It was the holy feast of Pentecost, commonly known in English as the Feast of Weeks, a Jewish holiday that occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (it may fall between May 15 and June 14 on the Gregorian calendar). In the Bible, Shavuot marked the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel (Exodus 34:22). In addition, Orthodox rabbinic traditions teach that the date also marks the revelation of the Torah to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai, which, according to the tradition of Orthodox Judaism, occurred at this date in 1314 BC. It also meant the military Jews had a long weekend and most went home.
At least the camp shop was open and Afarin climbed stiffly out of bed and went to have a look. The shop was only open that morning and closed for the Sabbath and it sold the usual fayre of snacks, darning kits, camouflage face cream and feminine products for the female recruits. She bought some soap flakes to hand wash her clothes, because washing machines weren’t allowed to be used on the Sabbath and a darning kit for the elbow of one of her combat jackets. There was also a set of elasticated trouser twists, to tuck up the bottom of her trousers, which were too long.
Back in her apartment she started to iron her kit, singing along to the songs on the radio, which seemed to be stuck in the noughties. A voice suddenly harmonised with hers singing Beautiful by Christina Aguilera and Afarin looked up in surprise.
“Hello, Heyfa. I thought you’d gone home for Pentecost.”
“That would be a bit difficult because you fucking Arabs have taken up residence there,” but she said it with a smile.
“Oh, well before you ask, I’m not going to do your bloody washing and ironing for you.”
“No. I’ve come to ask you something else.”
Afarin stood the iron on its base, “Ask away.”
“How would you like to come with me to the Sea of Galilee?”
“No, despite you Arabs taking everything, I have a little car with a full tank of gas.”
“Petrol, Heyfa, it’s called Petrol unless you have a diesel car. What’s there?”
” A small, inland sea, ice cream stalls and quiet, deserted beaches. Plus, I thought you’d like to get away from this place for a few hours. Come on, Afarin, after all, have you ever been to the Sea of Galilee before?”
“No, that will be lovely Heyfa. Thank you for asking me.”
“I’ll pick you up outside in thirty minutes.”
“Do we need to bring our weapons?”
“Yes. The army at checkpoints will check you have them.”
True to her word, Heyfa pulled up thirty minutes later in a Toyota Yaris, dusty but mechanically sound. Afarin lugged out her rifle and pistol and some drinks in a daysack. Heyfa handed her a map.
“Navigate would you,” she leaned across and Afarin smelled her hair, which was like herbs. Stop this! “Up on the Route 6 and across on the 77 to Tiberias. We can follow the road round the sea and find somewhere nice.”
The scenery was so much like Southern Europe, likened with Aleppo pine trees. The roads were well metaled with very little traffic, as most citizens were at home with their families. They were now on the 77, past the interchange to Haifa where the toll road ended.
“What’s Haifa like.?”
“It’s a naval base full of sailors, yachts and a couple of nice beaches, but they’re a bit funny about you being topless and the men pester the life out of you.”
“Err, topless?” Afarin said, still very much the product of her Muslim family.
“Yes, topless. When you get your shads out and soak up some vitamin D.”
They skirted Nazareth, the little car eating up the miles and began a slow, gradual descent to the River Jordan and the Sea of Galilee and now the trees were Kermes oaks, short and stunty with very gnarled trunks. To their left were the Golan Heights and hillocks of rugged rocks.
“This is as far as they got in 1973.”
“Far as who got?” Afarin asked.
“The Syrians and then the Israelis pushed them back, over the border and far into their territory, almost as far as Damascus.”
“How do you know this, Heyfa?”
“Because you have to learn about Israeli military history when you join the army. Just over half-a-century so it isn’t too long. My history goes back to the Crusades. I could be related to one of your countrymen.”
“Not unless your family comes from Persia.”
They drove through Tiberius, tracked around the sea and took a small road off to the right, through the trees. The sea was beautifully blue and the sides of the beach were very rocky, as was the ground underfoot in the water. Behind the deserted beach were trees, screening everything from the road and far down on their right, two boys were playing on a windsurfer. They were inexpertly playing because they seemed to be having difficulty pulling the sail and mast out of the water.
Afarin handed Heyfa a can of coke, that was still cool after the one hour fifty minutes journey. Heyfa smiled and took a large gulp from the can and put it on the roof. She covered the rifles and pistols on the back seat with a blanket and locked the car.
“What now?” Afarin asked.
Heyfa looked at her and pulled her t-shirt over her head, “We get naked.”
Afarin was suddenly overcome with shyness, “I don’t know…”
Heyfa dropped her shorts and underwear, kicking them off, “Afarin, you have fought with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. You have done what we will be training to do for real, you beat up Dan. You’re a fighter and you’re scared of skinny dipping in the sea.”
“It’s just that…” She didn’t know what IT was and Heyfa was laughing at her.
