Katyusha

 

This is one of my first short stories. This is a continuation of another story that I seem to have managed to delete off my computer. Don’t worry. I have the original print up somewhere… I’ll find it, retype it, and post it too. But even without that one, this one still makes pretty decent sense. It is loosely based on some experiences and thoughts I had during the month I spent in Israel during the summer of 2006.

 

 

Katyusha

Johnathan Steele stood above the graves. Time and tradition sprawled out before him, like the teeth of the hills. They, like him, were waiting for a new day. Only his new day would rise first. Facing west, he watched the tips of the buildings on the horizon start to glow. He pulled up his camera, ready for the moment that light hit the golden dome. Click! The gleam penetrated his mind and soul, diffusing an unaccustomed warmth. The Old City was beginning anew, and Johnathan was part of it. He felt revitalized and fresh. He felt part of something bigger, something bigger than himself.

*****

Rhia stopped typing. Johnathan Steele was just a character is a story. Her story. The words she had just written felt like they had come from somewhere else, an unseen author. She shook her head and looked back over her notes. She had spent her first few days in the Holy Land walking through the hills surrounding the Old City. She had looked at the City from many angles, trying to take in the broad spectrum of history it represented. It was the heart of this land, and as she sat quietly, the hum of life began to pulse out of it. The followers of Islam were rolling out their prayer mats as their muezzin chanted the call to pray. The sunlight gleamed off the Jerusalem limestone zoning ordinances required to cover every facade, maintaining the City’s ancient appeal. She packed up her laptop. She needed more depth and insight into this land. Where else should she go? Where would she begin? She only had this week, and so much to see. During the 11 hour flight, she had perused a guidebook, making a list of places she wanted to see. Qumran Caves, Beersheva, Masada, Ein Gedi, Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Galilee She paused. Who hadn’t heard of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus of Nazareth supposedly walked on the water 2000 years ago? It was in the north too. Maybe she would start there, and work her way down. She rushed to the car, anxious to get on her way.

Rhia arrived in Tiberias, a city on the western banks of the Sea of Galilee, shortly before dinner time. She rented a room at a small hostel downtown, stashed her gear under one of the unoccupied bunk beds, and went out in search of a meal. A bright McDonald’s “M” lit up against the darkening sky reminded her of the States, and brought her peace in a strange place. Across the street was a restaurant with few empty tables. It must be good food, she thought. The long line went fast. As she waited, she soaked in the delightful scents and scenery. Roasting eggplant mixed with scorched rice. Young boys bouncing down the road, small round caps pinned in place, and fringed edges of prayer shawls peaking out from under their T-shirts. Teens laughing as they chatted in their native Hebrew. She found an empty table in a corner where she would be able to continue her observations. The meal was delicious, and she especially enjoyed the garbanzo dip, or hummus as the Israelis called it. The meal went down well, but she wasn’t tired yet. Darn jet lag. Let’s see, it’s only… She glanced at her watch. It’s barely noon back home. No wonder I was so hungry! Maybe I can find some ice cream somewhere. She sat on a ledge surrounding a small fountain, relishing the cold of her ice cream against the still warm night air. A young woman, about her age, walked up pushing a toddler in a stroller.

“Hi! Do you mind if I join you? It’s such a beautiful night. I couldn’t resist a walk.” Her accent didn’t seem as thick as the other Israelis Rhia had talked to. She was dressed in a simple black skirt, and a pale blue sweater, her light brown hair pulled up in a ponytail. She sat down. “You’re American, aren’t you?”

Rhia was startled by her abruptness. “Uh… How did you know I’m American?”

“Oh, just a lucky guess. Actually, I was raised in New York.” She grinned and stuck out her hand. “I’m Anna, by the way. And you are?”

“Rhia. Rhia Dickson, from Utah.” Normally Rhia didn’t trust others, especially strange women in foreign countries. But something about Anna set her at ease.

Utah, huh? I’ve got some friends from out there. I think they’re from a town called West Jordan. I thought it was an interesting name, since it is definitely west of the Jordan.” She laughed. “Sorry, bad joke. Good name though. No problem in borrowing names.” A bus whizzed past, honking at a boy too near the road. “So, what are you here for?” Anna continued. “Family history? Youth group?” She glanced down at her sleeping child and tucked a blanket around her.

