'Have you voted yet?" Shai asks, before Yoni even has the chance to clear his throat and say hello into the receiver.
"I'm fine, thanks, how are you?" Yoni says, annoyed, though not the least bit surprised. Since leaving the house this morning, he hasn't been able to take two steps without hearing that question.
"Don't tell me you're not voting," Shai says in a tone indicating that admonition is soon to follow.
"OK, then, I won't tell you," Yoni quips as he walks, shooing away last-minute campaigners.
"You're kidding, right?" Shai says, raising his voice.
"You're breaking up," Yoni responds, making melodramatic static noises into the mouthpiece as he plods aimlessly up the street. "Talk to you later."
"Hold it, hang on," Shai protests, preparing to launch into a pitch for the democratic process. "This is a right we all have to exercise."
"Exercise!" Yoni exclaims. "That's something I don't get nearly enough of - now that you mention it."
"Get real, man," Shai pleads. "This is no joke."
Yoni passes by a newsstand and glances at the near-identical front pages of all the papers. Photos of the three main candidates in various poses at the Western Wall and Mahaneh Yehuda market make him smile sardonically.
"I beg to differ," he snorts, cradling the phone in the crook of his neck to fish in his pocket for loose change with which to buy a pack of gum. "In fact, it is just about the funniest joke around."
"And you think that by not casting your ballot, you're going to raise the level of seriousness?" Shai challenges.
"Do you think that by casting yours for one of these clowns, you're going to end up with anything other than a three-ring circus?" Yoni rebuts, chewing fiercely, looking around for a receptacle in which to dispose of his gum-wrapper. Unable to find a garbage bin, he crumples up the wad and lets it fall to the ground, where, he notes, it is in very good company.
"Excuse me," Shai says, feigning the calm born of self-assurance. "This so-called 'three-ring circus' is about determining the final borders of the country."
"If I had a shekel for every time I heard that," Yoni laughs, "I'd be so rich, it wouldn't matter that I'm unemployed."
"You see what I'm talking about?" Shai tries to keep from exploding. "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain about unemployment."
"And if I do vote, what I gain is the right to complain?" Yoni asks, ignoring the red light for pedestrians and nearly getting hit by a speeding car in the middle of the street.
"Don't be a jerk," Shai groans. "You know what I mean."
"What I don't know is how determining our borders will lead to my finding a job," Yoni says, purposely obtuse. "Whoever is in the government will screw me just the same."
"That's a bad attitude to take," Shai argues. "It's like giving up on caring who's in charge of your life."
"What difference does it make who's in charge?" Yoni yells over the din of a honking spree caused by a traffic jam. "They're all corrupt anyway."
"Well, yeah," Shai acknowledges, suddenly at a loss for words. "But some are less corrupt than others."
"How comforting," Yoni says, winking at a female passerby whose underwear is more visible than her clothing.
"But it's all because of the occupation, you see," Shai says, excited to have found a new path on the persuasion track. "Which is why it's crucial to vote, particularly in this election."
"You've got to be kidding me," Yoni says, a waft of pizza reminding him he's hungry. "Corruption has to do with greed, not occupation."
"Ah," Shai says. "But where does the greed come from?"
"From power," Yoni says, trying to decide whether to get a felafel or sit down at a restaurant for a proper meal. "Which is why it doesn't matter who's in power - as we've seen over and over again."
"But if you don't vote, you forfeit the right to pass judgement," Shai says, exasperated. "Or to try and change the system."
"I VOTE with my feet," Yoni says, matter-of-factly. "That gives me the right to opt out of this election."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Shai asks, by now weary of repeating himself.
"I was born here," Yoni says, taking a breath as though he's about to start singing. "I grew up here; I served in the army; I do reserve duty; I spend the money I don't earn here; and I'm going to be buried here."
"Your point being...?" Shai asks, now sorry he's paying for this call.
"My point being that my very existence here is worth more than some stupid slip of paper I stick in an envelope once every few years," Yoni says, realizing that this is similar to the speech he made to Maya about why he doesn't need to marry her under a hupa.
"Oh, come on," Shai says impatiently. "That's a total cop-out."
"Hey," Yoni teases. "Have you and Maya been getting together behind my back to coordinate your attacks on me, or something?"
"I don't know how she puts up with you, to be honest," Shai says. "When you've been stringing her along all these years."
"She's not in such bad shape as you make her out to be," Yoni says, defensively.
"She sure complains enough about the situation," Shai says, on the offensive. "She feels insecure."
"She's still with me, though, isn't she?" Yoni says in more of a sing-song than he would have liked. "Which indicates that she's also voting with her feet."
"I wouldn't count on that lasting indefinitely, if I were you," Shai says. "She wants the rights and privileges that come with being a wife."
Yoni stops in front of the school building he's been circling since the morning.
"Listen, I've got to go," he says. "I've got something to do."
"Oh, what's that?" Shai asks.
"None of your business," Yoni says, clicking the phone shut, and pulling out his voter registration card to show the guard at the entrance.
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