Mohammad and Me / by Susie Lubell

I met Mohammad about a year ago. Maybe more. It wasn't long after we moved into our house that he showed up claiming to have worked for the previous tenants. A few others showed up and made the same claim. One was a painter. One was a handyman. They all live in neighboring villages and walk into our town every morning through the holes in the fence. Mohammad says he walks right in the front gate because everyone knows him. He's been working here for years. I've even seen him buying cigarettes at our grocery store.

Last year we had him pull out all the weeds in our yard that, over the rainy season, had grown two or three feet high. You could lose a toddler in there. And Mohammad mentioned that snakes like to hide in those tall grasses. 

When can you start?

So he spent three days yanking weeds and trimming trees and generally cleaning up a very overgrown yard. And I learned that employers are meant to provide the gardener with many cups of strong, sweet coffee, in a small glass, no milk. He also showed up in the fall to pick our olives. We paid him in olives.

He works for our neighbors too. Knows everyone by name. He's a hard worker and a sweet man. He speaks a little Hebrew but it's mostly Hebrew words wrapped in Arabic sentences. And he uses a lot of hand gestures like he's telling a campfire tale. I work from home so we chat throughout the day. Yesterday he asked if he could bother me for a little hummus for his lunch. So I put some hummus on a plate along with a sliced tomato in olive oil and two slices of yummy walnut toast we had in the freezer. He was grateful. He apologized for not eating the toast. He has no teeth. I hadn't noticed. 

He's also missing his left eye. Apparently a family member took it out over a money issue. I think he said 70 shekels but that can't be right. It happened eight years ago. And he was supposed to go to court over this matter but the court date was postponed. But he can wait because he's planning his revenge, which means he will take his cousin's eye.

It says that in the Koran, he told me.

Yes, I'm familiar with the passage. We have one like that too in the Torah, I think.

He told me this same family cut his son and then he motioned to his abdomen for which there was some retaliation, though like all of Mohammad's stories, I only caught about 40%.  Mohammad has five sons and five daughters. He married off the last one six months ago. I told him I thought it was crazy to plan revenge for his eye and that the man who did this needs to pay him money and sit in jail for his crime. Because with all due respect to the Koran, an eye for an eye only leads to more violence.

You're a smart girl, he said.

Maybe you can help me plan my revenge. 

I think I saw his good eye wink.

Today I gave him a bag of old toys for his grand kids and he was delighted.  He asked my name.

It's Susie. Like ex-President Mubarak's wife.

He nodded.

Mubarak was taken down, he said.

He has three tons of gold sitting in Tunis but he lost his power. Same will happen to Assad. Maybe not tomorrow. Or next week. But it will happen. The big men always have power and we starve. It won't last.

Then he turned his foot in the dirt he'd just cleared like he was squashing a bug. When he asked if I had any lunch for him today I said we were out of hummus so I would ride up to the grocery store and get some more. He asked if I could get some softer bread too. I smiled. So did he.

Yep. No teeth.