Jerusalem Has Been Cancelled Due to Lack of Interest

The city had been a peaceful one, relatively, until a certain Eastern influence (leapfrogging the Security Fence) – a singular ex-PLO corruptor – had decided to realign the place to the duned prehistory it had first sprung from. It could not have been a radical (the city had been planted in tourism and a new sense of the cosmopolitan) – no, untouchable to Hamas, to the Jews, to anyone in last century’s clothes... No, it was only in reach of this barefoot individual Arab, this ‘Aziz al-Addin’ (forever pleased with the assonance of his own name): history-swept wanderer passing daily-drunk amongst the strangers of East and West Jerusalem, too blind to further distinguish secular Arab from the darker shades of Yid, humming half-forgotten liberation melodies under the vodka on his breath. ‘Step over him,’ say the imams – a man like this contributes nothing to the struggle. But how many of these citizens (refugees, mostly, at some point) could say that behind the prejudices of shoelessness and a complete lack of Hebrew, therein lay a kernel of that same power granted to history’s overwritten few: the power to destroy a city? Stumble, trip, he walks – yet to find even a residue of his post-marriage favourites (hashish, opium, ecstasy in the age of children) and instead settling fifty shekels on a bottle of Ramallan arak and enjoying a back-alley coma. His father had been an inventor of sorts; something of that blood still moved him when one morning, boozeless and suicidal, he bought a canister of K-3000 (cockroach gas) and sprayed it inexplicably into a bag of shuk-bought date-leaves, and dried it in the sun, and rolled the leaves into a cigarette, and inhaled the fumes, and waited...

It seemed he hadn’t really wanted death. Rather, he simply cut the ribbon on a new avenue of reality, not in a Newtonian sense, but in a sense that, for the moment, belonged to Aziz al-Addin alone. He watched, confused, impatient, as his former wife (fat but lovable, totally involved with Palestine) turned the corner into his unnamed alleyway, kissed his cheek, laughed and left. He hadn’t seen her since he had fled the family home, sans au revoir, back in ninety-seven, but before he could explore the what-where-who-and-Infinite-Why, his wife came again around the corner – in a different colour scheme altogether – and again kissed his cheek, tittered this time, and left. His mind had no time to catch up with this duplicate manifestation; he was getting what he wanted. Instead, he sat there on the ground for the next ten minutes receiving dozens of his wives, all the same but different, all his wife but someone else, queuing up behind one another, until he was left levelled and mute beside a bag of date-leaves and a canister of K-3000. ‘Hashish?’ he laughed. Had he really wanted something so sterile and adolescent? He dipped his fingers back into the batch, rolled another, and waited...

The spirit of his father absorbed him. He spent the next week conducting (loosely-) controlled experiments on himself – measuring dosage, varying preparation methods, noting results. The things he wanted (mostly company, it seemed, female or otherwise) approached him in droves – those he had no desire to see (father-in-laws, policemen, IDF) never appeared. He was only once chased around the Old City by a pack of hungry dogs after re-discovering some pre-pubescent wish for a pet. He had then every form of satiation: waiters to bring his lunch, mediocre shesh besh-players, and doting Frau al-Addin’s to satisfy him at will. But, like every drunk, he needed money. He picked a plan ripe from the growing entrepreneurship of the city (even in his state he could see the emulation of Tel Aviv on every street corner). Several batches pre-prepared, he smoked a bowl (science had led him to the efficiency of the traditional nagila-method) and waited, pen-in-hand to make his own accounts. The boy who turned the corner was an obvious tourist: rucksack, shorts, unsloganed t-shirt, Carmel Market baseball cap (black and white), boots in the heat of summer. He walked up faux-confidently, presented a hundred shekel note on one bended knee, took a finger’s-worth (Aziz had no name for the stuff), walked too-quickly away. ‘That cockroach shit’ (he needed something, even for his own sanity) brought him a thousand shekels in twenty minutes. Why begrudge himself another pre-future puff before he leaves the alley?

