who I can talk politics with and practice my Arabic. But by 6 in the evening, I notice that the watch has stopped – it says it’s 3:45 p.m. I feel myself growing more annoyed by the minute. Forty shekels my foot. Do I look like a frier?

The next day, I go back to him, trying not to sound indignant. “It’s not working,” I lament. “Maybe that 40-shekel battery you put in was an old one?”

“Leave it here and do some errands for a half hour, can you do that?” I nod and head off in the direction of my favorite ice coffee stand, calculating that by the time I finish doing my shopping, the coffee will be done so I won’t feel the callousness of standing in front of a tired, fasting man with a cup of sweet, cold caffeine.

When I return, Majdi is sleeping again.

I wait patiently, scrolling through the incoming e-mail on my phone. “Oh,” he eventually says dreamily. He blinks, confused, and hands me a crusty old watch which looks about as worthless as the Soviet one. I hold back a chuckle. “Uh, not that one,” I say, pointing to my shiny, roman-numeraled watch sitting on his table.

“Ah. I didn’t touch it or open it at all. It’s working.”

“That can’t be! It completely stopped yesterday and never started again. If you didn’t open it, there’s no way it’s actually working,” I say. “I thought you were going to put in a new battery.”

“Nope, it’s working.”

“It’s not working. I’ll just wind up coming back here tomorrow.”

“Tfadli,” he says, you’re welcome. “But it’s working.”

I walked away. And then, Ramadan miracle of miracles, there it was. Working. Days later, and still working. A total rebirth, a full resurrection, a remarkable rescue from the dark depths of my sock drawer. Keeping perfect time, full of promise, renewing my hope in the future every time I look at my wrist. If Mr. Fix can make it happen, if he believes in the possibility of restarting a dead peace process just in the way he breathes new life into dead watches every day, maybe I can too.