Tore said it was hot whilst chewing on a carrot he’d found in his knapsack. It was hot actually. It felt like the sweat was being squeezed out of us by some giant unkindly hand, and salty beads of it ran from our brows down into our eyes.
We’d been picked up some hours before, (it felt like days) just outside the old city Jerusalem by some half arsed bearded Arab in an old jalopy. He stank of cigarettes and stale beer but he had laughed and had sung folk songs to us the whole journey right up into the Judaean hills. He had dropped us off, still singing, by the side of the narrow mountain road some miles back and now we were all silently wishing we hadn’t listened to Bronski’s crazy idea at all.
‘It’ll be great,’ he had said, his eyes bright with the kind of mad enthusiasm that took upon him every once in a while. ‘We’ll follow the aqueduct all the way into Jericho.’ And then he said ‘God damn it! We will flow into that city like a waterfall.’ Last night we had all gone along willingly with the idea. To be fair we had all been fairly laced with vodka and it seemed like a good way of breaking up the monotony of our daily grind in the glass factory.
We’d been walking for a couple of hours now and there was no sign of any aqueduct. The path was yellow dust and the bare rock hills stretched as far as we could see in every direction. A shimmering mirage lifted up from the land and to make things worse the sun was directly overhead. It beat down mercilessly and it made the heat come off the road like hot coals on a barbecue. I didn’t think we could go much further. I didn’t think any of us wanted to, except for Bronski.
Renata was the first to stop. She was the crazy Brazilian chick we had met back in the Negev, skin the colour of Demerara sugar and her hair all up in a hippy knot. She took a long drag on her water bottle and we waited expectantly for her to deliver. ‘Well guys’ she said in an American drawl, ‘I don’t see any frickin aqueduct.’ And we had all gazed hopefully toward the horizon imagining that it might suddenly reveal itself in a vision of loveliness.
Tore pointed vaguely at the map with the stump of his carrot. ‘Not far now,’ he said wishfully and Bronski nodded enthusiastically ‘I can feel it man,’ and he stamped his heavy boots onto the gravel track, ‘I can feel it!’ he shouted and his voiced echoed across the barren hills around us.
And then, almost as if Bronski’s shouting had summoned up the devil himself they appeared. Out of nowhere there came a great deafening thunder, a great heavy whapping rhythmic beat that drove vibrations right into our empty stomachs. We had all instinctively crouched down onto the dirt. They appeared over the crest of the hills, huge dragonflies, black and angry humming with a fearful sound that made it feel like the end of the world. They were Apache helicopters, and they hugged the rugged terrain like a lover, dipping and swooping till finally they passed directly over our cowed heads and sped onwards across the hills and into the hazey turquoise of the sky. The thumping still echoed about the hills for several minutes and we were all left with our hearts beating and breathless. It kind of spurred us on.
We trudged on silently for another couple of kilometres, Tore pointing every now and again up at the buzzards looping freely high above us in the dry mountain air. And then suddenly the valley widened and we arrived on the rocky lip of a large chasm. It was as if the mountain had been split by some huge knife and we all looked in wonder at the God-given rift that lay before us. A steep sided narrow gorge with tiny flecks of green running along its bottom. And there, three quarters of the way down its ragged sides was the aqueduct. It lent against the rock face like a guard rail running in long straight stretches and sparkling with clean rolling water.
Bronski was smiling right from ear to ear now and we all gazed silently at the view before us. A steep path zig-zagged down the valley and we took it in great bounding leaps our hearts full of joy and our backpacks bouncing behind us. We were yelping and shrieking with squeaks of delight. Grasses and palm trees began to appear beside the path and Tore almost ran into an old grey donkey that was plodding untethered up the valley. Bronski was the first to reach the aqueduct. He flung his pack down and pulled himself up over the rough lip laughing then flopped down fully clothed into the cold water. Soon we had all followed his example and we lay on our backs letting the cold water wash over us, washing off the yellow dust and then drinking down great gulps of it. It was delicious.
Later after we had dried ourselves we traipsed happily alongside the channel for a couple more hours until we were forced to leave its side. The path descended and the aqueduct passed overhead across several great stone arches. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked. We did reach Jericho eventually but it was late in the afternoon and the place was deserted. We sat on a pile of gravel and ate our sandwiches whilst the light faded and gave way to a marbled darkness.
That was one of the Bronski days that I remember well but there were many others.