THE BUILDING SHOOK AND THE CHANDELIER TINKLED

In this scene from A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War i remain steadfastly defiant even when the bombs begin to fall, again.

It was a Wednesday, a perfect day in late March after the long rainy cool months of January and February, the kind of day when you felt lucky to be alive. We had all the windows open and a light breeze was blowing in from the sea.

As I was putting the finishing touches on the hors d’oeuvres, I heard a neighbor playing a Coleman Hawkins tune. When that man played his jazz saxophone I could hardly keep my feet still. I was swaying to the beat when Michel walked into the kitchen, took hold of my outstretched arms and we began to dance a slow swing. When Myrna, one of our lunch guests, heard us laughing she came and stood near the door.

As Michel dipped me toward the floor she shouted over her right shoulder, “Children, come see your parents. They are dancing. I think it’s…”

In the middle of her sentence everything shook and the chandelier in the dining room began to tinkle. We were not sure whether the mortar had landed or taken off from the nearby field where our local militiamen were positioned. We looked at each other and I distinctly remember everyone silently deciding to ignore the explosion.

“Come on, then,” I said. “Let’s go and eat this wonderful food.”

I put the hors d’oeuvres, an assortment of duck and rabbit paté and smoked salmon, on the table alongside a platter of grilled shrimp with aioli and a large bowl of green salad. Everyone served themselves while Michel opened a properly chilled bottle of white wine.

There was another muffled noise. I glanced up at the chandelier. It did not move. We keep eating.

“To your health,” I said, raising my glass.

“Sahah,” Michel echoed as we drank and smiled at each other over our glasses.

Moments later, an explosion shook the building. Myrna dropped her fork on the plate. “Oh my God,” she said. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” said her husband, Tony, rolling his eyes. “Nothing’s the matter. Just let me eat these wonderful shrimp.”

This time the whiz from the rockets grew shriller; they were getting closer. I caught my son looking at me. I knew I should react but in that brief second I refused to let the war bully me, enough time for Tony to stuff more shrimp into his mouth, before I finally reacted. When I stood so did Myrna, overturning her chair.

When our militiamen in the field next door began firing, Tony jumped to his feet.

“Come on, Myrna, we’d better leave. Damn shame, all that shrimp I could have eaten.”

“I’ll see you to your car,” said Michel.

The incoming rockets were getting closer. I took the children in the corridor and we squatted down in the corner near the front door. For a second I thought of taking them into the stairwell, but when I opened the door and saw the neighbors rushing down the stairs in panic, trying to get to lower ground, I decided against it. Michel returned just then and agreed.

The first rocket landed nearby; the second was even closer. Michel laid his body over the children just as the third rocket hit the building. Glass shattered. We did not dare lift our heads to see where but I felt something sharp prick the back of my right leg. I put my hand to my calf. When I brought it back my fingers were bloody.

Everything went quiet.

There was something very welcoming in the unexpected abrupt stillness after so much noise.

Michel stood and helped me to my feet. We insisted the children remain where they were. We waited several minutes before we ventured into the dining/living room. The rocket had torn an opening about fifteen feet in diameter between our fifth floor apartment and our neighbor below. The wall air conditioner had been blown out of its brackets and flung across the living room. Shrapnel and crushed mortar from the front wall cluttered the floor. Michel motioned to me from the balcony just off the dining room. He pointed to the street below. A few dozen people had gathered around three dead bodies. The man was face down, his legs completely unspoiled down to the crease in his trousers, his head a mangled mess. Next to him was a woman drenched in blood.

For a brief second I thought of Myrna and Tony. The third was a little boy. A man rushed out of the apartment building in front of ours and pushed his way through the crowd. He walked toward the child and fell to his knees. The child, about five or six, looked as if he was asleep. The man lifted the boy into his arms. Two men standing nearby helped him to his feet. He pressed the child to his chest and tenderly kissed his forehead. He staggered, took a few steps then stopped. Sobbing, he looked up. He lifted the boy’s body and asked, “Why God?” The crowd parted to let him pass. They watched as the young father and son walked away.

This book is available for purchase here.

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