[Read part one.]
We didn’t sleep: just sat and stared or dozed half-awake, surfacing in and out of an aching dry fatigue that completely defeated the will to live, and made rest impossible. Out there, all one could do was be miserable. It made me realize just how awful conditions must have been for the Egyptians, to inspire what came next. Or maybe they just acted under orders. Who knew? I think that they were simply too different from us for me or Sayla or Rami to ever comprehend and besides, who cared anyway? Why must we understand anything? We were soldiers; what our officers called “matches.” That is, one-strike flames that burned up and died. Is it an insult to term a foe that disguises himself as a peace partner and shoots at us, an imperishable mystery? They shot at us, plain and simple.
First came automatic single fire, one round at a time; then short staccato bursts that played the bulletproof searchlight like a deadly xylophone and raked the ground around our truck.
Rami ran cursing to his ditch while Sayla hid behind me and over the radio called in the infractions as they occurred. All I could do, all I was permitted to do, was train the light on them in the hope of blinding their aim. It didn’t work. Is there any easier thing to do in the whole world then take potshots at a moon-sized spotlight on the black target range of a Middle Eastern desert?
The celebration was full on. They fired off everything in their arsenal: flares, RPG, mortars — exploding at distances but on our side of the fence and once or twice right in our midst, which sent us diving. And Sayla, shimmying up to my ear, said in a voice parched with terror: “G-Beat, huh? What are you going to tell your American-Jewish friends about this? What are you going to say? Go ahead, my cutey, explain G-Beat,” and my baffled look sent him into silent convulsions of cheerless mirth.
Eventually, the stress wore me out and I nodded off to the sight of red tracer rounds lobbing through the night air as Sayla’s voice counted “One hundred and twenty one, one hundred twenty two, one hundred twenty three …” like sheep jumping mined electronic border fences.
In the desert, a fly walks on your face with the same proprietary air that you stroll upon the earth. Its tiny legs take your cheek for granted. Your shut eyelid seems like a good place to idle away the time. In fact, it is this sense of a fly’s impunity that stirs the rage that awakens you into parchedness and your own perspiring stench and lets you know that desert morning has come.
As I sat up, I saw Sayla bustling about, preparing for our exit. He shut down the generator and stored away the food and reloaded munitions. He tightened nuts on our rims with a ratchet and kicked the stops out from our tires. Rami hadn’t slept the whole night and came stumbling back through the white heat, his skin pallor a sickly yellow in which several pimples stood out prominently; his red eyes stared out at us, bruised with fatigue. He curled up next to the searchlight and passed out. I slid into the passenger seat. The Egyptians were slumped brown piles around their cold campfire.
“Look!” shouted Sayla “It’s time to pay the piper for last night’s Disneyland.”
An Egyptian jeep dragging behind it a half-mile long yellow dust cloud roared into their camp and before braking to a full stop discharged a steam-pressed officer with a cane-length iron mine probe who laid into the nearest man on the ground with a whack that I could feel all the way back to my side of the border. The howling Egyptian trooper jumped to his feet and received seven — I counted them — bone-breaking blows before the officer turned on the other two culprits. They were both big men, one with a thick black handlebar mustache, and it was oppressive to see them cringing and gibbering frantically as they took their punishment with hands raised piteously in self defense. Beside me, Sayla watched with more compassion than I knew was in him. For once, it wasn’t funny and he wasn’t laughing. “Shit,” he muttered “Shit.”
Next, a truck filled with Egyptian soldiers collected from outposts along the frontier pulled up and the three penitents were driven aboard at the point of the probe, like sheep. The officer looked at us, grinned and waved. We didn’t respond. His face went cold and spinning, he jumped into the jeep and pulled out in a cloud of dust fifty yards tall and rising. As the truck fell in behind, the three soldiers yelled out: “Hey, Yacobi! Yacobi! Beatles! Sergeant Pepper!” and the others also yelled. Then, suddenly, their pants were down, a bunch of them, bare hairy asses hanging out, mooning us with scorn, and they yelled: “Fuck Pepper!” and “Beatle Jew shit!” as the truck vanished into the jeep’s dusty wake.
For a long time we just sat, flies probing our flesh for vital signs.
“G-Beat,” Sayla said matter-of-factly, without a trace of laughter. “How the fuck will you explain it to your American-Jewish friends? To your mother? To your girlfriend? To your best friend? To yourself?”
I shrugged. I shrug.