Waiting for the light rail next to the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, It is so hot I can barely think. Everyone I look at is wearing a similar expression, as if the heat is personally afflicting each of us. It is.
Through the haze, I notice two young girls, probably high school students, wearing long, colorfully patterned skirts. They are approaching everyone standing at the station, but they don’t look homeless. I meander towards them, just as they are approaching an elderly woman with frizzy black and grey hair.
“Will you give a shekel lema’an Eretz Yisral, for the sake of the Land of Israel?” One of the girls says. The other holds out a small box.
“What does that mean?” The old woman asks.
“Anahnu mekimim mekomot hadashim,” the second girl says, her voice soft, “We are founding new places.”
“Like in territories? The settlements?” As soon as she says the word settlements, the two girls turn and begin to walk away. But the woman continues, to whomever might be listening (i.e., me). “That’s exactly what’s missing right now. More ‘new places’ for burning attacks to come from.”
Boarding the train, a man approaches me and points at my phone. From his accent in Hebrew, I can tell that his is Arab, and from his diction, I assume he is mentally handicapped.
“How many degrees?” He asks me.
“How hot is it?”
“I heard its 38 degrees [celsius],” says the old woman with salt and pepper hair on her head and anti-settlement fire in her bones.
“I heard 40,” the man says.
I go to check, but my phone just gives me “99.” Still set in Fahrenheit, after all these years.
“One sec,” I say, and google the conversion of 99 Fahrenheit to Celsius. It’s around 38, and I say so.
“Oh,” the man says, “Are you sure its not 40?”
“It could be 40,” I say.
“Did you know its 44 in Arikha?”
“Arikha,” the man says.
I still can’t figure out what place name he is saying.
Another guy on the train, with a head of tight black curls and wearing a tight red shirt, jumps in: “Jericho!” he says, in English.
“Ah, iriha!” I say in Arabic.
“Aiwa, iriha,” The curly-haired man says, “How do you say that in Hebrew?” He asks me, in Hebrew.
I’m blanking. Its the heat. Its the three languages I function in. Its all of these “o”s turned to “a”s, these “ch”s turned to “h”s. “Yericho,” I recall, and say it.
“So, why were you teasing him?” The curly haired man asks me.
“I wasn’t!” I say, in Arabic. “I really couldn’t remember the name in Hebrew.”
“How did you learn Arabic?” He asks me in Arabic.
“College in the US,” I say.
“It’s because you’re a good person,” he says, switching back to Hebrew. His Hebrew is strong and effeminate. “Not a racist. You know, God made everyone, human beings, but some people don’t act like human beings. Right now, I was going to shop in the Bus Station, and the guard gave me such a hard time. Why?”
The train dings: his stop.
“Ma’a a-salameh,” I say, “Go with peace.”
“Allah ma’ak,” he replies, grinning as he steps off of the train, “God be with you.”
I turn back to the man who had originally asked me how hot it was. Now I address him in Arabic.
“44 in Jericho, huh?”
“44!” he smiled, “People aren’t even leaving their houses.”
I say goodbye to him when my stop comes, and we shake hands.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem feels like its boiling over.