humanity overpowers vegetables
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The Vegetable Butcher
by KJ Hannah Greenberg



Without sour earth, we would lack poppies. Without getting muddy during conflict, similarly, we would, fail to resolve communal wrongdoings. More exactly, without vegetable butchers, we would fail to retain control over any “bindweed” that threatens our “sweet peppers,” our “doorstep flower pots,” and our “side yard gardens.” Sometimes, no matter our efforts and intentions, we lost skirmishes to “zucchini.”


Although Saladin was hobbled, there remained the charitable organization that he founded, whose chief program was an eatery. That soup kitchen intended that its customers dine with self-respect. Namely, clients who could pay for a full meal did so, while clients possessed of fewer resources paid a shekel for the entirety of their courses.


Saladin’s staff regarded the venue not as a charity depot, but as a full service restaurant. New waiters shadowed experienced ones. Cooking jobs were earned by demonstrated competence. There was even a waiting list of volunteers seeking “employment” at his dining hall.


Nonetheless, as Saladin looked at his “scientifically wonderful” control panel, en route to Der Abi Saeed, he sighed. He thought that he had made a permanent loan of his auto to Lyosha, a Russian, whom he had met while studying at Tel Aviv University.


Lyosha had spent his evenings moonlighting as a driving teacher/courier of mysterious packages. While escorting youth in a compact with two sets of brakes, that Russian had left “gifts” in specific Haifa mailboxes. Unfortunately, the Iakhbal’s most recent sting operation had culled him.


Consequently, Saladin’s machine had been impounded until its serial numbers had been traced back to him. Thereafter, Saladin’s aunt and mother had been startled by the police, who had driven Saladin’s sedan back to Abu al-Hija.


Saladin had admitted ownership. Further, he had offered a bribe to the law enforcement officers - he had wanted to separate himself from all of the culpability that could result from his association with Lyosha. Keeping Saladin’s money and their promise, those “honest” constables “lost” all of the paperwork that documented the legal possessor of the felony-enabling car.


Saladin drove his jalopy to Jordan, sold it for a loss, and then returned home to reify his scholarly accolades in political science and international affairs, and to focus on raising consciousness. His family said nothing about the entire, scandalous episode.


Life resumed a patina of normalcy. Saladin supervised the soup kitchen, contributed financially to his intergenerational household, and wrote essays. On social media, he posted rhetoric about Israel not being an apartheid state. He espoused how Arabs living in the Jewish homeland were treated better than Arabs living anywhere else in the world. He also published words about the heinous, global murders of Jews, his cousins, in their houses of worship and in other places. It had occurred to Saladin that if he, an Arab, voiced Zionist sentiments, those sentiments might be heard.


Thus far, though, there were no invitations to appear on talk shows. There were no book deals. So, he earned money by singing backup at weddings and festivities. He’d been playing guitar since he was a boy and the members of his village liked his voice.


In the interim, as well, Saladin spent hours pushing a mop up and down his meal center’s aisles and under its tables. When youngsters ate with their parents, they creatively “decorated” the place’s furniture, floor, and walls.


All the same, Saladin and his staff encouraged the little ones to be their guests; the food that those chjildren ate enabled them to sprout. Eventually, they, too, would contribute to his community when they grew old enough to work at gas stations, at falafel stands, and in all manner of building trades. A much smaller number of those youths might even become medical professionals. Bowl by bowl, hummus and rice can prop up a people.



a line, (a short blue one)



Elsewhere, inside Sourasky Medical Center, a gurney containing Lyosha’s mother, Vera, was rolled to admissions. Whereas the patient’s eyes stayed closed, she could hear the tapping of a clerk’s keyboard.  Vera considered that as long as the medical folk thought her incapable of processing her surroundings, she’d be privy to uncensored information.


Noiselessly, she sighed. A greasy smear of arnica salve clung to her right knee. On the one hand, Vera had been tenacious about coating her skin in hopes of reducing inflammation. On the other hand, acupuncture, which worked better than salve, had kept on being financially out of reach since Vera had preferred using her limited resources to fund the charity cafeteria of her child’s friend, Saladin, and to buy sunglasses for Saladin’s agriculturally-employed patrons, instead of paying for a single session of healing needles for herself.


After so many vials of Vera’s blood had been drawn that their combined measure seemed to be enough to fill a coffee cup, hospital staff maneuvered their “unconscious” patient into a room, whose other occupant was sleeping. Despite the fact that that that other person was holidaying in Dreamland, the room’s television was blasting. Worse, that other patient had fallen asleep on top of the controls. Given that Vera was unwilling to surrender her masquerade to ask an orderly to snatch the television’s regulator, she was stuck listening to a thumping narrative, that is, to a poorly written documentary about Brazil.


Days passed. Although Vera had “regained consciousness,” her doctors were unsure of why her heart rhythms went from normal to irregular and then back again. They held her for observation.



a line, (a short blue one)



On Eid al-Fitr, Saladin joined his family to pray “Farz Namaz” at a neighborhood mosque. Thereafter, he hurried to his lunchroom, where he meant to distribute traditional sweet dishes alongside of a special, celebratory meal.


One by one, his clients entered. Almost all of them were freshly anointed with cologne or perfume. As well, many of them had brought presents for Saladin and his staff, despite the signs prohibiting gift-giving. Sharing on that holiday was important, so Saladin and his helpers looked the other way.


After the last of his guests was seated and served, Saladin took a rare break in the staff room. There, he downloaded Al-Ittihad, the Arab language, communist newspaper. A syndicate kingpin had been arraigned. A handful of underlings, including Saladin’s friend, Lyosha, had been named as informants. However, the vehicle used to perpetrate the wrong-dongs was still being sought.


Saladin wiped away tears. He would never again see his.



a line, (a short blue one)



On Rosh Chodesh Elul, Vera, who was still in the hospital, was awakened by the call of a shofar being sounded at a nearby, Sefardi shul. Spanish Jews and their brethren pray for absolution for the entire month that precedes the Days of Awe. Vera pondered whether or not she, too, ought to exert herself to ask for forgiveness. If the mob didn’t kill Lyosha after his arraignment, he would be jailed.


Vera blamed herself as she had been her son’s lifelong, primary caregiver. Although it had become increasingly difficult to extract that lad from danger, although her offspring continued to be unafraid of the consequences of his deeds, and although he was legally an adult, in spite of everything, she held herself accountable for his transgressions.


On balance, allegedly, Lyosha donated his time and money to aid local Arabs, as well as contributed five hours, per week, at Safari Ramat Gan; he cleaned up after the rhinos. Additionally, he had sworn to Vera that he refused to participate in prostitution rings or in armed robberies. He never aspired to attain the level of Marat Balagula, or Evsei Agron. Merely, he “ran errands,” i.e. he enabled money laundering.


Upon being discharged, Vera called an Uber driver to take her to Saladin’s village. There, she toured the kitchen garden and “spoke” to the goats. She was especially enamored of the wether with the scur on the right side of its head. She noted how Saladin compensated that injured beast with leftover greens from the restaurant’s kitchen.


Saladin had abetted Lyosha by gifting him with four wheels. Yet, that Arab, unlike Lyosha, was not embedded with a Georgian crime family. To boot, that Arab had postponed his professional dreams to help his family, and to improve the general well-being of his village.


Vera put her arms around one of the goats and cried.


The ruminant continued to chew its cud. Guests leaving the eatery stared, momentarily, but said nothing to the light-skinned woman, who was hugging a future meal. On the whole, it was better to be uninvolved in other peoples’ lives. Another season of humanity overpowering “vegetables” had passed.



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