From The Big Roundtable:
Bright, bright light. So bright it blinds me.
Because the guy with the rifle, who is about to kill me, has me standing up against the wall, I cannot avoid the light, and cannot even shuffle my feet slightly to escape it. I can’t do anything. Can’t bend. Can’t run. Can’t do diddly. Just die.
So this is how it ends?
Strange. I am young. Don’t I have more time? Thought so.
It’s not the burning yellow sunlight, but an intense white light that distracts me most as I wait here on this miserable, stinking, war-pocked street of bombed-out buildings in bombed-out West Beirut.
I’m the afternoon show for a crowd of people waiting to see somebody beside themselves get blown away.
I wait here just up the hill and beyond a heap of rotting food and garbage, standing next to a partially collapsed, bullet-riddled wall. Waiting my turn.
My suitcase is at my side, where I dropped it in the dirt. I am facing the short, pudgy, balding gunman in need of a shave. He is pointing a high-powered rifle at my chest.
I guess I’ll die soon. Bullets. I’ll tumble. Backwards. Maybe forwards. Who knows? I’ve never done this before. When it’s over, I guess they will turn away and leave me here with the rest of the blood-smashed, bad-smelling junk of war that fills this part of Beirut.
The street is empty except for the handful of people watching me. Nobody in their right mind would wander into this bend in the road, where abandoned buildings resemble sun-drenched mausoleums.
It is another gate to hell here: the last checkpoint on the way in or out of besieged, maddened, and desperate West Beirut. I am a reporter. It is August 1982.
The day I arrived, a middle-aged Lebanese man told me about seeing someone run out into the street in West Beirut after an Israeli bombing attack hit his house and killed someone in his family. The man ran and slit the throat of the first person who passed by—an Arab just like him, an Arab trapped in the vise of war. “He was crazy from the war,” the Lebanese man said. “War is crazy. Be careful.”
I try to seem calm. I feel a shiver.
The problem is, the scene in front of me right now is fading out very quickly because I am fixating on the white light coming from nowhere and everywhere.
It throbs. It floods out the mean-tempered jerk in a dark green, military camouflage jacket facing me. I just can’t ignore the light. And the more I focus on it, the more buttons and wheels shut down in my head.