infinity plus - sf, fantasy and horror fiction
infinity plus home pagefictionnon-fictionother stuffa to z


a short story
by Lavie Tidhar

'Spare some parts?' the beggar asked hopefully.

The gaggle of American tourists, replenished in their khaki shorts and Hawaiian shirts, knee-high white socks tucked comfortably into open sandals, waddled past him without a glance.

'Enjoy your stay!' the beggar called after them. His voice, he noticed without much surprise, was becoming distorted. He gave himself a loud smack on the chest, causing several alley cats to jump in alarm. 'Spare some parts? Change?' he tried again, finding to his relief that his voice was once more, if not exactly booming, at least in the audible -- and, more importantly, decipherable -- range.

It was no use. The Via Dolorosa was emptying fast, the approach of the sunset -- and thus of the Shabbat -- driving people away. The Arab traders were packing up, Chasidic Jews snatching at bargains to be had at the end of day, ready to head home for a day of solitude. Tourists were making their way back to hotels and hostels, scattered like warrens in the Old City and the New, ready to put aside sightseeing for a while and party hard at any number of bars and clubs.

'Spare parts?'

He sighed, a rasping, metallic sound that grated on the ears. It was no good. The beggar, with some difficulty, pushed himself away from the stone wall he was leaning against and shakily stood up. It was time to go.

His melancholy steps, not echoing so much as clanging, led him off the main thoroughfare of the Via Crucis through dark and narrow paths which seemed to spiral forever, a spider's web of eternal white stones.

He carried his day's earnings with him tucked carefully in an elderly carry bag that bore the name of a long gone missionary travel agents, somewhere in the U.S. of A. Inside it, the day's pickings made strange keening sounds as they made contact with each other, regardless of how slowly he was moving. Twenty Jerusalem Shekels, a good hard currency that would be recognized by all the various city authorities, and may well buy him a full body work in one of the more sympathetic workshops; an old long-wave radio transistor, its electronic components dull and brittle; a small bottle of gasoline, begged early in the morning outside the Jaffa Gate from Sa'eed, the petrol-pump attendant who could usually be relied on, as long as no one else was around to see; a wrench; and a small bar of pure heaven that was Jerusalem's greatest gift, and its curse: liquefied religion.

The beggar hurried his steps at the thought. Liquid R, Heaven Pills, Crucifixation, Religious Nuts, God's Teardrops; labels, brand names, street codes for what the locals called, half-jokingly, The Jerusalem Syndrome, after the long-standing phenomenon that made visitors to the ancient city go mad, and sometimes talk to God.

'And I said, fuck you Dr. Azminov, there ain't no positrons in this here head!' Laughter like distant thunder halted the beggar's steps. Distracted by the thought of a religious dose, he piloted his way on automatic, only coming out of his reverie beyond the gates of the Russian Compound. He looked around him. The place -- once home, in successive order, to Russian Pilgrims, the British colonial administration and later the Israeli police headquarters -- was now full of the din and clatter of clumsy metal. Smoke rose from a hundred open fires, sparks flew perpetually from antique hand-welders, the smells of gasoline and chemical wastes permeated every corner of the vast edifice. In every corner of the yard, in every one of the shelled-out, burned rooms of the giant structure, Robotniks lulled, worked, bartered and fought.

'Yanks,' said the owner of the laugh. He coughed, an unpleasant, creaky sound that shook his entire body. 'Can't stand 'em.' He turned around and spotted the beggar, who was standing nearby. 'Moshe! Nu, miracles never cease! The prodigal son has returned!' his cackle was the sound of a broken record.

The beggar stood motionless, clutching his bag of earnings tighter by his side. 'Ian'ko.' His voice rasped.

'You don't look so good, Moshe,' the large Robotnik said. 'In fact, you look a little rusty, if you know what I mean.' Laughter shook him again. 'Come and join us, come and join us.' He motioned expansively with his arm, his palm a polished multiplicity of blades that stood in bright contrast to his dull-grey body. The laughter has very suddenly left his voice. 'I insist.'

The beggar moved cautiously to join Ian'ko and his mates. They were standing around an open fire, Ian'ko towering over his three companions. One of them, a compact Robotnik spray-painted in the olive and green colours of the Israeli army, offered the beggar a small plastic cup. 'Please,' he said. His voice was flat, lacking in discernible intonation. The beggar sipped the purified gasoline slowly, savouring its taste, allowing the burning liquid to rest awhile before seeping down to be absorbed in his body.


