by Francesca Piatek

II - Part Second

"I am preparing to dance, said the devil."

The first time I saw the devil was in the desert thirty-five kilometers north of Shaarm, a multi-national army base. The devil first appeared to me in the form of a huge scorpion but it took on many forms during our brief encounter, some of them insect, some of them human, and once as a desert turkey, which I came to prefer. The roof of meaning, at any rate, had shifted. I am convinced the devil mistook me for someone else.

I was sleeping towards the back of the compound on a covered well which dated from the 7th century...or so the Bedouin said who visited occasionally. The night the devil appeared, I had as usual, before going to sleep, walked around the well three times pouring scorpion poison as I walked. The scorpion poison had a peculiar smell which made breathing difficult and the hot dry air of the desert didn't help and also I don't want to complain, but during the day there was nothing to do except follow the shade the stone buildings threw as the sun moved across a huge sky. It was a hard place to be a guest.

In the hospital 250 kilometers away, daily drills. First the doctors and nurses put on gas masks and then put masks on the hundreds of patients.

I lay on the well, as usual unable to sleep, and watched the headlights of the army trucks as they passed over the sand, and listened to the far off voices of the soldiers as they came up to the fence and asked for water. And then in the bright moonlight I watched as Ruth walked across the compound a rifle in one hand a tin cup in the other, and Asaf, carrying a jug of water on his lap following behind her in his wheelchair, the steel sprockets catching the moonlight, the wheels raising dust as they turned. There was a joke about Ruth floating around the compound, that even if Jesus Christ himself turned up at the fence asking for water after midnight when the gates were locked Ruth would turn him away and let him die of thirst. She was very strict. She had lost two sons. I am convinced the devil mistook me for someone else.

I told the devil the joke about Ruth as we walked east through the darkness. The devil became very interested and asked all sorts of questions about Ruth and Jesus Christ, said it was a very good joke, asked what a joke was, said he was just joking and then totally lost interest saying,

-I already know all that, I don't know much about medicine but I know what I like. We're going dancing.

We went dancing at a nearby settlement. The settlement had been abandoned for several years, but the settlers, when they had hoped to stay, had built for recreation, a concrete slab onto the desert two feet in height. On it was an old beat up jukebox and room to dance. While the slab was still wet, poles had been stuck into the concrete. Wires had been hung between the poles. Suspended from the wires were about five or six Chinese lanterns. They were moving slightly as if in a breeze, and lit, and in their dim light I saw there was a soldier standing on the concrete platform. The devil folded its many arms and legs and lay down in the sand.

-I am preparing to dance, said the devil

-You are a walking misdemeanor, said the devil

-You refuse to negotiate, said the devil

-Where is that mind? asked the devil

-That mind! yelled the devil

-That mind of that petty bureaucrat, the one I left float on the water. Water the colour of sunset, said the devil

-Who could resist, said the devil

-Not I,

-Nicht ich

The soldier moved slowly among the Chinese lanterns. His back was turned towards me but I could see he was swaying slightly and as I drew nearer it turned out he was singing:

ul tefkeh chabibee
kol zeh lo lah netzach
od yechdal haretzach
eem hanitzachon
mah yafeem panecha
ba madeem halalu
ein bachure kamocha
ruv laneetzachon

An Old Hebrew song; written phonetically.

And the jukebox was playing:

Ain't it a shame to work on Monday
ain't it a shame, ain't it a shame.
Ain't it a shame to work on Tuesday
ain't it a shame, ain't it a shame.
Ain't it a shame to work on Wednesday
ain't it a shame, ain't it a shame.

It was strange. Then the devil said,

-You are already possessed by a demon, you have no idea what to be afraid of. I'm almost dancing with you. We'll need plenty of room, and different music.

As the devil spoke, the soldier turned towards the light of one of the Chinese lanterns. I could see his eyes which were green, and his pupils which were not round but jagged, small gold darts circled the iris and entered the pupil where they grew smaller and then disappeared. His pupils had been shattered.

-Comrade, said the devil, you're blind, go home.

And then the devil sighed lying there comfortably in the sand, a deep sigh, it seemed to reach me across a continent, it surfaced from the inside of the earth and moved thickly over the sand like iridescent sludge on water. It was a sigh of relief and a sigh of grief, that of an insomniac the instant before drifting off to sleep, that of a wanderer, who finds himself--herself--once again a guest in someone's heart. The devil sighed and everything vanished.

Everything that is except the darkness and the disintegrating structures of the settlement. The structures left were indecipherable one from the other, but as I wandered through I came across a wall with a bit of thatched roof still attached to it which I recognized as the old community dining hall. From there I knew the way. Soon I reached the compound. I sat outside the fence until sunrise when the gates were unlocked.

That afternoon when some Swedish tourists arrived, their platinum heads shining in the sun, the delirium of their journey and its forgotten intent written all over their faces, I offered them the well to sleep on instead of sleeping on the sand. And I spent the rest of my nights in the remains of an old truck which had driven over a mine long before the compound existed, but whose windshield, steering wheel and front seat remained perfectly intact.