His new rooms were modest (a lie! they were lavish as an oligarch’s palace!); he felt at home amongst the business-Russians of Rehov H_____, West Jerusalem, though he talked with none of them, preferring to exchange knowing glances with nothing behind them. From his window he could see rucksacked tourists searching happily for this phenomenon they called ‘Wunderblatt’ or something similar, buying from a few lucky Coptics or from some smiley legal high stalls sprouting like poisonous fungus around the city. He watched the women and waiters moving in shoals looking for work; he watched the dogs, cats, parrots and tortoises fighting, feeding, copulating, creating their own eco-system; he saw men in plainclothes (Hamasians, Mossadists, government, police, the C. – I. – A....) hunting desperately for samples (for laboratory work and beyond). Aziz’s full belly laughed on his behalf. When he wanted a pedicure, he had one expert for each toe.

Things changed when he saw his wife whoring near the central bus station. She whisked him quite physically to the brothel; the souls of seventeen of her were starving there. He felt nothing, but curiosity took him on a walk around the city. The tourists had by now filled every hostel to capacity and were now forming camps on the lesser hillsides. The chance bong-hit of a far-from-home American Zionist had dispersed a problematic number of Jewish spores into the West Bank; so great was the problem that the Arabs ran out of bricks to build the Jews’ houses with. A feral band of fully-citizenised Sudanese were gang-fucking certain less-than-desirable suburban neighbourhoods. The Ethiopians, of course, were raising eyebrows towards a future claim. The Old City had become so crowded that security staff could barely move between shifts, leaving infuriated (and increasingly – ooo, physical!) IDF officers sometimes days at their post without relief. Aziz watched the bulk of it from his window, cockroach-shit-nagila installed beside him, with a television glaze. A subtle change had occurred inside of him. He had not noticed it.

In September, a few days before Eid al-Adha, the Western Wall disappeared. Where it had stood, nothing remained: a literal nothingness existing (or not existing) in complete opposition to everything, something, anything. What happened to the Wall, nobody could say. The few Hasidics headbanging in front of it at the time had witnessed nothing. Approximations were made (absurd dissertations like the openings of cheap jokes: ‘How many Arabs would it take to move the Western Wall...?’), accusations were parried, a new bubble of non-resolution was inflated and left wobbling. What would be next to meet erasure? Yad Vashem? The Knesset? The Dome of the Rock? Aziz, eternal in his qualunquismo, thought nothing of it. Wunderblatt-money kept him in arak, picante noodles and colour TV – only the latter had the power to disrupt. A news report sometime around Sukkot lassooed him by the subconscious and kept him awake throughout. The Prime Minister, in a media move reflective of... (what? ‘the times...’?), had volunteered himself to be lowered via helicopter onto a special stage (it was time, even poor Aziz knew, to address that strange shit going on in the capital) for a press conference that was never to be. What spike of fate or fatelessness had arranged the molecules of that very stage to revoke their existence, to revert back to the primeval Nada, to self-terminate, to cease precisely at the moment that Netanyahu’s foot was to settle there – leaving him... where else but elsewhere? – is incalculable. His foot reached nothing; he himself reached nothingness. He had stepped into the void. No grasp of Hebrew was needed to understand the footage.

Israel, leaderless. It was time for Aziz to pay attention.

Increase of dosage: hmm... thirty percent? A brigade of physicists, biologists and chemists arrived at his apartment; they spoke quarks, bosons, a hyperlanguage unattainable even to themselves. They stepped aside for the philosophers (‘It’s life!’), the theologians (‘It’s Allah!’), the psychologists (‘It’s you, Aziz!’) – a clutter of extended index-fingers in every direction. The only answer came eventually from a wife of his, appearing at the door with a dozen in tow... It was an answer with a question mark attached. ‘Kus emek!’ The words left him as he fell to his knees. ‘What do I want?’ It took more than one swig of the old Ramallan to knock the thought out of him.

Morning: the room was scattered with empty bottles and filled-up prophylactics. As the first sigh made a break for its breath-kin at the open window, the furniture in Aziz’s room disappeared and dropped him heavily onto a rugless floor. A wind of nothing swept through the doors from the corridor – all sound from the other apartments immediately came to silence. He reached for the cockroach-shit; hubble-bubble and a swift window-exit. The street was full of people he knew. The tourists had taken Davidka Square. Yafo Road had become some soulless Deutsche Kolonie spreading down towards the Old City (poor Aziz pacing there, checking sporadically over his shoulder for signs of disaster). There were no trams in existence; public transport had already been engulfed. The morning sun pushed an epiphany into his eyes: existence itself depended upon his ability to desire. The heathen-shit in his pocket was the first to go. And now? A feeling of satiation swelling in his full, homeless belly vast enough to digest the entire city. Guttering the Wunderblatt had done nothing to curb the vacuum. He desired less and was met with less and even less. The road led uninterrupted to the Old City, down to that focal point of contested history, thrice levelled, conquered, re-conquered, rebuilt, and yet... Aziz wanted no part of it. The Muslims had wanted it, the Jews had wanted it – even the atheists and Nazis had had designs on the place. But Aziz didn’t. He had lived the city from the drains up. He wanted nothing; he had activated the negating force that counter-balances the thrust of the universe. Now the cosmos would be able, as it had desired since the very beginning, to take Jerusalem, to embrace it, and to annul its existence.

