The History

The cover of the 60th anniversary, with a photography by Krista Steinke

My father wishes he could spit poisonous words at me, that his hatred could dissolve me like acid, I see this daily in his eyes. Meanwhile the French consul is furious and the police have come by for the third time now. “Are you sure you don’t know anything more, Sayyid?” they ask him, again and again. And then, “What about your daughters, do they know something? Remember, your nephew ate a bullet, Sayyid. He has no more face.” They add this for emphasis, for the pity of it.

I listen from my bedroom, peeking down the corridor now and then. They walk back and forth in the entrée, smoking, lazily waving away my father’s protests, but in the two days since Raymond’s corpse was found, they have not insisted on speaking with me again. Maybe they think it’s just a matter of time before the consul gives up, understands that death is just a wartime mystery, and so they humor him, make the required investigation: Let’s go bang on their door, look up and down the corridors, ask a few more questions. And my father will stand between me and them if it means his death, that’s how important his name is to him. He may treat me like an animal in the confines of this house, disgust may twist his face when I cough or rub my eyes or drop some food from my fork—show any sign of being that frail thing he helped bring into existence—but to the outside world I am Lara, his daughter, worth guarding.

My little sister Lulwa has stopped talking, and the absence of her voice in this house is conspicuous, hollowing out the rooms. She braids her hair and smoothes back the strands with a new exhaustion in her fingers, the gesture of a slow, middle-aged woman. Without school, which closed early for the invasion that is still on its way, and without Raymond, without anything to do, Lulwa has finally given in. She is as empty as I have been for years.

It is a curious thing, to see who I am reflected in my sister. There is satisfaction, yes, because maybe now she and my father will know what I have been going through for years. But I know, also, that I should occupy that space, take over Lulwa’s emptiness and bring her back—I am the older sister of two daughters who have no mother—and this fantasy of rescue, of Lulwa embraced by me, leaves me trembling in my bed, knees tucked to my chest, waiting. I have spent too many years conversing with mold on basement walls while the bombs disembowel me, with spiders and cockroaches and sullen neighbors. I have never been of any use. A sad sound drifts through the wall; our father who will never sing to me cooing songs to her.

In the stillness of the afternoon, as he closes Lulwa’s door and his footsteps go down the corridor, I feel remorse, a burning in the center of my forehead. I recognize this, I know what it is. Through the other wall there is silence. That room is empty, and Raymond’s things have been packed back into his suitcases. I know just how they stand, side by side next to the door, waiting to be picked up and carried away. I push my fists against my temples. What were you thinking?

My father, right when the invasion started, should have made Raymond go back to France where he belonged. I know my father: his rage is directed at himself, too, at his incompetence. He gave in to this nephew’s romanticism: Please Uncle, let me stay in my country. And now, while the French consul curses this family for a death that no one could have prevented, least of all me, and while my father holds at bay the bored, mildly suspicious policemen who visit our home, the rest of the city waits for the invaders to break their promises, cross the limit they drew themselves. Everyone knows it is only a matter of time. My country. Raymond never knew what it means to have this country.

If I were to tell the consul anything, I would tell him this: From the moment he arrived, Raymond just could not stop looking at Lulwa’s scars. He fell in love with those scars. Scars have astonishing effects on people, and missing body parts even more so, and little Lulwa’s left side put hooks into his eyes and drew them this way and that all around the house. She is missing two fingers and has a scar like a trough on her arm. It’s an old story. It happened when I was fifteen and she was nine, on the way home from the grocery. Lulwa might have died: no one would drag her off the street out of the fighting, it was too dangerous.

Never mind Lulwa’s deformities, my little sister’s face is beautiful as the moon. You don’t need to know about the fingers or the scar to love her: Right from birth Lulwa had to be protected from the evil eye because envy yawned across the streets and down from windows and out of passing cars. Even I had to bless her every minute to prevent my own jealousy from damaging her. When we went to the airport the day of Raymond’s arrival, I noticed her again for the first time in months, maybe because she was about to fall under new eyes. She was wearing a white blouse and jeans, and through the blouse was the faint outline of her bra. I saw men’s eyes traveling across her again and again, and our father kept his hand on her shoulder, to show possession.

