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Two loaves of bread and a dozen eggs

I was tossing and turning in my bed, restless. The night was hot and humid and although the windows in my room were wide open, the heat was unbearable. It was the third night in a row that I was unable to fall asleep. It was a little after 1 am. I didn't want to turn on the light and read because I could hardly keep my eyes open. And yet I didn't want to give in to the unpleasant thoughts that haunt me sometimes when insomnia hits, so I turned on the radio.

Most of the stations were broadcasting smooth nightly tunes, but I didn't want to hear music. I wanted to hear long monotonic talk, anything that could help me fall asleep. Eventually I found a station that was broadcasting a talk show where listeners call in and tell stories that relate to a specific subject. I didn't know what the subject was since I joined in late, but I didn't really mind. I was really tired...

A cool pleasant breeze floated into the room and I lied on my back, stretching my body while indulging and inhaling the fresh air. "We have time for one last listener," said the announcer and to my dismay I noticed that the sudden cool air had left me feeling refreshed and awake.

"It all happened many years ago," said the last listener. "I grew up in Haifa, in the early forties, before the State of Israel was established, when the English ruled. Those were happy times. I grew up in a mixed neighborhood, Arabs and Jews. We lived together in peace for generations and generations. I know it sounds a bit unreal but if bad things happened, it never reached our small neighborhood. "
"My best friend at the time was an Arab kid called Jamal. His father owned the only grocery store and Jamal used to help him around the shop. We used to spend hours together. Everyday, until the time Jamal was called to attend to his chores in the grocery and I would have to return home and help my mother with my three younger brothers.
My mother used to send me to the grocery in the after noon every now and then to bring something she forgot to buy in the morning. Jamal and I used to have this code between us. I would ask him - "Can I have two loaves of bread and a dozen eggs, please?" meaning - can you go out and play right now? And he would answer - "Sorry, we only have ten eggs left." meaning he could play, or "We have no eggs left," meaning there was no way he could come out.

"We used this code for years. Mostly when his father wasn't around, anyhow... I know it sounds silly today, but we were only nine years old at the time."

I opened my eyes and stared at the shadows on the wall. It was really pleasant and cool right now and I found myself almost happy for not falling asleep.

"The good times ended in May 1948 when the war started. It all happened so fast that we didn't really understand what was going on. We woke up one morning and saw that everyone had left. The English post was empty, all their trucks and soldiers were gone, and a new blue and white flag flapping at the top of the mast where the British flag used to be just the day before. And our Arab neighbors were gone as well... They simply vanished overnight, leaving everything behind. A few years later my mother told me that she heard that Jamal's family had moved to Lebanon and were living in a refugee camp. I remember her sad eyes when I asked her if I could go and visit Jamal in the refugee camp. "Maybe one day," she sighed and smiled the saddest smile I've ever seen. "Maybe one day..."

I was finishing my third and last year of university when the Six-Day War broke out in June 1967. I had a three-month-old baby boy and eight exams to take, so the war really didn't come at an opportune time for me. I remember sitting, tense, listening to the radio, hoping they wouldn't announce my unit's code. Twelve hours later I found myself in the Sinai Desert, joining my old army buddies. We had no time for preparations. The Egyptians were rapidly advancing north, as their leader, Nasser, promised that their next stop would be Tel Aviv."

"It was the second night when we first came in contact with them. We were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Three Israeli tanks in a small valley in the desert versus a platoon of forty enemy armors. It was brief and terrifying, and the last thing I remembered was a strong explosion and my tank commander yelling, "we're hit, we're hit"...

"I woke up two days later chained to a metal army bed in a small tent. I'll spare you the details of my interrogation and humiliation. I was the only survivor and my captives promised me that I'd deeply regret not dying with the other "Zionist dogs." Although I was in a secluded tent in a far corner of their camp, I could still gather that they were preparing for movement. I could hear the constant buzz of warplanes and the erratic sound of explosions and machine guns. From the little I could hear, I realized that the Israeli forces were moving fast in our direction. The Egyptians were preparing their withdrawal and waiting for further instructions from the commander of the platoon who was expected to arrive at any moment. I knew that pretty soon they'd have to decide what to do with me. I had a very bad feeling. I knew that the odds of them taking me along while quickly withdrawing were slim. I was preparing for the worst when I heard the sound of a Jeep stopping outside my tent. The noises became stronger. Someone was barking commands and I heard footsteps approaching. "So their commander is back..."

Two guards entered the tent. One of them replaced the long metal chains that tied me to the bed with shiny metal handcuffs while the other tore a strip of dirty cloth from the blanket. I was blindfolded and pushed outside the tent. They kicked and pushed me for two more minutes, and then they tied me to a wooden poll leaning against a wall made of sandbags. And then all was silent.

"It took few seconds until reality sank in, until I realized what was going on... I was being executed... this is the end... It's hard to even start to describe the feeling. I don't wish it upon my worst enemy," said the last listener and there was a long pause. I could feel beads of sweat on my forehead although it wasn't hot at all anymore.

"Then I heard the command and the horrible metal sound of gun loading... I knew they were aiming at me and I knew that within two or three seconds it was all going to end. I closed my eyes so tight that my head seem to explode. I was waiting for the terrible blow to come... but nothing happened. Not a sound. I clenched my fists harder and waited. Something was wrong. What the hell were they waiting for?"

"I could sense a presence. Someone was standing close to me now..."

"Can I have two loaves of bread and a dozen eggs, please?" he said...

15 years later, in June 1982, after the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt was signed, I took my first and last trip to Egypt. It wasn't hard to track him. I found the name and address in the Alexandria phone book. Nice, quiet neighborhood that reminded me so much of the same neighborhood where we grew up. It wasn't hard to find the house either. The last one on the street. "He told us a lot about you," said his wife. "He knew that one day you'd try to find him." And so I did... only a month too late... "Allah had mercy on him" she said. "He was very ill..."

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