The compact Robotnik lifted his cup. 'Biz hundert un tsvantsik, Moshe.'

'Biz hundert azoi ve tsvantsik,' the beggar answered.

They emptied their cups to the sound of Ian'ko's laughter. 'Nu, the two of you live to a hundred! You should be so lucky.' He raised his own cup in a mocking salute. 'L'choim.' He emptied his cup. 'So nu, Moyshe Pupik,' his voice boomed, sharper and more defined now that he has drank. 'What have you got for me today?'

The beggar found himself the centre of a small circle, as the other Robotniks surrounded him. 'I certainly hope that it's worth the price of a drink.' Ian'ko's blades flashed red in the dim glow of the fire.

'I don't want any trouble,' the beggar said, quietly. 'Please...' But he knew what was coming. He doubled over as the Robotnik behind him, his body covered in a multitude of day-glo paints, grabbed a metal pipe and smashed it into his back. He knew better than to try and rise, kept only clutching hopelessly at his bag as the four Mafiya hit him, over and over.

The beggar was lying on the ground, his metal body dented and bruised. His leg was twisted on its hinges, oil leaking furtively into the muddy ground. Ian'ko motioned for another of his underlings, who carelessly grabbed the bag from the beggar and rummaged through it. He discarded the wrench and the radio with a sound of disgust, kept the gasoline bottle after an appreciative sniff, and passed the money, with a satisfied grunt, to Ian'ko.

'So nu, Moshe,' Ian'ko said appreciatively. He seemed to contemplate the money in his large palm. 'What do you know?' He bent down creakingly, lowered his face to the beggar's. 'Next time, make sure you give it to me first, OK? Then we'll have no problems. OK? I don't like to see you get hurt. Us comrades need to stick together, after all.' His laughter rolled over the beggar like a roaring wave. 'Shainera menchen haut me gelicht in drert, aye Moshe? They've buried nicer looking people than that!' He slapped the beggar's head, still laughing. 'Boss?' The small green and olive Robotnik said. He picked up the bag discarded by his comrade and was giving it a once over.


The Robotnik handed him a small item. 'Goddess Tits,' he said, his inflectionless voice still conveying a note of distaste.

'Fucking beggars.' Ian'ko said. He stood up to receive the drug, and now landed a kick at the beggar's side, creating another dent in the metal. 'Why, Moshe, why? Why do you need this? This... sick religion.' A kick to the knees sent more oil spraying. 'You know you were made, you know who made you -- ' he demonstrated each point with a kick -- 'you're a fucking product of fucking science -- look at you, begging for spare parts in the streets from people who made you, used you, and now can't find the heart to send you to the scrap pile where you belong.' He threw down the little capsule where it hit the beggar in the face and landed on the ground besides him. 'Take it, and may God be with you. Come on boytchiks, let's go.' He started to move away, the other three Mafiya following. 'It will rot that organic mess of yours you call a brain,' olive-and-green delivered as a farewell.

For a long while, the beggar lay on the ground, his eyes staring at the smoke-filled sky. It will take another week of begging, he figured, before he could have the leg seen to, and who knew how much longer for a full body haul. And by then, of course, Ian'ko and his friends will be waiting again, ready to claim their protektsia money once more. The beggar sighed, its voice coming out hollow and wheezing. He reached for the capsule that was lying in the mud, his arm creaking and protesting all the while, and finally managed to put it in his mouth.

Then he closed his eyes, and prayed.

© Lavie Tidhar 2005, 2006.
This story was previously published in Apex Digest, 2005, and in French in Utopiae, 2003. It has also appeared in Hebrew and Greek.

Lavie Tidhar's An Occupation of Angels
Lavie Tidhar's An Occupation of Angels was published by Pendragon Press in December 2005 (ISBN: 095385986X; 90 pages; £4.99).

Order online using these links and infinity plus will benefit:
... An Occupation of Angels at or

Elsewhere in infinity plus:

Elsewhere on the web:

Let us know what you think of infinity plus - e-mail us at:

support this site - buy books through these links: (US) | (UK)

top of page
[ home page | fiction | non-fiction | other stuff | A to Z ]
[ infinity plus bookshop | search infinity plus ]