The cab driver has no change and I will have nothing to give to the soldiers as I walk through. I’ve been through military checkpoints before, but never alone at 3am on xmas eve. I don’t begrudge him the extra, these people have nothing, their children are shot for walking to school and their grandparents cut down picking olives from their orchards at dawn. It’s not the money, it’s the fear manifesting itself as petty rage. I haven’t learned all about my rage yet, that comes later. But I manage to suppress it and I leave the cab and begin walking.
It’s a large one; broad, deserted like a Tesco car park at this hour on a Monday morning. I am carrying two bags, a holdall in my left hand and a daypack worn back to front, across my chest like a papoose so that I can quickly get to my documents. Tucked inside it is a cassette Walkman with the headphone wires stretching out to the buds in my ears, where Johnny Cash is telling me that he saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Booth. I see the two conscripts moving quickly toward me through the light mist, their rifles trained on me at shoulder height, yelling something in warp speed Hebrew. It sounds like German gone bad, with all of its aggression and some consumptive throat-clearing thrown in.
I stop immediately, conscious of how I look, I put down the holdall, stretch out my arms to the sides. I call out ‘Anglit’ as loudly as I think is sensible without actually screaming. As they get closer and see that I am white, their bodies relax and they lower their rifles. I pull the buds out of my ears.
“You are English?” the one on the left asks. He is grinning inanely. He seems stupefied. “God bless the English. God bless Balfour, who gave us this land! I see it all now!”
My eyes roll right to his partner. ‘Acid,’ he whispers to me. ‘Strong acid.’
I look back at conscript A. There are tears in his eyes. “God bless you, man!” he says. “And merry xmas!”
He pulls my face in and kisses me full on the lips. The kiss lasts for two or three seconds and our teeth clash but there are no tongues. Finally he breaks, puts his hand between my shoulder blades and points out the checkpoint exit to me. He gives me a gentle shove. “England,” he sniffles.
From the trailing buds, Johnny has moved on. You can run on for a long time, he says now, but sooner or later god’ll cut you down.