at the juice bar, George and I drank mango topped with white cheese, honey, and nuts.
We sat and sipped our cocktails, licked our fingers, and talked about the gun, and how silent it was.
Ten thousand bombs had split the winds, and my
mother was still in the kitchen smoking her long, white cigarettes.
She was dressed in black from head to toe, mourning
her father and mine. She boiled water on her gas stove, she cut
meat on her meat board, and she puffed tobacco against our
shattered wall and through our broken glass window. Here, in
her kitchen, a bomb had landed and made a wide-open hole in
the wall, giving us a splendid view of the vast sky. We wouldnt
fix it until winter, until the rain fell and washed away the soil
above all the corpses wed buried. Here in that kitchen my
father had died; hers had died farther north.
when george paid his aunt a visit the next day, her car was parked in Chafiq Al-Azraks space.
Chafiq Al-Azrak came this morning, apologized, and offered to share the space, Georges aunt said, and played with her red-dyed hair. Aunt Nabila was in her mid-forties. She worked in a bank. Never married, flirtatious and voluptuous, she dressed in tight skirts, high heels, colourful makeup, and low-cut blouses that showed her generous cleavage jutting forward. She called George Gargourty, a nickname from childhood that made him feel uncomfortable.
I often passed by Aunt Nabilas place looking for George. And she often opened her door in her nightgown, with a cigarette balanced on her round lips. I fantasized about her inviting me in for a coffee, offering me water at the kitchen table, kneeling in worship under my belly button, undoing my Japanese-made zipper, nipping at my secreted fluid, and sweetly, in her little coquettish voice, assuring me that George was not here. I snt he at work ? she would say. Gargourty is at work! George, my childhood friend, worked in a poker-machine joint. He cashed money from gamblers who lingered all day on machines that flicked green light on small screens. They pressed buttons and lost their wives jewels, their fathers houses and olive trees, their kids clothes. Everything they owned was sucked in, everything was extracted from their polyester pockets by aces and laughing jokers. George took their money and transferred the credit into their machines, sold them whisky and cigarettes, cleaned the bathroom, opened the door, lowered the air conditioning, swept the dust away, emptied the ashtrays, protected the place, and when the militiamen came he put the money in sealed bags, handed it to them, took his motorbike, and went home.
There must be a way to get a cut, he once said to me when I visited him. Are you in ?
Abou-Nahra will cut our heads off if we are caught stealing. Yeah, its risky, but there must be a way.
We will be fucking with the militia, I said.
George shrugged his shoulders, inhaled oily black hash, closed his eyes, and held the smoke in his thin chest. Then, slowly, with his eyes closed, he released his breath, extended his arm like a half crucifix, stretched his two fingers, and passed the hash on.
Bombs were falling like monsoon rain in distant India. I was desperate and restless, in need of a better job and money. I worked at the port, where I drove the winch. We emptied weapons from ships. The weapons were stamped with Hebrew, English, and Arabic serial numbers. Some shipments had oil, and we had to hook them up to pipes in trucks. Fruit came from Turkey. Seasick sheep with dripping noses and frightened sounds came also from Turkey. We emptied it all. When the shipments contained weapons, militia jeeps surrounded the whole area. The unloading was always done at night and no light was allowed, not even a cigarette. After a night shift I would go home and sleep through the day. My mother cooked and complained. The few jobs I got at the port were not enough for cigarettes, a nagging mother, and food. Where to go, who to rob, con, beg, seduce, strip, and touch ? I was sitting in my room, looking at a wall filled with foreign images, fading posters of teenage singers, blondes with shiny white teeth, Italian football players. I thought, Roma must be a good place to walk freely. The pigeons in the squares look happy and well fed. I thought about Georges proposal and the poker machines. I decided to pay him a visit at his work.
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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