TEN THOUSAND BOMBS HAD LANDED, AND I WAS WAITING for George.
Ten thousand bombs had landed on Beirut, that crowded city, and I was lying on a blue sofa covered with white sheets to protect it from dust and dirty feet.
It is time to leave, I was thinking to myself. My mothers radio was on. It had been on since the start of the war, a radio with Rayovac batteries that lasted ten thousand years. My mothers radio was wrapped in a cheap, green plastic cover, with holes in it, smudged with the residue of her cooking fingers and dust that penetrated its knobs, cinched against its edges. Nothing ever stopped those melancholic Fairuz songs that came out of it.
I was not escaping the war; I was running away from Fairuz, the notorious singer.
Summer and the heat had arrived; the land was burning under a close sun that cooked our flat and its roof. Down below our white window, Christian cats walked the narrow streets nonchalantly, never crossing themselves or kneeling for black-dressed priests. Cars were parked on both sides of the street, cars that climbed sidewalks, obstructed the passage of worn-out, suffocating pedestrians whose feet, tired feet, and faces, long faces, cursed and blamed America with every little step and every twitch of their miserable lives.
Heat descended, bombs landed, and thugs jumped the long lines for bread, stole the food of the weak, bullied the baker and caressed his daughter. Thugs never waited in lines.
His motorcycles cadaverous black fumes reached my window, and its bubbly noise entered my room. I went downstairs and cursed Fairuz on the way out: that whining singer who makes my life a morbid hell.
My mother came down from the roof with two buckets in her hands; she was stealing water from the neighbours reservoir.
There is no water, she said to me. It only comes two hours a day.
She mentioned something about food, as usual, but I waved and ran down the stairs.
I climbed onto Georges motorbike and sat behind him, and we drove down the main streets where bombs fell, where Saudi diplomats had once picked up French prostitutes, where ancient Greeks had danced, Romans had invaded, Persians had sharpened their swords, Mamluks had stolen the villagers food, crusaders had eaten human flesh, and Turks had enslaved my grandmother.
War is for thugs. Motorcycles are also for thugs, and for longhaired teenagers like us, with guns under our bellies, and stolen gas in our tanks, and no particular place to go. We stopped at the citys shoreline, on the ramp of a bridge, and George said to me, I have a mashkal (problem).
Talk, I said.
This man, Chafiq Al-Azrak I think his name is, parks his car down from my Aunt Nabilas place. When he leaves, he still reserves the space for himself. I moved the two poles marking his spot so my aunt can park. So she parks, and we go up to have coffee at her place. This Chafiq fellow knocks at my aunts door and asks her to move her car. It is his space, he says. My aunt says, It is a public space . . . He insults her . . . She shouts . . . I pull out my gun, put it in his face, and kick him out of the house. He runs down the stairs and threatens me from below. But we will show him, wont we, quiet man?
I listened and nodded. Then we hopped back on the motorbike and drove under falling bullets, oblivious. We drove through the noise of military chants and a thousand radio stations all claiming victory. We stared at the short skirts of female warriors and drove beside schoolgirls thighs. We were aimless, beggars and thieves, horny Arabs with curly hair and open shirts and Marlboro packs rolled in our sleeves, dropouts, ruthless nihilists with guns, bad breath, and long American jeans.
Excerpted from De Niro's Game by Rawi Hage © 2007 by Rawi Hage. Excerpted by permission of Steerforth Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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