Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 12)

Based on Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad's seminal novel "Tawahin Beyrouth" (or "Death in Beirut" as it has been translated), we will follow the story of Tamima Nassour a Muslim Shiite girl from the south of Lebanon as she goes to Beirut - a Beirut already in turmoil (the novel was published in 1973 and saw the war coming).
Tamima ends up joining the Palestinian Fidais (or Kamikaze). In a world today where "terrorist" is slapped on anyone and everyone these series of 12 monologues aim at recounting Tamima's story backwards, as if from a police investigation with protagonists who knew the victim. And with these 12 facets, we shall know or try to understand why is that someone so young and beautiful would end up taking such a desperate measure.
Called “Inter/Sect” these monologues collectively refer to Tamima’s relationship with a man from a different sect, but also talk about the intersection of the destinies of all these people orbiting around that central elusive character after the fact.


“Welcome Mrs. Oum Jaber and Madmozel Tamima!” I said as I opened the door. But that was the second time I saw her. The first time, Mister Jaber Nassour, her brother and the tenant in the third room, got so upset at seeing her, he threw the Turkish coffee cup I had made for her. And she apologized to me on his behalf. And I went like crazy wiping the rug, looking at her from down to top. I was consoling her with my look. I even wiped her skirt even though there were no coffee stains on it. At the end of that same day, Madame Rose orders me to go fetch chicken for her soup when she comes back that evening with her head bandaged.
Many months later and Mister Jaber has already travelled to Africa. And she moved to the room instead of him. Then there was this big dinner on Saturday. I spent that whole day tidying the big room, the one we only open for special occasions with girls. That Saturday Akram bek was having dinner with Madame Rose and Madmozel Tamima.
Me, learning to read and write. Who would have thought? Madmozel Tamima teaches me and I am all eager to know. She is my friend. I love to clean her room, smell her clothes. Do her bed. Then was the day of the second dinner of Akram bek. Madmozel Tamima only came back in the afternoon as Madame Rose and myself were doing all the preparations. She came to help me, I was doing the dishes. And she saw the man – dirty with a stick between his legs upon which he was sleeping. “Zannoub’s father” said Madame Rose.
Then she asks me how long I haven’t seen him. “A year” said Madame Rose. “He comes once a year to collect the “price” – an advance payment for the whole year. We started with five hundred liras, now we are a thousand, and God knows what’s next! We told him to come in October, but not at this time or at this hour. While we have work to spare.” Then Madame Rose asks her “why don’t you wear a beautiful bracelet?” and Madmozel Tamima went, “I am not crazy about jewelry, the only thing I could stand as an ornament is a watch on her wrist…”
“Imagine, I buy Zannoub everything, he doesn’t give his daughter anything from the thousand. She is smart that one, all what was lacking was her education and you came to her Madmozel Tamima from heaven. I see you teaching her and even holding her hand with the pen.” I woke my father up and then I go with him to the door and I whisper in his ear....
Next thing I knew, he was beating me with his stick on the stairs and kicked me with his heavy shoe. “Kill me! Give me death! Death is better for me!” I kept shouting. Everyone gathered. Madmozel Tamima came and hugged me as he was still giving me warnings with his stick at the bottom of the stairs. She was helping me get on my feet, asking me what the matter was, begging to come up and clean the big wound in my head and the other on my knee. Gently Madmzel Tamima says: “Zannoub! Stand up!” “Me, Zannoub, me? I am a goat, a goat I am! A goat is better than me a thousand times! A goat! A goat! Tell him to come back and slaughter me on the stairs!” I only calmed down when she cleaned my wounds and laid me on the sofa in her room. “I asked him for a small bracelet from my price which is now a thousand liras a year. For the price of the bracelet, he said, I could buy a goat!”
It was the happiest night of my life. I forgot the wounds and the bandages and the bracelet and I only remembered that I was sleeping with Madmozel Tamima in the same room and that the next day she was going to spend the whole day nursing me. I woke up to see the garbage collectors, and that one box with six, no – seven kitten. One dark, one striped, one of them blond. I could have screamed “give me the blond one” but I didn’t. As they threw the box inside the truck, the mother managed to get away with just one puppy, the blond one. The one I coveted in the first place.
I realized it was day and so I went to the kitchen to put my blanket on the mattress where I usually slept in the kitchen, as I saw my reflection in the mirror with all the bandages I cried again. When Madmozel Tamima came back, the cat – with the blonde kitten between her teeth – preceded her. I clapped and clapped. But how to convince Madame Rose of their presence in the house? Tamima found the solution: The cat “Oum Ouyoun” was hers and the kitten “Namroud” was the cat’s own.
