Sunday, November 3, 2013

Inter/Sect: The making of a "terrorist" by Tarek Chemaly (Part 10)

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.


RAMZI

I was wearing my yellow striped robe. With the glasses on. I stood by the door slim and small – me, not the door. My hair untidy and on my right temple a rebellious streak. I was eating her with my looks. She seemed uncomfortable. She good up and pretended to look at her watch to evade my eyes.
“Ten O’clock” she said. Those were the first words she spoke. I was rubbing my chin. Badly in need of a shave. Rose started the introductions, but she just turned her back and said she was going to ask about Jaber at university.
“You wait for me here!” she scolded her mother. And she went out.
The next day there was no reading newspapers for Rose as usual. “God curse those times when girls did not learn how to read and write. But then again, I have my own secretary to read to me” she would say. “Oh Mr. Ramzi Raad, I have someone here who is a big fan of your writings,” that was the introduction. That was Rose.
I didn’t ask about her bandage after Rose’s explanation. “NO” – that was the title of my new article. I leave the original papers I scribbled for her to read. “Oh you student who has manifested, the governors have seen you fill the streets and the squares, and heard you scream in their faces: “NO! No, I do not believe you, No, I do not believe in you, No, I do not want you.” In the universities the cries will rise like curses and the hands will stand up towards the sky like pointed arrows.”
The poem that appeared the same week was for her:
“To the one who got away from herself
Left her shadow with me
Her scent in my soul
Do I say to you: Come back.
You shall come back with the night as a star
Falling into my lap as a bird
Tumbling into my hands with its warm wound
I shall be waiting for you
I who has find myself in you
My shadow with you wherever you are.”
It was later. A week later? Maybe a little more. A week after she slept at Rose Khoury’s. I saw her walking aimlessly in Hamra Street. I took her to the nest. That room in some other building, some other street, some other time.
“No! No! No!” she screamed when my intimate bits reached her own intimates, I felt her on auto-pilot before that. My head on her shoulder, she thrown on the sofa, me smelling her breast. Kissing her. She tried to block me like she did before when she was still in Rose’s house, in that dark corner and like she did when we first got into this room. But now she was weak.
“What if we talk?” “About what? Going to the moon?” “About your poem” she says. “What poem?” I say. I go down, take her shoes off, stroke her where I know she will feel joy, try to take off her stockings, she kicks me in the chest, I put my head between her thighs as she rests her feet on my shoulder. I try to mount her, rapidly, fiercely, she still had enough reflex to push me away. “Your poem, is it really mine?” Fuck her, I wasn’t going to give her the pleasure of an answer. “What if love is just poetry?” and I go – I am used to faking those things so much I can now blurt words with what seems like honesty – “your hair. Every streak of it is like a poem!” They all fall for these words. Especially the ones like this one.
I hold her by the waist, one lap, two, three laps around the room, I throw her down on the floor. “My shirt! My shirt is torn!”
Later I ask “are you crying Tamima?” “Nothing, nothing, I want to go.” She tried to leap, but this time I was quicker and inserted it – IT – unto her. More cuddling, more kissing. Another “No! No! No!” – They all say that you know.
A few weeks later, we met up again, it was a Sunday and I think she told her mother she was spending it at her friend Mary’s. I told her about what we know about the diamond smuggling gang in Africa and that the news was going to be published with first initials. T.A. – Tamer Nassour was among them. “I, like your father am going to be in front of the court for trafficking too. Except me I smuggle things, which if not was worthy as diamonds in the eyes of the rulers here, at least they are more dangerous than hashish: My thoughts. I was subpoenaed after that article entitled “No.” Prison is something I buy with everything that I have even if the pen is the only thing I own. Three months minimum, six months tops. Doesn’t matter. Prison is the only part I have not known yet from their temple. Thanks for the invite.”
I wrote her a letter to Mehdiyyeh congratulating her on her baccalaureate, and then another telling her I flunked my own because I was given only one month prison with suspension. So it is a zero-sum and on to the next round.
I also wote:
“When I held you in my arms I thought I had never held a woman before in my life. I was sure you overtook me to that corner in Rose’s house. Did we agree to the hour and the minute? You are not as other women are, the echo of that voice in the wilderness, you are the other voice in the wilderness. A dialogue upon which we meet double-handed and double-mouthed. And the prairies of the earth die between the two of us. Love is everything. Ask the birds in the sky who thought it to love, ask the deers, and ask the flowers that scatters its peers with pollen. Right and left it gets scattered, it falls wherever it falls, and multiplies where it gets stuck. But in love there is ugliness made from scriptures and traditions which have handcuffed it in the name of preserving its sanctity. And its only sanctity is freedom. The next revolution of man over lies and illusions and talismans which he made monsters out of. Let him tear them all apart. Let him sit naked in a naked universe and free in that free universe. My first book was “Masters and Slaves” my new one is “Freedom is I”.”
