Kim Farleigh

Sheets, covered in black writing that hadn’t been there the day before, were hanging from the ceiling above the landing at the Balata Refugee Camp’s entrance, which David approached from the main street that ran past the camp.

A seated man beside the entrance observed David. The wall behind the man was covered in dead men’s posters: poster eyes dark in pale poster faces, the doorman’s ebony-hole eyes like a poster’s, his cold expression maintained as David passed him and went inside.

More dead men’s poster-black eyes covered the white walls of the classroom where David had English class. He entered the room. Men seated in rows were whispering. Black-iris eyes, like unbreakable mica dots, stared from the walls, the classroom like a funerary tomb, conversation’s murmur respectfully low.

Black flags attached to timber poles were stacked on a desk under a white-curtained window. The men’s soft hushing voices blended like insect tunes in a forest. The chairs they sat on hadn’t been there the day before.

Yasser Arafat’s photographed smile crowned the room. An eccentric consideration had entered Arafat’s mind as the shutter released. No doubt something exotic, David thought, for the Israelis. The ability to confuse—as a weapon of revenge—was the only arm Arafat had, and he had used it well.

The man David sat beside had black eyebrows, white hair, and a grey-white moustache, three shades together in tolerance. The waiter’s loose shirt puffed out as he bent to offer David a cake from a metal tray. The waiter’s half-moon moustache differed from the region’s straight-line versions. Appropriate, David thought, for the cake’s dates had come from Mesopotamia’s fertile crescent that curved like the waiter’s moustache, genetics reflecting profession.

The white flags held by the men wearing black trousers and white shirts near the desk didn’t symbolise surrender: Those fabrics glowed in the window’s light like hope in the room’s gloom.

David’s morning-mist weariness was clearing, hospitality helping.

Saad approached him and said: “No class today, David. There’s going to be a funeral. Can you follow me, please?”

Saad’s eyebrows resembled isosceles triangles signifying humane logic–his dark eyes penetrating, not judgemental, his left eye slightly bigger than the right. A stroke left him looking permanently amazed.

David’s empty coffee cup was discarded on the metal tray the cakes were on. He felt happy: no work. Selfish wishes freed him from sentimental involvement. All he wanted to do was read, take photographs, speak to people in cafés, and avoid undesirable effort.

Fighters congregated in a hallway linking the classroom with the camp’s offices. In the offices, seated men were staring down, one looking at his stomach, the silence without tranquility. On a desk were posters of two men. The camp’s administration took photographs of all the refugees once a year so that, in the case of sudden, violent death, the faces of the deceased could appear on posters. Jerusalem’s dome in the posters sat above the men’s heads. The dome, symbolising a return to the capital, made David feel sad: difficult illusions in others create forlorn empathy.

“What happened?” he asked.

His voice felt fragile. He feared looking unconcerned.

“A missile through their roof.”

The office resembled a changing room after a traumatic defeat, the hallway conversation dwarfed by a dense cloud of quietude.

“Their sister hasn’t spoken since,” Saad added.

“How old is she?” David asked.