Our driver managed to avoid every checkpoint from Jericho until the last one before Nablus.

    “God be with you,” he said to each passenger as we paid and climbed out of the shared taxi. The words would have sounded automatic repeated seven times, except for the exhausted look on his face and the short nod he made with each benediction. Behind him the panorama of the checkpoint, framed and muffled by the windshield, looked like a movie paused between scenes. I was the last one out of the van and he added, “There are taxis on the other side to take you the rest of the way.”

    “Thank you,” I said. He nodded again and I slid across the bank of seats wondering how he knew that it was my first time there. Maybe he saw me walking around the bus terminal in Jericho asking for the taxis going to Nablus or maybe he noticed my almost-native Arabic when I asked him how much the ride would cost. It could have been lots of things: my silver Nikes stepping into the van; the climber’s backpack that I insisted on keeping crammed between my legs without realizing how long the forty-mile journey would take; the way I looked at my fellow passengers, knowing and not knowing them; the way I listened to their small, inconsequential conversations as though they were epic tales that I wanted to memorize. Perhaps he had seen me in the rearview mirror a few minutes before looking at the approaching checkpoint and thought that I looked anxious, the way a novice to the occupation would look. But I wasn’t staring at the checkpoint or the hordes of cars and people pushing into it.

I dragged the yellow door shut behind me, returning the company’s name and telephone number to the flank of the van, and walked through the herd of taxis that was waiting for passengers near the southern exit of the checkpoint. At the edge of the lot closest to the turnstiles, a cluster of carts and folding tables were arranged into a makeshift market: blue and white coolers propped up on plastic crates, metallic bags of chips hanging from umbrella spokes, candy bars arranged in patterns, rings of sesame bread being sold out of cardboard boxes, coffee pots rumbling on a pair of propane burners inside the open trunk of a car, plastic spoons stirring sugar cubes into small glass teacups with scratched gold rims, a mountain of bright red strawberries for sale. I stopped at the last cart where a teenage boy was adjusting the dials of a handheld radio with a Tweety Bird sticker on it. I stepped under the rainbow-colored plastic and he asked me what I wanted.

    “An orange juice,” I said, tapping the lid of the bottle he had on display.

    “Tikrum ‘aynak,” he obliged, turning into the yellow shade to reach his cooler then back into the red to hand it to me. “Two and a half shekels,” he said, wiggling two fingers and plucking the inside of the umbrella with his other hand, his fingers dyed blue and the rest of his arm green. He was humming with the radio. I handed him a five-shekel coin and he reached into his pocket for the change, singing with the crescendo. The coins clanked in my hand and I said thank you. He saluted me with the same two fingers and continued singing, staring at the hills beyond the taxis.