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A NEW ?????/Debora Freund THE SCENT of petrol hit my nose on my first day of school in Israel in 1959. I was a ten year old used to the processed smells of an American schoolroom: the artificial sweet scents of chewing gum, cheap nail polish and hair spray, blended with those of dusty chalk and vinyl floors. The stench came from the back of the room, where a girl with shorn hair sat fingering her pencils, eyes lowered. "Kinim," a girl with long tresses announced loudly, pointing at her. I stared in horror mixed with fascination. The word kinim was familiar to me from the Passover hagada. It was the plague of lice sent to the Egyptians. I wondered what was so unique about the girl, that God had bothered to send a plague just for her. Her name, I soon learned, was Hanna Shaloush. A thin girl with shoes curling at the toes, she was chosen to sit next to me when the lice were gone. Our classmates envied her her proximity to my sixty-four, triple-decker Crayola set and the privilege of using my pencil sharpener with the attached can. She was the only one in class who had learned a few English sentences, mastered while serving behind the counter of her parents' fish stall. "Fresh today," she would say when she wanted to convey to me the teacher's instruction to write on a new page in our notebooks. "Please come again," she would tell me at the end of each day. The coins she dropped into the green collection can—passed around for the planting of new trees in Israel—glistened with fish scales. Although I didn't understand much of Hanna's jumbled English, the new palette of smells to which she introduced me was a language in itself. She reeked of camphor oil rubbed into her chest on cold days. Whereas my American friends had arrived at school on Fridays with curlers in their hair, hopeful to unravel thick Shirley Temple curls by sunset, Hanna's hair on Fridays glistened in the winter sun, rinsed with tangy-smelling vinegar in honor of the coming Sabbath. A more subtle odor emanated from her head on the days she fancied a special hairdo: Sugar mixed with lemon kept in check the loose strands of her uncoiled braids. My American paraphernalia was a source of constant wonder to Hanna. She saved the silver paper in which my sandwiches were wrapped, and decorated her notebooks with little cutouts of the The Missouri Review · 267 "mirror paper." She never tired of watching me blow bubbles with the gum constantly in my mouth, and I fed on her admiring gaze. We became real friends primarily because of my inexhaustible supply of Scotch tape. Large horn-rimmed glasses slid down Hanna's snub nose; a thick Band-Aid held together the ridge of her broken frame. The Band-Aid curled into an ugly brown and swelled at the edges after a few hours of perspiration, and by noon, the rash between her long-lashed, squinting eyes had turned into an angry red. I changed that. After a week or so of watching this ugly transformation, I began to yank off a strip of transparent tape from its plastic holder in my pencil case and carefully mend Hanna's frame. She let me do this without a word. From then on we were friends. In the first few weeks of school the favorite pastime of my classmates at recess was to play with the invisible nylon zipper on my sweater. Back and forth, back and forth. "Like a train on tracks," a freckled girl from a higher class exclaimed to me in German, the language we spoke at home. "Do snowflakes stay in your hand?" several of them wanted to know. "Is it soap that bubbles in your mouth?" "What is it like to watch TV?" "Weren't you afraid to sit inside a metal box the shape of a hollow bird racing in the sky?" No, I answered through my German translator. Snowflakes melted like ice cream, and an aeroplane was like a flying bus, without a bell to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 167-183
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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