Zygmunt Frankel

SHORT STORIES


KHAMSEEN

The esplanade, early afternoon. Autumn.
Heat.
The rains had started on time and then stopped. Khamseen, the hot dry wind from the desert, set in as it sometimes does, for a few days, at this time of the year, and now everything is back to the worst mid-summer can offer.
Whole body wet. Stains of sweat on my shirt. Underpants and socks damp.

Hate cold since I was a teenager in Siberia, hate heat since my army sevice in the desert. Can deal with both; have once navigated, on skis, my way out of a snow blizzard using a cheap pocket compass; and, given a flask of water, could carry a pack and rifle under the desert sun for a whole day; but hate heat and cold all the same. They bring out one's toughness and one's pride in it at the expense of other, more important things.

In the desert, without a bath or shower, one begins to stink after a couple of days: feet, groin, and armpits. That's how Menahem got suspected of masturbating in the wadi behind the camp; went there with a flask of water and a piece of soap to wash his prick and balls. Or maybe he did; who cares. The Bedouin have it tough: flies all over the camp, far between waterholes, and what you draw from them does not always deserve the name of water; sometimes there's a dead sheep at the bottom or something. But we, in the Southern Command of those days, were something of a desert tribe ourselves, and often understood and respected the Bedouin better than we respected and understood our own people in town.

The afternoon is getting hotter all the time. It must have been a package deal: the promised land and, in small print, this heat. When the sun goes down, tourists from the cold north of Europe will crawl out of their hotels along the esplanade to watch it set, huge, red, and flattened by the horizon. Well, they pay through their noses for it, and their poor will live out their allotted span and die without having ever seen such a sunset, or these cloudless, somewhat bleached skies, without having swam in this warm sea and lain on this hot sand. All right, I also love it and never tire of the sunsets. The only thing is that in summer, once this weather has set in, you can read but not write, think but not imagine, fuck but not fall in love. It is the heart's dry season; a summer hibernation of the brain.

Some people bathing in the sea, the only sane or fortunate ones in this town. Can't join them because I am here on business, and have not brought my bathing trunks, and could not leave the briefcase on the beach anyway. Second best: a chair under the awning of an outdoor caf¨ and a cold drink. No beer; this is no weather for alcohol.
The waiter is also sweating.
"A tall glass of lemonade, please. And if you could drop a couple of ice cubes into it..."
"Certainly, sir."
How beautiful, this ice in the lemonade: clinking, cloudy white. The touch of cold glass on the palm of my hand. More sweat after the first few gulps but it doesn't matter.

News on the radio in the corner. Floods in Italy; fifty dead, more expected; mud everywhere; galleries flooded, masterpieces ruined; shortage of drinking water; danger of epidemics.
The heat crawls into the shade and sizzles there in its own juice. Rivulets of sweat where my sunglasses touch my nose, forehead, and ears. Order another glass.
India. Thirty people dead of hunger in the streets.
Mind sluggish.
The sea is shimmering under the heat.
Somewhere across it lies Italy, rainy and flooded. Too far. Can't imagine it in this heat.
India neither; that's even farther away. Can only dimly visualise those cows one is not supposed to harm stepping over the dead bodies in the street. Steaks for so and so many starving people.
When one is this tired, one doesn't care, about others or oneself. Must have been how the Germans killed six million Jews with so little trouble; tired them out first.
Can't think in this heat, can't imagine, can't care much about anything. My pity's and compassion's range in this weather, about a hundred kilometers, maximum. Can only feel sorry for the Bedouin in the desert who can't walk into a caf¨ and order a glass of lemonade with ice in it.

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ę1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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