Monday, May 9, 2016

Strays (excerpt)

          Under different circumstances the six of us—Irit, Nomi, Yifat, Tali, Gitit, and me—would be unlikely friends, but our pet was a social adhesive. We’d sit on the floor in our room, evening falling outside the wide open door, the dog running from one girl to another, grabbed for a quick squeeze here and there, giving off screechy baby barks when she got overwhelmed with attention and glee. We didn’t know where she spent her nights, or wandered off during the day while we were caged in the stuffy classroom, being taught even stuffier subjects by Hadas and Dorit, our two instructors who made me think of Laurel and Hardy, only plump Hadas was far shorter than willowy Dorit.

            In spite of their status, our instructors also feared Discipline Officer Shemesh, who grew hungrier for reprimanding and fining outlaws when his hunts went unsuccessful. No wonder he wanted the base’s dogs and pigeons destroyed; the animals would have doubtless received a lesser sentence if they were within his jurisdiction.
            He’d have them line up in threes across the marching yard, un-shoed paws and bony feet against cement, standing at stiff attention. “No shifting feathers, no twitching whiskers,” he’d snap, his eyebrows linked into a dark frown. “Tails and wings neatly tucked under—bird mites and dog fleas form your own line!—now everyone turn to the right, and: Left- Right-Left, Left- Right-Left, Left …”
            Alas, many would soon stray in the wrong direction, the lines would entangle, (not all creatures know their right from their left), the poor bird-mites, too tiny for their own good, would be trampled by the yawning Great Dane mix, three startled pigeons would flap their wings when the brown mongrel would crash into them, the oblivious fleas would bound onward regardless, and puppy—confused by the cries and complaints rising from all direction—would be unable to restrain her wagging tail and screeching yelps.
            She’d keep screwing up—morning drills, and other Rules and Regulations—and with the rapidly accumulating violations, she’d end up in military jail. She’d befriend everyone, even the guards would be enchanted by her irresistible personality, but being restricted to a small cell she’d rebel, I’m certain of that. Decline the food, wouldn’t even march to the dining hall with the rest of the prisoners. And would most likely refuse to learn the structure of the Israeli Air Force. After all, becoming a squadron operations-room sergeant was not her career choice.
            “Won’t you do your shoes?” her cellmate would ask, brush in hand.
            “Not today,” she’d reply. “The rule is, shoe polishing tomorrow and yesterday, but never today.” And she’d rebury her head in her book while the other inmates would keep fussing with that pongy black polishing-paste—purchased with their measly military wage—shining shoes they’d never be caught wearing in civilian life.
            On the way to the drill plaza, an island of concrete slabs set in the middle of the sand, stood a lone fire hydrant, dribbling from the mouth. A few water drops smeared on the Goldas gave the same fantastic impression as hours of shining. Officer Shemesh was fooled by the effect each time. His hawkish eyes failed to detect her sham polish amid the shimmers.
            But by the time theses clumsies—named after Golda Meir’s favourite orthopaedic footwear back in the day—would dry and regain their usual drabness, they’d be in deep sleep under my bunk until the following day, and my relived feet luxuriated in sandals as I was yawing in class, half listening to Hadas reiterating the types of Air Force squadrons: combat, choppers, and transportation. “In a descending order of prestige,” she added laughingly.
            Not that it mattered much, but I wondered where I’d end up at the end of this two-month course; I was eager to bid everyone goodbye, and move on.

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