I’m feeling very fortunate. During these busy summer months when finding even ten minutes to sit down and write seems impossible, I’ve been lucky enough to have a fine writer named Shelly become a Facebook friend. Shelly has been wanting to share a story of something that happened while she was traveling–yet she hasn’t wanted to publish it in her usual place. Put differently: this particular bit of writing needs a different audience. That’s where you come in, Gentle Readers. So take a minute to get comfortable, pour yourself a cup of java, and kick back to enjoy Shelly’s story.
Women in white head coverings and long black robes parted from the middle of the road languidly, too involved in their conversations with their walking companions to divert their attention despite the steady forward movement of our tour bus.
“This Druze village is typical of the way the Druze live here in the Jezreel Valley,” our urbane Israeli guide shared. “The Druze are an offshoot of Islam, having broken away in the 14th century, and they have some beliefs that are unique only to them. For instance, you can only be a Druze if your father was a Druze. Men are still the only authority in the families, and they believe in reincarnation. If there’s not an available baby for a recently departed soul to enter, they believe that a soul can find other resting places, even animals, until a newborn is available.”
My teenaged daughter looked at me, raising her eyebrows and distending her mouth in mock horror. I put a finger over my mouth, to suppress any inappropriate levity from the both of us. This was our fourth morning in Israel, and long days and little sleep thinned my usually sturdy social filters.
The bus eased into a parking spot near a small restaurant overlooking a river. “Mom, I think Grandpa would have enjoyed this place. Look- they have all those old men outside,” she said as she tapped the window and gestured towards their group on the steps. “He would have been right in the middle of them, matching them story for story.”
I nodded, even as I shook my head a little. Had it actually happened? Was he really gone, or did I dream it? My father in law, stubborn, prickly, often at odds with his own daughters, had always had a special place for me. I am not a coffee drinker, but he’d always have the blackest of the black coffee ready when we visited, seasoned with a couple of liberal dashes of Tabasco, the whole concoction his favorite daytime drink. Although I never drank it, he would set the cup down in front of me at the kitchen table as we all pulled up chairs and say loudly, “Drink! It’ll put hair on your face!”
His sudden passing two weeks before we left for Israel was still surreal. The guide’s instructions interrupted my thoughts. “We’ll have an hour for lunch, or shopping, whichever you prefer, but we have a tight schedule, so don’t be late!”
I pulled my purse onto my shoulder as we filed down the bus stairs. I grabbed my daughter’s arm on a whim and said, “I don’t think I’m going to eat lunch. I just can’t take more falafel right now. You go ahead with your friends and I’m going to wander into a couple of these little shops.”
“Ummm, ok,” she shrugged. “Meet you back at the bus?”
“Yes- right on time,” I assured her. “See you in a little bit.”
I wandered into the closest shop and aimlessly moved from rack to rack, touching the silky scarves and even hefting a few of the colorful purses, but none held my interest. My thoughts were still entangled with my father in law’s passing and the guilt I felt about not visiting him for several weeks before he was gone. I resolved to do better by our other relatives when we returned home.
I continued down the street until I neared the group of elderly men my daughter had pointed out from the bus. The smoke from their unfiltered cigarettes and their hearty laughter masked a small, dark storefront, possibly a grocery store. I squeezed past them, interested to see what a Druze market held.
My eyes worked to adjust from the dazzling sunlight to the windowless, shadowy interior. A young Druze woman, in the standard black robe and white head covering briefly glanced at me, looked back at the clerk she was talking with, and then swung her head back to me again. “Ah, there you are. Welcome!” she said in heavily accented English. “Are you thirsty?”
“Uhh, well, I would like to buy a Diet Coke,” I explained, having already spotted them in a cooler near the door.
“No, no. Here, we family. Come, come, sit.” She gestured to a small table at the back of the store. “I’ve got coffee ready, our good, black Arabic coffee. None blacker anywhere!”
I clutched my purse tighter to me and looked back to the front door. “Oh, uh, thank you,” I stammered. “I’m not a coffee drinker. Never have been. I do appreciate it. I really need to get back to my bus, though.”
“No, no, just a little visit, before you leave. Achmed, bring the coffee!” A small boy about seven, thin legged and wearing red shorts, came in shyly with a cup of coffee he set on the table.
“Come, come, we’ve been waiting!”
The hair on the back of neck snapped to attention as she reached into her robe. I stepped slowly backwards, my breath caught somewhere in my chest.
“See, see, we have what you Americans like, eh, Stevia?” She held a small container of Stevia. “Coffee is good for you, good, you learn to like it, eh?”
I exhaled in tiny, quiet bursts and shook my head.
She looked at the table. “Achmed, all of it! Go ahead, bring it out, come on!” She looked me in the eye and slowly smiled. “Just like you like it!”
I was already out the front door and bounding down the street to the bus before the bottle of Tabasco Achmed fumbled onto the table had quit spinning.