Things I love about Jerusalem #1

“Extra large?” The shop owner holds up the soft, pink pajamas I’ve brought to the register. “For you?” (He is surprised because I am very small.)

Photo by Princessrica

“No, for my friend’s daughter.”

“Is she fat?” he asks. He uses the word descriptively not as an insult.

(I realize this conversation reminds me of buying meat. I point to the cut I want and ask for half kilo, but the butcher insists on knowing what I’m cooking before he agrees to sell it to me.)

“No, she’s not fat,” I indulge the man’s curiosity. “She’s tiny.” I hold up my pinky finger to indicate that the girl is a stick. It’s true. Her eyes have started to bulge over her sunken cheeks. I tremble slightly and the shop owner notices.

“Why, sister, are you buying an extra large pajama if the girl is small?”

“Her mother told me to buy extra large.”

“Is she tall?”

I hesitate. I image her lying in the pale green hospital gown with the hospital sheet over her bony knees. “I’m not sure,” I confess. “I’ve only seen her lying down.” (This is not exactly true. I met her at her aunt’s wedding some months ago. But there were hundreds of women there, and I don’t remember meeting her. Who knew that she would come to play such a prominent role in my life?)

There is a pause.

“The girl is sick?” he says, compassion flooding his face. I nod. “She’s only eighteen,” I say to fill up the silence pressing on my throat.

“You have done me a favor!” he bursts out, startling me. He puts the extra large pajamas in a bag and slides them across the glass counter. “I try to do good every day, but I don’t always find an opportunity.”

I begin to shake my head, embarrassed by what I think he is saying, but he continues: “Please take these to her. Please do it as a favor to me. Let me do this good thing today.”

“No, I can’t accept that. I came to buy the pajamas. I can pay for them.” I fumble with my purse.

“But you are already doing good for her. You are visiting her, right? And you’re going to take her the pajamas?” He’s practically begging.

“Yes, but…”

“So let me do something good, too. Let these pajamas be from me.”

Our eyes meet and I know how he feels: powerless to make a difference, desperate to contribute something meaningful to this suffering world. I nod and clutch the pajamas to my chest so my emotions won’t spill out onto his tile floor.

Two days later, I’m sitting on the edge of the hospital bed and I ask about the pajamas. The girl’s mom smiles awkwardly. “She’s lost a lot of weight,” she says, having discovered for herself what the rest of us already knew.

“I’ll exchange them,” I say, reaching for the bag that she’s put in a box under the hospital bed.

“It’s too much trouble for you.”

“Please…” I say, “let me do something good. Please?”

And she let me.

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11 thoughts on “Things I love about Jerusalem #1

  1. claudia says:

    Thanks Nora, if only things would change….. and more people would give things to each other, than shooting at each other…
    If you give something to a person, you don’t shoot at him, right?

  2. giselle davidian says:

    beautiful and moving nora – thank you

  3. Rose Sanchez says:

    Beautiful piece.
    Thank you.

    • admin says:

      Thanks to you for reading it and commenting. Sometimes when I write I feel like I’ve put my heart on a piece of paper in a bottle and sent it across the ocean never to be seen or heard from again.

  4. Elaine Hagopian says:

    A great piece which resonates with my own Arab heritage.
    Thanks for writing this.

    • admin says:

      I’m glad you said that, Elaine, because it’s also my experience that Arabs are very generous and happy to give to help another human being. Keeping that spirit of giving in institutional giving is much harder. That’s why most Palestinians, I think, are stuck in a “charity” mentality and are suspicious of organized institutional philanthropy. How can we keep the spirit and yet make it more systematic and sustainable?

  5. Alison says:

    What a lovely piece, Nora.

    • admin says:

      I’m so glad you liked it. Sometimes it’s so hard to decide what I want to share, and sometimes the perfect thing just happens and offers itself to me.

  6. Wendy says:

    Tears in my eyes after this one, Nora!

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