Little House on the West Bank

Kevin Knight

 

Chapter 1.  Heading Out

 

It was some years ago when Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their New England home.  They packed up and never saw that town again.  They were going to be settlers in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.

 

Pa said it had gotten too crowded in town, and truthfully, Laura had often begun to hear shots from guns that weren't Pa's gun.  In the cold evenings, Pa talked to Ma about the sun-baked hills and valleys of the Occupied Territories.  One evening he told Ma, "Caroline, it's time we should be moving on.  I fetched a good price on this house yesterday, and I've got us tickets to leave in the morning."

 

"Can't we wait another season, Charles?" said Ma.

 

"No," said Pa.

 

So Mary and Laura packed their own suitcases full with clothes and one toy each, and Ma quickly packed up the rest of the house.  Pa packed his rifle and his harmonica, and he assembled all the bags in the back of the station wagon.  As the sun rose, Pa started the engine and Laura waved good-bye to her aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents.  Everyone wished them a safe trip.

 

It was a long drive to the airport, and Pa told many stories about the animals and plants of the West Bank, and about the Arabs.

 

"Will we see real Arabs?" asked Laura.

 

"I expect so," said Pa.

 

As the airplane rose in the sky, Laura saw the town getting smaller and smaller, until it was gone.  A flight attendant came by and asked if anyone wanted anything to drink.

 

"No ma'am," said Pa.  "We've brought our own."  He pulled out three juice boxes and handed them around.  Laura and Mary squealed with delight.  Pa put a straw up to baby Carrie's lips, but of course she didn't know how to suck from it.

 

"I declare," said Ma.

 

Laura fell asleep.  When she woke up, they were in Atlanta, and it was crowded.  It seemed to her that everyone in the world was moving to the West Bank, but Pa said most of the people were just connecting to Jacksonville on Delta.  Ma held the tickets as Pa carefully shifted the baggage from the claim area to customs.

 

Laura said, "When are we going to get there?"

 

"Laura…" said Ma, sternly.

 

Mary and Laura both squatted against the wall and put her hands on their knees.

 

The next plane ride was longer than the first.  Some hours in, a man began shouting.  Ma looked worried.  At first, Pa said it was nothing.  Then he and some of the other men went over to see what was happening.  Pa came back and said that the man had had too many spirits.  When Laura her the word "spirits," she thought of ghosts.

 

"Just occurred to me…" said Pa.  "That could've been a hijacker, making all that racket."

 

"It occurred to me awhile back," said Ma, gently.

 

"If it had been, we'd be a nosedive by now, and they might have--"

 

"Charles," said Ma, "you're scaring the little ones."

 

Pa put Laura's head in his lap and stroked her hair while she looked up at him, her legs stretched out across Ma's lap, under Baby Carrie, with her feet on top of Mary's body, who was sleeping against the bulkhead.

 

"We're on our way, Laura," said Pa.  "We're halfway across the ocean.  What you think about us heading out to the untamed Occupied Territories?" 

 

Laura said, "It's good," and she closed her eyes.

 

 

Chapter 2. Connecting in Frankfurt

 

Baby Carrie threw up twice, and Mary threw up once.  Laura changed clothes after that, because some of the vomit had got on her.  Pa started to work the word puzzle in the back of the magazine, but he quit and said, "They make them too easy."

 

They finally arrived in Frankfurt, which Pa said was a town in Germany.  Laura asked if Germany was in the Occupied Territories.  Pa laughed and said it used to be occupied territory, back after the big war.  But no, there was still much traveling ahead.

 

They got off the plane, Pa and Ma and Laura and Mary and Baby Carrie, and Pa began searching for where to go next.  Laura could see long hallways to the left and right.

 

"Could be either way," Pa told Ma.  "I'd say to the left.  What do you say, Caroline?"

 

"You know best," said Ma.

 

They turned and walked.  Suddenly, a great mass of men in suits came down the hall towards them.  The men were not polite, Laura saw right away.  Soon Laura and Mary were separated from Pa and Ma.

 

"Help!" they shouted.

 

Pa had often talked about being late for the flight, and Laura worried that he would decide to press on without her.  She began to cry, even though she knew it was shameful to cry.  Mary told her to stop crying, but when Laura told her why she was crying, Mary also start to sob.

 

The next thing they knew, Pa had swept them up and put one girl on each shoulder, and he shouted, "Caroline, get their bags!"  Ma did this, although it was not easy with the baby.  Laura was high up now.  She looked down on a sea of bobbing heads.  When they got clear, Pa spoke.

