The Olives and the Strangers

Al-Aqsa: The mosque of the rock in Jerusalem

He let his worn-out body keel over onto the cold mattress and placed his hands behind his head before looking up at the ceiling with its flaking paint. A pang of sorrow darted across his eyes. It belonged to the same swarm of tribulations that had already been gnawing at him for quite some time. In order to ascertain the source of his distress, he decided to travel with his mind back to when he was just a child.

He had woken up early that morning. From the moment he stood up, he had felt an evil omen wring his heart. However, at that time, he had chosen to ignore it. Instead, he had gone out into the street; he had been intent on playing with his friends. Yet his feet seemed to be on a strike, unwilling to carry out his commands. He watched the other kids for a while as they ran and laughed. Afterward, he decided to head for the river, which had been talking to him in his dreams lately. He trod heavily as he walked past his friends. His burning eyes shed a tear that he felt rolling down his cold cheek. The gust of wind blowing from the east rendered it livid. He sat down and laid his head on his knees. He did not understand why he felt so sad. On this occasion, he did not amuse himself pondering about why the river flows to the boundless sea, why the birds migrate, or how different cow’s milk tastes in comparison to the milk the townswomen procured. No, this time he did not indulge his wonted reveries. He shut down his brain completely.

Suddenly, a voice inside him told him to return home. He immediately got up and ran as fast as his legs would carry him. Tears were brimming in his eyes. He only slowed down when, upon arrival, he saw the whole town flocking to the doorstep of his house and casting him a glance of sympathy. At that moment, he realized something had happened. He walked toward the entrance and proceeded inside the house with determination. There he found his mother lying in her bed. His sister was bent over her, weeping and screaming her name. His mother looked pale and fragile. Black circles had formed around her eyes. Even though the lack of expression on her face might have suggested otherwise, she was still breathing. The glazed look on her face spelled pain. With her eyes she told him to move closer to her. He followed her instructions. Next she whispered in his ear, “Dear son, please don’t let the olive trees planted by your grandparents fall into the hands of people from outside our family. Preserve the olives of your town.”

Right after stammering out her last wish, his mother set out to the unknown destination. He stood frozen, rooted to the spot. His sister screamed and wailed. With morbid curiosity, the townspeople stormed inside the house. More and more voices started to join the plaintive cry. He, however, remained in his rigid position, unable to move. He did not want to lose sight of his mother. He could still see her whispering her last words to him. The last sequence of events kept playing in his head over and over again while his eyes stayed glued to her.

Suddenly, he felt as if someone had slapped him in the face. He woke up from his deep sleep straightaway. He opened his eyes and realized that he had smashed his face against the wall. The phone was ringing.

“Hey! Where have you been, stranger? Don’t tell me you were still sleeping!”

“Hi! No, no, I am already on my way to meet you.”

“Hurry up then. And don’t forget to bring the rifle!”

“What rifle?”

“My dear friend, you are not even close to setting foot outside. Go wash your face first and then please make an effort to remember that we have to rid our grandparents’ land of the invaders!”


Written by Soumaya Masmoudi.

Choose your own adventure

I learned just lately that green and black olives grow from the same tree. Apparently, the color of the olive is contingent on

a) how ripe it is when picked, in addition to the curing process it undergoes.

b) the proportion of affection towards the familiar to hatred towards the stranger that gets to be used to water the soil of the olive tree it grows from.