We were like two schoolgirls, giggling in front of the bathroom mirror in the restaurant where we were sharing a Mediterranean feast. The fact that I had recently turned forty-five, and that in a month Eman would join me in celebrating the same number of summers, made no difference. It was just one more fact we had in common like the daughters we were raising, now both watching their mothers revel in an unlikely friendship that had begun thirty-five years ago.
While the mirror reflected two distinct images, the Muslim woman with the long sleeves and the pink head covering exhibited as wide a grin as the curly haired, bare shouldered Israeli who had last seen her friend when she was ten. I complimented Eman on the skirt she was wearing, its delicate lace softening the severity of its modest floor-length cut. She reached out and gently touched my daughter’s cheek, telling her that she looked just like me when I was that age.
Back at the table, nothing extraordinary took place during the meal. Eman was attentive to her child’s needs, as I was to mine. Her daughter enjoyed the fries more than her vegetables, as did mine. We made the kind of small talk expected under such circumstances. We commented on the dishes before us, the warm weather we didn’t mind and the love we shared for Israel, the country for which my heart still yearned, despite the U.S. citizenship I had now held for years. The truly personal questions would have to wait for another time, another visit.
Later, during the brief car ride to the same home in which Eman had lived since my last visit to her village in Northern Israel, Arab music blared from the radio as she pulled over to point out various landmarks while I snapped photos to help me remember until my return. As her car climbed the last slope before her house, I saw the rebuilt medical facility where my mother had worked as a nurse in the 1970s, and where I had occasionally accompanied her like any child going to work with a parent. It was here that I had first met Eman, whose mother had been responsible for keeping the nurses’ station clean and making strong sweet tea she offered in amber-colored glasses.
Now seventy-six, Eman’s mother greeted me with a kiss on each cheek, inviting me back into the home where I had come to play as a child, where I sat on pillows around a low table and ate homemade pita bread warm from the oven.
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