 

"You girls have got to stay close.  If we miss this flight, there won't be another one for two days."

 

A voice came from the speaker far above them.  Laura couldn’t understand it, but it sounded like, "Ingalls!  Ingalls, berichten Sie Ihren Bestimmungsort sofort!"  Laura thought the voices were punishing her, but Pa said no, they had just better get to Gate 61 very quickly. 

 

Mary told Ma she was hungry.

 

Ma said, "Charles, we have to get some food."

 

"Let's get to the gate, Caroline.  If there's food near there, we can get it then." 

 

But there wasn't.

 

 

Chapter 3.  Making Camp

 

"This is it, girls," Pa announced as they all passed security.  Outside, the sun beat down on them.  They walked and walked, Laura carrying her own bag, and Mary carrying her own bag.  After some time, Pa got out a map.

 

"Wait here a minute," he said.

 

Pa walked down the road a ways, and Laura saw him talking to a man with a camel.  After they talked for half an hour, Pa pulled out his wallet and came back with the camel.

 

"Nice man," said Pa.

 

"Was that an Arab?" said Laura.

 

"Sure was," said Pa.  "Now, we've got a big journey ahead of us, so let's get started."  Pa packed the camel.  Laura noticed the camel had blinders on, so as not to be distracted by the cars and planes flying all around.

 

Laura named the camel Copper.  Pa let her ride sometimes, when Ma was holding Baby Carrie, but mostly the older girls walked, just like Ma and Pa, and Baby Carrie rode on top of all the bags piled high on Copper.  Pretty soon, they were out of the city, and when the sun went down, they made camp.  Ma passed around tin cups, and they drank water and ate dried beef.  Laura wanted a Pop-Tart for dessert, but Ma didn't offer it, and Laura knew better than to ask.

 

The next morning, Laura and Mary woke up early and decided to explore.  It was fun to wander around.  They found a horned lizard, but when Mary tried to catch it, it hid in one of the cracks in the scorched earth.  When they looked closer, there were lizards all over the place, scurrying in the dust and trying to hide under the rocks from the baking sun.

 

"There you are!" said Ma.  "You girls need some sunscreen right now."  The girls said, "Aw," but they did it.  After that, Pa called everybody, and they broke camp.

 

A week later they camped high on a hill overlooking a deep valley.  The sky above was more blue than Laura had ever seen, and when it touched the orange earth at the horizon, it looked even more wonderful.  That night, Pa said, "This might be the place," and Ma answered, "We could do a lot worse."

 

 

Chapter 4.  Hilltop

 

Pa went out hunting in the morning.  Copper stayed home, tied to a stake with a long rope to give him plenty of leeway to graze.  The children helped Ma clean up the campsite and afterwards went out to play.  At lunchtime, Ma fixed soup from a package, and it was very good.

 

"Ma," said Laura, "what's a Palestinian?"

 

"Don't slurp your food, Laura," said Ma.

 

"Are we going to see a Palestinian?  I want to."

 

"Good Lord, Laura."

 

"They aren't going to hurt us, are they?"

 

"No!  Of course not, dear," said Ma, cleaning out her bowl.

 

"Why did we come here, if it's their country?"  Laura asked.

 

Ma said she didn't know if this was their country or not.  She didn't know where the Green Line was, but Pa has said that didn't matter, since he'd heard from someone in Washington D.C. that this land would soon enough be open to legal settlement.  Maybe it already was, and the thing was to get the best pick before everyone else came.

 

Pa came back with three dead rabbits and a big smile on his face.  He said the hunting was good, and there was a creek nearby.  He told Ma that they could live like kings on this land.  The nearest town was twenty miles away, for when they needed supplies.  Laura smiled, because she knew there would be no more journeying.  Pa got his guitar and played some country songs.  They stayed up late laughing and singing.  There would be plenty of work to do tomorrow.

 

 

Chapter 5.  Starting the House

 

Pa got some scrap lumber and corrugated tin, and he commenced hammering.  He didn't let the girls help out, but he did give them some seeds to plant.  Laura got the olive tree seeds, and Mary got the orange tree seeds.  They fought over that, because Laura also wanted orange trees seeds.   Baby Carrie crawled around the grounds on all fours while Ma did her chores.  Every once in awhile, Baby Carrie would get into some ants, and she would cry, and Ma would have to get her out.  It seemed like no matter where you went in the world, there were always a bunch of ants to contend with.

