I felt the first hint of a changed reality as the bus cruised its way toward Kiryat Gat last Tuesday evening. There had been a few rockets launched that way, and I wondered if perhaps I would finally be witness to the phenomenon. After all, there is a war on.
The bus was unusually empty, but I gave it little thought, and since I had not listened to the radio since ending my shift an hour earlier, I did not know that the first long-range missile had finally reached Be'er Sheva. In blissful ignorance I traveled to Jerusalem, had my meeting, and boarded the bus for the return ride at 11:00 pm none the wiser.
It wasn't until everyone was off the bus, and the driver was a few blocks from my house that he casually mentioned the attack on Be'er Sheva. He added that a rocket had also landed near Rahat, the largest Bedouin city in the nation.
I was stunned, but hid my shock. "So they finally did it, huh? NOTHING ever happens here in Arad. How BORING," I said with a grin. "Stupid, too. Suicidal, to hit the Bedouin. They don't forgive or forget, and revenge is for seven generations. These terrorists are going to end up BEGGING to enter our jails before it's over." Waving goodnight, I sauntered down the street.
In bed, I obsessed for hours trying to decide whether it had been an anomaly or if in fact it was the start of a new trend in rocket launches. Sleep eluded me, and after a two-hour nap, I faced the day with grainy eyes and a new cup of joe.
I dragged myself to the bus stop, since I had to go to the Tax Office – in Be'er Sheva. The latest news caught up with me as a fellow passenger tried to calm a friend down on the phone.
My questions didn't have long to wait. While I had struggled to rest, in the hour after dawn, the faceless terrorists who hated me so much had already gotten busy and fired another missile.
This time their aim was better; instead of hitting the schoolyard as they had the night before, the long-range Chinese-made Grad-type Katyusha missile had slammed into a ninth grade classroom.
Home Front Command had robbed the terrorists of their prey, however: the centrally-located Be'er Sheva high school was empty. The IDF had advised the city to cancel school and keep children home for the rest of the week.
The problem was that the siren wasn't working in most parts of the city – so people had no idea when or if there were rockets flying their way. Radio Darom (Southern Radio) ended up picking up the slack by becoming the platform for broadcasting the alert instead; but the 200,000 residents of the city were less than comforted.
The young lady sitting next to me on the bus was downright unhappy. Her boss, who lived in Jerusalem, had no idea what was going on and had insisted she open the store, which was located next to the Central Bus Station, a key target. She called him back and finally convinced him to turn on the news; once he heard that a school had been hit, he changed his tune quickly and told her to go home. She got off the bus long before we reached the city and headed back.
It was more than a little weird riding on the bus, in essence, a moving target. I became unnaturally aware of being exposed to the elements, completely at the mercy of any flying object. The bus driver seemed unperturbed, however. (I once heard that all the bus drivers in Israel were former IDF tank corps members – now I believe it.)
Since I began writing this post, former IDF tank corps members have since been called back to their vehicles and are now lined up and moving into Gaza.
I don't know if our bus driver is among them. But whoever they are, may G-d protect them from all harm and bring them all back safe to their families and to us here at home -- and yes, to their buses... sigh...