Raymond disembarked in his nice suit and started to distribute French presents and candy as we drove home. He was always in motion: he looked outside, asked questions, looked again, passed around chocolates. The chocolate crumpled against my teeth, surprised me with a burst of warm strawberry syrup. I did not understand what this French-born cousin was doing here, in our world, what he thought would be found. His skin was dark, a bit spotty, and he was nervous and hopeful. He kept adjusting his suit coat and tie. “Raymond wants to encounter his heritage,” my uncle’s letter had read. What heritage, I thought. There is no more heritage. It has been bombed out of existence. Lulwa leaned on the front seat, looking from our father to Raymond, pointing things out, and I saw at once our cousin’s greedy, secret glances at her left hand, which rested on the driver’s headrest, the stumps of her two missing fingers pinched like sausage ends.

He settled in without hesitation. He unpacked his huge suitcase and produced books on our country, a keffiye he had bought in Paris, and BVD underwear of many colors. We knew this, Lulwa and I, because he invited us to stay with him as he unpacked. Lulwa sat on the bed but I remained standing, back to the wall. Lulwa laughed, made promises to take him to the beach on the weekend, to take him shopping, to show him this and that. She looked older than fourteen. Besides the BVD he had silk shorts with polka dots, shorts with giraffes. “Stupid presents,” he said, and then he blushed and stuffed them into the drawer. He shook out crisp white shirts, sorrowfully examining the wrinkles until Lulwa said she would iron them.

My father appeared in the doorway and smiled as he does when he becomes emotional about familial matters. “You are so welcome here,” he said. “This is your home, my nephew.” Raymond merely inclined his head a fraction, indicating his gratitude. He had no understanding of the rarity and magnitude of my father’s love. My father, holding the bowl of his pipe, his suspenders undone and his shoes off, looked as if he had been about to sit down and read.

The first few days, my father did not go to work, but drove Raymond here and there in his Peugot that he never used. I did not go with them. I could not imagine being confined to the back seat while my father explained the world to Raymond, while my father made his speeches about poverty and refugees and nationalism, omitting the most important truths, those about himself and his crazy daughter Lara, the one who when she was fifteen had bitten the flesh from her own arm to prove a point. I shopped and cooked a chicken with potatoes and carrots and onions. I sat at the kitchen table with a book, my skin scented with rosewater, feet bare, and hair tied in a bun.

Raymond returned with stories of what the airport road looked like, how the villages in the mountains reminded him of France, imagine that, and how intolerable the slums were, dogs and children in the filth with adults “looking on with empty eyes,” he explained sadly.

“Now you know what poverty is,” I said, and he looked astonished, as if I had understood him.

Raymond right away wanted to learn about raising pigeons. He sat for long periods of time on the roof, watching the neighbor’s flock circle the sky. He was amazed that this happened at all, this raising of pigeons in the middle of a war. Eight or nine days after he arrived, I brought water for him, and from the top of the stairs I saw him on the ledge in the bright sun, notebook on his knees. He wanted to write some sort of history. Even from the street five stories below he looked foreign. “Cousin Lara,” he called, “You’re so sweet.” I approached him. He seized the glass and gulped water. He had gotten darker. His hairline seemed almost blonde. His hand brushed my hip and he said, “Cheer up,” then he looked away. He was talking about the skyline. On the back of his neck was a mole, black as the eye of an insect. He had just touched me, this seventeen-year old.

“Lara, what happened to Lulwa?” he asked.

I took the glass from him. “Shrapnel. It’s an old story.”

“Tell me about it?”

“Later.”

At night, after our father had retired to his room, Raymond discovered that Lulwa might have died, and he liked that too, the near death.