 

Ma helped Pa with the building, but she hammered her thumb by accident, and it turned blue.  She said it was all right.  But she couldn't help anymore. 

 

When Pa came back from hunting that day, he brought a man with him.

 

"This is Mister Epstein," said Pa.  "He's also getting ready to build down there across the creek, so he'll help me out, and when he's got his supplies, I'll help him out."  Ma rubbed her thumb and said, "That'll be good."

 

Laura watched Pa and Mr. Epstein work.  Mr. Epstein had a little hat on, the smallest Laura had ever seen.  He was a big man, and he laughed a lot.  Laura liked him.

 

That night, Pa played guitar again, and Mr. Epstein danced a jig.  He danced and swore and spit, and he spit much farther than Laura could.  They all laughed and laughed.

 

"You've got a gun, right?"  Mr. Epstein told Pa.

 

 

Chapter 6.  Arabs in the House

 

The work on the house went fast.  The last things were the floor and the front gate.  Pa ran out of nails, so he got an old belt of his and cut it into strips.  He tied each of the strips to a post, then slid in another post to make a swinging gate.  Inside the house, Pa hung his gun over the mantelpiece and said, "We're done, Caroline!"

 

"Don’t that beat all," said Ma.

 

Pa said he had to make a run to town, and that he’d be gone for two days.  He took Copper by the rope.

 

"One last thing," Pa said to Laura and Mary.  "Don't ever touch my gun, do you understand?  One day, you'll have your own, but that one's mine, and while I'm gone, no one is to touch it."

 

The girls agreed, even though the more Pa talked about it, the more Laura wanted to touch it.

 

All day long, Laura and Mary ran around and played.  They splashed in the creek and made friends with a wandering goat.  They tended to the olive saplings, watering them and adding Fantasti-Gro.  It was a fun life for two little girls who had never heard of school.  Laura and Mary were working in the vegetable garden when Laura saw two men at the gate.  "Look!" she said.  Mary looked up.  The two men were looking at the house fiercely and arguing with each other.  They were dark and had hair everywhere.  They both wore checkered scarves.  Laura gasped as they opened the gate and went inside the house.  "Arabs!" Laura said.  "What’ll we do?  They’re in there with Ma and Baby Carrie!"

 

Mary said they should stay put, but Laura said they should get Pa's gun and save Ma.  "Pa said not to touch his gun," Mary said.  Laura said Pa didn't know there'd be Arabs in the house.  Finally, Laura ran to the house and slipped inside.  She hid behind the sofa and heard the men talking and arguing in their language.  She could see Ma's hand shaking as she made tea, and Baby Carrie was crawling around the floor.  Laura could see the gun.  She leaned around the sofa arm, and when she did both men seemed to be staring right at her.  Their eyes were wild and fierce, their skins sun-browned.  One of them made a sharp sound.  They sat at the table and unfolded a big map.  Ma served them tea and crackers.  They pointed at something and spoke their language to Ma, which she didn't understand.  Ma’s face began to turn white.  Eventually the two men got up quietly to leave.  Ma gave them Pa's tobacco, and they walked out the gate.

 

Ma hugged Laura and Mary.  She was shaking, and this did not comfort Laura.  "Let's make supper," said Ma.  They ate in silence.  Laura had a lot of questions, but she didn't want to upset Ma.  When Pa got back, Laura and Mary told him the story.

 

"Arabs, I see..." said Pa. 

 

"Oh, Charles, I was afraid," said Ma.  "I had to give them your tobacco."

 

"That's good, Caroline, we just need to stay on good terms with them.  We don't want--" he stopped.  "Finally saw some Arabs, did you Laura?" said Pa, and he rubbed her hair.

 

Laura nodded.  She remembered their sheer size.  She told Pa that if she could’ve gotten to the gun, she could’ve gotten rid of them.

 

Pa looked at her gravely.

 

"Say that once more," Pa said.

 

Laura did, and Pa shook his head.  He looked at her most terribly and said, "Don't you ever do what I say not to.  If you'd've done that, very bad things would’ve happened.  Very bad.  You always do what I say, do you hear?"

 

"Yes," said Laura. 

 

She wanted her own gun.

 

 

Chapter 7.  Goats at the Gate

 

The next day at dinner, they all heard a sudden noise outside.  The earth itself seemed to be moving.  When Laura looked closer, she saw it was an enormous herd of goats.  Pa went out and found the goat-herders, tall men wearing desert robes.  He came back and said that the family was invited to the goat men's tents.  Ma paled a little bit, but did not argue.

