The street of stone blocks worn smooth over centuries stretches awake at 10 a.m. A thin male voice chanting Koranic verses pours from a radio in one stall as a hunched old man trundles a pushcart past Khalil Sharabati, reclining in a wooden chair.
Sharabati, 57, is resting, his wares arrayed behind him. His family has been selling these things along Christian Quarter Road for three generations -- tambourines from Syria, drums from Egypt, embroidered blouses from the West Bank and T-shirts celebrating the Palestinian cause and the Israel Defense Forces. Woven camel saddle bags, apple-flavored water-pipe tobacco, Calvin Klein baseball caps. . . . What do you need, my friend?
People chatter in Arabic around him, the soundtrack of neighbors laying out bolts of fabric and hanging leather jackets from wrought-iron awnings. Over the next two hours, he will hear the tourist multitudes passing his stall, one covered alley down from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, speaking in eight languages. He will cajole them in English, Hebrew, Italian and French.
Sharabati, slightly stooped with a salt-and-pepper mustache and lively eyes, waits inside the nearly 500-year-old walls of Jerusalem's Old City, where tourist kitsch shares shelf space with toothpaste, socks and suitcases, homemade sweets and antique Hebron glass -- the kinds of quotidian items Jerusalemites have sought along these alleys for centuries.
It is 10:20 a.m., chilly and gray.
"Patience, patience -- it's most important," Sharabati says, scrolling through the different ring modes on his cell phone.
Foreign voices float from the direction of Jaffa Gate, along with scents of cumin and ginger from a spice stall whose painted doors have been thrown open by the owner. Sharabati shakes off his torpor, leaping from his chair at an indication of interest so slight it is invisible to the uninitiated.
"Yes, you like to see nice T-shirt?" Sharabati says to a middle-age American woman. "I have many sizes."
A pause, nothing more.
"Easy come, easy go," Sharabati says in slangy English that he learned, like his Hebrew, in the Old City's market stalls.
A group of nuns passes, followed by bushy-bearded Greek Orthodox clerics who offer Arabic greetings. Dozens of Japanese file by with cameras dangling. German and French tourists, tagged with red scarves for easy identification, follow. Sharabati remains seated. There is bigger game afoot.
A herd of Americans chatting loudly in Southern accents approaches at 10:40 a.m. Sharabati rises. He is warming with the day, the sun bursting through a layer of clouds to illuminate a thin strip of glossy street out of reach of the shop awnings.
To the burly man in the Ohio State baseball cap, Sharabati offers, "I have the best quality."
A pleasant nod.
"You want a nice hat?" -- gesturing to a pile of beaded caps handmade for tourists.
A smile. "No, sorry, I have no money."
"No money, no honey," Sharabati shouts amiably.
Hold on. A woman in large sunglasses doubles back.
"I want a poncho," she tells Sharabati, who shuffles over to a pile of wool cloth and holds up an example in mustard yellow.
"Not that material," she says. "Something lighter."
"But this is for winter," Sharabati says. "How much?"
The woman turns on her heel.
"Some people are complicated," he says with a shrug.
11 a.m. A telltale low hum sounds from a side alley. Then the people emerge, maybe 70 in all, each in a canary yellow baseball cap emblazoned "G & S Tours." Sharabati, worrying a loop of white prayer beads in his rough hands, waits. The group stops at a stall 15 yards before his.
"The guides always go to the big shops," he says. He strides up, trying to cull a few tourists from the throng. Nothing.
Just before noon, Sharabati hears, "Bella, bella." Two women from Pisa, one wearing a heavy wooden cross just purchased outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, admire a beaded purse glinting with tiny mirrors. "Buon giorno!" he calls out.
After a few minutes of bargaining in stilted Italian, Sharabati has managed his first sale of the day. Only he has sold something he doesn't actually have: two T-shirts bearing a Jerusalem cross. He dashes down the street to howls from the women.
One minute becomes two, then three and four. Foot-tapping turns to pacing, which becomes shouting: "Where is he?"
Just then, Sharabati appears at the end of Christian Quarter Road. In his arms are two folded T-shirts.
"Run! run!" the women shout in Italian.
Sharabati breaks into a trot, a broad smile on his fast-approaching face.