Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 8)

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.


It was later. A week later? Maybe a little more. A week after she slept at Rose Khoury’s. I stormed the house in Mehdiyyeh. That “bitch” – as in female dog and as in whore. Both! Not only did she dare go to Beirut and to the manifestation and she slept in Rose Khoury’s house pretexting the wound. “She deserves the stoning! She deserves all the world’s stones. She deserves the bullets!” Those same bullets I shot during the manifestation at university. Yes, that first bullet was me. Was mine. Her tuition? Let her mother give whatever white penny she hides for her black day.
Damn you and your school! I shall slaughter you if you ever go back to Hamra Street or if you even look in the direction of Beirut.
A couple of months passed. I finally reached the decision after knowing about Tamer and the trafficking. “I want to travel to Guinea” I woke Amneh up in the middle of the night. But no money for the ticket. That whore did not accept to marry Jamil Mouali, that immigrant who came back with loads of money and could have salvaged the family. He was building a big house in Mehdiyyeh, paving its streets with asphalt for his new green Buick. He even did projects to get the water from as far as two kilometers away for the village. He comes every couple of days from his hotel in Beirut, and he even contributed a Cheque for the Palestinian Fidais. Hussein Kammoui says he saw it with his own eyes. It was for five thousand Lebanese Liras. I took a loan from him, a thousand liras. It was he said “the least he could do to repay Tamer Nassour the kindness he has shown me when I first travelled to Africa.” But that stupid Amneh sided with her daughter when she said no. “At forty, he is too old for Tamima.” I go: “Too old, too big. She deserves someone big enough to break her head.”
That was already the end of summer. Nothing came from Tamer Nassour from Africa since the beginning of spring. I have to travel to Guinea. No one is lending money. Not even Jamil Mouali who now, wants his down payment on Tamima: The one thousand Liras. I am the legal custodian and damn me if I am not going to do whatever I damn please. Never mind that old goat’s protest – I shall mortgage the house to get the ticket money.
“Dear Mother” I write to her – they all like these expressions these silly women. I also add that father is “still under trial, it will be long and tedious and I cannot give too much details and hope is in God.” I also add for good measure that I sacked the employees from my father’s shop who were “stealing and falsifying the books.” “I ask you to be content of me and remember me in your implorations to God.” I also added a thousand liras to be sent via Hajj Fadlo in Saidon.
23 February 1969: I am back to Mehdiyyeh! Amneh goes with me to Beirut to give Tamima “the great news.” A surprise comeback. I just stood there on the door kissing her and hugging her and bursting in tears and he gave her a thousand liras. I slept over and gave her the good news: I only left Conakry after being assured of the innocence of my father. And she tells me that she already knew that the verdict is out and that father wrote to Tamima, so I asked for the letter and she tells me: “Tamima will give you the letter.” I have to see that damned letter. What did that idiot say in it? Or rather how much did he tell?
Tamima came upon the instance of her mother. The letter has been burned she says the lying bitch. Only a few minutes and she goes away.
I stayed at “Palm Beach” the red thunderbird awaits me at the door. A convertible for everyone to see me. And saw me they did in my flashy sport shirts and Hussein Kammoui to my right. The day for the show-off and the prestige and the nights for the brothels and the casino. My chip on the roulette for a hundred liras. With Hussein on the other side of the table to catch luck by both ends. But Baccara was my favorite, pursuing the opponent for thousands. And the “artistes” the politest of names for a different profession, I would steal them away with the power of my gifts.
Three weeks down the line. A phone call to Madame Rose. A big brouhaha that died almost immediately, there is a tone of voice I am not accustomed to. The taxi came with my luggage. The Thunderbird got sold, what is left of the sale price – which was only half of the purchase – is its quarter and barely so - just two thousand and a few liras. That and the smell of the luggage that reminds of the wild Paris nights and its Parisian women. I gave Rose a scarf that was still left in its box. “A small souvenir.”
“The habits of the skin are only changed by the coffin,” I wasn’t prepared for the Rose I met. Less than five months down the line. “Come my daughter, go my daughter” she speaks to Zannoub.
She was in my room arranging his clothes as Rose had told her, “this is yours Zannoub!” I give her the bracelet I had promised her before I went and I try to kiss her. She strikes me on the hand and she flees. My day was spent in the room and for lunch I ordered a sandwich to be delivered from a restaurant in Hamra Street. Rose invites me to drink coffee with her. I give Zannoub the gift as if nothing happened. Rose says “say thank you to Mr. Jaber.” Zannoub mumbles something between her teeth and goes back with the tray to the kitchen. Rose puts the bracelet on the side table after inspecting it, not putting it on the wrist of Zannoub as I had hoped.
At night, the reflection I saw in the mirror made me uncomfortable. The flapping in the ears and the tilt in the nose and that yellowness in the eyes. The red and black tie. No, I take it off. That other one? No, the green one. No, the cashmere with the large motif. I kept pushing it tighter till I was about to suffocate. And look at that short stature on the wide feet. “All of this because your pocket is empty?” I ask for the reflection. The taxi driver asks me where to go? “Zeytoni” – the brothel area, still too early for the casino. Maybe I should go to the “Kit-Kat” and eat first. I need a woman, any woman. And there she, the only one among the artistes who was still resisting me. There she was with her rebellious blonde braids leaving the man she was dancing with breathless and throwing herself all at me as soon as I enter.
It was already four days down the line when I came back. She – the one I shall not name - suggested we should travel. “To any country in God’s earth as long as we are together.” “Pick!” I say. 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.