 

The goat men served them tea.  It turned out one of the men spoke some English.  They were Bedouins, on their way to Galilee.  They all sat in silence for awhile, drinking tea.

 

"Tell you what,” said Pa, finally.  “I'll trade you one of my little girls for five goats.”

 

"Five is a lot," said the goat man. 

 

Laura's mouth fell open, but before she could say anything, Pa and all the goat men started laughing and holding onto their sides.

 

"Charles, that's not funny," said Ma.

 

They laughed and laughed.  Pa did end up making a deal.  He put up wire to keep the goats away from the creek, so they wouldn't fall in and drown, and the Bedouins gave him one female goat in return.

 

 

Chapter 8.  Barbed Wire

 

When Pa had to go to town again, he asked Mr. Epstein to stop by and check on Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie.  He couldn't, though, because he had just been elected as an administrator of one of the economic branches of his kibbutz.  "Survival depends on a commitment to work," he said, and Pa answered that he sure agreed with that.

 

Anyway, Mrs. Cohen dropped by a few times, and Ma was glad for the company.  Mrs. Cohen said Mr. Cohen had heard rumors of trouble brewing.  She hoped there wouldn't be any.  "Treaties or no treaties," said Mrs. Cohen, "this land belongs to people who will make something of it."  She didn't know why the government tried to make treaties with the Arabs.  She said, "Why I remember Munich--"

 

Ma coughed loudly, and Mrs. Cohen stopped short.  Laura said she didn't know what they were talking about, and Ma said she'd explain when Laura was older.

 

After Mrs. Cohen left, Laura asked Ma where the Arabs would go if more settlers came.

 

"I don't know," said Ma.  "Further east, I imagine."

 

"Will the government make them move?" asked Laura.

 

"I guess so," said Ma.

 

They saw a lot more Arabs in the next days, and Ma started to worry about Pa.  But Pa finally came back.  He said he'd had bad luck with the camel, and he didn't go into details.  That same evening, as Pa was playing guitar, a tall Arab walked by the house.  He tried to talk to Pa, but Pa said, "No speak Arab."  Instead, they sat and smoked tobacco for a while.

 

After the Arab left, Ma said, "This place is getting thick with Arabs."

 

"Caroline, that Arab was perfectly friendly.  If we treat them well, we’ll have no trouble."

 

Pa woke up early next morning and started stringing barbed wire around edge of the land.  Laura heard him and woke up too.  She went outside in her nightgown, rubbing her eyes, and said, "Can I help, Pa?"

 

"Sure, Flutterbudget," Pa said.

 

He handed one end of the wire coil to Laura and told her to hold tight, and not let go.  He pulled the other end around the olive tree and down the hill a ways.  Laura touched one of the barbs and it pricked her finger, but she didn't cry.

 

Pa came back and took the coil from Laura.

 

Mr. Epstein wandered by just then and said, "Morning, Ingalls."

 

"Morning," said Pa.

 

"Looks like sturdy wire."

 

"Yup," said Pa.

 

"Heard some rumors last night."

 

"That so?" said Pa.

 

"Cohen says the government may be moving us settlers back to the other side of the Green Line," said Mr. Epstein.

 

Pa thought about that.

 

"I reckon not," said Pa.  "If we weren’t making good use of the land, that’d be one thing.  But we’re making something worthwhile out here, ain’t we, Epstein?"

 

"That we are," said Mr. Epstein.

 

Mr. Epstein stayed on awhile and talked about the kibbutz.  Laura was full of questions.  She couldn't believe that all the children from different families lived together in one house.

 

"But what would Ma do at a kibbutz?" asked Laura.

 

"Well," said Mr. Epstein, "she might do metalwork, or work on the irrigation system."  Laura couldn't imagine it.

 

 

Chapter 9.  War Cry

 

Over the next week, many Arabs with scarves walked down the road toward town.  They appeared to come from all over.  All of them avoided the Ingalls house.  Laura didn't know why they were so many of them.

 

Ma shook her head.  "I don't know, Charles."

 

Some of the other settlers came around that evening.  Mr. Cohen said that the Arabs were on the war path, and Mr. Epstein agreed.  But Pa said that the Arabs wanted peace just like everybody else.

