green leafed tree

Stories No. 91 – Kim Farleigh

Occupation

by Kim Farleigh

Between Ibrahim Qutub’s olive, almond and fig trees, whitish, fist-sized rocks covered his grove’s ochre soil. His sheep chewed white stalks that rose between the rocks, musical mastication, within a leaf-roof auditorium, enriching the peace-laden silence with nature’s seductive rhythms. 

The photographic-positive impression of white against dark ochre increased when the sunlit straw glowed like filaments, the sheep’s golden eyes shining like the straw, both shining as if to attract each other, mutual attraction enhancing the grove’s harmony. 

The olive-tree branches contained buds that grew to sustain life. The branches’ shining leaves, with their horizontal, dark-replica shadows in symmetrical balance, suggested perfect harmony, obliterating the need for alterations. 

The blue in the boughs’ gaps resembled sapphire cut smooth and placed over that harmony, like a final touch to a masterpiece of peace. 

Standing on a ladder, Ibrahim shook an almond-tree branch, almonds falling upon the green tarpaulin he had placed under the tree to catch the falling nuts. Afterwards, he rolled up the tarpaulin and placed it in a saddle bag on his donkey’s back. 

He took a shovel from the saddle bag and dug a hole. The olive-tree sapling he placed into the hole shone as if the tree had been switched on by the electromagnetic grace of nature.   

Fizzing stirred in Ibrahim’s temples when military vehicles approached down a chalk road that led to a new settlement that sat on a hill beside a battleship-grey, concrete lookout tower. Sunlight, flashing across approaching windscreens, like muzzles releasing fire, resembled ferocious thoughts ripping through glass to supernova with savage lucidity. Dust, flying up from the vehicles’ tyres, became illuminated clouds of iridescence, the steel beasts inside those clouds driving that muzzle-flashing on. 

Ibrahim’s identity shrunk before that nearing steel’s primeval amorality, consumption his sheep’s only concern, their wool ringed by radiance as their lips kissed the earth. 

The vehicles parked beside the hamlet where Ibrahim left his sheep each night. A cellular-granite wall enclosed the hamlet, those Palestinian walls matching the land’s contours, the hamlet, like a magmatic uprising born from the vastness of agricultural time, decorated with green shutters. 

Against the hamlet’s natural strength, the military vehicles’ reptilian indifference reminded Ibrahim of carnivorous spiders. Amid the bestial creatures was a bulldozer with two-metre-high tyres. Its driver, invisible behind bullet-proof glass, destroyed with anonymity.

Pain pierced Ibrahim’s intestines. His heart pounded. Rights only being theoretical struck like a chilly wind. The hope that justice exists disappeared before that steel, whose round, glass eyes glared coldly in the heat.

One of the vehicles’ rear doors opened with a metallic sweraaack. Surprise: an erudite-looking person, the unit’s captain, emerged from that thing, difficult to believe he could have occupied that hide from which gun barrels protruded through holes ringed with rubber.

The captain said: “Sorry. We have to do it.”

“Why?” Ibrahim asked. “I don’t bother anyone.”

The captain’s black-framed glasses matched his curly, black hair that sat under a helmet whose magnitude made his neck look thin. His brown eyes’ contrasted with the menace created by the steel he represented.  

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s because of the settlement.”

“There’s nothing around here. It’s ridiculous.”

“I agree, but….”

“Disobey orders!”

“I did yesterday; but the settlers know my commanding officer.”

Ibrahim’s epicentre eyes beamed amid shockwave lines. 

“I’ve put all my money into this,” he yelled. “Everything! Thirty years of work!”

The captain studied the ground, his probity challenged by idiotic orders.

“Sorry,” he said. “You can’t know how sorry I feel.”

“You hate these people, too,” Ibrahim said. “Everyone hates them. They’re insane!”