“I guess, family history in a sense… My great uncle used to travel a lot. He always wanted to come to Israel, but circumstances called him back to Utah before he got the chance.” She sighed and dipped her fingers in the gurgling water behind her. “I’m also bit of a writer. Fiction. And my next story takes place here. In Israel. So, I decided I’d see the place Uncle Samuel never got to see, and get material for my story at the same time.”

“Well good for you. Dreams are important things. What kind of story? A book?”

“No. Just a short story for now. It’s kind of a series. Johnathan Steele, the main character, is a man who travels the world, looking for something. It’s always something different. A scavenger hunt of sorts.”

“Sounds like your uncle,” said Anna. Rhia felt her face go hot. But before she could comment, Anna continued. “So, what is this character looking for in Israel?” she asked.

“I don’t know yet, but I’m here to find out.”

Anna’s baby started to fuss. She stood, smoothing her skirt. “I’d better go. Hey, are you still going to be here tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Well… would you like to join me for lunch? My husband is out of town, and I would love the company.”

“Sure.” Anna smiled broadly and Rhia wrote down her address. She watched the young woman stroll away. I have a friend. The thought both surprised and warmed her. A real friend.

*****

Lunch with Anna was delightful. They talked as if they had been friends for years rather than hours. Rhia found Anna’s stories so absorbing that she dimly registered the distant sound of thunder. Finally, as Anna went to the kitchen for more hummus, Rhia ran out to her car to roll up the windows, just in case it rained. She’d heard that storms sprang up rather quickly in the Galilee.

Rhia discovered that Anna’s daughter’s name was Cecily, who, at 18 months, was quite adventuresome. She enjoyed sneaking up behind Rhia to say, “Boo!”, the only English word she seemed to know. Anna told stories of some of the customs of the natives, and a bit of her own history.

“I was born in New York, but I didn’t fit in there. So, when I was 18, I made aliyah.”

“What’s aliyah?” asked Rhia.

“It’s a government program to help repopulate Israel. When a Jewish person comes to Israel, they help him for his first year — learning Hebrew, finding a job, getting settled in and such. They help him get established in the homeland. Then, he’s on his own, but that year is all it takes to give any Jew a love for their homeland and the strength to live here. The word ‘aliyah’ means ‘to go up, or to ascend’. It can also be translated as a pilgrimage. For many Jews, it simply means being able to come home.”

“Wow.” Rhia was awed by the strength and conviction in Anna’s voice. A determination echoed in Rhia as she thought about what it would mean to have a place she could call home. “So you came over by yourself?” she asked.

“Yes. My parents weren’t too happy about it, but I was 18. What could they do? I had only been here a few months when I met Peter. By the time I’d been here a year, we were engaged. It’s an idyllic life.”

“Sounds romantic to me. It makes my life seem… well, empty.” Rhia noticed as Anna looked sharply toward the window, listening intently. All Rhia could hear was the thunder. Maybe Anna had some wash out on the line, she thought. “We in for a storm?”

“Maybe. Um… what were you saying?” Anna still looked toward the window.

“Oh, I was just saying that sometimes I feel like there isn’t much purpose or direction in my life. I don’t have a lot of friends, and I’m not very close to my family. I guess I just feel a bit envious of your simple life.” The thunder sounded nearer.

“Don’t worry. You’ll find your path, and your home. It’s different for everyone. Did your uncle ever find his way?”

“Yes, I believe he did.” She glanced down at her toes poking out of her leather sandals. “I have a confession to make though. I used his travel journals for a long time to write my stories. I just changed the name — to Johnathan Steele.” She looked back up at Anna.

“But now you’re here, finishing what he started. Maybe your path is closer than you know.” The repetitive booms seemed to echo Rhia’s beating heart. Anna was so understanding.

“I hope so. It’s just that…” Rhia was interrupted as an explosion shook the house. “What the…?!” She looked at Anna, whose eyes were wide with disbelief. Cecily came scuttling into the room crying, “Ima!”. Another explosion nearly knocked them to the ground.

“Follow me!” yelled Anna, gathering her daughter in her arms. Rhia still sat dumbfounded. Suddenly, she heard glass breaking as another boom ripped through the air. She stumbled to the doorway leading to Anna’s spacious living room. The large bay windows were completely shattered. Rhia found this odd. Somehow, she couldn’t connect it with everything else going on. Anna reappeared, motioning to her from the front door. Rhia moved slowly, swimming through a mental fog of confusion. She was still trying to piece together the sounds around her and the obvious destruction. As she left the house, she looked down the street and noticed that all the windows along it were shattered as well. But the thing that really grabbed her attention was the car. Her rental car, parked on the other side of the street, was smoking. A large, blackened, metal hulk stuck up through the roof. What in the world is going on? She felt a tug at her arm as Anna pulled her along.