“You waited how long?” he asked me. Lulwa was embarrassed by his curiosity—this story of her agony and my terror has always made her blush, the way she does about her period, or a boy she has noticed. She never wants to speak about it, but it is my story too.

I said, “Until my legs could move, until I could run to her side.”

Raymond admitted, “Nothing really exciting has ever happened to me.”

“Until my blood became hot again,” I added. “Cooked the life back into my body, only then,” and he gazed at me.

He asked Lulwa, “What did you think? Could you see?” but she would not answer, so I smiled and shrugged at him, encouraging him to bother me with his questions.

“What were you thinking?” Raymond said again, but still Lulwa would not answer, and this tantalized him, I could tell by the way he frowned. Lulwa’s fingers tapped the table, and I noticed that her nails were rounded and glossy and that the maimed hand was in her lap, hidden away.

She said, “It’s so long ago, it doesn’t matter any more.”

He made a face as if to say, sorry, and I started to clear the table.

“Please, Uncle, let me stay.”

When I heard him say those words I just laughed and laughed. The jets were flying reconnaissance missions over us and he wanted to stay. What did Raymond know about hiding and gas lamps and the trickle of cockroach legs on your arms at dawn, when everything is quiet again? I pictured him in that darkness, writing in his notebook as always, recording history. The history of people stinking with fear in damp places, the history of inertia. I said to him, “Maybe you could go to the Commodore,” which was where all the foreign journalists lived and got drunk at the bar, copying their stories from the international telex reports because they were too scared to go outside.

My father came to my room that evening. Raymond and Lulwa were working on a puzzle in the dining room. I could hear their laughter, they had become friends.

He said, “Why does he want to stay?”

At first I did not understand. He dragged my desk chair to my bed and sat down. “Why is he staying? Is it because of the fighting or something else?”

I started to fold the page of my book, to mark my place. He slapped the book off my knees. “Why does he want to stay?”

The room was dim, lit with candles and a lamp. His shadow broke the stillness of the light on the wall.

“You will no longer wear only your towel when you come from the shower,” he said.

The door to my bedroom was ajar and I imagined them listening, but my father was speaking in a whisper, leaning forward, his hands gripping each other in a fist between his knees.

He leaned closer. “Do you understand?”

I pulled myself up, back against the wall. For the first time in my life I shouted at him. “Why do we have to stay? Why is he so crazy for wanting to stay but we’re not?”

He grabbed my wrist and twisted it. “Enough, Lara. You want to bother everyone? So hysterical.” He let go. A sorrow crept over his face and I closed my eyes. His voice was quiet. “I have tried and tried,” he said. These words, familiar and terrible, locked my body into a ball, curled it into the corner as he left the room.

Raymond convinced my father, whose resilience has always depended on hate and not pleading adoration. Raymond was my father’s joy, the boy-man who bore our name. If he wanted to record the atrocities of the invaders, then he should, someone had to. In the south, people climbed into cars or onto donkeys and came north. Raymond snipped photos from the newspaper, pasted them into his notebook. He said, “I have a special angle on things, because I’m foreign-born but tied to the land by blood.”

“No one is tied to this land anymore,” I told him.

Soon after he decided to stay, Raymond came to me in the evening with his notebook. He sat in the chair next to my desk and said, “Please, Lara, take me to the Museum Crossing.”

Raymond’s world was becoming smaller, I could see he was starting to suffocate. How would he fare when we huddled on the landing, when we crept down the stairs to the hole beneath the building where gossip shuffled back and forth between groups of neighbors, where food grew cold and tasted sour? My father had stopped taking him places and would not allow him to drive on his own because it was too dangerous. I looked Raymond in the eye. “No.”

“I could interview the snipers.”

I shook my head.

Raymond whined, “Why are you being so selfish?”

