Travel notesIssue 15 | June 2012

Xavier Meets the Wall

by Heather M. Surls

On the east side of the plaza, lit by floodlights, the wall rose before them: massive blocks of limestone, some placed by Herod the Great two thousand years before. A few shrubs cascaded from the seams between stones, finding their nourishment somewhere in the rock. The space near the wall was packed with Jews—women on the right, separated from the men by a wooden barrier. The space near the wall was packed with Jews—women on the right, separated from the men by a wooden barrier—and soldiers stood here and there, young men and women with semi-automatic weapons.

Xavier had a prayer to put in the wall, written on the back of a business card he’d found in his wallet. He didn’t know if he believed in anyone worth praying to, but it felt right, even necessary, to put something there. The American woman had one, too, but since the women’s side of the wall was so crowded (they only got a quarter of its length), he said he’d take hers with him.

He walked on the downward slanting stones, accepted a cheap, white satin kippa to cover his head, and entered the crowd of worshipers: men in black coats and hats, with wild beards and long curls framing their faces, rocking back and forth, chanting from prayer books, eyes closed to slits, mouths mumbling words just under the breath. He noticed a darkened strip on the stones at forehead level—the sweat and oil of thousands of people left behind for decades. He touched the wall, pocked with age, the cracks plugged with folded prayers—this one on yellow legal paper, that one on a pink receipt. They periodically cleaned the prayers from the cracks, he’d heard, and burned them in piles in the Kidron Valley, sweet incense rising to heaven.

He felt for a secure niche and pressed in his paper and the American woman’s, then stepped back, watching the men around him from the corners of his eyes. Should he say something? Should he stand still? Should he back away as he saw some doing?

He looked up, saw the top of the wall and the black sky above. The floodlights snuffed out many of the stars, but he still thought of the night they’d driven out of the city onto the blank moor, of how they’d laughed as the ends of the scarf wrapped around her bald head flapped in the wind. 

Rachel, he said to the sky, I hope at least you can see me.

He backed away from the wall, tottering unsteadily as the pavement rose, bumping into a couple of men. Then, when he figured he’d gone a respectful distance, he turned and left, dropping the satin skullcap in the bin near the entrance.

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About the author

Heather M. Surls was a Californian until she got married. Since then, she’s been a semi-nomad, first living near gloomy, coffee-addicted Seattle, then spending two years in Israel, where she worked for a study-abroad program and visited Jordan and Egypt. She now lives in the Chicago suburbs, where she continues her international experiences among Burmese, Vietnamese, Turkish and Liberian neighbors. You can find her work in Prairie Light Review and Relief .

Read our current issue:

Poetry

Two poems by Anne Babson
Vignette, Townhouse, 9 a.m. by Troy Cunio
Night Becomes Day Over the West by Megan Foley
Yukon River Aurora by D. B. Goman
Two Poems by David Havird
Cretan Love Letter by Emily Linstrom
Holland by Rick Mullin
Fear in Kenya by Kristina Pfleegor
The Lounge Lizard by Ed Shacklee
Two Poems by Sarah J. Sloat
Night Flight by Vicki Stannard
Koinonia Farms by Alina Stefanescu
Thessaloniki, Four a.m. by Anastasia Vassos
Imaginary Oceans by Jason Warren
Two Poems by F. J. Williams

Postcard prose

It’s Salty by Kelly Hill

Travel notes

Anchorage in the Great Land by Karen Benning
The Value of Small Money by Megan Hallinan
Screensaver by Sandra Larson
Thirty Cents by Tommy McAree
Gokarna by Kate McCahill
Going Places by Rachel Miller-Howard
Susanville CA: Notes From The Road by Susan Volchok