She came to visit me in prison, for they locked me in the second time around. I didn’t even ask where she was staying in Beirut. It was obvious. And she visited again a few days later. “Where shall we be under one roof?” I finally ask.
It was October, and the article was “the goat”. I signed it “eye” – it was Akram Jourdi who related the story of Zannoub to me, and he got it from Tamima. When she came to visit I told he “go back and pack your things and leave that bitch’s house today.” I also told her I knew about the dinners being thrown in her honor, and how the lawyer is under the spell of the new tenant “her culture above all of course!” and “is she that big of a fan of your writings?” – leave the house and the job. “I will leave neither” she defies. And she went.
The only time she came back was one day prior to my release and we agreed we would meet in a cafĂ© in Hamra the following night. 29th November: “Forget what I wrote about love, tear it, burn it. I have seen things in jail and I am going to write all of it.” And she told me about Akram Jourdi, and about the watch that she returned and how is now living at Mary Abou Khalil’s and then we went to the room – that room - again.
“All the students of the world have revolted. When is yours, students of Lebanon?”I wrote once released from prison and the students announced a strike.
Two weeks later, I call her, tell her I shall be waiting for her. She doesn’t give an answer. I call her again at Mary Bou Khalil’s, the second time she never picks up the phone.
27th of December. I open the door and we are in the room again. I laugh at nothing and she is behind me. I tell her about John Lennon and Yoko Ono. I drag her from her feet “Come on Yoko!” – they had a press conference and were going to “leave the door open for everyone to come see them making love” as a protest against the Vietnam war.
On the 29th of December Lebanon was waking up to learn about the tragedy. During the night, an Israeli commando backed by air force stormed the airport and destroyed thirteen grounded civilian planes on the runway in what it says is a retaliation to the two Palestinian Fidais who have hijacked an Al Aal plane in Athens and who were supposed to have been based in Lebanon.
 “Oh you free students, you are nothing but slaves! I wish you never did your lazy general stike. I wish you never announced a movement, as far as I can see, holds no fruit. We wanted you a voice screaming in the face of the masters, and shovels in the temples of thieves, and there you are a month later right where you started. Students, they shall open their warehouses – and they opened them already – and invite you to choose between the crutches they are going distribute to the people, for you to walk in heard of the lame and crippled. Shout to them: We do not want your rotten crutches! We do not want your system! We are disbelievers to you fake religions!”
“Oh you free students, you are nothing but slaves once more if you didn’t break the walls which they have besieged you behind to suffocate you. And if you can’t, to martyrdom I invite you. Ask the monks of Vietnam how they made of their bodies torches for liberty. Ask Japan. Ask Czechoslovakia. Instead of capitulating, the rebels preferred to burn themselves and die as martyrs. Aren’t there among the slaves anyone free in Lebanon? Isn’t there among the dead in Lebanon someone alive to die the death of the heroes, the martyrs and the immortals?”
Late March. Jaber has been back for a couple of weeks now. He is requested to Rose’s room. Zannoub has her back to the wall. I sit on a chair smoking. “Come close you goat! Come towards me” Rose tells Zannoub. She kneels towards the bed and Rose outstretches her arms and lifts her dress. Zannoub cries trying to hide and Rose pats her belly and throws the deed right back to the one who brought it onto her. He denied. Jaber 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!” Said Rose. And Zannoub confessed to everything. All the details. Before and after he came. And the bracelet… And when Rose got what she wanted she told Zannoub to get lost. I left the room to write my weekly article as she was still shouting: “Maybe the girl will die! Maybe she will die under the operation!”
I tried to write the article. Only the title came “Zannoub cooks her tragedy.” It came when I rang the bell for my coffee that wouldn’t come. Zannoub must  be cooking her tragedy. I filled four pages only to burn them. Much coming and going in the living room. Much talking and bantering. “Oh God! Oh God!” and later “Ouf! Ouf!”… A heavy knock on the door. Or is it the thunder outside. I go and check, and Rose is down in the hallway in the silent and dark house. “Do I bring the doctor?” “No, he just came and recommended total relaxation. But how am I going to relax after what happened? Zannoub has vanished and the earth has swallowed her.”
We read about Zannoub in the papers. And the next day Rose tells that she wants me to write her will. “I love you like a son”, she confesses tearfully. The house for the St Vincent de Paul association. But will St. Vincent de Paul agree to that? “Are you writing?” Suddenly  she shouts: “May God’s name be praised!” Who said the angel of death didn’t like jokes.
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