As they raced through the streets, Rhia noticed an occasional house, windows shattered, smoke rising from holes in the roof. Yet other houses looked peaceful and whole, as if everyone were simply taking an afternoon nap.

As they continued up the street, other families, mostly young mothers towing multiple children, fell in step. Where are we going? She wanted to ask Anna, but the noise from the rockets was so loud that Anna couldn’t hear her. It was all Rhia could do to keep up with her friend’s pace.

Rhia followed Anna into a large underground bomb shelter. They entered one room where Anna quickly sat down to catch her breath. There were three young mothers soothing their children, an elderly couple talking quietly, and a teenage boy seemingly asleep in the corner. Rhia sank to the floor as another explosion tore through the air. She felt weak, her heart pounding from exertion and shock.

“What…?” Her voice came out in a squeak. Anna squeezed her hand.

“Don’t worry about it. It’ll be fine. That one sounded further off. I’m glad that first one didn’t hit the house, although that window is going to be a nuisance to fix. I didn’t think they’d shift from Haifa so soon.” Anna’s tone was so matter-of-fact. Rhia just stared at her blankly.

“They?” Rhia managed to ask.

Lebanon. Didn’t you know there’s a war on?”

“I guess I missed that news episode. A war?” Then she remembered what she had seen as they left the house. “My car!”

“That was your car?” said the elderly woman across the room. “Too bad. I hope you have insurance.”

“Um… it’s a rental, so I don’t know,” Rhia said.

“You’ll be fine. I’m sure it’s covered,” said Anna.

“Anna, what is going on?” Rhia’s mind was still a mass of chaos.

“Well, to put it simply, that was a katyusha rocket that hit your car. Lebanon started shelling Haifa a week ago. Apparently, they’ve decided to move to an inland target.”

“But… why? I mean, that was a… a missile. They’re shooting at us!”

“Well, what did you expect?” said the teenage boy. “It’s a war. It’s life.” He grunted in disgust at her ignorance, rolled over, and closed his eyes again. Another boom sounded in the distance.

“Don’t listen to Simon. He’s just a little worried about his dad up in Haifa. Give it a few hours and we’ll go assess the damage to your car. I’m sure you can get another one at the local dealership.” Rhia couldn’t fathom Anna’s calm.

“But…”

“He right though,” said the elderly lady. She came over and sat by Rhia. “For us, this is life.” Anna was nodding in agreement. “War, shelling, refugees. It’s something we choose to accept in order to live in this land. We pray that our lives will be spared and those of our loved ones. But tomorrow is another day, and then another. Life goes on, and so do we.”

Rhia forced a smile as the woman patted her hand and then moved back to sit with her husband. She watched the grandmother lay her head on his shoulder. The tender moment seemed out of place in Rhia’s mind.

“Rhia? Are you okay?” asked Anna, putting a hand on Rhia’s arm.

“No.” Rhia pulled away. “I just don’t understand!” Anna sighed.

“This land is home. No matter what comes, good or bad, we stay. Our hearts are here, but it’s more than that. We share our souls with this land. It is a part of us, and no amount of terrorism can keep us from ourselves. We need Israel and she needs us.”

Rhia turned away and pulled her knees to her chest. She thought about Anna’s words. She couldn’t understand. She never felt at home anywhere. Yet Anna’s simple faith touched her. She felt peace moving into her heart.

A bomb landed nearby, shattering her growing calm. Rhia gasped and closed her eyes tightly.  No way will I accept this as “normal”. What is wrong with these people? It’s like they don’t know what to be afraid of, or maybe they just don’t know how to be afraid. I’m hopping the next plane out of this country. I did not sign up to be blown to bits. She drifted off to sleep, thunder perforating her dreams.

*****

Rhia didn’t end up leaving Tiberias until the next day. It hadn’t been too difficult to get another rental car, but she did have a hard time saying goodbye to Anna. She headed down Highway 90, and back into Jerusalem. She found a cafe with a WiFi connection and checked her e-mail. Her parents had written her several times. Apparently they knew about the war going on, and were urging her to come home. Have I really been so self-absorbed and out of touch that I missed the news? It seems everyone else knew. There was even a message from Aunt Effie.

