da | 10/11/2013 | AAS BLOG | 0 commenti

– Written February 1989 –

I thought briefly: ‘Why not?’, listening to the casual Rat-at-tat of the Kalashnikov in the nighttime quiet.  Other people had died in their sleep, innocently drifting from dreamland to dead land, in a snap.  Bullets coming through a window into a body, taking the breath away.  Mourning in the morning, picking up the pieces of glass scattered all over, unless the window was open.  So why not? Why can’t it happen to me?  Yet this inconceivable instinctual feeling of knowing it will never happen to me.  So sleep would be next.

No, not me, not tonight at least.  Sleep tight, under your covers, sheltered by your certitude that nothing could happen to you Paola.
In the next bed, my sister, sound asleep in her mummy position, blankets covering her nose. Little sister you are safe, well goodnight.
Soon it will be morning, and Turkish coffee and  a piece of leftover strudel mom had baked the day before.  But usually just coffee.

And at the College Milk Bar some donuts 5 minutes before class starts. Meanwhile the rat-at-tat subsides while I think of LIFE from the top of my 18 years of age.  Heck, 18 is old in Beirut, I have ben through a lot since I was 16!  Sweet 16, here is your gift : front seats to a civil war !  I have a right to have fun too. Clean fun.  Dancing at parties, talking to those Marines at the TGIF evenings on the 7th floor of the US Embassy.  They are different from the Lebanese guys.  They’re quite informal: no fuss if you refuse to dance.

On to the next pretty girl, American women have it made.  I guess I’m a bit shy, old-fashioned, not too used to this “Want me, Want me Not, that’s OK” rigmarole.  And all this drinking!  The bartender keeps busy, usually Marines take turns serving drinks too. UN personnel, German bodyguards, even the occasional AUB Professor,  all need to quench their thirst.   The Lebanese bartender knows my favorite drink and never asks: “Here it is Miss, your Kahlua on the rocks.” I never had a drink before I met the Marines. They suggested this drink for those who, like me, shy away from alcohol and love coffee in a syrupy drink. I graduated to this from Lime juice on the rocks, sipped in Discotheques in Cairo, during the summer of 77!  But back to the 7th floor: I don’t remember ever paying for my drink, who picked up the tab?  A mystery forever unsolved, maybe some admirer or at least I want to think so.
Or maybe it’s always Ladies’ Night at the USMC bar.

Well, I am wandering off again…no sleep. I’ll be grouchy in the morning.  Thank goodness I’ve cancelled jogging with Annie. Usually that’s a 5 am alarm.   I can’t hear the Kalashnikovs any longer, maybe they’ve made peace.  The night is too quiet, why aren’t they shooting?  They must be preparing for something big, out of proportion.  This quietness gets to me, now I really can’t sleep! It’s just too quiet!  Nobody likes a quiet night.  Not in Beirut. It’s the absence of noise that rules fear. Our senses are open to the smallest noise. Lullaby of bullets, will you start again? When, where, here?
I’m thirsty, but if I go to the kitchen, one of those giant roaches might attack me again.  Mami always leaves the kitchen window door open at night. They fly in like secret commandos, hiding until I turn the lights on. One night I braved their intelligence, woman versus beast, reaching for the bug killer spray and inundating the culprit with it.  But it had an incredible spirit of survival. He flew to the bottom of my nightgown and started its ascent, climbing towards my face.  My back to the wall, I kept on spraying but it was relentless.  I finally screamed in terror.  It was 3 a.m. and my mom appeared with a wooden stick, she thought I had encountered a fierce intruder and she was on survival mode.  A simple brush with the back of her hand, and a step forward onto the attacker took care of the problem.

I sobbed for half an hour, my fears and my failure were rolled up altogether in tears. How can I be so fallible.  Not at 18, come on!  I knew then how wrong I was…how infallible I had always  felt , how I wore that feeling as an armor…and how a bug had taught me otherwise.
So, forget the trip to the kitchen sink tonight.  Dream of fountains, your thirst will eventually be quenched little scared Paola.

Far, far away I still hear the sound of bullets. It is like a lullaby, sung by a dying voice, softer and softer until sleep overtakes me.  God watches. And all those guys in Camouflage clothes too.

I sobbed for half an hour, my fears and my failure were rolled up altogether in tears