This is “Episode III” in the memoir I’m writing for my Creative Non-Fiction class. Previous installments are here and here. This one is about the recent bombing in Achrafieh that I wrote about on October 20th.
My pencil scrawled over my sketchbook again and again. I had homework I should have been working on, but I was in a drawing mood. My co-worker, Sam, sat next to me scrolling through his Facebook news feed. It was a late Friday afternoon, and I was bored and wishing I could go home early but I had a 5:00 class that I would be hard put to skip.
Sam’s phone rang, and he left the table to answer it. I was only half-aware of the conversation, as I was mostly putting effort into simply trying to stay awake. But I heard Sam’s tone change suddenly.
“Wait, what happened? Are you okay? Is everyone okay? Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind. Okay, take care all right?” As he hung up he caught me looking at him. “There was an explosion near my parents’ house in Achrafieh.”
I inhaled sharply, “Damn, is everything okay?”
“Yeah, they’re fine but they’re still seeing what’s going on.”
“Ah.” Despite the fact that “explosion” didn’t exactly drip with positive connotations, I didn’t feel much tension yet. I believed he was talking about some kind of gas leak, a minor explosion that was caused by stupidity or neglect.
Rex, who overheard the conversation, immediately grabbed the office phone. “An explosion in Achrafieh is not a good sign,” he said almost normally as he dialed his mother. I was almost surprised to hear her loud, panicked voice through the receiver. Rex, on the other hand, almost sounded bored, “Okay! Okay yalla mish mishikleh, [it’s no problem] calm down.” Then he hung up without further ado.
I looked down at my sketchbook. This was definitely something far more serious than some stupid gas leak. As more of my coworkers called their families, Rex plunked himself next to me, pulled up a news website and began reading up-to-the-minute headlines. It was soon confirmed that the “explosion” was actually a devastating car bomb in the middle of a residential area.
It was almost surreal, and at the same time…almost normal.
Something I had come to learn over the years is nothing seems out of place when you’re in the thick of it. Although there was some worry, the entire office had a vibe of mere curiosity about what was going on. (And, of course, there were the good-natured arguments over the who’s, what’s and why’s of the whole situation). I smiled inwardly at a coworker who was scouring Internet sites for The Italian Job, a movie he wanted to see even as chaos erupted only minutes away. While one guy was reading out the latest numbers of casualties and injuries, another was playing a Flash game while another was arguing with a friend over why the phone lines had been suddenly cut.
I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the absurdity of it all. If this happened in Canada, I could only imagine the level of fear that would pervade the very walls of the room around us. Here? We complain about not being able to find a movie we want to see and argue politics. Then we head to our classes, pack up our stuff and go home to mothers waiting anxiously in their living rooms in front of the evening news.