By Khalil AbuSharekh
With a knife in my little hands, I was able to take the new TV remote control apart. I was checking all the elements, the green electronic board, all the buttons that fit perfectly in their designated holes, and the various vibrant colors of the transistors. At that moment, I felt that I was in total control of the whole world. This was no longer just a little black box to me; now I knew how this new remote control worked.
It was past midnight, and everyone was asleep. Suddenly the silence was shattered by the sound of the big steel doors of the grocery store. My dad is closing the store, I thought. I started to panic because my dad likes to watch TV when he comes home. I broke out in a heavy sweat, my little hands started to shake and panic replaced my mental calculation. Now there was no way I could put the remote control back together in time. Quickly I collected all the parts, hid them among my sister’s clothes and jumped into bed and pretended to be fast asleep.
It took my dad a while longer to come inside, and I started to think. I could’ve reassembled it if I had known it would take him this long. Now it’s too late. My dad walks in, and as usual, he goes straight to the kitchen. I hear the sounds of plates and cups, fridge door opening and closing, and then his footsteps walking into the living room. I hear the sound of little plates being put on the floor and the TV is turned on, followed by the sound of his footsteps in the living room as he searched for the remote control. Very soon he started to speak more loudly, and then he woke up my mom. My mom’s typical answer – “How would I know where is it?” – only added fuel to the situation and my dad screamed, “The remote has to show up tonight. Wake everyone up.” My mom answered, “Are you crazy? It’s just a remote. Wait until the morning. It’s past 1 o’clock already and the kids have school tomorrow.”
A more random noise came from the living room, and then my dad flung open the door to our room and pulled the sheets off our beds and yelled, “Where is the remote control?” I played the heavy sleeper and resisted getting up. Then I slowly opened my eyes and looked at him. I saw his blood-shot eyes and knew he was extremely angry, but still hoping, nevertheless, that one of us would hand him the remote immediately. I asked, “What’s up?” He answered, “Where is the remote control?” I waited a bit, as if I was thinking about his question, then I said, “I don’t know.” He responded, “Then find it. No one is going back to sleep until I have the remote in my hands.”
My mom was orchestrating the search, assigning to each of us a section of the house to go through, meanwhile mumbling and praying that this night would pass without more trouble, and asking Allah to take my dad’s life at that moment. When I was going through my section I took my time and didn’t notice that he was watching every one of us, but paying particular attention to me. He spotted that I wasn’t searching as thoroughly as my brothers and sisters. After a while, he approached me and said, “You know where the remote control is. You’re not looking like everyone else.” Too quickly, I said, “No, I don’t know.” He took a deep breath and tried to calm down, and said in a moderate tone, “It’s all right, just hand it to me right now, in any shape, and everyone can go back to sleep.” I insisted that I didn’t know where it was. My mom came and asked, “Khalil, do you know where the damn remote is, or not?” I answered, “No.” In a controlled voice, my dad added, “He was not really looking, he was going in a circle. He’s done something to it and hidden it.” My mom believed him, and all eyes in the house turned toward me.
I moved slowly toward my sisters’ drawer, and Lamees, who had found it but had not said anything, moved away. I pulled it out and handed it to him, and told him, “It’s working, but I need to put it back together, and I know how.” He took it from me, set it aside, came back to me and said, “I knew it didn’t just disappear. Why did you take it apart?” I answered, “I wanted to see what’s inside and how it works,” and I was happy when I said it.” He replied, “I’ll show you how it works.”
I didn’t see his arm or hand moving, but instantly my left ear started ringing and my eyes lost their focus. He followed the slap on my face with a punch to my chest that pushed my little body into the wall. “What business do you have with my stuff?” he shouted, his anger escalating. My mom gave him a wide berth, and kept repeating in the background, “That’s enough, he will never do it again.” I repeated her words and said, “I will never do it again.” He replied, “There will never be another time because I am not going to replace the remote control. Do you know why? Because you are destructive and you deserve nothing.”
