Youssef woke up frightened. Sporadic explosions echoed far off, and momentarily, red-blazed bullets shot off into the sky, sometimes rapidly, other times, as singles. He looked at his watch and saw its glass broken, the minute hand ticking in place, fidgeting as if frightened to continue its around-the-hour revolution.
“What’s wrong Zoos?” his friend Naji, who was watching the road that lay clad in the rubble of war, asked him, startled by his friend’s sudden movement.
“Mashi,” Youssef shrugged it off. “For how long have the bombs been going off?”
“Ever since you fell asleep. Weird how you just woke up, one of them must have been closer. Failed to notice that though.”
“I didn’t wake up from a bomb explosion. Just a nightmare. I was reading a book, and then someone had told me that I’d stop at a certain sentence. I saw the words in front of me so clearly, and I reached that sentence, and I couldn’t go on anymore no matter how much I tried.”
“What was the sentence?”
“I read, ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy’, and then the sentence was, ‘By a name I know not how to tell thee who I am.’ Romeo and Juliette.”
Naji’s laughter invited Youssef’s own. A cacophony of laughter, bombs and inaudible death cries merged in the night as bullets decorated the sky like satellites symbolizing progress and the conquering of an ever-widening space. But the bullets travelled down again like postcards from space, crumbling the progress of latitude with an Icarian meltdown.
“Sleep, you need the energy for tomorrow.”
The black sun rose from behind Mount Lebanon, drenching the populace with a virulent passion to waste itself: a passion for mutual annihilation. The cats, dogs and vermin hid beneath scattered broken rocks, destroyed cars and in the sewage system which had flooded on the streets.
“Yalla, wake up, yalla,” Naji pushed and shoved Youssef, “You should move. There’s no time.”
Youssef woke up again with a headache. The sun’s rays tore through his eye lids, into his crania and hit his frontal lobe with searing energy.
“Is everything ready?” Youssef sighed.
“Yes. Of course. Here you go,” Naji gave Youssef car keys and a package. “Stay off the main roads, but you’ll have to pass through two checkpoints.” He gave him two IDs, one with the name Joseph Harb on it, and the other with the name Youssef Harb. “Don’t worry, though. Everything should be fine.”
“Yeah I’ll try not to worry. Any news from the other side?” His teeth felt rough and raw.
“None. Which is why you need to go and come back quickly.”
Youssef wore a brown shirt, tainted by the diesel oil fuel stains of two days earlier.
“May God be with you,” Naji said.
Youssef looked cynically at his friend as he entered the worn out yellow Beatle, “which God would that be?” The engine started and he rode with Lady Luck. Naji saw him drive off, taking a right turn and escaping his view.
The engine rotated in a frenzy rumbling. Youssef drove cautiously and wearily. His hands gripped the steering wheel tightly; his right foot trembled as it stepped on the gas and brakes pedals. He passed by bullet-riddled buildings knowing that in them and beneath them, people were hiding, smothered by the ruins of the city as orphans mothered by strangers’ hands, promising imminent respite, but in front of him loomed the first checkpoint. Men in civilian clothing stood by the road; Kalashnikovs strapped like instruments, bullet-belts ornamented their waist. He slowed down, and easily stopped, facing a gunman outside the window on his left, two on his right, and another in front of him.
“ID”, the gunman on his left voiced his illocution.
Youssef reached to one of the IDs to his right, beneath the handbrake and gave it to him. The metal of the Kalashnikov clanked against the bullet-belt. The gunman scanned the ID, intermittently looking back at Youssef. The gunmen to his right raked the inside of the Beatle with their eyes.
“What are you going there to do?” One of the gunmen to his right asked.
“I’m visiting the family. There’s a birthday.”
He was given the ID back and the gunman in front of him moved out of the way.
He stepped on the gas and continued as if the name he revealed had cast him into exile, but even worse, his name lasted for a duration, a duration of great anxiety, making the name cling to his being until the next checkpoint. Beyond borders, people die without names, but they also die because of their name, because they cannot separate themselves from their name. The war was in part a war of names, and not of people themselves. It was a war of a symbolic order, dictating laws of what should be and what cannot be.
He saw the next checkpoint and changed the ID beneath the handbrake. The same arrangement of gunmen stood in front of him, dressed slightly differently.
Inside borders, names were learned by heart and written in blood. Names were a constant separation from the others as well as from selves.
He eased down again at the border, the gunmen on his left saw his face and cringed.
“Get out,” he ordered. His voice was stern.
Two gunmen opened the side door of the yellow Beatle and started rummaging through it. Their hands went beneath and through seats. They opened the trunk, grabbed everything they could grip and threw it on the soiled ground, examining what lay on the ground as they laughed like drunken madmen.
“Where are you going?” one of the gunmen asked Youssef.
Youssef became flustered, and with a shivering voiced uttered “birthday.”
“Your ID. Give it to me.” The gunman ordered his left hang gripping his Kalashnikov, a finger on the trigger.
“Beneath the handbrake,” Youssef’s eyes remained static on the ground.
“Why are you looking on the ground? Do you like the ground? Do you want to kiss the ground? Yalla, kiss it. Do it.” The gunman pressed Youssef’s head with the sole of his boot.
It wasn’t long before the two gunmen searching the Beatle found the package, a white box.
“What’s this? Are you trying to kill us? Kill our brothers you scum?” shouted one of them.
“No no, it’s a birthday cake.” Youssef pleaded.
“Get on the ground.” They shouted together, gathering around him.
Youssef’s body went down where his eyes were gazing. He felt bodies search him, hands entering his pockets, fingers pressing on his skin. A hand grasped his wallet, after which his body was left on the ground, as if already a corpse.
“What’s this?” A gunman found his other ID. “Joseph. Youssef. Which one is it?” He looked at each of the IDs with a cringe. A kick caused Youssef to groan in pain.
Youssef knew it was too late. He was now displaced and no amount of words could save him. His existence was wavering between two names, discrediting him from any truth. Credence was lost.
The dance of names was an inevitable rendezvous with death. The two IDs were thrown on the ground like a palimpsest from a stolen library, perhaps surviving, perhaps forever lost; but nonetheless, with one name, one script too many. Youssef’s body was dragged towards the unknown from where snails emerge with cryptic and enigmatic shells, sliding on the dew of rain as moving mausoleums of bodies hidden and beings undone.