I climbed the stairs that lead from the Wall to the City of David, way up the hill. On the second landing there’s now a sentry box where a very young, and apparently very bored, Israeli soldier, stood guard. I sat on the wall next to the sentry box, under the shadow of a tree, to roll a cigarette. I had taken off my shawl and my long-sleeved blouse, so I was wearing cutoffs and a tee-shirt.The stairs are a good vantage point: all the people coming and going down on the square can be seen from there; at that moment was filled up with of American tourists.
The soldier looked at me, laid carefully his rifle (maybe it was a rifle, I know nothing about firearms; it was long and black) and begged me for a cigarette. I rolled one for him, and we both sat on the wall, this time watching the stairs – because, after a frantic search through pockets (in his case), and handbag (in mine) we found out none of us had a lighter.
A varied crowd of people climbed up and down the stairs. The soldier and I kept on asking for a lighter, but the anti-tobacco league is widespread.
One of them, a very round, very jolly mullah, in a long black robe and white turban, approached us with a lighter and, after I rolled another cigarette for him, lighted them.
So there we were, a Muslim, a scantily dressed Jewish woman, and an Israeli soldier, talking about how really expensive tobacco is nowadays and smoking our cigarettes.
There was just one religion missing there, and it was coming up the stairs. The young man wore a pair of canvas trousers but was bare-chested; he didn’t, anyway, need a shirt: his chest was virtually covered with crosses, crucifixes and icons of Saint Mary hanging from gold chains.
When he saw us, he stopped right on his tracks, wide eyed.
– “Sinners!”, he shouted, “you will all burn in hell”.
The mullah, the soldier and me looked at each other. It was the mullah the one to answer first.
– “In what way are we sinning, son?”
– “I can see your black souls, sharing marijuana with the Whore of Babylon! God is my witness!”
– “Yeah, I’ve hidden the marijuana inside my gun”, said the soldier, “you can check it if you want”.
– “The soldier is lying”, said the mullah, “I’m the one who has the hashish hidden inside my turban “.
– “Convert to the true religion and forget your false prophets! All your false prophets are burning in Hell, and so you will!”
The Israeli soldier exhaled a puff of smoke and calmly said:
– “What about Moses? Isn’t he a prophet of yours, as well? Is he burning in hell?”
– “And Jesus Christ is a prophet of ours”, said the mullah. “Is he burning in Hell too?
– “The only true salvation is in Christianity! Convert, you sinners! Convert and denounce the evil ways of false prophets! Accept Jesus Christ in your hearts, and spread the Word! Denounce the Whore of Babylon!”
He meant me, of course; the Israeli soldier hardly looked the part, and no sane mind could have imagined the round mullah as a voluptuous belly dancer.
By that time there was a crowd of Muslims, American tourists, passers-by and schoolchildren from a nearby yeshiva watching the scene.
The soldier crushed his cigarette but, shook hands with the mullah, smiled at me, retrieved his gun and told everyone to leave. The mullah crushed carefully his cigarette butt, put it inside his pocket, winked at me, and left. I crushed my cigarette butt, looked around to see where my mates were, and joined them.
– “What was going on?, they asked.
– “We were just having fun”, I answered.
The young man with the crucifixes, after some hesitation, decided to follow the Whore of Babylon, namely me, still shouting.