I was cornered at that moment and he punched me in my stomach. I lowered my arms to absorb some of the pain, and he quickly started on my face with even more violent punches. He lost control. He punched me really hard on the nose and my blood sprayed on the wall. I felt dizzy, but the sight of my blood on the wall gave me something to focus on. I said, “Blood, blood, blood.” My mom screamed at him and pushed him away. He turned to her and snarled, “It’s all your fault, this is how you raised your kids!” My mom had had it with him, and started yelling at him “You are absolutely crazy! All this for a remote control! Go get yourself examined, you’re insane.” She pulled me off the wall and checked my face. My dad just said, “I will show you crazy. You and your son are gone from this place. Get the hell out of here.”
At that moment my brothers and sisters started begging my dad to calm down and let it go. He was hysterical, repeating over and over, “No. They both have to leave the house right now.”
My mom said, “I always wondered what the hell I’ve been doing with a crazy man like you for all these years. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, beating your kid to death for a remote control? Heba, give me my abaya. I am leaving, Omar, I am leaving this house at 2.30 in the morning, and I shall let the whole camp know that you kicked your wife and son out in the middle of the night for a remote control.” He answered, “Yes, let them know, I don’t care. Get out.”
At that time the Israelis enforced a daily curfew after 12 AM. If they saw you on the street past midnight, you might get arrested for breaking the curfew. Other than stray cats you wouldn’t see a thing on the streets of the camp. My mom put on her abaya and her head cover, grabbed my hand and we headed toward the door. My brothers and sisters’ cried even louder, but my dad turned to them and ordered them to bed. After we left, we heard him turning all the locks on the door.
I was 8 years old and I found myself with my 28-year-old mom with a locked door behind us and a dark unknown ahead of us. I swallowed hard and found myself involuntarily holding her hand. While I was drawing closer to her side I could feel her drawing closer to me.
We walked down the street and she stopped under a lamp post. Turning to me she asked, “Where should we go now?” I answered, “My grandfather’s house.” She said, “My father will kill me if I show up at his door this hour. Why did you take the remote control apart?”
I let go of her hand and sat on the edge of the sidewalk. She stood in front of me for a while, and when I didn’t talk she sat down next to me. I told her, “It’s going to work. I panicked. I just need a little bit of time to put it back together.” She replied, “You should’ve known better than to touch his stuff.” I responded, “I thought the remote was for everyone in the house, not just for him.” She looked at me and said, “You didn’t have enough drama all night, and now you want to carry on some more? Why don’t you just listen to what I say?” I raised my knees and laid my crossed arms on them, then put my head on my arms and closed my eyes. It was dark, and so quiet that I could hear my heartbeat, and I heard her breathing high above me. I leaned slightly toward her warm, comforting body, which felt like home to me at that moment and sleep completely overcame me.
A softer than usual tone interrupted my stolen sleep and she said, “It’s almost 3 a.m. Israeli workers will start to come into the streets heading to work. We’d better go. I have an idea. come on! Get up!” She started walking south toward the heart of the camp, and I had to run to keep up with her big steps. Then she slowed down and I saw her thinking. Her head started to tilt toward the west side of the camp. She wanted to go through the alleys of the camp to avoid the cars, but she was scared. Her walk slowed down some more, and her hand was fumbling for mine. I gripped her hand and I said, “I know the alleys well.” My little steps started to lead us into the darkness. She asked me “How come you know the alleys of the west side so well? Didn’t I tell you not to go to the west side?” Instantly I answered, “I don’t come here often, I only come to see Ihsan, he lives here you know.” She replied, “Oh yeah? We will discuss this later.” The alleys became narrower and darker, and I was feeling older and bigger by the minute because by now she was almost hiding behind me.
In my head, I was imagining drunken men trying to attack us, and me destroying them one by one in heroic ninja moves. I was actually hoping that this would happen so I could show my mom that I could protect her. I went on and on about my various scenarios and moves that I would use attacking the evil forces. She interrupted my thoughts as always, by asking “Do you know where we are going?” “Yes,” I answered. “Om Raed’s house. Right?” she answered, “Yes, she is the only one who would understand your dad’s insanity.”
