From the Prologue
Now, today, I close my eyes and am instantly back. If I let myself remember Andreas, the sun-drunk sea of Greece, that feeling of freedom, of being lifted out of myself, young, tearing into the wind, it all comes rushing back. Ecstasy. Knew it then. New then.
The scent of lemons, the trembling hand on my skin, the smoke of kebobs in the souk, a muezzin’s cry, the clutch of dust and sand at my throat …
Out of Beirut in a Hurry
“Jean, stop scrabbling around in your bag like a drunk squirrel! There’s a checkpoint up ahead. Lots of uniforms and they don’t look friendly.”
Tearing along the bleak coast road in a banged-up taxi on the way to the airport, the same road we’d taken to La Gondola for lunch a few weeks back, past mounds of mud and sand littered with refuse, our last chance to get out of Beirut, a driver who spoke no English, or French for that matter, and so jumpy he might dump us anywhere and take off leaving us stranded.
“I can’t find my passport!”
No passport. They would search us for sure. Carrying letters to King Hussein, so we were told, no idea what they said. Stuffed in our bras, hidden in lingerie in our luggage. No Arab would go there. And yet fingering our underwear hadn’t bothered them in the slightest when they’d stormed in and arrested Asif. Pointing machine guns at the three of us. Days ago, yet in a way a lifetime.
“If I can’t find it, you go on.”
“Oh, sure. Think about what you’re saying. Carrying messages we can’t read to people we don’t know …
The driver hit the brakes, cursing and calling on Allah at the same time. As we slid off the seat, I got a glimpse of the sea sparkling in the sun.
“Got it!” Jean yelled, holding her passport aloft.
“Ahlan wasahlan. Going somewhere?” The man peered through the window at us sprawled on the floor. Rotting teeth, bits of gold filling flashing, comical more than menacing. Except for the gun.
“Airport?” Jean said.
We pulled ourselves up. More soldiers crowded the car. They yanked out the driver and shoved him in the direction of the makeshift command post in the middle of the road.
“Passports!” We handed them over.
They passed them around, a great show of examining and comparing photographs with our faces. Two marched off with them, while the others milled around or squatted, smoking and talking. Our driver had vanished. We checked our watches. If they kept this up it would be a close call making our flight.
“Do they think we’ve got all day to sit here admiring the scenery?”
“Why don’t you march on up there and tell them we’ve got a plane to catch. Take Toothless with you.” All this was her fault. Or was it mine for suggesting we come here in the first place?
“Was that supposed to be sarcastic?”
“A great weapon, sarcasm, when scared shitless. Which, quite frankly, I am.”
“Okay, I know I’ve been a little cavalier … but … what do you think they’re doing?”
I didn’t want to hear any “but.” What about that empty room at the hotel we just fled, the St. Georges? That odious General Osir coming down the hall? Afraid, then, for Asif. Now convinced he’d given us all the slip, even the wily Osir.
“What will they think we’re doing?”
“Joyriding around out here, what else? What kind of stupid question is that?”
She kept at it. “What if we miss the flight? Can’t be that many to Amman. And they said the airport was going to be shut down, we’ll be stuck.”
“Jean. Stifle the ‘buts’ and ‘what ifs.’ We can’t let on we’re nervous so let’s talk about something else. God, it’s hot.”
The sun was high, nothing to shade us on the side of the road. Not a single car had passed. The soldiers came back, without our passports. One of them opened the door on Jean’s side and motioned her to get out.