‘Firefly’ by Jabbour Douaihy: An Excerpt

An unforgettable portrait of Beirut and the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90), seen through the eyes of a young man caught in-between a religious upheaval.

Translated from the Arabic by Paula Haydar and Nadine Sinno

An Excerpt

Around ten o'clock, Beirut exploded all at once. The factions had restrained themselves for three months—far more than they could bear—so all hell broke loose, and they started using the new weapons that they had acquired during that time.

At noon, Vasco and his assistant came upon one of the makeshift check- points that were suddenly set up by mili- tias at all the hotspots and roads that connected the capital’s two opposite sides. The warring parties had taken advantage of the long summer truce, studying the lay of the land so they could swoop down on it when the time came. They stopped Vasco and his assistant as they were crossing to the western side of the city by way of the National Museum Road as they usually did. They asked Vasco to step out of the car so they could search him, but he told them that he couldn’t walk. They thought he was being defiant and screamed at him again, so he showed them his frail, bowed legs and the wheelchair in the backseat. The armed men studied the car—a new Peugeot 504 painted a unique color. They asked the driver to sit in the back, and three of them squeezed into the car, which one of them started driving to an unknown destination. That his assistant kept repeating that Vasco was rooting for them against his own parents didn’t deter them. They dropped Vasco off in an area close to Beirut International Airport—or rather they asked his assistant to remove him from the car and then resumed their trip. They kidnapped his assistant, took the Peugeot 504, and took his wheelchair. Vasco didn’t make it in time to rescue Olga and Nizam, but rather remained where his assistant had sat him down on a short cement wall on the corner of one of the side roads—his legs flailing loosely, his brown shoes perfectly clean, never having touched the ground. He went by and thought he might be waiting for someone to pick him up, so he honked at him and gestured with his hand—asking him if he needed a ride. Vasco just thanked him and waved him off. He stayed there for over three hours, in a state of utter disbelief about what was happening to him, as the echoes of explosions demolishing downtown Beirut reached him. No one came to his rescue, until he finally flagged down an ambulance that had lost its way. The ambulance driver and nurse transported him to the National Museum area, where they handed him over to Lajnat al-Irtibat al-Amniya, the Security Liaison Commit- tee, which then took him to his parents’ home. After that, none of his remaining comrades or friends ever heard any news about Joseph al-Farneeni again, although it was said that he had joined the other camp because his assistant disappeared and he couldn’t find out anything about his whereabouts—despite all the petitions and despite the assistant’s name appearing for years on the lists put forth by the committee investigating the fates of the kidnapped and the missing.

The seafront opened up too, and the Manara apartment entered the battle through its wide-open door. As soon as the first few shots were fired, the new sniper realized that he was more exposed than necessary, so he demanded some sandbags that he could hide behind and asked for backup men with machine guns. Men in muddy boots passed through the apartment, so Nizam and Olga rolled up the big rug and stashed it in the smaller bedroom. In her mind, Olga started keeping track of all the things she would regret losing if they were stolen so she could lock them up in the bedroom. Nizam worried about Saint George.