I imagined being in the small car with him, smoking together, driving all over the city. I would point out everything, explain to him why I had dropped out of university. “We are all animals,” I would tell him. “What do you expect us to be with no electricity, no hope, no food? Go home.”

Raymond tapped his pen against the notebook, frowning at me. His sleeves were rolled to the elbows and he was wearing a pair of my father’s suspenders. His new look, a journalistic thing. His lips started to thin, spread into that line that meant he felt wronged.

“No,” I said. “You have no idea what you’re doing.”

I prepared the blankets and pillows and filled the gas lamps, and then I shopped for supplies with the rest of the city. I saw the neighbors as I climbed the stairs, my arms dragged down by plastic bags of goods. I had been seeing them this way for years. They nodded to me from the darkness of their apartments, the door ajar to check who was coming. Only me: sorry Lara, such a burden to her father since that first incident at the age of twelve, when she broke the living room windows and all the doors opened and people called up the stairs, “Is everything all right?” The stairwell stank of boiling lentils and onions, of the grime accumulated in corners after years of no water to wash the floors. My feet going up each step, body weighted with supplies, with Lulwa on my back a week after the accident because she was still too drained to make the last flight.

When Lulwa’s school closed, she and Raymond started a new puzzle. They kneeled on the dining room chairs and leaned over the table, heads almost touching, and once I saw her hair pour out of the knot she had tied, disrupting the pieces. As she searched for the broken rubber band, Raymond said, “You’re so beautiful.” I heard him say that.

Raymond recorded the contents of the garbage piled on the streets. He said it was a sociological thing, that the food would reveal a diet changed by the war. But we are eating the same things that we ate from when we were born, and our refuse in the streets stinks just as it must have in the municipal dump. What secrets did he think he would uncover in the soft, rotting vegetables, the cans of imported sausage, the bones of lambs? He recorded the movements of the militias through the city, the frequency with which the pigeons were released into the sky. My father confiscated his camera and Raymond sulked. I think he may have desired that danger of walking around with a camera.

“You could be shot,” my father shouted, losing patience.

Lulwa said, “Baba don’t. He doesn’t understand.”

I did not care what Raymond understood or did not understand. My days were taken by the prospect of what was coming, the sound of the fighter planes, the terror of noise so loud that it carves at your insides. At night I waited for the invasion. I could not sleep. The walls of my room were so familiar, I touched my hands to them, my feet. Raymond’s world was becoming smaller but he had no idea of how it could shrink. Every night I traced the years of being in this room, as I do now. The shutters are splintered from bullets, the window has been replaced twice. There was a time when I was younger when I realized that I could be shot, by chance, at any moment, and then a time came later when I craved that coincidence, the futility of it. After I quit the university—who needs an education when there are no plans to be made, no prospects for a life of happiness?—I would stand at the window and wait to be shot. In the middle of the night I would escape from the house to walk around the city looking for my death, but I was left alone. I passed soldiers who nodded at me, they had no interest. I even spoke to them. Maybe my words would make them shoot me. I said, “What is happening? Where has the battle moved?” and they would answer politely, as if I were their sister or mother. They let me go. “She’s crazy,” I heard one whisper. During those months after quitting university, I would sleep all day until my father returned from work and pounded on my legs, “Wake up.” Lulwa always let me be. She would come home from school and settle at the dining room table, studying so that one day she could be a nurse for all the poor wounded people.

I lay awake waiting for the invasion, my eyelids straining to stay shut, pulled open again by invisible strings, as if all the nervousness of my body had accumulated there, tugging at my vision, look, look. I imagined Raymond’s tape recorder on the roof, dumbly memorizing the distant bombs that fell to the south, the rat-tat of anti-aircraft. Then one night I heard something. This noise was like a little scratching, or soft banging sound.

It was coming from Lulwa’s room. Maybe she was having a nightmare. I waited, but the noise continued. I tip-toed to the corridor, stood outside her room. The door was closed. I pushed the handle down slowly, opened the door a few inches.

