The Chameleon (Easter Bethlehem 1987)

Hussein peered across at the chameleon. He hadn’t noticed him there at first. It had been basking in the heat of the Israeli noon day sun. Unlike Hussein who had sought the shade from under the branches of an ancient gnarled olive tree, which was conspicuous as being the only sign of life in the desert. He had been trying to red from his school books, but his mind had begun to wander.
It was only when the creature had blinked, that Hussein had realised it was there. He suddenly remembered the old widow, who lived three doors down from his home. She had said a chameleon like Judas had denounced Jesus.
Hussein couldn’t imagine how such a laconic disinterested little creature could have accomplished such a catastrophic deed. Did it change colour suddenly for no apparent reason as Jesus had walked past? Or had he quickly darted into a crevice and peeped out at the Roman soldiers who had gone stampeding along, looking for Jesus? May be it had just blinked as this chameleon had at Hussein. Just how had it denounced him?
Then he pondered, once it had given Jesus away, by whatever means open to a chameleon, did it feel guilty after the deed? Did the chameleon have the ability to feel pain and guilt and all the range of emotions that a human feels?
Hussein grabbed a stick from under the olive tree and with childish inquisitiveness poked the chameleon. Its eyes bulged momentarily and then it froze as if in fear. But then Hussein decided it wasn’t in terror at all, it was just that the creature was too lazy to move. The sun had made him so soporific it just couldn’t be bothered. Which considering his reputed dislike of Jesus, the indifference to the stick seemed rather odd.
The second time he poked him with the stick, the chameleon gulped and his eyes bulged again for a moment longer. Its skin slowly transposed itself from sandy yellow through to khaki, to sage green and to a bright acid green and then back to yellow.
Eventually the chameleon moved away almost as if he was extricating himself from a treacle spillage, slowly disappearing into the harsh landscape with total ease.
Hussein sat for a little while longer. He was bored. School had been closed for a week because of the riots. At first it had been fun, playing in the streets of Bethlehem with his friends. But it hadn’t taken his quick mind long to become wearied by the monotony of having very little to do.
Now as he sat under the tree, he wished the riots would stop and the authorities would open the schools again.
He decided to go into Bethlehem. In the distance on another hill, Hussein could see a dark speck moving through the terrain. As he stared out at the shimmering heat haze, he thought maybe it was a solitary goat, separated from its herd. He stood and watched the specs progress.
At one stage it looked like a big black raven. But after a few more minutes Hussein could see, it was just a man dressed in black, probably one of the many priests on his way to church. It was Easter weekend and Bethlehem would be very busy.
The silence of the landscape was punctuated by the harsh bray of a donkey. Painfully and slowly the cacophony filled the air. The noise became louder and more laboured as the black figure approached.
Hussein looked around him, trying to see where the donkey was. But there was nothing, except him and the black figure.
He waited for the priest to catch up with him. The donkey stopped his uproar and the desert was still and silent again.
The man looked down at the boy with intense dark eyes. Finally asking “Have you got some water?”
Hussein shook his head, “But if we go down into the town. I am sure one of the priests in the church will give you water – come with me.”
Hussein searched his memory for who this man was. A fleeting image of a newspaper cutting on the bedroom wall, before Israeli soldiers had peppered the room with gunfire came and then went again.
They reached the town of Bethlehem. They walked passed a cafe. Excitable exchanges of words hung in the air like the scent of jasmine.
“They’ll never catch him this time…”
“If they do he won’t go back to that prison again……”
“Crucify him, that’s what they will do, just like his namesake…….”
“But how will they know what he looks like, he must have changed his appearance by now…..”
“Yes like a chameleon……”
Hussein and the stranger continued down through Manager square up towards the Nativity Church. At the Church when Hussein looked round the stranger had gone, he shrugged his shoulders and
ran off back up the hill towards his home.
An Israeli jeep came down the same road. The driver slammed his brakes on and screeched to a halt in cloud of dust. Hussein noticed the head of the chameleon peer out from the crevice in the wall. The same bulging eyes as the one earlier, but this one was slightly bigger in size.
As the jeep pulled away, Hussein heard over their radio,“Abraham, we have found Jesus. Repeat Abraham we have found Jesus. The chameleon is caught.”                            Hussein’s eyes widened in amazement, suddenly the newspaper clipping became clear in his mind. He carried on walking a bit faster towards his home. Jesus, the hero of the Intifada! The great hope of the Palestinian people. Surely they hadn’t caught him? No, it was a mistake.
Outside his home, he leant against the wall to catch his breath. In the distance, he heard a shot and then three more.
He stared at the wall, and there was the chameleon. This time it closed just one eye, Hussein saw it wink. Then came the realisation of what had happened. It was true a chameleon had denounced Jesus with just the blink of an eye.

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