Rhia dear, your parents called, wondering how I could have let you go to Israel with a war on. I told them the truth. We were both ignorant of the fact when you left. That’s what happens to us hermits I guess. 😉 Just kidding. However, I want you to stay safe. Don’t go into the north, since that’s apparently as far as they’re shelling (the news commentator mentioned that they might start shelling a town called Tiberias, so don’t go there). But the most important thing to do is to follow your heart. You know where you need to be and what you need to do. Don’t let anything, or anyone, stand in the way of your dreams. Love, Aunt Effie

Rhia had laughed as she read her aunt’s warning about Tiberias. Too late, Auntie. Yet, her aunt’s e-mail had reminded her of what she felt that first morning overlooking the Old City. She shuddered. Of course, who wouldn’t be scared? But was she ready to call it quits and run home? She’d been here only five days. There was a lot she could do and see in two more. She dashed off a quick reply to her parents, assuring them of her safety, and letting them know she wasn’t sure what she would do, but that she would stay in touch. Back at the hotel she was staying in that evening, she looked over the scant notes she had accumulated. A rumpled scrap of paper fell to the floor as she pulled out her laptop. She unfolded the list of places she had wanted to visit. She pulled out another sheet of paper, and started making a new list, focusing on the areas around Jerusalem and the City itself. BYU Jerusalem Center, The Israel Museum, Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Ha’Ofel Archeological Digs, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Temple Mount, Wailing Wall (Tunnels?), Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Garden Tomb… Her emotions were still jumbled. Should she stay? Could she stay?

She reached for the remote and turned on the TV. The first station was CNN. They were reporting on what was happening around her. I really am in the middle of a war zone, she realized. Finally, she remembered having heard bits about the conflict in the Gaza Strip, but wasn’t something always going on there? This bit with Lebanon was really bothering her. As she watched scenes of the bombings and attacks, her unease grew. The station went on to another topic — political rallies in Russia — and Rhia turned off the TV. I’m outta here. She called down to the front desk for an early wake up call, determined to get to the airport and book the first flight home to Salt Lake City the next morning. It was only 6pm, but she was exhausted and quickly fell asleep.

*****

The sun wasn’t up yet when Rhia left the hotel, her luggage in hand. As she got on the highway leading to Tel Aviv, she breathed a sigh of relief. She had made a decision. Yet doubt still cried in her heart. She glanced in her rearview mirror to make a lane change and saw the first rays of the sun peaking over the horizon. Her heart started to pound as she considered all she was leaving behind. If she gave in to her fears now, she knew she would never have the courage to return to this place. She wouldn’t have the information she needed for her story. And she wouldn’t know why she felt so calm that first morning up on the Mount of Olives. Suddenly, she remembered what Aunt Effie had written her: “…Follow your dreams…Don’t let anything, or anyone, stand in the way of your dreams.” And here she was, letting her own fears do that. Her heart was telling her to stay, even while her mind strenuously objected. So maybe she wouldn’t go back to the north, but she knew she still had things to do.

“I’m staying,” she said aloud. Her voice came out slightly tremulous. “I’m not going to run away.” This time she sounded more sure.

She got off at the next exit and turned back toward Jerusalem. Shortly, she was winding her way up the Mount of Olives once more. She found her favorite olive tree and leaned against it, relishing the coolness of the morning air and the beauty of the scene displayed before her.

*****

Johnathan sat alone in the crowd. All around him their peyot danced, the seemingly ridiculous curls of hair that had such significance for their bearers. They prayed and muttered, rocking back and forth. Their heads covered with a variety of colored kipot. Johnathan reached up to straighten his paper cap, the one they had given him at the entrance to the Western Wall area. Symbolism surrounded him. He reached into his bag and pulled out a twig. It was a branch from an olive tree. To Noah of old, it had been a sign of a new beginning — dry land had appeared again, and his new home was soon to be found. For Johnathan, it had a similar meaning. He had found something here in this land. He had found a home.

 

1 Comment

  1. Kylara said,

    28 April, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Hey Corinna I read this short story and I enjoyed the descriptions of Israel. Glad you are making time for your writing. Hope to see you soon.

    Love,
    Kylara


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: