In the dark depths of this pit, I try to touch the light seeping in through the cracks. My hands clasp nothing but dust, while the silence carries its nightly promise of my everlasting confinement.
On the very first night, one thousand years ago, or… wait, why do we always begin our stories with the first night? There is absolutely no difference between what happened in that distant time and what is happening now. The same columns of men march beneath the sun’s rays in the afternoon’s scorching heat, the same tear-soaked supplications and hymns: “O God, make his grave a green pasture in the gardens of Paradise—don’t cast him into a burning pit of hell.” “O God, grant him a better spouse than the one he has, a better home, and better children.” “O God, forgive his sins and those of your faithful worshippers.”
“Wait here. We’ll get in touch with you later. Don’t go beyond the confines of the village.”
The village seemed to have been abandoned, although there were still goats roaming here and there. I didn’t know how long I would have to wait. To pass the time I wandered in and out of the abandoned houses. I felt tired, but I wasn’t sure whether sleeping had a place in my new life. I went up on the roof of one of the houses and looked out over the neighborhood. The smoke of battle was rising from the nearby towns, and two military helicopters were skimming along the horizon. Fields of cotton surrounded the village on all sides. I had never before had a chance to see cotton flowers. Or maybe I’d seen them in documentaries and other films; I don’t exactly remember. I had spent my life working in a bakery, then as a taxi driver, and finally as a prison guard. When the revolution broke out, I joined the resistance. I fought to my last breath. The cotton flowers looked like snowflakes, but they would have had to be artificial or else the fierce rays of the sun would have melted them all.
In your stained dishdasha, drooping collar, and sneakers with grimy laces, you stand waiting. You see him poring over a faded paper, its lines glowing red with numbers and scribbles. The paper yells: Overdue payment!
The Second Battle
The women were weirdly dressed: short, revealing, feminine dresses over naval uniform trousers. An attractive French woman was topless, her lower half crammed into a pair of tight military trousers, while some of the soldiers living it up down in the belly of the ship were wearing women’s silk negligees, once bright white but now so heavily stained with vomit, urine, and semen that they were closer to dark grey. On board the Josephine—over the many days of her voyage so far—a professional, serious, and accurate reenactment of some of Sodom and Gomorrah’s wildest days had been performed. Thus the Josephine rocked heavily on the surface of the sea, her cargo consisting of dozens of woozy French women and dozens of French soldiers who were “guarding them,” while the port of Saint Jean d’Acre blinked on the distant horizon.
A few days after the sunset-to-sunrise curfew went into effect, the members of this jolly family began to feel run-down. Their apartment had all the needed emergency supplies—food, water, first-aid kit—in addition to entertainment options such as reading materials, television and video programs, and Internet, not to mention a landline and a personal cell phone for each. Still, something kept irking them and leading them to feel that they were leading a prison life. They felt as if they were living in a rather spacious dungeon, yet a dungeon all the same. Inside that dungeon, in a matter of days, they began to notice that their weight was steadily increasing. Their bodies grew heavier as time weighed down on them. None of the entertainment options could lighten them up. Besides, the sounds of gunshots and explosions were within earshot, inviting gory images of sniper operations and assassinations. They intimated to each other in a variety of ways their fear of unconsciously slipping from despondency to despair.
It’s the quality you know me by—not just you, but my neighbors and the people on my street.
Come closer. Don’t move away, and don’t cover your ears, because talking comes instinctively to me, and I get no relief from my exasperation or sadness unless I talk to you. Come closer—don’t sit so far away. The day I told you I was going to leave you, you laughed, and I saw in your eyes a confidence I can never erase from my memory: you were confident I’d never do it, because I’m weak before you. But I’ll conquer that weakness and attempt to forget the memories I have with you.