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I hadn’t known this. I thought he hailed from Jordan. “You must miss Jerusalem,” I said. I know I did. I moved there when I was 17 and stayed 10 years. My family followed me to Israel and still lives there, even after I returned.
He nodded heavily as he expertly moved his electric razor over my son’s head. His eyes grew wistful as he spoke of the gorgeous smell on the Noble Sanctuary, a scent of the hereafter. Meanwhile, tufts of my son’s dark hair fell like sheep’s wool onto the linoleum.
I felt a certain tension between us then, a kind of tribal static. It was clear we both loved the same city, and I’m not talking about Passaic. I still remembered my last day in Jerusalem — after 10 years of dating in the Holy City, it was time to seek my bashert, and a writing degree, in the United States. I’d wept as if someone had ripped out my womb. And what about Waleed? I sensed his pilgrimage visits to Jerusalem were the highlight of his life.
Suddenly I had the uncomfortable feeling that we were two wives devoted to the same husband. What? You love him as much as I do? You make his favorite dishes, iron his shirts, and darn his socks? He gave you the family jewels? But he promised me I was the special one, the real wife, and you were the mere concubine!
I pushed those unhelpful feelings aside, and told him I was working on a novel about a mystical friendship between a rabbi and a devout Arab Muslim. He smiled blankly as though I’d mentioned I’d just picked up my dry cleaning down the block.
“This may sound like a strange question,” I said to Waleed, “but could you tell me about the bathrooms on the Temple Mount?” I explained how my main character cleaned toilets.
“Bathrooms?” he shook his head. “There aren’t any.”
That sounded preposterous. How could there not be?