Jerusalem, by Natalie Woociker
Updated: Jul 22, 2021
I followed the back of your white t-shirt through the Old City that afternoon in early
November, past ancient tunnels of brick and stone, flush with the scent of coffee and ta’china, where elderly men with white beards and head coverings would say hello beside tables of golden jewelry; the echoing sounds of distant bells, of coins in a leather purse.
This was your beat, your territory, you told me. And though you were being difficult, you were my guide. So I followed you.
Not wanting to give you the pleasure that I detected you derived from walking next to me, I always hung back about twelve paces behind. The narrow streets were quiet that day and it was easy to keep you in my sight. Plus, you were a good guide. Every now and then you would turn around to make sure I was keeping up. And if I had stopped to marvel at something beautiful—a dark wooden chair with ornate brass trimmings and cloudy glass shards of mother of pearl, pieced together as a mosaic and inlaid into the seat; an uphill stone corridor leading out of sight, with patchwork cotton tunics, hand dyed, hanging like flags from the low, arched ceiling—it satisfied me to always find you waiting, leaning up against the stone wall, flicking your cigarette.
Occasionally, we would meet an acquaintance of yours. Always a man. He would say something to you in Ivrit and you would clap him on the back.
“Mah nishmah?” you might ask him, smiling with your eyes but not with your mouth. Mute and monolingual, I’d watch the cigarette you held between your lips, waving like the maestro’s baton, conducting your mystery speech.
Sometimes I sensed you were talking about me, when the hair on the back of my neck would rise. “Who is this piece?” I’d imagine your friend would say, speaking in his foreign code, avoiding my stare. You’d crack a smile then wave him off. And just as before, we would walk again. You, my guide. And me, twelve paces behind.
Natalie Woociker lives in the small town of Enterprise, Florida. Her writing explores themes of cultural and religious identity, freedom and free will, and masculinity and maleness. Her nonfiction work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has been featured in the online literary magazine, 'Golden Walkman'. She is currently finishing her first novel, set in Dublin, Ireland in the days before the historic 1916 Easter Rising.
Steven Ostrowski is a widely-published poet, fiction writer, painter, songwriter and teacher. His paintings have been published recently in The William and Mary Review, NUUNUM, Alchemy, Stone Boat, Lily Poetry Review (cover art) and others.