Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 11)

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.


“Ismallah! May God protect her! May God protect her! Mademoiselle Tamima is looking prettier by the day!” I rushed Zannoub to get coffee for Oum Jaber and a Cola for Tamima. She was wearing a grey dress trying to contain that life inside of her but the zest managing to spill over. Those hazel eyes. Inviting. I have experience you know, I wasn’t born yesterday. And that knot between the eyebrows – unappealing at first glance – but it the kind of knot that suggests, when she smiles, playfulness between acceptance and repulsion that village girls are so good at.
“The building I intend to construct” I say to her as I lean over the blueprints. “Every time we make the slightest change it’s an additional thirty thousand liras!”
That new building was a must. I moved from the east of the city to the west of it, from its north to its south, before settling in Hamra Street. Ever since I opened this house and it has been a good omen for me. Going from strength to strength.
“Madame Rose Khoury” engraved in brass on the door. Zahra Jenadios originally. Daughter of the parish priest in the village. Fell in love with the Moslem policeman. Eloped with him! And then he died chasing gangsters. So Beirut was the next stop for me as Warde Naemtallah. Rosette – what Warde became when the name was translated – got shortened into Rose when I gave up men. The last man I was ever involved with, whose picture still adorns the house. Framed and respected. That man left me for one loaded with money. Opened a pharmacy in Tripoli. I sometimes use one of the three taxis that I own to go to Tripoli to get my medicine. And I look at him.
The taxis are just a new addition, only started that line of business two years ago. Jalal el Kerch operates them from his filthy office downstairs. He used to sell groceries and vegetables. But when his business as a middleman getting maids from Akkar to work in Beirut picked up he let the groceries wilt and focused on that.
But I was the one who first saw the potential in Hamra Street. Below I inherited Jalal with the rest of the shops, but the upper floor – my architecture - is composed of five rooms, a salon and a kitchen. My own room is the one that overlooks the street. The second room is the one with the fancy furniture and the dim light for the cozy nights when clients come for the girls.
Jaber Nassour, or any of the other tens of rotating tenants, takes the third room supposedly for his studies – but I have never seen him open a book. “Got any new girl?” he keeps pestering her as if I manufacture them.
The room at the end of the hall with the balcony is for our future Member of the parliament Akram bek Jourdi. He lives in a luxurious apartment in Hazmieh and ever since he lost his wife he pays in advance for three months for what in effect is just two hours of use a week. That’s for Audette – the two hours and the balcony. Not that she ever set foot on the balcony. Already she wants the top floor of the new building. Milks Akram bek dry.She is married and mother of three. Her husband is a customs official, if only he knew what is being smuggled under his nose.
And then there is Ramzi Raad – the great journalist who pays a month and abstains an eternity. Why do I put  up with him? No man breaks my will and this one will not. Could it be that I love him? And then I saw him standing at the door. “Zannoub! A special coffee for  the “Ouztaz”! And make it bitter!” All while Amneh and Tamima still in the living room.
And then Tamima came in the evening with her head all bandaged! I sent out Zannoub to get some chicken for the soup. When she tried to go to the hospital the next day I brought my own doctor. That body of hers! Those eyes! She was such a good catch! The second morning I said aloud by means of introduction: “Oh Mr. Ramzi Raad, I have someone here who is a big fan of your writings.”
It was a cursed summer. The Arabs failed to materialize with each of them spending a thousand liras a night in this house. And with every new government ministers roll the drum of decency and virginity. But I am not new in this business, I have people to warn me and watch my back. But all of this led to less clients and less money. Money much needed for the new building. Once it will be here, I shall be a decent simple woman like my mother was. The wife of the priest. Khouriyye. With an Alfa Romeo standing by my door.
Already it was September 26th 1968. Oum Jaber is packing Jaber’s room to move his belongings to Mehdiyyeh while smelling his shirts and crying. Tamima is with her. We speak of everything and nothing. Good thing Jaber did to be next to his father. Ramzi Raad went to prison a week ago because of another article. They spared him the first time around. Oustaz Akram Jourdi the biggest lawyer in town proposed to represent him but he declined and wanted to represent himself. But newspapers and poetry are useless in the court of law. And mademoiselle Tamima? What are her plans?” She wanted to move to Beirut to pursue her education and get a job while waiting for the miracle to come from Africa. “From today, Jaber’s room in is in your name and you can count on me to get you that job!”
But it wasn’t me who was going to get the job. It was Akram bek Jourdi himself who was sipping coffee in the living room. But his next visit was a long time coming. He overstayed in the Kfar Zarrou’ preparing the elections. And then I break the news to Tamima: “This Saturday the bek is dining with us and you shall be present.”
I sent Jalal to buy things from the market, salted things and meat and refused to have Tamima have anything to do with the preparations – except help me prepare the tabboule. “The bek is a patriot, he only drinks Arak from Zahle!”
