"You still here?" The shirtless man speaks in English.
"I need my identification card." Marcus enunciates as if to a child. "What a fashla," he says to Caddie in an aside, using the Arabic for "mess-up."
The young tough squints. "What you want?" he asks in English, in a tone that convinces Caddie the best answer would be "nothing."
Marcus chuckles. "This guy speaks pretty good caveman."
Caddie speaks sharply, quietly. "Shit, Marcus. Shut. Up."
Yes, this sleepy-eyed militiaman is a fool, made silly by the handful of power he holds over a hut and two armed men. But Marcus, its clear, has a case of Superman Disorder, the disease that worms its way into journalists, fooling them into believing theyre so seasoned, their instincts so developed, that every risk is manageable. That even the clouds and the dirt will back off in their presence. That a little cockiness will simply give them Ggod-speed. Shes avoided that pit of overconfidence. So has Marcus, until now. She shoots him a pointed look. He seems to need reminding that this is not a disciplined army. These are thugs led by a man who smuggles and kidnaps and kills. They let mood- swings, and a very personal interpretation of Allah's will, dictate when and where they fire their guns.
"Cmon, Marcus. Lets get out of here," she says.
"I dont go without my card." Marcus takes a step forward and speaks in one long breath. "Were more than happy to scoot, you bloody bloke, but first, it would be brilliant if you could go peek under your pillow and see if you can find a little card, one with my face on it." He finishes with an ersatz smile.
The shirtless boy fighter surely cant understand much of Marcuss racetrack sentences or clipped accent. But he leans forward attentively as if examining vermin, then pushes closer to their Land Rover, bringing with him the scent of barbecued onions. He glances in Caddies direction, then grips Svens arm. "Go," he says in English, shoving Sven and motioning at their driver. "Go!" The word comes out guttural.
"Bit testy, arent you?" Marcus remains jaunty, but hes finally edging back toward the jeep.
"Still, I think its a good suggestion," Sven says, sounding strained.
The baby-faced guard, gratingly calm, lets off a shot into the dirt that produces a pregnant swell of dust. He levels his gun and jerks it to motion their driver forward. The driver shifts into gear. Caddie grabs Marcuss arm and tugs him back into the vehicle as the driver punches the gas pedal.
"My card," cries Marcus mock-meekly, raising his arms in an empty-handed gesture. Having lost, hes clearly decided to treat this as good fun. "Why my card?"
"Why my wife?" Rob speaks over the engine noise. "Life is arbitrary."
"Why do we always end up talking about your divorce?" Sven asks over his shoulder.
"Right," Rob says. "Who cares? Lets just get the interview. Weve got to be almost there. When we get back, Marcus, you can tell the press office your card went through the wash."
"What wash?" says Marcus. "Whos holding out on me? Is anybody using anything besides the sink?"
Hes too jovial, considering this nonsense could have caused them to be detained for hoursor worse. Caddie jabs him. "You wont even need the damn card in a couple days."
"Right you are. A whole month in New York." Marcus, oblivious to the edge in her tone, is gratingly cheerful. "Im overdue. So cheers-ciao-salaam," he says, running the words together.
She twists slightly away from him, reminded now that as irritating as his reckless behavior was, it doesnt bother her nearly as much as the fact that he has more or less spontaneously booked this flight to the U.S. He insisted he needed a break, had to get out, even yesterday was too late. She argued for days to get him to postpone it long enough to make this foray into Lebanon. Once they are done here, hes taking off. She only hopes that he doesnt miss any huge storiesmajor flare-ups of violence or government collapses. Nobody based in the Middle East takes photos as good as Marcuss.
From The Distance Between Us by Masha Hamilton. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Unbridled Books.
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