|Inas Shawkat Khalil, killed by an Israeli settler on October 19|
When I found out she was his daughter, I was jolted back to ten years ago. Ten years...a single decade. I forgot older people continue to grow. An adult is still on the ride, growing, developing, turning into husbands, fathers, wives, mothers. As a teenager you expect the adults in your life to remain stagnant, forgetting they also have lives of their own.
He was our driver for the first year we moved to Ramallah. He took us to school every morning and picked us up every afternoon.
I can’t remember if he smoked inside the car or not. He didn’t wear his seatbelt, because there wasn’t a fine against that back then. None of us wore seatbelts. The car was always clean, and sometimes I’d feel sorry for him as he’d stand patiently outside in the sweltering heat trying to spot us from the shrill gaggle of chirping schoolgirls. A girls’ high school is like hell on earth, with so much drama, wild imagination and sexual repression. Not to mention that the teachers regarded any male outside the prison walls of school over the age of puberty as a threat to their sacrosanct students.
He was polite, and made us feel at ease by either not talking or sticking to generic subjects like the weather. Whenever we were late coming down in the morning, he would good-naturedly sit in his taxi and wave off our apologies, even it was a particularly frosty morning.
Gradually, school wasn’t the only place he would drive us to. He got to know my grandmother’s and my aunts’ houses. As the months went by, we gave in to small talk. I wonder what impressions he must have had of my siblings and I, with our accented Arabic and excessive politeness. These are the only memories I have of him because they've become watered down in the torrent of other blended years, representing something akin to the outer ripples from the stone thrown in the river.
I can’t remember his face. It's not as captivating as his daughter's. He was just another twenty-something year old Palestinian young man who put too much gel in his black hair, wore the low-waist faded blue jeans that guys his age found popular, and displayed the inexplicable style of growing his pinky nail that a lot of taxi drivers adopt.
We didn’t have a car back then, and it took us a couple of years to finally settle down which meant that throughout that period, we lived in five different houses. The last one was a 15 minute walk to school from the main road. The only problem I had with that was enduring the daily verbal sexual harassment from the uniformed and armed bastards, that is, the Palestinian Authority security forces. I hated it, and I hated them, but there was never a chance a crazy Israeli settler would run over and kill me. Guess that’s one of the perks of living within the parameters of the PA compound security zone.
His daughter looked like her mother. I’ve avoided clicking on the link to the video where his wife, grief-stricken and shocked, cries as she tries to speak while the camera encroaches into her space. In some of the other photos, she's clutching their daughter's Hello Kitty bag.
What were you going to learn at your nursery that day? Did you normally walk with your friend Touleen Asfour? Did your families teach you to hold hands whenever you walk on the road? Were you a precocious child, who could already read and write and count to 100? Did you enjoy painting, or colouring, or drawing? Why didn’t your father take you to school that morning, Inas, oh God why didn’t he?!
I’m not blaming him, it’s not that. I don't even know if he still has his taxi. I forgot he got older, you see, and that he got married and became a father. Maybe it was such a routine walk for you they had no reasons to worry or imagine the worst-case scenarios. It’s devastating. I wish he drove you there. And then picked you up later that afternoon, instead of from the morgue.
Rest in power, little Inas. It might comfort your parents knowing that you’re above us, watching us. It might not. I don’t know. Ensuring safe roads to walk on for God’s chosen miserable folk was never part of the neoliberal state-building agenda. It just seems so inappropriate to turn this into a surge of vitriol directed against the monsters that are in control of the land and the vile beasts that profit from that control, who fill their decadent hollow voids in their lives at the expense of little girls walking to their nurseries.
Your father drove me and my sister and brother to school once upon a time. He's a good man, reliable and patient. Ten years is a long time, as well as a fleeting moment. You were born in the middle of it, and you're already gone. I hope your parents will have the patience to endure. It seems gratuitous saying that as you were snuffed out of their lives by that murdering cowardly settler. Your sweet quiet smile won't be forgotten. It's not enough, it never is, and we're cursed with remembrance in the face of this continued atrocious impunity.