From DeNiro’s Game, published by Anansi in 2006.
Ten thousand bombs had fallen and I was waiting for death to come and scoop its daily share from a bowl of limbs and blood. I walked down the street under the falling bombs. The streets were empty. I walked above humans hidden in shelters like colonies of rats beneath the soil. I walked past photos of dead young men posted on wooden electric poles, on entrances of buildings, framed in little shrines.
Beirut was the calmest city ever in a war.
I walked in the middle of the street as if I owned it. I walked through the calmest city, an empty city that I liked; all cities should be emptied of men and given to dogs.
A bomb fell not far from me. I looked for the smoke, waited for the moaning and screams, but there were none. Maybe the bomb had hit me. Maybe I was dead in the back seat of a car, my blood pouring out little happy fountains and mopped up by a stranger’s clothes. My blood drunk by a warlord or some God whose thirst could never be quenched, a petty tribal God, a jealous God celebrating his tribe’s carnage and gore, a God who chooses one servant over the other, a lonely lunatic imaginary God, poisoned by lead and silver bowls, distracted by divine orgies and arranged marriages, mixing wine and water and sharpening his sword and handing it down to his many goatskin prophets, his castrated saints and his conspirator eunuchs.
On an old lady’s balcony I saw a bird in a cage, a cat crouched beneath it on the ground, and a hungry dog looking for cadavers to sink his purebred teeth into, looking to snatch a soft arm or a tender leg. Human flesh is not forbidden us dogs, those laws apply only to humans, the unshaven poodle said to me. I nodded and agreed, and walked on some more. I heard rifles and more bombs. This time the bombs were heading toward the Muslim side, to inflict wounds and to make more little girls’ blood flow. Bombs that leave are louder than the ones that land.
I stood in the middle of the street and rolled a cigarette. I inhaled, exhaled, and the fumes from my mouth grew like a shield. The bombs that came my way ricocheted off it, and bounded and skipped along the sky to faraway planets.
Night came, as it always does. George and I decided to go to the mountains. We drove up to Broumana, a high village that had been turned into an expensive refuge for the wealthy. Bars and cafés were everywhere, with round tables and fast waiters. Half-naked, painted women walked the narrow village streets, and militia men drove past them in their Mercedes with crosses hanging off the mirrors. Loud dancing music flowed out of restaurants. We entered a club, sat at a table and watched couples dancing, people drinking and not talking.
No one has anything to say; don’t you know that war spreads silence, cuts tongues, and flattens stones? the drink said to me. George and I both smelled of deodorant, silk shirts, fake watches and foam shaving cream. George pointed at a woman in a blue dress. That one I want, he said. I ordered two glasses of whisky, while he smiled at the woman. She turned her face to her girlfriend then they both looked back our way and giggled. Let’s go, George said to me. He stood up and walked towards the women. While he talked to the woman in the blue dress, I stayed at the table. I paid for the drinks, and sipped my whisky and watched everyone. George was moving his hands, and leaning his chest against the woman’s shoulders. On the dance floor, women were shaking their hips to Arabic songs. A man with a thick moustache put his hand on my shoulder and said: There is nothing in this world, my friend. Nothing is worth it; enjoy yourself. Tomorrow we might all die. Here, yallah, cheers. We banged our glasses and he entered the dance floor waving his arms in the air, an empty glass in his hand, a cigarette on his lower lip.
George came back to our table, leaned on me, and whispered, Why didn’t you follow me? Her friend is alone, and they asked about you, in French, my love, in French! I got her number. Is that my drink? You should have come. They are rich and they are leaving now. If only we had a car we could have driven them back to my place.
I drank and George went onto the floor and danced alone. He drank a great deal while he danced.
Eventually he came back and called the waiter. He pulled bills from his pocket, paid, and drank some more.
Fuck them all. I will fuck them all.
Who? I asked.
God and all the angels and his kingdom, George said.
He was very drunk by then, delirious and violent. He pulled out his gun and shouted, I will fuck them all. I grabbed his hand, pulled it under the table, aimed the gun to the floor, and whispered to him softly: On your mother’s grave, I am asking you . . . me, your brother, me your brother who will spill blood for you. Give me the gun.
I kissed his cheek, wrapped my arm around his shoulders and calmed him down. Then I pulled the gun slowly from his hand and hid it in my belly under my most expensive silk shirt. I tried to make him leave, but he resisted. I begged him again. I showered him with sweet talk, praises, and kisses.
We will fuck them all later, I said. Tomorrow, not to worry, we will fuck their cars, their mirrors, and their round tires. By Allah, Jesus and his angels, come, let us leave.
We walked outside. George was cursing, pushing people, and shouting on the streets. I have no father, and no mother, and no God, you akhwat alsharmouta (sons of bitches). I have money, you whores, to pay you all off! He pulled more bills from his pocket and threw them in the air.
I dragged George off the main street and walked to the side street, where little village shacks had turned into cafés and fancy whorehouses with velvet sofas and pink neon signs. I stopped a young man, who was trotting his way toward the music, and asked him to recommend a place for us to stay. The man pointed me to an inn, and we walked in that direction. I left George outside, leaning on the curb, and walked inside the place. I got a room, took George upstairs and laid him on the bed. He slept.
It was still dark outside, still noisy. Still the neon lights in that village flickered and called the young. I ignored all that temptation and took George’s motorcycle and drove toward the city.
The wind kept me awake. I drove like the wind that kept me awake. I drove faster than the wind that kept me awake. I was escaping time and space, like flying bullets. Death does not come to you when you face it; death is full of treachery, a coward who only notices the feeble and strikes the blind. I was flying on the curved road, sliding down rugged mountains, brushing against car lights, forgotten trees, and wildflowers that closed at night. I was a bow with a silver arrow, a god’s spear, a travelling merchant, a night thief. I was flying on a mighty machine that shattered winds and rattled the earth underneath me. I was a king.