 

"Besides," said Pa, "it's the time of year when they get together to praise their God and make personal sacrifices to show their loyalty.  Sure, they'll say some nasty things about us to the news people.  But with all the soldiers at the IDF fort, I don't expect we'll see any trouble."

 

"I hope you’re right, Ingalls," said Cohen.  "At least, I'll tell Mrs. Cohen what you said."

 

That night, there came some most terrible sounds from the town.  First came explosions, then gunfire.  Then more explosions.  Baby Carrie started to cry out loud, and Ma gently rocked her.  Laura was scared.  Pa told everybody to stay in bed.  All through the night it went on, and worse still, all through the next day.

 

"It's a good thing we don't have television, Charles," said Ma.  "I'm glad of not knowing too much about what's going on out there."

 

But to Laura, not knowing was worse.  After she got into bed, she pretended to sleep, and she listened to Ma and Pa talking about infiltrators and suicide bombers, and she worried.

 

Then one day, the Arabs came back to the dusty trail and walked peacefully back to where they'd come from.  When the last of them went by, Pa went to town.  He found that everyone had gone except one group of Arabs.  Someone from that group spoke English and told Pa what happened.  All the Arabs except for his group had agreed to attack the settlements.  His group disagreed.  That was why there was so much gunfire.  Finally one Arab came to town in an armored car.  He was high-placed man, and everyone called him by his warrior name.  He made his case day and night, and he ended up saying that his group would go to war against the other Arab groups if they went ahead with their plan.

 

Pa related all this to Ma and Laura.  "Thank goodness for that Arab," he said.  "He is surely a good man."

 

The next day, a black armored limousine drove slowly down the road.  When it curved around the Ingalls house, Pa saluted.  Laura peered to get a glimpse of the famous warrior, but the windows of the car were all tinted black.

 

 

Chapter 10.  Soldiers

 

After all the Arabs had gone back to their villages, peace settled over the land.  The olive trees filled with black fruit, the orange trees burst into color, and the almond trees bloomed white flowers.  The wind slipped through the hills, the birds following its path.

 

Pa and Laura sat outside in the evenings and watched the stars roll overhead.  One night, a family of rabbits sat with them.

 

By day, Pa turned up the earth with his plow, and the girls scampered behind, plopping little seeds into the dirt.  Ma covered the seeds up with more dirt.  Baby Carrie just crawled around getting muddy.  Everyone salivated at the thought of the vegetables that would soon be becoming up.  They were going to live like kings, just like Pa had said.

 

One day, Laura and Mary were cleaning the bathroom when they heard Pa talking angrily in front of the house.  They ran to look out the door.  Mr. Epstein and Mr. Cohen were with Pa.

 

"No!" said Pa.  "I won't stay here and wait for the soldiers from the IDF fort to carry us off like animals.  We’re leaving tomorrow."

 

Mr. Cohen tried to convince Pa to stay, but Mr. Epstein agreed with Pa.  He wasn't going to be forced back across the Green Line at the point of a soldier’s gun.

 

"I'd never have come," said Pa, "if those politicians hadn't passed word it’d be all right to settle here.  Those damned politicians in Washington D.C., well, they’re nuts.  Just look around!  I've walked for days in every direction and you know what I've seen?  Acres and acres of empty land.  Miles of miles of God-given earth, just sitting there, Cohen!  They're so much room for people, for every kind of people."

 

Laura ran out and hugged Mr. Epstein.  He laughed.

 

"We're packing up, Caroline," said Pa.  Mary was holding Baby Carrie and she handed the baby to Ma.

 

"You ought to come with us, Epstein," said Pa.  "I figure we’ll head east.  It's too darned crowded back west.  Maybe we'll find some good land on the east bank or further on."

 

"Naw," said Mr. Epstein, "we'd just slow each other up.  But thank you just the same."

 

As soon as the men left, Pa started digging up the baby vegetables.  He gave them to Ma and told her to cook up a feast.  She did, and the whole family had the tastiest dinner.  Even Baby Carrie smiled around her mashed-up potatoes.  After dinner, Pa said not to bother with cleaning up.  They all sat on the porch under the stars.  The girls dozed off, one by one.

 

"Oh, Charles," said Ma.  "A whole year wasted."

 

"What's a year?" said Pa, tousling Ma's hair.  "Don't be silly, girl.  We've got plenty of time to get settled."

 

Pa smiled broadly.

 

"You're crazy, Charles," Ma said.

 

Pa kept on smiling, because he thought that Ma was just kidding.

 

                                                            THE END

c 2005