ruthie blum USE! 298.88.
(photo credit: )
"We're celebrating," Moshe announces to the customer who has just entered his felafel joint. He lifts his plastic cup of lemonade in the air as if it were a champagne-filled flute.
"What's the happy occasion?" the customer asks, eyeing the display of "extras" to decide which she wants added to her Iraqi pita.
"Mustafa just got married," Moshe says gleefully, pointing at the young man - his employee - who is busily tossing a load of french fries into a vat of boiling oil.
Mustafa grins. The customer looks up, puzzled.
"That can't be," she says, in the tone of one realizing her leg is being pulled. "Mustafa's already married."
"I took a second wife," Mustafa says, placing the sizzling potato slices onto a large metal plate.
"Yeah, right," the customer says, helping herself to an olive. "As though you know what to do with the one you've already got."
The customer is referring to an ongoing private joke between her and Mustafa about his treatment of women in general, and of his wife in particular. She - being a dedicated feminist on the one hand, and an equally devout Peace Nownik on the other - prides herself on her ability to schmooze with Palestinians "as if," she has been known to comment, "they were like anybody else."
He - being a dedicated husband on the one hand and a devout Muslim on the other - prides himself on his ability to earn a steady living in Jerusalem while many of his peers are scrambling for any day job they can get.
"YOU'RE A fantastic cook," the customer once commented, almost flirtatiously. "Do you prepare meals for your wife, as well?"
To which Mustafa replied by shaking his head and clucking his tongue. "When I'm at home, I'm the king," he said. "My wife serves me food, not the other way around. And my kids obey me."
"Oh, you men are all the same," the customer said, feigning indignance - a sentiment she never has to fake around Jewish members of the opposite sex. Particularly her husband. "What you need are some lessons in mutual marital cooperation."
"Why would I want those?" Mustafa retorted, raising his eyebrows - a gesture the customer decided to interpret as teasing. A similar response from her husband would have led to a quarrel.
"Do you ever offer to help around the house?" the customer asked.
Mustafa furrowed his brow. "I run the house," he said. "I pay the bills. I'm the one who deserves the help."
At this, the customer was at an uncustomary loss for words. Or ideas, for that matter. "Well, do you ever bring your wife flowers?" was all she could think to suggest at this point.
"What for?" Mustafa grunted.
"To make her feel good," the customer said, a bit more huffily than she'd have liked. A lot less huffily than if she'd been saying it to the man of her own house.
"Any woman having me take her in is already lucky beyond her wildest dreams," he said.
"Oh really?" the customer whined in a high-pitched sing-song usually reserved for arguments with Jewish men she would like to see tarred and feathered, if the practice were legal in Israel. "What makes you so special?"
"HE'S SERIOUS," Moshe bellows gleefully, downing the rest of his juice. "He really did get married again."
Mustafa ceremoniously hands the customer her order of felafel smothered in humous and hot sauce, and wrapped in warm dough. "Enjoy," he says, wiping sweat off his forehead with the bottom of his apron.
"What did your first wife say about that?" the customer asks, cautiously. She is completely disarmed.
"Nothing," Mustafa says, nonchalantly. "She doesn't know yet."
"She doesn't know yet?!" the customer nearly screeches between bites. "When were you planning on telling her?"
"When the second one gets pregnant," Mustafa says, as though the answer is so obvious as to render the question ridiculous.
"And then how will she react?" the customer asks, suddenly unable to finish her sandwich.
Mustafa shrugs. "She'll have to accept it," he says matter-of-factly.
"Why?" the customer whispers, then clears her throat.
"I'm allowed to take four wives," Mustafa says, proudly. "This is only number 2."
"And you're planning on being married to four women..." the customer mumbles, torn between one of her liberal tenets and the other.
"Sure, when I can afford it," Mustafa asserts, whipping up a fresh batch of chick-pea paste.
The customer puts down her food and fumbles with her wallet.
"I take my hat off to you, man," Moshe says to Mustafa. "Walla, one woman at a time is about all I can handle - in fact, one Jewish woman is too much for any man to handle."
"How dare you make such sexist, racist statements?" the customer shouts at the proprietor, glad to have found her tongue again, to use for lashing. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"Whoa, calm down, calm down," Moshe appeases, stretching out his palms to indicate placation, if not actual remorse. He is not anxious to alienate one of his regulars. Mustafa smiles ever-so-slightly, without skipping a beat in his methodical motions behind the counter.
Moshe gives the customer her change. "What's the matter with the felafel today?" he asks. "You barely took a bite."
"I lost my appetite," she hisses, before grabbing the receipt petulantly and exiting the premises.
Moshe waits for her to be a safe distance away, then turns to Mustafa.
"You see what I'm talking about?" he says, throwing his hands up in the air in exasperation. "No wonder we abolished polygamy."