Dina exits her apartment with her guest. They will walk into the busier part of Bet’Hatikva, although it is a stretch of the word to call anywhere in this town ‘busy.’ She imagines how it must look to Tewfiq, with everything run down and old and everyone not caring. At least the sun has already set, and the landscape looks better in the light made by the street lamps.
Two female soldiers walk past them in army uniforms, carrying backpacks and rifles. Dina sees Tewfiq glance at them, casually, like he doesn’t want her to see him looking. It’s an ordinary sight for her, but he must be curious.
She says: “they come home today, from base,” and then wonders if she shouldn’t have mentioned it at all.
“Very young,” he says.
“Yes. Eighteen or nineteen. Everyone in those ages is army.”
Why has she brought this up? Dina thinks to herself. Why is she discussing the IDF with a member of Egypt’s army? Well not really Egypt’s army, he said police orchestra, but still. She cannot even take someone else to dinner without ruining it.
“Yes, I was- the navy. But here,” she says, “everyone is army, or navy, or you know, with the planes...air force. I did not choose it. Anyway, it was a long time ago,” She does not want this man to think that she decided to serve of her own free will. But why she does she care so much what Tewfiq thinks?
“Did you enjoy your service?”
“No! I wanted it to be over so I could get on with my life. I was like a....lookout? I would look at data from rader. Very boring. Always watching.” Just like here, she reflects. You keep looking off into the distance, even though you know the view is never going to change.
“At least I was near the sea,” Dina continues. “At night, there is the waves, and the water, and the salt- you can smell it all in the air sometimes.” And she remembers what she has not thought about for thirty something years, the heavy smell of the ocean all around, the sky dark and filled with a huge silver moon above the inky black water.
“You like the ocean? Have you ever been to the Dead Sea?” Says the man beside her, and Dina is back. Bet’Hatikva is in the south of Israel, far away from her old base in Haifa and the Mediterannean Sea. Here, there is only a small park that she sits in sometimes, and pretends she can hear the water.
“I have once,” so they are finished talking about the army, thankfully. She hopes that he was not offended. “But I did not like it. The water, so uncomfortable- you cannot put your head under, and it burns, so much, you know, your skin, and then the salt after. So hard to get off. Ick.”
“You live here you whole life?”
“No, I was born here, and then I went to the army, and then after I am released, I live in Haifa for a while,” because she fought with her parents constantly, and hated her hometown, and she was desperate to get out.
So she moved out and had an exciting life, got married when she should not have, and then everything slowly fell apart, until she found herself divorced, and back in the same place that she swore never to return to, running a cafe that only survives because there is so little competition.
“….and then I came back here.” Dina abbreviates the story of her life. “What about you, General?” She does not want to have to think about how her life has turned out.
“The band is not really the army, we only play music, madame, I am not a general,” Tewfiq replies.
“I knowwww,” he is so polite and serious, Dina cannot believe it. “I am only joking with you. So you are in the police orchestra…”
“Yes. For twenty seven years already.” Dina can't imagine having one single focus for that amount of time.
It is hard, Tewfiq thinks, to imagine this woman beside him was ever in the army. Dina is fluid in her movements, like the dancer she mentioned she was earlier. She has a rebellious air to her. She doesn't care about the stares of the other diners as she brings him into the restaurant. Tefiq wonders why they look, because he is an Arab in a military uniform with an Egyptian flag on it, or just because he is a different face than the ones they know.
Dina is, in many ways, his opposite. She lives her life loudly, all out in the open, shouting at the man, Sami, across the restaurant, and then out in the street in public, in front of everyone. It makes him uncomfortable to see such emotion on display.
But as the night goes on, Tewfiq finds himself talking to Dina about his wife and his son. He did not plan to tell this woman about Sultanah and Ahmed, and yet here he is, speaking about his son’s death, and then his wife’s.
It seems a dismal evening to him- maybe Dina thinks that she has upset of offended him in come way, but it is only the past that bothers him, and that is solely on him- but yet she does not seem to want it to end. She must be so lonely here, just as lonely at the boy at the telephone booth that she laughed at earlier.
They go back home, and Tewfiq senses that she is disappointed, but he has no idea how to remedy the situation. He walks down her hallway- an end to this strange night- and he hears Haled say: “you have beautiful eyes,” and he tries not hear anything after that.
Haled…Tewfiq thinks that he was too harsh on the boy earlier. How should he have known? And the place names are so similar. So much of the same spirit that was in his son, he sees in Haled.
He will take back his harsh words, tomorrow. The boy can remain in the band.
Then it’s morning. The sun is barely up, but already it is hot and glaring, and hurting on any exposed skin.
Dina stands outside her cafe, and the bus pulls away from the stop. They go and she stays. Part of her wants to cry- but why, and for what? So she just waves at the bus, but the sun is so bright that she doesn’t know if anyone is watching.
In Tewfiq’s mind, Bet’Hatikva remains the same, eternally removed from time and the conflict. When he thinks of it, it is always as it was on that one day: the boy at the phone booth is there, the people at the cafe, and Dina. Of course the mysterious, sad woman he met in the south of Israel stays in his mind. He said she would have been a good mother, and she would have been. Caring. Not like he was.
Back in to Egypt, he goes to the sea, and though he does not fish anymore, he sits by the water for a long time.