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Rated: 13+ · Other · Experience · #1570449
Every day, Daniel boards the bus and hopes it won't be blown up.
Every day Daniel sat in the same seat on the bus and held his breath.

         He eyed every passenger who sat down and judged them, critiqued them, and analyzed them. Were they a threat? Were they terrorists? Were they going to be his executioners?

         He gripped his backpack and stared as an elderly man came onto the bus. No threat. He was clearly Jewish. Perhaps originally from Europe or America, as many of the elderly were. No threat, no threat. Daniel relaxed a little.

         His mother had warned him against riding Bus 16, because the original Bus 16 had been blown up the previous year. Everyone had died. Children, mothers, fathers, soldiers, and the Palestinian with the bomb, of course.

         But the new Bus 16, Daniel rationalized, had no greater chance of being blown up than Bus 18 or Bus 20. And Bus 16 came sooner, so Daniel would have a lower chance of getting to his first class late.

         Bus 16 was his only alternative to walking (which was ridiculous—the school was miles away) or taking a public cab (which was expensive). So every day he sat down, and he gripped his backpack, and he prayed silently not to be killed. And he watched every passenger for a possible threat.

         Especially the Arab passengers.

         Like the one that had just walked onto the bus. He was young, maybe eighteen or nineteen—a few years Daniel’s senior. Daniel’s heart began beating faster and faster because that was the most dangerous kind of Arab.

         Young, bitter, repressed, and anxious to defend the honor of his people.

         Daniel’s breath caught in his throat as the Arab boy took a seat near the middle of the bus. In his lap was a package. The bus driver closed the door and the vehicle began moving again down the bumpy road, headed towards town.

         Daniel knew the statistics. He knew that most busses that were blown up were blown up in very public places, like the middle of town, and he also knew that it had been almost thirteen months since the last Bus 16 had seen its fiery death. Jerusalem was due for another one.

         Please, God, he prayed silently, careful not to move his lips but rocking slightly, in the customary tradition of his ancestry. He was to keep moving, like a candle, while addressing God. Silently, he begged for mercy. He promised to go to temple every Sabbath, to dine with his family for every Shabbat dinner, to respect the Rabbis and to not pick on the girls at school and to visit the holy cites more than once every few years…He would do anything, he swore, as long as he survived this bus ride.

         They made it to town.

         The Arab boy’s head turned slightly, and his hands came to rest atop his package. Daniel caught the eye of the bus driver, who looked suspicious, also. And then he caught the eye of the Arab boy, and in that moment, Daniel’s world seemed to cease obeying the laws of time.

         The Arab’s dark eyes met Daniel’s, and they narrowed slightly. The corner of his lips turned up just slightly, as if in confused inquisition. It was as if he wanted to know why Daniel was staring. Daniel’s expression was stony, unchanging, but his heart beat so fast beneath his ribs that his ears trembled with the pulsations. He shook his head, but only slightly, as if in a desperate plea.

         Please, he silently begged. Please do not kill us.

         The bus rumbled towards the center of town and the Arab boy raised his eyebrows. He licked his lips and shifted his position in his seat. Daniel stiffened and tried to keep his trembling unnoticeable.

         The bus was nearly full, but in that minute there was only Daniel and the Arab boy—Jew and Muslim, frozen in time, both caught with a choice, both sitting on the same bus in the same town. Life and death, the control to end and the control to avoid, and a long and tumultuous history to dictate the inevitable decision. An agonizing, pulsating, irrevocably relevant decision that would have to be made, and would see consequences, would see repercussions…

         Please! Daniel silently begged, feeling tears of anticipation and blind fear pricking the back of his eyes. This was how his grandfather must have felt, he thought fleetingly, as he knelt before the feet of a merciless German. This was how the insect must feel, as it stood caught and paralyzed in the hungry spider’s web. This was how the soldier felt after firing his last bullet, how the beggar felt after spending his last coin, how the original Israelites had felt before the looming sea had been parted in a miracle unseen by any but the only one who could change everything. Daniel closed his eyes, searched his mind for God, held his breath.

         They reached the middle of town.

         The Arab boy frowned as he studied his Jewish counterpart and his hands shifted so that the package in his lap sat vertically. Quietly, perhaps aware, perhaps unaware, of the dozens of eyes now on him, he united the strings.

         “STOP THE BUS!”

         “HE’S GOT A BOMB!”


         Awkwardly, precariously, the bus driver halted his vehicle and the doors opened and the passengers fled, the aisle flooded with desperate women and men and children as they scrambled for the door, for an exit from what they knew was about to be a flaming prison. A gas chamber of smoke.

         Daniel flew past the Arab boy, who was the only one who remained seated. He saw him pull the final string, saw how wide his eyes were, saw how his mouth gaped as if stunned. And then he jumped out of the door and ran blindingly fast away from the bus. Israelis in town who knew these signs also bolted, and soon there was no one around the bus except for the Defense Force soldiers who stood, guns at the ready, commanding the Arab boy to leave the bus. Daniel watched, cringing, from what he knew was a safe distance.

         Thank you, God! he prayed silently, running a hand down his face and clutching his backpack as if it was the reason he was not dead.

         Everyone stared at the steps leading off the bus. They were waiting for the Arab boy to either go through with his failed plan and commit a martyred suicide, or to turn himself in. Nobody expected him to do the latter.

         But to the shock of those watching, the Arab boy slowly stepped off of the bus, one hand in the air. The other clutched the package, and he set it down on the ground and raised his other hand. The soldiers cautiously reached for the package, tearing it open with practiced hands.

         One of them cried out. “What!” he shouted. “This is no bomb—look!” He held up the package.

         Hommous. Recently purchased and wrapped in a small box so that it would not spill. No bomb. Hommous.

         Daniel felt his knees go weak and he grabbed a wall for support. Cold relief filled him and an odd combination of shock and guilt and happiness.

         The Arab boy looked at the faces of the Israelis who stared at him, and he opened his mouth to speak quietly. “I was just bringing my father his lunch.”

         And, whether by an act of God or an act of ironic luck, the soldier began to laugh. Joining him were the passengers, the bystanders, the bus driver, and Daniel. It was not funny; this paranoia was not funny, it was tragic, but they couldn’t help it. All that! All that for hommous!

         “Alright,” said the bus driver, shaking his head. “Let’s get going.”

         And, one by one, the passengers all re-boarded the bus.

         And nobody noticed the unattended package left under one of the seats, so high off their relief that they were. The bus continued to drive.


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