Raymond was on top of her, they were on the floor. The noise came from her foot tapping the chest of drawers. Beneath their twisting bodies the carpet was crumpled and a pillow lay next to them. The room smelled of him, of his French clothes, his French shoes, his French aftershave, and my legs shook at the sight of her arms loosely around his waist, barely moving, and the dull thunk of her leg against the wood. “You’re beautiful,” he said.

I went back to my room. Curled in bed, my stomach started burning and I beat it with my fists. The muted tapping continued. My body became still. Raymond had recorded the incident of Lulwa’s maiming in his history, I was certain. What were you thinking? I imagined the words on the page, how they would unfold. Her sister Lara was immobilized by fear while Lulwa lay screaming on the asphalt. Blank spaces rested between these words, the story of her recovery. History would be incomplete in Raymond’s notebook without the story of me on the floor of my bedroom praying to God, without the story of my father dragging me to Lulwa’s room to apologize, and Lulwa crying, begging him to leave me alone, her bandages changed by the same hands that gripped my shoulders, held me in place at the foot of her bed. Raymond’s notebook was filled with writing about nothing of consequence, about pigeons and car rides, miserable little maimings that happen every day to anyone, the pathetic fears and mistakes common to every war. Had she told him? “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I had wailed and my father shook me, “What did you say? I couldn’t hear you.” History would be tiresome, threadbare, without crazy Lara’s teeth tearing at her own arm, the blood all over her father’s shirt sleeves. “See!” I screamed, and Lulwa had covered her eyes, knees to chest, as my father cried, “What have you done?” and pressed tissues to the wound that would scar for only a year or so, then fade away.

The front door slams and I hear my father coming down the hallway. I close my eyes. The police should be here now, for this. I imagine them going down the stairs, the third day of pounding boots echoing through the neighbors’ apartments, feeding curiosity.

He pins my arms to the bed and shouts, his face inches from my own. “Why did you leave him?”

I do not answer. I learned long ago that my father has no use for words. His language is of hands and spit, of opening drawers and throwing to the floor, of forcing you to drink your urine to learn what it means to be a thirsty refugee. My father held us when we were small, before we knew what Doshka meant, what the beat of the letters RPG could symbolize. He held us as we cried, and as we grew he kept holding Lulwa while I snaked out of his grip, trailed by his fury.

“You slept with him, didn’t you?”

My skull cracks against the wall: an instant of sheer cold floods my head before the pain begins.

“Who did you pay?”

I do not move.

The morning after I saw Raymond and Lulwa, I found her eating alone in the kitchen. Our father had already left for work. It was late. She did not speak to me at first, even when I asked how she was feeling. The dishes had been cleaned and the towels were drying on the backs of chairs. Bowls of chopped vegetables covered the counter.

“Why are you cooking?” I asked.

“I feel like it.”

“Where’s Raymond?”

She did not look at me. “On the roof.”

She was wearing jeans and a tee shirt with the name of her basketball team across the front. I could not tell if she was wearing a bra. I turned to the counter, following the swirls in the marble, poking the vegetables. Her arms around his back, hands holding one another. Her leg.

“We need water,” she said. “But we’re supposed to stay in.”

The invaders had finally reached the outskirts, she told me. Any day now, they would enter the city.

All this had happened the night before while I had lain wide awake, listening to nothing, listening to the eventual absence of the knocking sound. I had pressed my ear to Raymond’s wall, then Lulwa’s. Dawn had filled my room with orange light. How could I have not heard the invaders? I had forgotten to listen. Lulwa picked up the knife, started chopping again. The onion fell away in transparent slices.

“You’re crying,” I said.

“Of course.”

Lulwa cried big round tears, they rolled onto the onions and onto her hands.

“Not because of the onion.” I felt awkward. I had not spoken to her, really, in years. I folded my arms. I stared down at the slight fold of fat, the way my jeans bulged a little beneath the belt.

