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To Know is to Foresee

By Chloe Chahrouri


“I’m exhausted,” I think as I slump in my chair, “I wish I could go home.” Knowing that it’s something I can’t afford to do right now, my mood worsens. I couldn’t sleep well last night, and my body aches with fatigue. I’ve just been stressed lately, but it’s something other than school. For some reason, I can’t seem to put my finger on what’s bothering me. I look outside from my usual seat near the window. It’s a mild day outside, and the Beirut sun is not too harsh, as it can often be in the summer. It still shines brightly, illuminating the tall, gray buildings as the January wind cools down the city. The weather is surprisingly nice, considering how it can often snow around this time of winter, with our school sitting high up on a small mountain. The classroom is on the third floor, allowing me to get a bird’s-eye view of the school’s courtyard with a glimpse into the rest of the city. I feel like I’m on top of the world, despite my current mundane life. Typically, I sit quietly in the back of the class and keep to myself as I wait for my history teacher to arrive. The others in the class talk among themselves, chatting about their weekends and telling jokes. It’s nice to take this time to relax a bit, because during instruction I’m always alert, taking notes and working studiously. I twirl my black, curly hair into ringlets and continue to stare out of the window. My teacher rushes in, his young legs taking long strides across the hardwood as he holds piles and piles of paperwork. The volume of the class begins to settle down as they see him walk in. Mr. Adib isn’t particularly strict, but our school is, due to the French curriculum. So, my classmates and I have grown accustomed to behaving, not willing to take any chances of getting a call home. Unfortunately for them, though, a trio of girls is so engrossed in their conversation that they don’t realize the teacher has arrived. People in the class begin to glance nervously, as Mr. Adib stands and waits with his arms crossed. “Ahem. Excuse me, girls. Am I interrupting your social hour?” He asks with aggravation.

The girls turn around in embarrassment, each muttering their apologies as they go back to their seats quietly. Mr. Adib smiles with satisfaction. “Thank you. This is premier[1], students. We should know how to behave by now.” He begins to go into his lesson, speaking about past Lebanese presidents and their different accomplishments. I begin to write everything down, making sure not to miss a date for upcoming tests. During my writing, though, I can’t help but think about last night. It’s strange. Usually, I would not get distracted during instruction. But something keeps nagging in my mind, and it settles uneasily into my stomach. I was watching the news, as usual, sitting with my parents on the long velvet couch that was in our living room. Two politicians were speaking during a segment, and it began to attract my attention. I looked up from my textbook. Michel Aoun was on the screen, the military commander representing the Lebanese army. At his side was Samir Geagea, representing a Christian militia. They were discussing something, which I wasn’t paying attention to before, but they seemed angry. Not a normal type of outrage that you would usually see in a debate between opposing sides. A type of anger that seemed personal. “Why are you bringing these people here?” Aoun bellowed, “We don’t need help from other people! We need to get strong within ourselves!” “Israel can help us!” Geagea yelled back, “We need them as an ally!” “Of course you want help from them. We don’t need them- and we don’t need a militia either,” Aoun retorts, “Baddi ed3assak bi boti[2], all of you!” As the debate became more and more heated, they began to throw out numerous verbal insults. I pointed this out to my dad. “What’s going on with them, Baba? Don’t they seem... extra mad today?”

He grunted, clearly annoyed with what was happening on the screen.

“That’s how all politicians are. Stupid hmar[3]!” His voice rose quickly, and he began to yell, his face immediately becoming tomato-red, “These guys are just starting trouble, fuck them! Fuck these guys! Ya khara[4]-” “Shhhh!” Mama interrupted him worriedly, “Be quiet! I want to hear them!” I knew that something was wrong then, but I sat silently and watched, hoping that it meant nothing. Now, as I dwelled on that information for longer, I began to put together the pieces. I may just be overthinking, or overanalyzing their emotions. It was typical for politicians to fight on TV, and even yell at each other unprofessionally. But that wasn’t a normal debate, I knew it deep down. I try my best to focus on my notes, hurriedly catching up. “Okay, students!” Mr. Adib announces, erasing his notes from the chalkboard, “I will be giving you a quick assignment on what we just went over. Let’s see if you took good notes.” Oh no. I began to freak out internally as I took out a piece of paper. I think I got most of the notes, but I was writing them on autopilot, my mind preoccupied with my worries. Hopefully, the teacher’s commentary in between didn’t have any important information. I take a deep breath. It’s okay, I know this stuff. I’ll be fine. I write today’s date on the paper: January 31, 1989. Agh. I scrub at the year with my eraser. This always happens to me at the beginning of the year- even though it’s been a full month I can’t seem to get it right. I fix it to the correct year: 1990. Luckily, as the teacher begins to read out his questions, I’m finding all the answers easily. He begins to read the third question when we hear an announcement from the loudspeaker. It’s the admin of the school.

“Attention students.” His voice is shaky, which is surprising compared to his usual authoritarian persona. Still, his tone is firm, showing no emotion. “A conflict is starting, and there is bombing in the streets. It looks like the situation is getting worse; we are trying to see which areas are safe so students can go home accordingly. Otherwise, please stay safe in the classroom, and listen to your teachers. Stay safe.” A click sounds as his announcement ends, and our classroom is left silent and pale. Everyone begins to look out of the window, peering through the same glass I was looking through before. “Stay away from the glass please, it’s dangerous,” Mr. Adib urges as he gathers up his belongings. His French accent is especially strong now as he speaks quickly. “Don’t be scared, the school will be calling your parents. Just wait for your name on the loudspeaker.”