She refuses the Arak shot he prepared for her and only warms up to the conversation when it reaches politics. “I am against being called bek” he tells me, “Oustaz or lawyer would be enough. Plain Akram is even better.”
“You are a bek and a half, why? Are those who are called bek better than you?” I left the room several times for ever-prolonged absences. And every time I would come back everything would be the same. Actually, the last time I went back I noticed Tamima had withdrawn her chair a little farther and the bek was not laughing. As I walk him to the door, with my finger, I give him the sign that next time things will go smoother.
20th of October, I go into her room and she is in bed writing on what seems to be a diary. “The job is ready!” I announce.
Not much later, another feast, “to thank Akram bek for the job. Mademoiselle Tamima.” What a fateful day that one was. Tamima only came in the afternoon. She saw the man. “Zannoub’s father” I said. Then she asks how long I haven’t seen him. “A year” I say. “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 I ask her “why don’t you wear a beautiful bracelet?” and she went, “I am not crazy about jewelry, the only thing I could stand as an ornament is a watch on my 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 Mademoiselle Tamima from heaven with your daily lessons. I see you teaching her and even holding her hand with the pen.” Zannoub wakes her father up and walks him to the door.
That dinner was a fiasco. For the follow-up, I picked the present myself, it originally cost 700 Liras and I bargained till I got to 600 and pocketed the difference, Akram Jourdi needn’t know. I wrapped it with the visiting card inside and got it to Tamima as she was writing a report in her room. “He is coming to dinner on Saturday for dinner. I promised him you would be here. He is generous Akram bek. I haven’t known anyone as generous as he is. And he holds you in high esteem, as for me…”
9:30 p.m. and she still did not show up. Akram stood there drinking my Arak – shot after shot. And then he says: “I think she is in love.” I say: “Who? Ramzi Raad? If she loved your journalist’s friend’s poems, why wouldn’t she love your golden watches and your prestige which is worth the gold of the world.” At 10 p.m. she got through the door.
She was holding the box of the watch in one hand and her purse in the other. She put the box on the table in front of Arakm bek and apologized for not being able to accept it. I follow her to the living room and she turns and says: “And the job on top of it if need be!”
That she left the house soon after was no surprise after what happened.
In mid March, the phone rings and Jaber is back. A huge brouhaha which dies almost immediately. That same night he moves back his luggage by taxi to his old room. He gives me a silk scarf, “a small souvenir” he says. The telephone is now in my room on the little side table near my bed along with the boxes upon boxes of medicine. The swallowing has engulfed the feet and I am strictly forbidden to walk unless it is absolutely necessary.
“Stikes from God! Yes from God Mr. Jaber! Who said God does  not throw stones! If I am still here it is because of the prayers of my father Jenadious in his heaven. If it wasn’t for Zannoub I would have been in a far worse condition.” “Come my daughter, go my daughter” I tell her. This isn’t just a figure of speech as I intend to start the legal proceedings to adopt her. After lunch, I invite him to drink coffee with me. He gives Zannoub the bracelet through me and I tell her: “Say thank you to Mr. Jaber.” Zannoub mumbles something and takes the tray back to the kitchen.
“Thank you Mr. Jaber, Zannoub deserves this and more.” I put the bracelet on the side table after inspecting it. He went out that night. It was already four days down the line when he came back. He told me the story.
“She” suggested they would travel. “To any country in God’s earth as long as we are together.” “Pick!” She told him to write down the country names on a paper and choose blindly. But he insisted her finger would lead him. Istanbul it was. And she kept saying the names of the beautiful islands that should harbor their love. At the airport she excused herself and vanished.
Two days afterwards and Jaber is requested to my room. Zannoub has her back to the wall. Ramzi Raad sits on a chair smoking. “Come close you goat! Come towards me” I tell Zannoub. She kneels towards the bed and I outstretch my arms and lift her dress. Zannoub cries trying to hide and I pat her belly and throw the deed right back to the one who brought it onto her. He denied. He stood up to hit that “dirty goat.” There have been a thousand tenants before and after him. “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! He whose house is of glass does not throw stones at others!” I say. And Zannoub confesses to everything. All the details. Before and after he came. And the bracelet… And when I got what I wanted I told her to get lost. Ramzi Raad left the room to write his weekly article as I was still shouting: “Maybe the girl will die! Maybe she will die under the operation!”
We agreed, after much bantering, to an abortion that he would pay. One thousand in advance for me to give to the doctor. And the second is for Zannoub’s father for the price of his silence.
“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.”
I tell Ramzi Raad that I want to write my will. “I love you like a son”, I confess tearfully. I want to leave the house for the St Vincent de Paul association. Originally I wanted to leave it to Zannoub. “Are you writing?”... And then I scream: “May God’s name be praised!”

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