“What’s wrong?” Raymond’s voice.

He set the tape recorder on the table, waved a tape in the air. “What a recording last night.” His hair was combed back, still damp. “Are you cooking, Lulwa?”

“Yes.”

I sat down and started to drink my tea. His arms were thick, muscled, and the skin was peeling from sunburn. He wore a silver watch that his mother, whom he called Helene as if she were a friend, had given him for his graduation from high school. Her arms around his back, loose, borne this way and that by the movements of his body. Raymond peeled a label and stuck it on the tape, started writing. Through the window I saw the keshash hamam on the roof across the street dragging the flag through the air, calling the pigeons home.

A young man I met during my one semester of university had taken me to a wooded section of the campus and removed my shirt. He had held my breasts in his palms and had said with faint amazement: “Like cantaloupes.” A strange quivering had taken my thighs, it spread outwards and around like a spider web until my entire body was encased in strands, and I had jerked back.

“What are you cooking?” Raymond started to braid her hair. I could see how stiff her shoulders were, the hesitation before she continued slicing, still crying, wiping her eyes with her forearm. He said, “You want me to slice the onion?”

“No. I’m fine.” She shook her head so that his fingers lost their hold and her hair unraveled.

He shrugged. “You seem sleepy, Lulwa.”

She did not react at all, just kept chopping. I stared at his tallness, the way he slouched against the counter grinning, and then a picture came to me of my fists in his face, knees in his groin, blood pouring out of his nostrils. I could stab him so easily, he would never see it coming. She could not have wanted what he did.

I said, “Do you want to see the Museum?”

Lulwa turned around and started to smile, as if I had made a joke, but I ignored her. Raymond was an adventurer, I knew he would give in. He struggled. I watched him.

“You can’t go,” Lulwa said at last, and I was amazed at her courage, to say such a thing to him. But he barely paid attention to her now, now that he might see the famous Museum Crossing.

A dizziness sifted through me. “There aren’t any snipers, but you can see where they were.” Maybe it was true that I was mad, like everyone had always said.

Lulwa said, “Of course there are snipers.” She looked from me to Raymond. “Aren’t there? There are, there always are.”

I said, “Make up your mind, journalist.”

He nodded, “I’ll go.”

“Are you crazy?” Lulwa glared at me.

Raymond said, “What’s the fuss?” but when he moved to touch her cheek she jerked her head away, and his hand was left in mid-air for an instant. She started sweeping the onion slices into a bowl, and Raymond looked frustrated, as if trying to come up with something to say.

“Come on,” I said.

In the car I pictured walking with Raymond on the wide, deserted boulevard. Would we be shot? Raymond talked about the news reports and his book and the weather and the soldiers.

“Lara, what are you thinking?” he asked, and I was surprised by this.

We passed through checkpoints and Raymond was impressed by my lies, my ability to slip past the questions, charm the soldiers.

“They’re just boys,” I said, and for once it seemed he understood. He looked out the window and stopped talking, holding his notebook with both hands, his pen sticking out of his shirt pocket.

I stopped the car in the middle of the street and we got out. Barbed wire stretched across a side street, strung from barrels pocked with bullet holes. The buildings rose from the debris and garbage, their steel skeletons jutting from exploded concrete, and from a window a tattered flag hung motionless. The only sounds were of our breathing, the scrape of our shoes in the rubble, but I knew that behind the broken walls there were fighters. I glimpsed movement and lost my senses for an instant, darkness coloring my vision the way it does when you get strangled and start to lose oxygen. I turned but there was nothing. The bougainvillea bloomed in the ruins. I stared at these purple flowers, such color, so vivid. It was hot. I saw an image again and again of myself falling slowly over, dropping by the side of the road and leaning my back against a crumbling wall of white limestone, of watching the world become still through the absolute quiet of a slowing heart. Maybe I would be shot, maybe it would finally be me.

