Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 741
In the first of its nine numbered sections, the story begins with a depiction of the northern flight, sanctioned by Israeli military authorities, of Bedouin Arabs from a famine in the drought-ravaged south to a kibbutz and of the appearance and behavior of the Bedouins, their flocks, and their camels....
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In the first of its nine numbered sections, the story begins with a depiction of the northern flight, sanctioned by Israeli military authorities, of Bedouin Arabs from a famine in the drought-ravaged south to a kibbutz and of the appearance and behavior of the Bedouins, their flocks, and their camels. Typical encounters between the Bedouins and kibbutzniks (residents) are described, along with the eerie nocturnal Bedouin music and the baying of their dogs—all of which unsettles the kibbutzniks and their own dogs.
The story then describes animal diseases and crop losses from the Bedouins’ flocks and an “epidemic” of petty thefts by Bedouins in the kibbutz. There is some physical retaliation by young kibbutzniks and an administrative confrontation between Etkin, the secretary of the kibbutz, and the elderly leader of the Bedouins. However, the meeting is unsatisfactory because the Bedouin leader admits his people’s responsibility for only a fraction of the damage. After the Bedouins leave, Etkin coolly ignores the personal insults of the younger generation kibbutzniks and humanely argues against their retaliating against the Bedouins. However, he agrees to a vote of the secretariat, whose meeting he urges Geulah, a twenty-nine-year-old resident, to attend, asking her to bring a pot of her celebrated coffee and a lot of good will.
Geulah, irritable after being awakened from sleep by Etkin, is wandering around outside on a hot, humid night. She is short, energetic, and pretty from a distance but has acne. She makes coffee and cookies for gatherings and once had a relationship with the narrator, a writer and member of the secretariat. During their relationship, she often strolled with him to the orchard, mercilessly criticized his stories, and dropped flirtatious hints. Now, the narrator usually avoids her, although he anonymously gives her a book of poems for each birthday, but she continues to take walks to the orchard by herself.
A still-restless Geulah works at breaking a discarded bottle that has attracted her attention and then decides to go to the orchard before making coffee for the secretariat meeting. At the orchard, she sheds her sandals and unexpectedly encounters a similarly barefooted young Bedouin goatherd, who is there with his flock. As they casually converse in Hebrew and Arabic, Geulah notices the youth’s rugged handsomeness and accepts his offer of a cigarette and light. She asks him if he is hot in his robe, accuses him of trespassing and doing damage with his flock, and watches him unsuccessfully discipline a goat for foraging. After urging him to give up disciplining the goat, she makes some suggestive remarks about his love life and watches him worriedly gather his goats and disappear with the flock. At the same time, she sees an Israeli warplane on maneuvers, panics, and runs home as if pursued, although she is not.
Back in her room, Geulah makes coffee and decides that Etkin’s humane attitude toward the Bedouins is wrong. When she showers in the communal stalls, she imagines herself being assaulted by the Bedouin youth at the orchard and concludes that her imaginary mistreatment justifies the retaliation of the kibbutz youths against the Bedouins. Later, she starts back to her room to pick up the coffee and has an overwhelming emotional reaction as she thinks about the Bedouin. As she repeatedly thinks “there’s still time” (which may refer to either preparing the coffee or fulfilling her own romantic desires), she hears the counterpoint of Israeli warplanes and Bedouin music.
Members of the secretariat wait in vain for Geulah’s coffee and debate about the Bedouins until a dispute between Etkin and the younger generation breaks up the meeting. Although the narrator does not share the views of the young men, he accompanies them out of the meeting, feeling that he, too, has been unfairly deprived of his right to speak. In the next section, the narrator wonders if Geulah’s attendance—along with her wonderful coffee—might have calmed the meeting, not knowing how Geulah has changed.
The focus then shifts back to Geulah, who lies outside in the bushes watching the airplanes, struggling between feelings of love and hate for the young goatherd. She feels the cut from a shard of the discarded bottle she broke earlier or a viper slithering among the glass fragments, and she wearily watches Israeli soldiers advance on the Bedouin camp as she caresses the dust with her fingers, her face calm and almost beautiful.