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On the road to Ashod
Short story

By Michael A. Burris
October 23, 2002
The Iranian

Lamika saw the tattered red and white transit bus approaching. If she wanted to, she could have flagged the driver down, but there was a clear line of sight between them making the act unnecessary.

A blue Citroen passed the slowing bus. Lamika looked at the face of the driver. He was in his late thirties, handsome, with contemplative eyes. 'Handsome men desire tall, sexy women, not short unattractive female soldiers,' she thought.

The bus stopped in front of her. It was nearly empty. Lamika got on, moved one third of the way in and found a seat on the right side. She waited for the predictable lunge of the vehicle to carry her toward her destination. Lamika was tired. Her feet ached after hours of non-stop hiking, but they weren't as tired as her spirit.

She had just finished three weeks of military service. This day was her first of seven days off, before returning for another three-week cycle. The process would continue for six months. It was the same for all Israelis when they turned 21. Another process affected everyone regardless of his or her age: the never-ending process of senseless death.

Suicide bombers never took a holiday. Innocent civilians were killed daily. The military response grew harsher after each incident. It encouraged more suicide attacks. The entire cycle saddened her beyond words. She grew tired of being a target.

'It could happen anywhere,' her superiors counseled. 'Be alert!'

'Being alert' however, hadn't helped Moi. Lamika's close friend and division leader, died while leading their company on an assignment in the Golan. Moi didn't see the trip wire that lay before a tunnel. The explosion flung screws and nails in every direction causing a bloody and agonizing death. Two months had passed since that night, but it seemed like yesterday to the young soldier.

Lamika barely focused on the hilly landscape of palm and olive trees. Her trip to Ashdod would take thirty minutes. Her parents would be waiting for her at the bus station. She loved them both, but the idea of spending a week with them gave her a moment of regret. She hated listening to them complain. They complained about how expensive life was in Israel, or how dangerous their neighborhood had become, or how her brother seldom called home, now that he was attending college in Germany. She really wanted to meet a handsome and wealthy foreigner who'd whisk her away to a happier life.

'How wonderful!' she thought. 'To live in a large, seaside home with servants and a luxury car.' She'd have three adoring children, a husband who would buy her anything and take her anywhere she desired, and invitations to all the celebrity parties all over the world. More than anything else, she could live in peace.

To many war-jaded Israelis, peace was the break between subtle stages of war. 'The enemies of our sovereign nation surround us like a blanket,' the more radical Jews would say. But Lamika saw the radicals on both sides as the enemies of Israel. They were destroying the country for the sake of being top dog. The Israelis and Palestinians she knew wanted to live peacefully and forget the fighting and politics.

'Easier said than done.' her father would scoff.

Even on the quietest nights in Jericho or by the Sea of Galilee, the air carried in it an electric tension that could explode into war at any moment.

Lamika refused to analyze her world's incongruent behavior any longer. She wanted to be invited to expensive parties, driven there in long limousines and meet handsome men in black and white tuxedos.

She remembered a photograph of Eric Clapton's house on the cover of one of her father's records: 461 Ocean Boulevard. It was a large, white mansion sitting on an emerald-colored carpet of grass bordering the Pacific Ocean.

'Wouldn't it great to party with movie stars and songwriters?' She wanted them to sing her to sleep every night. She'd be free to go out at night. No curfews. No suicide bombers. No cycle of military duty. Just lots of happy, carefree people.

From the corner of her eye, she saw the Citroen that had passed her earlier. It was parked to her left, but far enough away from its side of the road to raise suspicion. She thought about the handsome man she saw earlier.

'Where was he? Was he a tourist? Did his car fail?' A brief second later, the Citroen exploded.
The blast was so loud that it seemed to reach into the deepest part of the human soul and refuse to let go. The impact shattered the back and left rear windows pitching the bus onto two wheels, before it returned to the ground. A distinct chemical odor flooded the bus. A woman shrieked. Papers and food flew against the right side of the bus.

Instinctively, Lamika reached for her shoulder pistol. Everyone crouched, then dived for the floor. The driver sped-up. She looked out the rear of the bus. She watched the huge plume of black and white smoke begin to dissipate. Nothing seemed to be left of the car. The brunt of the impact missed them, yet the structure of the bus was heavily dented.

Lamika raced toward the front of the bus while everyone else was still dazed.

She reached for the radio set, adjusted the frequency and summoned an alert to her area headquarters. A voice squawked back. She instructed the driver to continue to Ashdod and not to stop for anyone. She surveyed the bus. Her fellow passengers appeared to be three Arabic women and four Israeli men. They began to stand up. She looked at their faces. A few were covered with glass, but no one seemed seriously hurt. She knew they were frightened. An older woman, wearing a Kofia on her head, started to cry. Lamika moved toward her slowly and embraced her.

In fifteen minutes they reached Ashdod, but not before passing an army of emergency and military vehicles heading toward the wreckage. The bus station was packed with cheering people congratulating them on their narrow escape. A doctor raced inside the bus and examined each passenger. A reporter snapped a picture of the driver, then one of Lamika as she wandered into the crowd.

Lamika was distant. Her subconscious was beginning to process the events that had happened to her. 'Lamika!' her mother shouted. 'My baby!' her mother said embracing her tightly.

It took the young woman nearly a minute to make the transition from soldier to daughter. She began to cry. The family of three made there way though the crowds and drove home. Lamika's parents didn't complain about anything.

During that evening, Lamika decided to put her dreams on hold. The events of that day still turned in her mind, but she treasured her conviction not to join the sidelines of hate.

Lamika looked at her parents with affection.

'So what's for dinner?'

'Lobster and lamb!' her mother replied, knowing they were her daughter's favorites.

'They must have cost a fortune!'

'We should have done this more often,' her father said.

The sound of a fighter jet thundered in the distance. Lamika knew her leave would be over, before she realized it. She was grateful for the life she had. She decided to enjoy every minute. Moi would have wanted her to.

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Send an email to Michael A. Burris


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