Go on, Henri, go talk to them. You’re a gendarme, they’ll listen to you.”
I put down my empty coffee cup and moved my feet around under the table, trying to find my slippers. “How many times do I have to explain it to you, Grandma? I’m not a gend — a policeman. I’m a soldier, a soldat. I don’t have anything to do with them, so why should they listen to what I have to say?”
“Because you’re tall as a building and you wear a gendarme’s uniform —”
“So you’re a soldat, what’s the difference? You go to them with your pistolet and tell them that if they climb our loquat tree one more time, you’ll throw them in the calabouse and shoot them, or something, just so they stop coming into our yard …”
Grandma’s faded eyes were moist now, and bloodshot. She really hated those kids. The old lady wasn’t all there, but out of respect I said okay. That evening, I heard them in the tree. I put on a pair of shorts and a sleeveless undershirt and told Grandma I was going out to talk to them.
“No,” she said, blocking my way to the door, holding my ironed dress uniform. “You’re not going out to them like that. Put on your uniform.”
“Leave it alone, Grandma,” I said, trying to get past her. She leaned against the door stubbornly, handing me my uniform.
“Your uniform,” she said firmly.
I walked down the front steps, with her hopping down behind me. I felt mortified dressed up like a model soldier. She even made me wear the unit insignia. “Henri, you forgot this,” she whispered in her raspy voice and held out the Uzi, loaded and cocked. If my commander had seen me then with my weapon in my hand, I’d have gotten two weeks inside.
I snatched the gun out of her hand, took out the magazine, and gently uncocked it. A bullet fell out of the muzzle onto the grass. “Why’d you bring me the gun, are you crazy? They’re only kids.”
I gave her the gun, but she slapped it right back into my hand. “That’s not kids, that’s animals,” she said resolutely.
“Okay, Grandma, I’ll take the rifle.” I gave in with a hopeless sigh and kissed her cheek. “Now go inside.”
“Oh, mon petit gendarme,” Grandma said, clapping her hands happily. Filled with satisfaction at her small victory, she skipped up the steps.
“Soldat,” I cried after her. “For fuck’s sake, I’m not a fucking policeman.” And I walked down the rest of the steps.
The kids in the loquat tree kept on making noise and breaking branches. I was planning to take off my shirt, wrap the rifle in it, and hide it in a bush so I’d look more or less normal when I went over to them, but the sight of Grandma’s face peering out from behind a curtain stopped me. I walked over to a kid who was climbing the tree, grabbed him by the shirt, and pushed him onto the ground. “Yallah,” I yelled, “everyone out of the tree. This is private property.” There was a second of silence, then an answer came from one of the high branches. “Oh, I’m so scared. A soldier. You want to kill us, Mr. Soldier?” A rotten loquat hit me in the head.
The kid I’d pushed onto the ground got up and looked at me with contempt. “Paper pusher,” he said. “My brother’s in a combat patrol unit, working his ass off, and you’re not ashamed to walk around with the insignia of that unit of pussies from Tel Aviv?” He brought up a gob of phlegm and spat on my shirt. I whacked him on the head hard enough to knock him down.
How the hell did the little schmuck know about insignias?
“Did you see that son of a bitch hit Meron?” someone yelled up in the tree.
“Hey, homo, what are you doing walking around in uniform on a Friday night?” another one shouted. “Can’t you afford Levi’s?”
“If he’s so hot for the army, let’s give him an intifada so he doesn’t get bored,” the first one shouted, and the one in the tree started throwing loquats. I tried to climb up to him, but it was next to impossible, what with the rifle and all.
Suddenly, a brick landed on my shoulder, and it turned out that there was another kid in the bushes. “PLO,” he yelled and gave me the finger. Those kids were really fucked up. Before I could chase him, the kid who’d spat on me got up, his whole face covered with mud, kicked me in the balls, and started to run away. I saw red and caught up with him in about three steps. I pulled him by the shirt from behind and he fell. I started to beat on him. The one who threw the brick jumped onto my back, and two others came down from the tree to help him. They stuck to me like leeches. One of them bit me on the neck. I tried to shake them off and we all fell in the mud. I was punching them left and right. But those midget bastards had balls. They wouldn’t give up no matter how much I hit them. I was holding one with each hand and was choking the third one with my legs when suddenly that Meron, who seemed to be their leader, smashed me in the head with a rock. The world spun, and I felt blood dripping onto my forehead. I heard a round of gunfire and noticed that I hadn’t had the rifle for a while. It must have fallen when we were rolling around in the mud.
“Leave my grandson alone, sales bêtes.” I heard my grandmother’s voice. “Or else I’ll finish you all off like carp in the bathtub.”
I didn’t know if it was real or I was dreaming. “Watch out, the old lady’s crazy.” I heard Meron’s voice and felt all the hands letting go of me.
“And now get out of here, tout de suite,” I heard my grandmother order them and then the sound of feet sloshing through mud.
“Look at how they dirtied your gendarme clothes,” she said, and I could feel her hand on my shoulder. “And they split your head open,” she continued her lament. “Never mind, I’ll bandage you up and wash the clothes so they look like new. And God, he’ll take care of those little devils. Come home, Henri, it’s getting cold.” I stood up, and the world kept spinning and spinning.
“Tell me, Grandma,” I asked, “where’d you learn to load a gun and shoot like that?”
“From a Jacques Norris movie. It was on TV, before that cable bastard turned off the movies,” she recalled angrily, “and ran off with my money. Tomorrow you’ll wear your gendarme uniform and go pay him a visit too.”
“Grandma!” I blurted out furiously, my forehead burning like hell.
“Sorry, Henri. Soldat,” Grandma apologized and skipped up the steps.
Etgar Keret is the author of The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories and The Nimrod Flipout. “Loquat” is excerpted from The Girl on the Fridge, his new collection of stories forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.