All right then, fuck you, Lebanese girl.
Afarin unbuttoned her shirt and got rid of her skirt and briefs. She noticed that Heyfa was staring at her body.
“There, didn’t hurt, did it? Keep your shoes on because it’s rocky underfoot.”
The two of them ran down to the sea’s edge, which was as calm as a millpond, then waded out and dived into the cold water. They came up gasping.
“Why is it so cold?”
“Because it’s fed by the River Jordan.”
Afarin swam out until she was level with the breakwater, then swam back to where Heyfa was doing a gentle backstroke, “You couldn’t stay in too long. It’s bloody cold.”
“But it’s another thing to cross off your bucket list, skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee.”
They heard the background whine of an engine and an Air Force CSAR Sea Stallion, Pave Low helicopter appeared, flying south along the shore. It may have been a routine patrol, but it went into the hover out from where the women were swimming.
“Oh, God. You just can’t get away from it.”
The second loadmaster appeared at the starboard door, while the first watched them through binoculars. All four of the crew started to wave at them.
“Come on, Afarin, let’s wave at the nice men,”
Heyfa was waving up at the helicopter and started to jump up and down in the water. Clearly the aircrew were delighted, fist pumping and high-fiving. One of the loadmasters pointed at Afarin and made an up and down gesture with his arm. Reluctantly she started jumping with Heyfa and one of them produced a camera.
“You realise that we’re going to be crew room pinups, Afarin.”
“I don’t care as long as they piss off before my tits freeze up.”
The Sea Stallion hovered and came lower, inundating the pair with the downdraft of the rotor blades, so they could get a good look at the girls, then they all waved and a loadmaster blew them a kiss. The helicopter stood on its nose and headed off to the south.
“Just think, they’ll be knocking one out tonight, thinking of you.”
Heyfa’s language and lack of inhibitions came as a shock to Afarin, but she was good fun to be around, so different from the woman whose dark eyes seemed to be permanently watching her. Gratefully they waded out of the sea and back at the car, put their clothes back on.
“Perky,” Heyfa said to her, looking at her breasts.
“The cold makes them perky.”
Afarin pulled on her shirt, suddenly mortified and the other woman laughed, “Now where did I put the car keys?” She made a show of looking for them in her shorts and then looked round the car, “I can’t seem to find them. Did I give them to you?”
“No! Oh, Heyfa, what the hell are we going to do.”
“Silly me, here they are,” she said spinning them on her finger.
“For God’s sake, Heyfa. You’re like a big kid.”
She laughed and unlocked the car, “I hope it starts. It can be a bit temperamental.”
Afarin ignored her, realising that Heyfa was in a playful mood. The car backtracked, heading towards Tiberius.
“Heyfa, why are you a Christian in the Israeli Army?”
“I’ve never lived in the Lebanon. My parents fled south along with over nine hundred thousand other people to escape the sectarian killings when the Palestinians moved into the Lebanon, causing the civil war. The influx of Palestinians changed the demography of the country so that it became mainly Muslim. We lived together quite happily, until the Palestinians came and caused war, bloodshed and misery. Wherever they go, they cause conflict and strife.
“I joined the Israeli army to serve a country that gave my family refuge and I think it is the only chance we have to push the Muslims out into Syria. I have no love for the Jews, but I respect them.”
They stopped in Tiberius and went into an ice cream parlour. Afarin felt self-conscious lugging her rifle and sidearm with her, but it was a sight that most Israelis seemed perfectly used to. They sat outside and watched the European boys walk past, ogling them.”
“Why didn’t you visit your parents for Pentecost, Heyfa?”
She stirred her ice cream sundae, “Because they’re dead. Father went first, no discernible illness, it was as though he just didn’t want to live any more. My mother a couple of years later due to cancer. I have no siblings, so I’m alone in the world.”
Afarin put her hand on Heyfa’s, “I’m really sorry to hear that. I too am alone, which was why I do what I do.”
“Why not just get married?”
“Because nobody would want to live with a moody little Muslim, who has all the sexual alure of a bus.”
“I bet a few people like you very much”
Afarin laughed, “Like who?”
“Gad. He’s besotted with you. I can tell these things.”
“He is nice, calm and gentle, but I can’t see him wanting to plough my furrow.”
“I thought you were a watcher. You miss the things going on under your nose.”
They paid the bill and went back to the car. Out of Tiberius and on the toll road, Heyfa looked at her passenger.
“Let’s play a game.”
“Have you heard of fuck, marry, kill? The rules being you can never fuck a person you decide to marry”
“OK. Who starts?”
“I will,” said Heyfa playfully, “Let’s start at the top. Staff Sergeant Hoffman, I’d Marry. What about you?”
“That’s a bit unfair. He does look after us.”
“But fuck or marry, never. Your turn.”
Afarin thought about it, “Dan.”
