And once we’ve reached the bridge, we stop.
I have seen the native fellaheen* cross on bikes and motorbikes,
phones in their back pockets,
blasting music that hits like sudden hail in the country stillness,
and echoes away.
These country folk, possible descendants of the first Muslims, must be pure of soul.
For us city dwellers,
not five yards across, this sirat mostaqeem** of patchwork metal with unfurling edges
tests us, licks at our feet, threatening the muddy irrigation canal below.
What toll must we pay to cross
To reach Paradise on the other side
is to walk the long straight roads, lined in lace of unripe orange groves, pregnant with fragrant promise, distant Palestinian mountains ahead, the taste of fresh taboun bread dipped in olive oil still on our tongues.
is to take in stride the sheep droppings and the barking stray dogs and the damp pungent manure as we run our fingers through wheat stalks, silver in the winter sun, that somehow smell like stars the city never sees.
is to hear for the first time, the absence of traffic, the rustling of palm trees in rows, like Byzantine pillars, upholding the basilica sky.
is to touch, finally, the wire fence at the end of the road.
is to turn back, the Holy City just out of reach.
*fellaheen: Arabic for peasant farmers.
**Al-Sirat al-Mostaqeem: Qur’anic name for the straight and narrow path of Matthew 7:14.
Aiya Sakr was born in the United States but grew up in Amman, Jordan, with a Palestinian, Egyptian, and Jordanian heritage. She has a Master’s degree in Literature and Writing from Utah State University. Currently, she resides in Amman with her husband and their blind cat, Shams. She teaches English literature.