Raymond walked a few paces behind. He was taking pictures with the instamatic he had bought in secret, the camera my father did not know about. He asked why the neighborhood was so silent. “Are you sure this place is deserted?”

The click of the camera sounded odd. I could not take my eyes from him. His features were so clear to me, so precise: it is like that when you lose an object that you hardly ever paid attention to. Suddenly you crave it, you remember its shape, its smell, its presence. Are you mad? What are you thinking?

He moved closer to me, smiled down, and then he bumped my hip with his, as if we were on a secret romantic outing. I wanted to put my arms around him. Her arms loose, bumping around. The stones glared white in the heat. The desolate buildings wavered around me, their cavernous bellies torn open. My head felt heavy, soft. I wanted to lie down, stop breathing. I told him, “I need to get Kleenex from the car.” He started to search his pockets. “No,” I said, and went quickly. I looked back. He had found a Kleenex. He was waving it at me and smiling, his hair pushed up and sweat on his shirt at the collar and armpits.

I felt remorse. A point of boiling heat and pain in the center of my forehead. That was remorse. I recognized it. I waved.

When I opened the car door, everything came to a halt. The Kleenex box on the back seat. The keys in the ignition. Raymond fiddling with his camera. Then he lifted it to his eye, gesturing at me to stand still for the picture, and I climbed in behind the wheel and reached for the Kleenex. I blew my nose. I slammed the door shut.

Across that distance, Raymond lowered the camera and squinted at me. He looked bewildered now, or maybe impatient. How do you see an expression through such sunlight? As I turned on the engine, he began to walk towards me. I spun the car around.

Before he was out of sight I looked in the rear view mirror. He just stood there. His mouth moved and I strained to hear him over the sound of the engine. I rolled down the window as my foot pushed the gas pedal. “Lara,” he called. “Cousin Lara.” I did not want to watch but my eyes returned to his reflection. He started to run. I was mesmerized by the sight of him growing smaller and smaller in that big, empty, dirty street with no one anywhere, everyone dead or hiding.

My father is crushing my arms, he shakes me hard. “You think I believe you? You just took him there and he disappeared?”

He thinks I paid someone, probably a starving boy-sniper he imagines I’d had sex with, paid him to kill his boy-man nephew. I am bewildered by this. After so many years of chance, of the hilarity of surprises, the incomprehensible events that took Lulwa’s body and distorted it, took my mother long ago, drove me mad, he thinks that plans like this can be made, that we can govern fate, pay fate to do what we desire. This assaults me: my father lining up the gas bottles, my father fiddling with the generator that stopped working years ago, my father listening intently to the news on the radio as if he holds the key to the cipher of what is happening outside, as if he will be able to interpret information and make decisions accordingly. He must sense an inherent order to things, I understand this now, and I have disrupted it.

I struggle and he does not yield.

“What are you doing?” Lulwa stands in the doorway. Her voice is unfamiliar after two days of silence. “Baba, what are you doing?”

My father releases me and stands. My room cannot contain him, he has no place here. Lulwa cries. I turn to the wall, and I know that it is almost over, no more police, no more accusations. Things can only be pursued so far during a siege. I hear my father whispering to Lulwa, their footsteps leaving me behind. I imagine a boy somewhere in the ruins, a ravenous fighter, a lover. My hands grow numb between my knees. My father’s ludicrous fantasy of me pushing money into the palms of some ruffian, that is what it might have come to: Lara sneaking through the city with money in her pocket, driven by pathetic needs, the plumpness of her body that will age without marriage. Maybe I could have hired someone, maybe he would have fired the shot out of love for me, without payment, imagine. It does not matter. Hunger will take us, subsume the investigation. Other cadavers will be found. I close my eyes to the BVDs, the shorts, the books that my father made me pack one by one so I would learn, he said, what it means to say goodbye.

 

*

 

Patricia Sarrafian Ward was born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon. She is the author of two novels, The Bullet Collection and Skinner Luce.