Some children want to read but get interrupted by war. For example Tonia only wants to read Anna Karenina on the bus which takes her home, however...
She sighed and took out her copy of Anna Karenina in English. The bus soon jolted to a halt at the roadblock on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and an unfamiliar British police officer boarded. The regular policeman was friendly and usually waved them through. When he did stop the bus, it was to ask how things were or warn the driver about something he had heard. But this one was a stranger to them, young and arrogant-looking, brandishing a nightstick, square jaw jutting high.
‘Open that,’ he ordered Tonia and poked the stick at her backpack, which lay on the seat beside her.
His rudeness angered her and she ignored him, looking down at Anna Karenina and pretending to read.
‘This bus isn’t going anywhere, Miss.’ He almost smacked his lips on the ‘M’ of ‘Miss’ and bent down to bring his face closer to hers. ‘Not until I’ve checked that none of you Jews are carrying illegal arms. So open the bag.’
She unzipped the bag and pushed it toward him.
He turned the backpack upside down and shook it, spilling everything out. Her schoolbooks, notebooks, and the books she had bought for her father, still wrapped in newspaper, fell on the seat and floor. ‘Oops. So sorry about that. Now you can unwrap those packages.’ He tapped her father’s books.
Tonia rolled her eyes, did as she was told, and then gathered up her things while he searched the other passengers.
‘Get those wooden panels off the windows,’ the policeman barked at the driver. ‘Against traffic regulations.’
‘I didn’t put them on, and I can’t take them off,’ the driver said. ‘You’ll have to lodge a complaint with the bus company.’
The policeman wrote a citation, muttering about bloody hooligans and terrorist thugs. He handed it to the driver and gave Tonia a nasty look before getting off the bus. Then they pulled away, going south toward Hebron.
‘Tonia, get away from that open window now,’ the driver said, eyes flitting between the road in front of him and the rearview mirror. ‘Be a good girl and don’t make me have to explain to your mother that I let you sit there.’
‘I’ll tell her it wasn’t your fault.’ She picked up Anna Karenina. At least the time she spent riding the bus should be hers, to do as she pleased.
The road ran over the crest of a range of hills that formed a watershed. To the east lay the Judean Desert – naked peaks of earth and rock, glorious in their desolation. On Tonia’s right, the rocky hillsides glistened green, and tangles of yellow wildflowers clung to them. These straggly flowers could not rival the brilliant patches of pink and white cyclamen and red, white, and purple anemones that had sprung up after the first winter rains and just as quickly disappeared again, but they still afforded a better view than plywood.
They were approaching Solomon’s Pools, a water reservoir two miles south of Bethlehem, believed to have been dug during King Solomon’s reign. The area looked like a picture book. Cultivated plots near the pools surrounded small homes. Vineyards spilled down the hillside.
They had just passed the large rectangular stone building called Nebi Daniel and the driver had to slow for a curve. Tonia glanced up and saw three figures – three young men with kaffiyahs wrapped around their faces – rise from behind the acacias that hugged the roadside. She watched in paralyzed fascination as they raised their arms and threw the rocks they gripped at the bus. In the same motion they bent to scoop up a second round.
The first barrage crashed into the bus with frightening force, making the vehicle seem to shake. One of the women in the back screamed, and the engine roared as the driver tried to accelerate, but then hit the brake. Tonia could not take her eyes off one of the Arabs. He seemed to be staring right at her as he let loose the large jagged rock that came flying through the unprotected window.
It missed her head but grazed the end of her nose, and she felt blinding pain. The rock smashed into the opposite side of the bus and fell to the floor. Tonia instinctively moved her hands toward her nose, but was afraid to touch it. It felt as if the rock had torn it from her face, but she looked down and saw only a small trickle of blood dripping onto her lap. It couldn’t be that bad. She placed a finger on each side and, reassured that she still had both nostrils, let out a deep breath. The tip of her nose was bleeding, but she did not seem to be badly hurt.