West Jerusalem – yalla bye. As the final bricks disappeared into history, with the last of the Jews clinging to the Security Fence, a small pocket of Arabs let out a celebratory Jericho-roar. The party stopped dead when a helpful blind man pointed out that the erasure of the Jews had also taken with it the Arab Quarter of the Old City, the Dome of the Rock and every construction site and shuk-stall in the area. Aziz walked through streets of torn-out hair that same day, unfazed – unaware, actually, of the de-Siamesation of his ancient home; he had been back in East Jerusalem for weeks. After the severance, certain Arabs scattered into Jordan (they were promptly hunted down and murdered); others stayed in the city, batting back accusations from the UN and others (rumours of smuggled Iranian superweapons: ‘By God, they really could blast us out of existence!’). Children threw stones over the Fence, delighted by the lack of clatter as the little missiles landed nowhere, struck an absent enemy. It was the American apocalypticos who predicted the next move. East Jerusalem could not survive, of course. That corrupting agent, though willed out of poor Aziz’s pockets, held an influence that could never be countered. The minus-value was spreading from modern man’s disintegrated living-meaning outwards – who could predict or prepare for or protect from or prevent any assault that comes from such psychogeographic coordinates? What levels of absurdity would the governments of the Middle East and beyond have to stretch towards for anything like a practical solution? Here: the American apocalypticos, eschatological manuals underarm, had been putting the idea into people’s heads for decades, centuries perhaps, even before Einstein had awakened us to a new age of scientific sunlight.

The submarine that surfaced from the Mediterranean that winter morning probably belonged to the Israelis, or possibly the Yanks – regardless, it was hidden from nobody. Tourists (mostly Deutsche Kolonie-refugees who had started wandering around the country) managed to snap it from the cable-car at Rosh Hanikra, though they had no one but each other to share the photographs with. The warheads landed in the newly-mapped ‘End Zone’ like croutons in soup. An embarrassed international community were willing to pretend it had never taken place (the bill: seven-figures at least). To the disappointment of the armageddonists on each side, nothing so simple as a mere ‘external nuclear coercion’ (as the brief on a certain world-leader’s desk had read) would be enough to destroy this city – this city that had already been resurrected from the ashes of the Babylonians, the Romans, the Ottomans. It was only in the hands of ‘this history-swept wanderer [...], humming half-forgotten liberation anthems under the vodka on his breath’ – how unusually the power of civilisations passes from individual to collective and back again.

Aziz sat hugging his beloved Ramallan arak in an alleyway he remembered from childhood or had at least invented in his addled memory. He wasn’t crying; that would have required something he didn’t have. He still had no concept of the end, no concept of himself at all. If asked why he thought the history of the city was finally coming to a total and irresumable close, he may have burped or told a joke. He knew nothing; he desired nothing; he had nothing. He was almost, almost nothing.

He scaled a drainpipe for no reason at all and sat on a stranger’s roof. The sun was going down somewhere; he couldn’t see where. He broke the empty bottle of arak. The din of panic, frantic music and insobriety wafted up from what remained of the city. He didn’t want to hear it. It meant nothing now: his broken marriage, his wasted years, the city his apathy had consumed. No message reached him from the conscience of the world. There was no lullaby, and equally there would be no requiem. As he fell asleep on a rug of sackcloth, his thoughts far from Jerusalem, far from the world and from himself, a short, mumbled sentence left his lips like a eulogy for the city. ‘Nighty-night then, I suppose.’

A joke, really, that that was how Jerusalem ended – not with a towering mushroom-cloud something, but with a nothing-shaped scentless nothing, a totalising lack of interest, a smokeless extinguishing smothering.

Jerusalem, it seemed, could never be destroyed; it could only be cancelled.

joebedford.co.uk

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