July 3, 2018
Douaihy’s “Chased Away” featured in Words Without Borders

Douaihy’s “Chased Away” featured in Words Without Borders


Novel excerpt published by Word Without Borders, special issue on Lebanon, July 2018
Translated by Paula Haidar.

At an armed checkpoint, sectarian tensions come to bear on one man’s suspect identity in this excerpt from Jabbour Douaihy’s novel Chased Away​.

Nizam went with Olga to Jounieh Saturday morning in her red and white Mini Cooper. She’d barely finished introducing him when her mother launched her assault.

“You just can’t get your fill of handsome young men, can you, Olga?” she shouted, having grown very hard of hearing.

Olga responded full force despite her mother’s age.

“Like mother like daughter!”

Olga could see that her mother was in good health. She’d claimed she was dying so Olga would come see her. She preferred not to stay overnight at her mother’s because they would spend the time quarreling over every little thing.

Her mother invited them to stay for lunch but apologized for having to leave for an hour to go to Mass.

They decided not to wait for her and headed back to Beirut. The streets at that time of morning were jam-packed with pedestrians and cars, so Nizam signaled for her to take the coastal road toward the port. That’s when they suddenly found themselves stuck at a makeshift checkpoint.

Up to that time, Nizam had never shown his ID to anyone, except the police sergeant who’d barged in on them at the apartment in al-Manara. Touma had procured the ID for him from the Sérail in Tripoli. Touma was always telling the story, in front of his friends, claiming it was the Civil Registry Officer who entered all the personal data information into the application, based on what Touma told him in Nizam’s absence, but Nizam’s ID didn’t reflect what he’d said. Touma also tried to get the employee to leave the part about religious affiliation blank, but he insisted on following the rules. And so Touma resorted to erasing the phrase “Sunni Muslim,” which the registrar had entered under “Religion,” himself. Nizam remembered seeing the phrase on his ID at one time, but then noticed it was gone, with some evidence of tearing where the paper had been rubbed with an eraser. Nizam had passed through numerous armed checkpoints before, and every time it was the same. The soldier or policeman or armed militia man who was in charge of checking the IDs of all the car passengers, waiting for him to signal and peer through the window at each one’s face, would get to Nizam, take a quick glance, and look away. Generally speaking, the guards at checkpoints were comfortable with Nizam’s appearance. None of them ever asked to see his ID.

The gunman who now had his ID wasn’t looking at people’s faces. He was looking all about, preoccupied and nervous about what was going on around him, worried there might be some threat to his own safety. No actual checkpoint had been set up. Gunmen appeared from side streets or nearby buildings and pounced on the cars. Just like that, the place was suddenly swarming with them. They were dressed in civilian clothes with belts of ammunition strapped around their waists, some with hand grenades or revolvers, too, in addition to automatic rifles. They spread out. Some performed patrol while others pounded on cars signaling the drivers to stop.

“IDs. Quickly!” the gunman shouted at the passengers, without looking at them.

The young man who’d given them the order was agitated, flustered, afraid. He frightened them. Olga winked at Nizam and handed the young gunman her ID. He glanced at it, then leaned in to get a good look at its owner. The car was low to the ground, and he was tall. It was hot, and Olga was wearing a lightweight dress that showed her shoulders and a bit of her back and chest. His stare lingered. Then he glanced over at Nizam. He liked Olga. All men liked Olga.

Nizam felt that older men did not see him as a barrier when they were hitting on Olga. He appeared small and nice and was most likely a relative, worst-case scenario. He did not provide her with sufficient protection in the face of those with sudden desires. Their hungry eyes gobbled her up while flitting past him in contrast, merely to ascertain what his relation to her might be.

Cars were lining up behind them. He returned her ID, bidding her farewell with a piercing stare. He was about to wave her along when he remembered Nizam. Read more