But even to Madame Rose, some things I could not say. What if I told her that she slept during the whole trip and did not let him touch even the edge of her dress and when he opened the wallet to pay the taxi of the nearest hotel to the airport after she vanished, the was only a few Lebanese Liras but the five hundred Dollars had disappeared. Must have been when he went to the restrooms on the plane leaving his jacket on the seat. Luckily the ticket was two-way otherwise I’d have been stuck there.
The casino two days later. This time straight to the casino. Damn women! And Tamima on top of them. He will settle his score with her alone. Akram Jourdi, and Ramzi Raad before him, and Hani Rahi in between. And that anonymous letter that came by secure post: “Watch out Jaber, watch out for your sister! Your sister puts her honor and that of the family in the mud – signed: A faithful friend.” But Houssein had already warned me verbally: “You will not like the behavior of Tamima if you knew about it. I shall let you see with your own eyes.” And in the meantime he follows me from “Les Caves du Roy” to “Cabaret Eve” from a whisky bottle at the Phoenicia to an Arak shot at Raouche, from one artiste to the next. Living off my back.
The Thunderbird is gone and now the cash – only two thousand and one hundred and fifty liras. Say two thousands. A make or break with the two thousand. Sink or float. I shall go alone, Kammoui is a bad omen. I was still upset from what he had heard in Mehdiyyeh that morning – what did Hajj Fadlo say? I shouldn’t have given that old goat the one thousand Liras only to come back and take it by force. She, the mistress of those who keep their white penny for their black day. And what blacker day is there than this one? A deal! A big deal Jaber!
Before I go, I am requested to Madame Rose’s room. Zannoub has her back to the wall. Ramzi Raad sits on a chair smoking. “Come close you goat! Come towards me” Madame Rose tells Zannoub. She kneels towards the bed and outstretches her arms and lifts her dress. Zannoub cries trying to hide and Madame Rose pats her belly and throws the deed right back to the one who brought it onto her: Me. I denied. I stood up to hit that “dirty goat.” There have been a thousand tenants before and after me. “You run an employment office for trafficking girls and the house is for prostitution” I threaten 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!” Madame Rose says. And Zannoub confessed to everything. All the details. Before and after he came. And the bracelet… And when Madame Rose got what she wanted she told her to get lost. Ramzi Raad left the room to write his weekly article as Rose was still shouting: “Maybe the girl will die! Maybe she will die under the operation!”
We agreed, after much bantering, to an abortion that I would pay. One thousand in advance for Madame Rose to give to the doctor. And the second is for Zannoub’s father for the price of his silence.
But the bitch had to run. And then jump to her death. That goat! I run too – with whatever belongings I could put in a small bag under the wing of the night.
Three days after Zannoub’s death. The taxi with Houssein and myself inside it stops at the beginning of Abdel Aziz street and it’s already night. I had called Mary the day before and asked for Tamima and gave her a piece of my mind about my sister and even held her responsible.
Houssein tilts his head towards me and points to the Chrysler. “So the big lawyer has moved his Headquarters from Rose Koury’s to Mary Bou Khalil’s! Miss Mary. Miss Mary the nurse. That so and so! A nurse pimp! This is how the legal pimps should be – legal nurses! And if Madame Rose played her cards like Mary does none of this would have happened.” Houssein says that Tamima was struck by a blade during a fight between Ramzi Raad and someone else for her services. “If you can’t take her red handed just see beneath her right eye close to the ear, she covers the wound with make-up and powder. Ask her where she got it.”
Man number one – why didn’t he attack him at Madame Rose’s house, take off his glasses and make him pop his eyeballs by strangling him.
Man number two – I take the photo with the letter signed “a faithful friend”, I recognize her from behind. I can tell it’s her. But I want to see his face.
Man number three – he has had enough of Audette and now wants to park his Chrysler underneath the Nassour’s beds.
Houssein says: “Watch out, I shall go before you. I shall leave the taxi for you. And wait for you where we agreed.” I touch my right side – the 9mm loaded – the left side – the sharpened blade. Slaughtered from one side of the neck to the other, that’s what traditions dictate. Why do you wait there in the dark Houssein? To make sure the deed is done? But you know Jaber. I open the door of the taxi. I am nervous, I take my time lighting a cigarette but my hands are trembling and the box of matches falls to the ground.
The man is quicker than I in picking it up. And we are now face to face.
“Are you inquiring about anyone in this building?”
“My sister. On the third floor.”
“Which one: Miss Mary?”
“No. Tamima Nassour.”
I felt the mistake. And I start rummaging in my pockets. “I forgot. I forgot in the taxi…”
I meet with Houssein and tell him to postpone it till early morning.
Houssein had managed to take care of me since I ran from Madame Rose’s House. We spent the night in a hashish den and the day at Antoinette’s. A whore on Al Moutanabi Street. Houssein is her lover and her protector. She spends on him ever since he came down from Mehdiyyeh. I used to call him “husband of the queen” – and who wouldn’t want someone like that looking after him? They fought again about his share of the proceedings. Shouts and hits and as always they reconciled in bed. I lay down in the next compartment next to a “sister” of Antoinette she had picked for me. It was paid for in advance by Houssein. But she just slept in the bed and started snoring.
“It is I. And this is the knife I have used to kill her.”
If I shall go to prison I will not go something as trivial as the daughter of a shepherd in Akkar, but rather standing tall and in my right hand the defended honor of my family.

Early morning I go to Abdel Aziz Street. I knock on the door. Mary the nurse pimp opens…. (A gun shot is heard)
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