By: Annmarie Crampton

There is a father. Who comes home every day, around four o’clock, with dusty boots and tanned arms, after a full day of physical labour. First he showers, then he proceeds upstairs where the family gathers to eat dinner in the TV room (which is also the parent’s bedroom). The TV always being on in that room, tonight is no exception. Arabic music videos, news clips…I can’t understand a word; when I am not watching the TV, I watch them. Hamoudi running around, picking at food and spilling it on his face. Ali, the third youngest boy is ordered downstairs to get more utensils for Hamoudi.

My name is mentioned every now and then as I am asked if I would like any more humous or potatoes. What about pita? Do I have enough Pepsi? His eyes are tired and kind, this father. He plays with his youngest son Hamoudi, letting him push him over on the floor and wound him with bullets from a gun made out of tiny clasped hands and pointed index fingers. He watches the news, this father, and flips the channels as he likes. The Camp David Accords are on TV. Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton are shown. This father, he listens intently. He says they are thinking about economic compensation for every member of the family, as well as a relocation to a country of choice (perhaps Canada, Norway or Sweden….). I ask if he would like this. He says yes. Very much. There is a pause, and then he says something which is translated for me: “There is a saying in the camp. It is, ‘we live but for the absence of death.” Tomorrow morning when I leave the house for my 8:30 class, he will have been gone already for several hours.

* * *

She says to me as I sit on the couch opposite her, “Life is random, it is but chance, no Annmarie?” And I hesitate to agree. I want to tell her, that no, it is not chance. That you can’t think like that. That you must grab a hold of your life and take it where you want to go. That you must live with optimism in your heart and never believe those who tell you can’t do something. I feel a sense of urgency at the lack of hope which plays such a crucial role in keeping up one’s spirit and one’s will to live. I feel the suffocating pull of despair that threatens to overwhelm when such hope dwains. I want to comfort her like a child discouraged by failure; to convey to her what I know to be true but which she, from her perspective has lost a grasp on.

And yet I cannot tell her these things, for her emotion is powerful enough that it reaches across the room and engulfs me. I grasp for a more optimistic perspective on the stories she has just told me. Stories of how she is alone in this world, of how her family is dead. Of how after her house was bombed, that attempts to rebuild the living room were forbidden by the government of Lebanon because they took such an opportunity to tighten the borders of Beirut’s dirty little secret by half a room’s width.

But these stories are too real and too choking to see any other way. The tears run down her cheeks. She adds, however, that she has everything she needs. That she needs nothing else. There is a moment of silence. She apologizes for crying in front of me and for being depressing. She brushes away her tears, lifts herself off the couch, and moves to the kitchen to make coffee.

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