Seasonally underdressed and being miscarried my own existence, I board a bullet- proof bus to Judea and Samaria to excavate my karmic lesions and pour acid upon my past-life reflux.I am sharing the journey with a sect of doctrinal Hebrews decked out in black- hatted piety and head-scarves, with identikit expressions and an amalgamate faith that cut its teeth on Adolph Hitler. Given that I am adhering to no discernible dress- code, apart from H&M’s latest land-fill, I am a conspicuous anomaly amongst all this duty who smells of misfit and is suspiciously dissected through stolen glances, as if the laxity of my secularism were contagious.
The night before I dream of locusts.
Where sleep should have been, a strange civil- war of images de-fragged my psyche with a symbolism feared by the prophets and a familiarity known only to the damned. As the cinema of portents screened, in epileptic sprints behind my eyelids, my body paddled its way through a peri-menopausal lather, relieved only by flinging the rented duvet to my feet and defiantly staring down the darkness. In a pretence of Airbnb intimacy, an occasional, novice,”I’m not your boyfriend”, narcissist snored mildly by my side, reminding me not to sculpt soul-mates out of strangers and that there is no hedonistic short-cut to happiness.. When I finally arose to take possession of the day, it was to Jaffa’s five am call to prayer endured with all the enthusiasm of a death-row inmate living out a miscarriage of justice.
Aided by google maps and a sub-conscious under its own authority, I take the first of three buses to Jerusalem, the geographical G-spot of the Middle East. The first two rides are a nondescript respite as the feeble lighting of dawn’s promised vamp and neglected fatigue, force me into “low power mode” and, like a Pentecostal virgin in the face of temptation, I am saving myself for later. The only noteworthy mention is an encounter with the recurring theme of the underpaid, Tel Aviv bus-driver, whose Israeli Aspergers etiquette and auto-pilot ambivalence leaves me several miles away from where I am meant to be at 6.15 am…exhausted…lost…alone and chasing intensity in lieu of love.
After an uncivil sprint to the central station, the ride to Jerusalem itself takes place on a bus with two Fillipino live-ins, several dozen juvenile soldiers, their machine guns and a mail order Haredi in bifocals. She sits next to me, politely seated behind her black-hatted other half, staring, with militant myopia and inbred intent at my nose ring, making me grateful, in this moment, that I am not tattooed. There is a benign smattering of acne down the left side of her chin revealing the remnants of a girlhood, robbed, and she gestures, frequently, to her boy- husband in front of her, as though he is evidence of her providence.
The advertised public WiFi has been hijacked by a military radar, which forces the girl and I into an approximated conversation of sorts, truncated by mis-matched vernaculars and imbalanced by destinies so different, it appears that only a miracle could have gotten us to meet in the middle…on this bus…in the now.
In spite of this unevenness, we are curious about each other, with each representing a forbidden so estranged from our imaginations, that we are left in a communicative clearing of nothingness to try and work it out.
She channels the dead rebbe as she mutters personal parables with the words “Baruch Hashem” in them. I understand little of what she is saying, so respond with short squinted mono-syllables, politely pretending that I do. There is an un-skeptical simpatico rising between us that makes a mockery of language and its inadequacy and this unexpectedness sees us giggling in unison between acts of our “tower of babel” pantomime. As we travel closer to the city, she points intermittently out the window to the trilateral trigger- warnings serving as sign posts, on our way.
As the bus lurches towards the city, the girl and I fall into a mutual, pre-programmed quiet, bathing in a shared epigenetic backwash that saturates us into a respectful silence. From behind the double-glazed vista out my window I see the beginnings of the Bible and the dome of the Al’Aqsa eyesore beckoning the eclectic busload into the pages of the old testament under the voodoo of Jerusalem’s neurotransmitters.
So here we are…
And there she is…
Jerusalem of Gold.
The tough love mecca of the Jew.
Herod’s hallucinogen of choice.
A certainty upon my soul, calculated, like mathematics, into the bone structure, of my being. A familial reference point, so explicit in my existence that the first thing she does as I step off the bus is take my “non-practising” status and wipe her dolomite stones with it’s attempted autonomy.
As an overture to her divergence in a desert, Jerusalem’s periphery boasts trees in conspicuous spaces and knolls with grass and working sewerage. Her suburbs range from over-populated, pro-forma commissions impregnated with the pregnant, to medieval enclaves of learned Tzaddiks and market- place thoroughfares filled with native dilettantes whose body language demonstrates their pedigrees. In amongst this uneasy bohemia you will find the occasional, and I mean occasional, digital twenty -something, wearing the internet in an impotent attempt to imbue Tel Aviv’s modernity upon an anachronistic, analogue population.
Her streets bear a sobriety and cleanliness, a polish in parts, discriminating them from the rest of the country’s grubbiness and making it perfectly clear who is the favoured child. The ultra-orthodox sections come with billboard injunctions warning explicitly against immodesty, cautioning tourists that women can still get stoned for exposing an elbow or collarbone. There is an unspoken but practised segregation on some public transport with women and their long-sleeved, thick-stockinged, girl- children being demoted to sit “in the back of the bus” and assume EVERY SINGLE UNFAIR connotation that those words blaspheme.
There is a palpable hostility emanating from Al-Husseini’s Arab sub-divisions that warns of an unseen demonic charge ready to ignite through human animation and adrenalised by an Islam that is losing this war. The eternally contested debate known as the “old city” is a simultaneously venerated and cursed geometric riddle, concealing within the mortar of its walls, the solution to humanities current evolutionary hiatus along with the cellular memories of the syphilitic, the apparitions of the insane and the ball-point prayers of the believers.The window display along the steps to the Temple Mount and back again and around and to the right and then the left and steeply up and sharply down are icon laden, flag infested, Roman sandled stalls, shared by merchants of all faiths and creeds, perhaps even atheists, spruiking conveyor- belt pieces of mainland China and proving that profit takes precedence over persuasion.