We knocked on the door several times, and after a while, I heard Om Raed’s panicked low voice asking, “Who is it?” My mom replied with a very low voice “Nawal. Om Raed, it’s me, Nawal.” Her son’s voice sounded loudly in the quiet camp, “What’s going on?” Om Raed responded firmly. “It’s Nawal, lower your voice.” She urged us to go into her house while saying, “A fight with Omar?” Smiling, my mom replied, “You wouldn’t believe what for.” “Come on in and tell me,” Om Raed responded. Her house was like all the houses in the camp, a one-story house with thin walls, asbestos boards on top of the rooms and a courtyard in the middle with the sky as the roof.
We sat in the open area, and my mom lay back against the wall. Raed, Om Raed’s son, is married and lives with his mom at her house. He said to my mom “Don’t worry, tomorrow I will go talk to him and things will be alright.” His mom looked at my mom and rolled her eyes. Raed went back into his bedroom with his wife. Mom and Om Raed started to discuss the details of what had happened, and then they moved on to gossip about everyone else. I laid my head on my mom’s leg and went to sleep.
The next morning, I opened my eyes and the sun was out. They were still talking, but now they were drinking tea. Om Raed asked me if I wanted to eat anything. I told her, “No, but I want tea.” She poured me a glass of tea and I was in a state of disarray. My mom looked at me and said, “Good morning fool, what are you going to take apart today, and where will that get us?” The two started laughing. I was yawning and stretching and I thought that what she said wasn’t funny, but I was too sleepy to respond. I drank my tea and then I went back and lay down on her leg. I dozed on and off until she said: “It’s about ten, I think he’s left the house by now, so we should head home.” Om Raed said, “Come on, we are having a good time. Just let him take care of the house and the kids, after all, wasn’t he the one who kicked you out? Why so worried?” My mom said, “It’s always for the kids, if it wasn’t for the kids I wouldn’t have stayed a single day. We should go.”
She asked me to sneak into our house first and see if he was home or not. I screamed to her, “He’s not here,” so she came in. I went looking for the fragmented remote control and found it. I ran to the kitchen and picked up a knife – a knife because I didn’t have a screwdriver – and started to put the little pieces back together. In just a few minutes the remote control was back in one piece, so I rushed to test it on the TV, and bingo, it worked. I looked for my mom and found her in her room as she was about to go to sleep. I was moving slowly, and told her confidently, “I put it back together and it works great.” She grabbed her pillow and answered sarcastically, “Congratulations.”
When my dad returned I walked to him and handed him the remote control. He took it and immediately went to test it on the TV and found it was working perfectly. I could see he was hiding a smile on his face but he kept his (mad) face on and said, “Don’t you dare take it apart again. Go to the grocery store.” My instant response was, “No I won’t take it apart because now I know how it works, and not only can I take it apart, but I can put it back together. I understand it now.” But I only said, “OK,” and I started dragging myself to the store, all the while watching him checking the remote back and forth and from every corner of the room.
At the store, my head started to run through the tape from the beginning, and I started to daydream other scenarios, but what stayed with were three lessons.
The first: the next time I take anything apart I have to have control of my panic and fear. If I hadn’t panicked I could’ve put it back together in the time it took him to close the store and go into the kitchen looking for the remote. There was definitely enough time, but panic won this battle.
The second lesson was that if I hide something, I must erase it from my memory. If I have to look for it, I must look as if I have no idea where it is, otherwise, I’ll be busted. I told myself not to be a fool next time, just running in circles while everyone else is searching properly. I must also be searching passionately, just like everyone else.
The third, my mom and I are now friends. We’ve got each other’s backs no matter what. She is big when I need a grownup-person, and I am a man that she can rely on. We complemented each other last night every step of the way. Yes, last night we both bonded as friends, true friends in blood.
Khalil AbuSharekh is from Gaza, Palestine, and now live in the U.S. in Houston, Texas. He has been writing short stories of my childhood, coming of age, culture, people, and politics of Palestine.
Photo credit: Brian Boyd