The roller rink is lit with fluorescent neon lights, more color than Haled has seen in all of Bet’Hatikva. The music is loud and the moving lights swirl across his vision, and he doesn’t mind because it distracts him from Tewfiq’s anger, and his promise to expel him from the band. So many times in the past hours he has forgotten these words, and then remembered them again with a shock.
“Hi,” someone says, and it’s the unsmiley girl that Papi was disappointed to see earlier. She sits down on the other side of the bench.
“Hello.” At least she doesn’t want to fight him like the security guy did.
“Do you know Papi?” Her English is very good, at least he thinks so. It sounds much more like English is supposed to sound. She seems like the sort of person who would be a good student.
“No, we just meet today.”
“Oh,” she says, and Haled sees the way that her eyes follow Papi around the roller rink, the same lonely longing, wanting that exists in Egypt, in Israel, everywhere.
“Why did you come here?” She is delaying the moment where she goes and talks to Papi because she is nervous, Haled guesses.
“There was a mistake made,” he says, leaving out his part in it. “We go to the wrong town. We want Pet-” It’s hard for him to pronounce. Hebrew words are so confusing, and they all sound the same.
“Ah,” Julia says. “You wanted Pet’Hatikva.” Taking a pen out of her pocket, she writes a letter, meaningless to him, on her hand. “See? Bet,” and another, “This is Pet.” Haled nods, although they have no meaning to him.
“You are in the military?”
“Not really,” he says, and it’s true. “We play music.”
“I am in the army here,” she says. “One year already.”
Haled doesn’t know how he should respond to that. “Okay.”
“Maybe you go talk with Papi, eh?” He says, because she seems shy and awkward, just like that boy, and they would be good together.
When Julia does, there’s a bit of a rough start- she does fall because of Papi, but Haled tries to help because he feels bad for both of them- and eventually the two go off to skate together, and maybe they even kiss at some point. Their arms are around each other at least, but it’s dark, so it’s hard for him to tell.
“Thank you!!” Papi says as he and Haled walk back to Dina’s house. “For tonight, with Julia, I really- thank you,” and his face, illuminated by the yellowish lighting of an old streetlight, is radiantly happy. He’s in love with someone who returns those feelings and though Haled is the same age as Papi, he suddenly feels old and tired.
“No problem, Papi,” he says. “Have a good night.”
Back in Dina’s house, he doesn’t know what to do. She and Tewfiq are still gone. He sits in the living room, and tries to practice his part for the concert tomorrow, but he cannot think about music or the band now. For awhile, he stands at the window and watches the man on the street below watch the telephone. It does not ring.
When Dina and Tewfiq return home, he senses that something has gone wrong between them, somehow, because Dina pays more attention to Haled, but the same longing is still in her eyes when she glances at Tewfiq.
This woman seems so tough and put together, like she doesn’t care about anything, and yet Haled thinks she is in some ways as lonely as the man on the sidewalk below, staring at the telephone.
Loneliness is why Dina kisses him when Tewfiq has gone to bed, why she wraps her legs around him as he picks her up and carries her down an unfamiliar hallway to a bedroom that is not his. He is not kidding himself, he knows that she doesn’t care for him, she has been after Tewfiq all night, although maybe the man cannot see that. He is so obtuse sometimes. What did he think Dina was trying- when she asked him to come out with her tonight?
“You are not married, right?” Dina asks, and he thinks: what an odd question. “I sleep with a married man before- accidentally, so that is why I ask-”
“No,” Haled says. “Not married at all.” And he takes her hand and brushes it over his left one, so she can feel, even in the dark, the absence of a ring. Not yet, he thinks, and he wishes he could forget about when he will be.
They don’t speak anymore after that; they have nothing to say to each other.
After, Dina sleeps curled next to him, her head on his shoulder, one arm over his chest, as if trying to prevent him from leaving. Haled doesn't mind, because the presence of another person is comforting, even if she is asleep, with her mind dead to everything, and his is awake worrying, about the performance tomorrow, and what he will have to face when he gets back to Egypt. Maybe he will not have to get married if he has no job. What kind of fiance would he be then? At one point during the night, he thinks he hears the payphone ring outside, but he cannot be sure.
Bet’Hatikva sleeps, and eventually so does Haled.
The next morning, he meets Tewfiq in the hall and he is uncomfortable, because he is still leaving her room, and it is very obvious what happened, he is sure.
“Haled,” Tewfiq says, and it always unnerves him when Tewfiq uses his name, because in the conductor’s mouth it usually precedes a scolding, or an unpleasant command.
But not today. “About what I said yesterday, about removing you from the orchestra- I did not mean it. You may stay. It was only a mistake.”
“Thank you, sir.” He puts on his hat so as to avoid looking at his conductor. It is as surprising as when he called Haled, ‘son,’ last night. At least he will still have the band: the music, and the performance when he goes home.
In the bright light of morning, the town looks different to him. Perhaps he was too worried to fully take it in before. It's a nice town, he thinks, or maybe today he's just happier.
Papi is at the cafe again, and Haled says, “Good news, I am not kicked out from the band after all! Best of luck with the girl, eh?”
And the Egypt Ceremonial Police Orchestra departs. There is no problem leaving. It seems that buses do come here; that is it is indeed connected to the rest of the country.
The bus accelerates, pulling away from the stop. The band leaves behind Bet’Hatikva and its inhabitants so quickly it is if they were never there at all.