‘Tenants’ is a short story by Malaysian writer Sukhbir Cheema in response to the 2023 Israel-Gaza war.
“Whenever there is immense hatred and call for blood, I can’t help but feel that people are being manipulated by opportunistic, greedy psychopaths who are knowingly and unknowingly doing the bidding of a tyrannical, jealous, dark entity that hungers for blood sacrifice,” Bahadur said.
He was, of course, referring to politicians.
Shirtless, in his floral boxers, and flip-flops, Bahadur sipped on coffee noisily as the sole light from his TV illuminated his tiny living room.
In his 70’s, Bahadur, a retired army general, has only one job.
“Every night, I make myself a hot cup of coffee and watch the 12 o’clock news. Whenever I see people suffering, I start praying for them.”
Just as he was speaking, the TV illuminated with footage of Gaza being bombed.
“Please excuse me,” he said, as he placed the cup of coffee on the nearby coffee table and began mouthing a prayer. It was inaudible at first, but I caught a few of the words; Peace, love, and something about consciousness.
Bahadur believes that his prayers have the power to alter reality.
“I remember praying about the Israel-Palestine conflict in 1993. And then, seven days before my 42nd birthday in September, my prayers were answered. Both sides agreed to peace!” He beamed.
“I remember that day well; Yitzhak Rabin on one side, Yasser Arafat on the other with a smiling Bill Clinton in the middle. Behind them was the White House,” he said, before pausing to scratch his grey beard thoughtfully. “Of course, that peace never lasted because the two sides were at each other’s throats again. Ever since then, I started praying even harder.”
Just then, another footage appeared of a screaming Palestinian man, running away from rubble with a child in his arm. Bahadur paused to pray again.
After he was done, he spat to the ground, “This Zionist regime behaves in the same likeness as the Nazis..”
I argued that Israel is merely defending itself and what he just said is essentially being antisemitic.
“Nonsense, war crimes are war crimes,” Bahadur replied, an annoyed frown playing on his lips as he took a quick sip of his coffee before continuing, “Tell me, is holding 2.1 million people in an open-air prison, cutting food, electricity, and water while dropping over 6,000 bombs and giving Palestinians only 24 hours to evacuate northern parts of Gaza as over 300,000 Zionist troops prepare for invasion, defending?”
I reminded him that Hamas had attacked many parts of Israel the week before. This was when he lost it.
“I’m not in support of Hamas! That’s another evil organisation that politicises religion, operates in highly populated areas, and then uses innocent Palestinians as human shields. Same shit as the Zionist regime, only a different smell. Both do the bidding of the dark entity.”
I was confused. What dark entity?
“You know what it is!” He spat back, bristling. “Listen, the timing of the conflict raises my eyebrows because it comes at a time when Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing criminal charges related to bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Did you know this?”
I never knew this, so I kept my mouth shut.
“The Zionist-Hamas war has effectively safeguarded Netanyahu’s position as prime minister because the trials are on hold while Israel has formed a unity government with the opposition to focus on the war. Guess who is the winner here?”
“No! The dark entity!” Bahadur slammed his fist on the coffee table. “What’s most curious is the fact that despite getting an annual US$3.8 billion of financial aid from the U.S., possessing technologically advanced weapons systems, a powerful military, and two layers of deep fences around the Gaza Strip, the Zionist regime claims it wasn’t aware of Hamas’ plans to attack several locations in Israel. Can you believe this?” He began laughing in disbelief.
“Do you know who benefits the most from all of these?”
The weapons manufacturers?
“No!” Spittle flew out from his lips. “It’s the dark entity, that’s who! The bigwigs of Hamas and the Zionist regime are in cahoots and they’re doing the bidding of their master, the dark entity that’s hungry for blood sacrifice. With the rate the world is going, the fucking thing is now obese!”
I didn’t know what to say. On one hand, I found him to be highly imaginative. But on the other hand, I wondered if he was indeed high on coffee. I glanced at the clock above the TV and remembered my true reason for visiting him.
“Ah, yes,” he grimaced. “Of course,” he said as he got up from his single sofa and ambled over to his bedroom. Moments later, he emerged with several notes in his hands.
As he counted the money, he paused when footage of bombings of Gaza appeared on the TV again. From the flickering light, I could see his lips moving.
Seconds later, when the newscaster was back, he turned to me. With money in his hands, he sighed, “At the end of the day, we’re all tenants.”
Cover image sourced from Middle East Children’s Alliance. The copyright of ‘Tenants’ belongs to Sukhbir Cheema.