Then she left after the third big dinner with Akram bek. I helped her pack and I wanted to tell her a million things – but do I say them now? – and when I got to the last thing still left in the wardrobe, her pumps, I looked at her holding the shoes, then I hugged them and I cried my gut out. When she went into the taxi that was waiting for her, she bent down and kissed me and whispered something in my ear- she left the pumps behind - and I kept waving until the car vanished.
I went out to her room again saying to Madame Rose I was going to arrange it and I said there sad. The cat and the kitten joined me.
Mister Jaber came back to the house in the middle of March. He moved his luggage with a taxi to his old room. Madame Rose could no longer walk and was living on medicines. “Come my daughter, go my daughter” she would speak to me.
I was in his room arranging his clothes as Madame Rose had told me, “this is yours Zannoub” he gives me the bracelet he promised me before he went and tries to kiss me. I strike him on the hand and I flee. After lunch, Madame Rose invites him to drink coffee with her. He gives me the bracelet as if nothing happened. Madame Rose tells me: “Say thank you to Mr. Jaber.” I say something between my teeth and go back with the tray to the kitchen.
I open the door that next day – the man says his name is Housein Kammoui and is asking for Mister Jaber. I say he is not here.
A week later and Mister Jaber is requested to Madame Rose’s room. I have my back to the wall. Oustaz Ramzi Raad sits on a chair smoking. “Come close you goat! Come towards me” Madame Rose tells me. I kneel towards the bed and she outstretches her arms and lift my dress. I cry trying to hide and she pats my belly and accuses Mister Jaber. He denied. He stood up to hit that “dirty goat.” This is how he called me. “There have been a thousand tenants before and after me” he says. “You run an employment office for trafficking girls and the house is for prostitution,” He wanted to tell the authorities everything.
“Go away! Your sister Tamima from one man to the next. Take care of your honor before you speak of that of others!” Said Madame Rose. And I confessed to everything. All the details. Before and after he came. And the bracelet… And when Madame Rose got what she wanted she told me to get lost. As I left she was still shouting to Mister Jaber: “Maybe the girl will die! Maybe she will die under the operation!”
I took the opportunity when the doctor came for Madame Rose and everyone was busy for me to run.
I knock on the door. I know where the apartment is.  Madmozel Tamima opens and I get the floor rubbing my face on her feet. “Oh father why didn’t you finish me up! I wish you had slaughtered me on the stairs!” I told her I came from Saidon. “I ran away from Madame Rose and from Mister Jaber. They wanted to take me to the doctor. I didn’t want to die under the operation. I ran to the first building I saw in Hamra. Took the elevator to the roof. I stayed there all night. At dawn I was on the road leading to Saidon. I roamed all day. I slept under the staircase of a building I entered. A man glimpsed at me and asked me what I was doing there. I lied to him, I told him I worked at Hotel Saidon in the kitchen and that they kicked me for breaking a crystal bowl. And the man took me home and told his wife “you want a maid. Here is one.” But the woman discovered everything and in the morning told me: “Go back to where you came from!” and shut the door after me. I came back on foot. I didn’t have the bus fare. The first car had only one man in it. The second a man and a woman, I should have stopped that one but I did not dare. The only care that stopped had two men on the back and a driver.”
I sat next to the driver and after much questioning the car went back to Saidon. They took me behind the rocks on the beach. Dragged me. And the men, all three of them, took turns on me. Two times each. “Brothers of Jaber!” Madamozel Tamima says.
The one they call Miss Mary came, she was the one who was living with Madmozel Tamima. At some point they were speaking in English and the only thing I understood was that they couldn’t resolve my problem. If I had gone with Madame Rose and Mister Jaber I would be dead, and if I heal and my father knows, I will be dead as well.
Madmozel Tamima, I tell her as she arranges for me to sleep in the sofa in her room and wipes my forehead, I say that I forgot to tell her about something, and I repeat what Madame Rose said when she replied to Mister Jaber: “Go away! Your sister Tamima from one man to the next. Take care of your honor before you speak of that of others!” and then I add: “Madame Rose is a liar. The biggest liar of them all.”
In the morning they sent me on my way back. Madmozel Tamima proposed to come with me. “I know the way home” I say.

“At 10 a.m. yesterday the pedestrians on Raouche saw a girl throw herself into the sea and they rushed to save her but she died on the way to the hospital. She turned out to be Zannoub Ibrahim, the maid who vanished three days ago and that she was pregnant. It is believed that she committed suicide to get rid of the shame. Her employer, Rose Khoury, who owns a house of a shady reputation in Hamra was interrogated, and she accused one of her tenants to have assaulted the virginity of the maid, as she confessed before running and so did he. The assailant has fled while investigations are underway to get him caught.”
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