“God, really? I would have to say kill.”
Afarin thought about this, “Fuck.”
“Marry I guess.”
Heyfa smiled, “You can’t, he’s taken by me. You will have to fuck him.”
“Because he’s waiting for you, watching your every move.”
Afarin had had enough conjecture about her fucking Gad, “Zelig?”
“It would be marry for me. I reckon he would make a good husband. Now, what about the girls, present company excepted.”
“No, Afarin, you’re not getting away with it that easily. We’ll count all the girls.”
“Well I couldn’t marry you, far too unpredictable so it would have to be a fuck. Batya has nice hair so fuck and Frieda, definitely fuck and I would marry Aisha.
“Yes agreed. I’m the same as you, but we’ve missed you out, so it would be fuck without the slightest hesitation.”
Afarin looked at her and she stared back with a strange expression, “Keep your eyes on the road, Heyfa.”
They got back to the camp at about 16:00 and climbed out of the car stiffly, stretching. Afarin’s bruises ached and she felt stiff.
“Thank you, Heyfa. I had a great time apart from being propositioned by the Israeli Air Force from the air.”
“What are you doing for an evening meal, Afarin?”
“I’ll probably go to the mess.”
“Why don’t you break bread with me,” She was amused by her look of panic, “No fish, bird or sheep, purely vegetarian, bread, vegetables, hummus, so you don’t need to worry about the Halal police swooping down on you. Between you and me, I really like a bacon roll. There’s no need to panic, it’s not like eating children and bacon is off the menu tonight.”
Afarin looked unsure.
“Go on. I would love to have you round.”
Afarin smiled shyly and nodded.
“See you at six?”
She went to her apartment and had a long shower to get rid of the salt and tried to get a little present for Heyfa from the camp shop, but it was closed. She went back and changed into a pair of linen trousers with a matching blouse, casual and not overdressed. She walked to Heyfa’s apartment and before she got to the door, she opened it.
“Welcome my Persian Princess.”
Heyfa was wearing a long dress and had beads in her hair. On the table was a bottle of wine and food laid out in dishes. She had been looking at her laptop and smoking,
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“All sorts. I’m naughty like that. Do you?”
“Sometimes,” Afarin admitted.
“Would you like a drink before dinner? Yes, I know you don’t drink, but I have some cans of soda in the fridge.”
“Perfect. Have you been doing some research on the internet?”
Heyfa got a can of diet coke and a glass and gave them to her guest, “Yes I’ve been doing some research and it’s thrown up something very interesting.”
She went an sat down and woke the laptop from snooze. Open on the screen was a Myspace profile. Afarin looked closer.
“That’s Dan’s Myspace page.”
“Yes, it is, Dan Bensaïd, proud of his service to Israel as a paratrooper NCO,” Heyfa went to another page, “And this is or rather was, the love of his life.”
Afarin stared at the girl closely. She was an Arab, although she wore no headdress and Dan had his arm round her. She looked at the girl’s face.
“Bloody hell! That could be me.”
“Do you understand now?”
“Yes. He was punishing her through me for leaving him. The poor sod!” Afarin shook her head.
“Would you kill him or fuck him, now you know?”
“I would fuck him with sympathy.”
“Let’s get something to eat.”
There were pittas, olives, sliced cucumber, fattoush salad and hummus.
“Help yourself,” Heyfa said and poured herself a large glass of red wine. They chatted away like two girls, giggling at silly things and their mishaps during training. Afarin was slightly more guarded than Heyfa, because the nature of her work was classified, but she told her the generalities of her first tour in Afghanistan. They cleared the plates away when they had finished and sat down with Napster as a background for music.
Afarin was horrified when Heyfa rolled a joint and lit it, “Do you want one?”
She shook her head, “Isn’t taking drugs illegal in the Israeli Armed Forces?”
“It’s sort of frowned upon and they test pilots and that, but we would just get a bollocking and some counselling. You’d be astonished at how widespread drugs are.”
“We get dismissed for it in Britain and they hold regular compulsory drugs testing. Could I have a cigarette, please?”
“Help yourself. At least you have one vice.”
Afarin smiled, “More than you’d know.”
They chatted into the night, two women talking about the lives and a shared humanity. At ten-o-clock, Afarin looked at her watch.
“It’s late. I’m sorry to have kept you up for so long. I’d better head back to my gaff.”
Heyfa stood up with her and they embraced, “Good night, Heyfa and thank you for a lovely day.”
“Afarin, I would so very much like you to share my bed tonight. Please stay.”
Afarin knew this was wrong and went against everything that had been in her life prior to this. She was frightened and her worried eyes stared at Heyfa. But she also knew that she would stay as Heyfa kissed her so gently.
“It’s up to you now, my beautiful Persian girl.”
Shads – Informal boobs. Nipples
© Blown Periphery 2022