Avoiding further comment, the captain turned around. Ibrahim grabbed the captain’s right arm and said: “I planted the fig trees a year ago. They’ve only just started producing fruit–just last week—“

The captain, pulling his arm away, strode towards the vehicles. It was like finishing a relationship with someone whose feelings you don’t want to hurt, but much worse because this was a life’s destruction, no emotional regeneration possible and the captain knew it.

Two soldiers passed the captain to stop Ibrahim from approaching the vehicles. They pointed their guns at the old farmer, who screamed: “It’s ridiculous! You know it is!”

Ibrahim’s voice ricocheted through the valley that the new settlement stood above at the end of the white-chalk road that shone like bone inlaid into a creature that time had moulded into lovely shapes that were now being disturbed by the fantastic perceptions of history that the settlers had brought with them from elsewhere. The granite walls, following the land’s contours, like extensions of the land itself, were being rearranged by a dream of possession so surreal that battleship-grey observation towers, bulldozers and bullets were needed to sustain that dream’s injustices–a dream of eternal recompense built on murder and robbery. And the captain detested it. He had enlisted to defend his country. But where were his country’s borders? Can you defend a country whose borders expand unjustifiably?

“Jesus!” he muttered, the bulldozer’s engines revving while entering the grove. 

“Because of those freaks up there,” he added. 

The two teenage soldiers who heard him looked as sheepish as the sheep. They just wanted this day finished so they could consume like the sheep. This wasn’t their problem, they thought.

“I didn’t enlist for this,” the captain said, the bulldozer felling an olive tree, destroying a past and a future, scattering the sheep, Ibrahim falling to his knees and screaming: “Knee-ohhhh!”

His voice cut the captain’s temples like a knife.

“This is happening,” the captain said, “for people who weren’t even born in this country.”

The bulldozer reversed and shunted forward and charged, tree roots, like broken wires, now scattered over the grove, white stones in the ochre soil like bone with blood.

Ibrahim’s mouth froze into a rectangular grimace. Shockwave dimples expanded from his frozen lips, his unearthly howling, like a bird being tormented by a cat, shrieking through the valley, the sheep staring confused, shocked by that monster that roared and revved and reversed and advanced as it destroyed beauty, the captain saying: “No more!”

He had fought in Lebanon in a conflict that at first had made sense; now he understood why rockets had come from Lebanon and Gaza. You didn’t have to be a genius to understand what occupation causes. But it was surprising how stupid people were; and how cynical the manipulators of this were as they made fortunes from robbery. 

Ibrahim’s face touched the land that had been his love and his life. Tears, mixing with the soil on his face, left red-brown streaks upon his shockwave lines of despair. Sobbing cries of disbelief, he clutched the precious soil, tightening his futile grip on what he had lost. The soil fell through his fists like reddish air. He now had no future, just permanent despair, hope crushed by a mechanism that detested anything that detested its racism, Ibrahim’s life destroyed by this thing that could convince itself of anything–absolutely anything–to sustain its dream of omniscient blessing. 

The captain later heard his commanding officer say: “They’re now going to put the wall on the other side of the hamlet. We didn’t need to destroy the grove.”

The commander couldn’t restrain his smile. Big, white teeth glowed in his Afrikaans face. 

“I’m going to the press,” the captain said, “and I don’t care what happens.”

That wiped the smile off that Afrikaans face. One of the commander’s hobbies as a junior officer had been beating up Palestinians at checkpoints.

“A wonderful sport,” he had claimed.

Ibrahim lay in the soil until sunset, his sobs and cries absorbed into the world’s impartial beauty, the world carrying on oblivious, the hamlet’s owner picking him up and saying: “Ibrahim, oh, Ibrahim….What pigs! They have no soul!”

Ibrahim heard a voice and nothing else. The liberated wanderings of his consciousness had been violently halted, his tears mixing with the soil that had given him hope and dignity.

“Thirty years of work,” he howled.


Kim Farleigh has worked for NGO’s in Greece, Kosovo, Iraq, Palestine and Macedonia. He takes risks to get the experience necessary for writing. He also likes painting, art, bullfighting, photography and architecture, which might explain why this Australian lives in Madrid.

Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com.


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