One of my classmates stands up and goes to the teacher. I can tell that she meant for her question to be asked privately, but the silence of the room didn’t allow for such a thing. “Excuse me, Mr. Adib?” She began nervously, “I don’t think my parents are home. Will I have to stay here, then?” “You’ll be okay, don’t worry. There are a lot of students that live near you, so I’m sure they will call you to go with them.” He pats her shoulder with reassurance, and she shakily goes back to her seat. We students group together opposing the window, clutching our bags until our knuckles turn white. Against the wall of the classroom, everyone is jittering with anxiety, with the occasional whisper of reassurance from one friend to another. Although this type of situation isn’t anything new, it’s something that none of us ever got used to. Every time was like the first time it happened, with that same nauseating feeling of the first strike’s danger. Will our families be ok? Will our classmates make it home? Will I make it home? The silence in the room is uneasy. Although our school is on a hill, and our classroom is up in the sky, directly in the path of the bombs that rain down, we hear nothing. Even when looking outside, it almost looks like a normal day. I almost think this may be a false alarm, but I would be falling into delusion. Once we got down to the inner city, it would be a catastrophe.

One by one, I hear my classmates’ names being called on the loudspeaker. They sigh with relief, rushing out of the classroom and waving goodbye to us all. Deep down, I know that their comfort will be brief and that this is just a small victory in a larger war. I sit quietly by myself, my legs being hugged against my body. About an hour passes by, I know this because I’ve been staring at it the entire time, taking breaks to count the freckles on my arm. Every second I waited in agony and my name was never called. I sit in isolation as the last student shuts the door behind them, and my teacher rushes over to me. “Linda! Come with me. I’m bringing you home.” He beckoned me with his hand. “Hurry. I know a shortcut. We can make it.” “But Mr. Adib- But what about my parents?” Despite my verbal pushback, my body urged me to run. I knew that he was a neighbor, his house was just a minute away from mine. Overcome with trust, I start to stand up as he replies. “They didn’t call them. The school knows we live in the most targeted zone, and it’s better to have one less person on the street. Now come, we have to run quickly, ok?” I nod and follow him out of the door and down the stairs. Flying behind my feet stood multicolored inspirational messages written on the risers of the staircase. Connaître, serait une prière.[5] On n’est pas parfait et c’est parfait.[6] Connaître, c’est prévoir.[7] But none of the inspiration in the world could help me now, I was running fully on adrenaline. As I followed Mr. Adib out of the school’s building, my senses were overloaded, with the smell of gunpowder and smoke sitting heavily in the air, stinging my nose. The once-mild sky had since turned gray. The noise of bombs falling whistled at high frequencies. The sound of my heartbeat also thumped loudly in my ears, along with the thumping of my feet as I sprinted for dear life. We finally reach the car of my teacher and I throw myself into the passenger seat, as he feverishly starts the engine. I crouch low in the seat, partly from exhaustion and partly to get down from the windshield. Mr. Adib’s heavy breathing along with mine fills the awkward silence between us, only accompanied by the unmistakable sound of bombs. We both look forward, sitting rigidly as he speeds out of the parking lot. Suddenly, as if he had gotten a new rush of adrenaline, my teacher slams the ‘on’ button of the car radio, turns the channel to a pop music station, and blasts the volume deafeningly. I turn wide-eyed at him as he remains focused on the road. For a split second, I’m in disbelief. Why would he want to listen to music at a time like this? It’s almost eerie, hearing the joyous beats thumping throughout the car. But as it settles in for a moment, I begin to realize that I can no longer hear the bombs. I relax slightly as I pray that we arrive home, with the unknown lying ahead of us. After a ride that felt like it lasted forever, with the car’s tires screeching as my teacher zoomed across the streets, I finally saw my home standing in all its glory. Mr. Adib parks the car on the side of the road and I fling open the door. “Thank you, Mr. Adib! Get home safe.” I say on my way out. He wishes me the same before he zooms further up the street. I see his car park in front of his building as I run into mine. Glancing around the ground floor’s lobby, I see it’s empty, meaning Mama is still in our house. I head towards the staircase, not even bothering to try the elevator. It’s temperamental anyways, and chooses to work when it wants to. I make my way up five flights of stairs. I’m used to it at this point so I’m not affected, and I’m too worried to be exhausted regardless. I unlock the door to see Mama frantically rushing around the unlit house. “Linda! Oh, I’m so glad you’re safe, habibi[8]!” She wails. “I was about to go get you, but the school didn’t call! There’s no electricity, either.” She hugs me tight. “My teacher brought me, the one that’s our neighbor.” I reminded her as I squeezed back. “Ah, yes! Mr. Adib. I’ll have to thank him later,” She lets go of our hug and grabs my wrist, dragging me to the door. “Come, we have to go down to the safe room. Leave your bag.” I open my mouth to protest but decide against it. I knew we couldn’t stay here. The higher we are, the more dangerous. Misfired bombs hit the top of buildings, as they are too closely packed to reach the floor. I take the long journey on the staircase, once again. When we reach the ground floor again the lobby is still empty, but I can hear sounds escaping the doorway of the safe room. We walk in and see many familiar faces. My Baba[9] is here, along with my Aunts: Minerva, Gilda, and Adla. Two boys around my age are here with their parents, too. Upon realizing that everybody is in the situation as I am, I begin to relax. I’m with the people I love most, and not many n the country can say the same. I wave to everyone and try to settle into the unsettling room. The space is fairly small, maybe about as big as our living room. The number of people crammed into this room would probably be a problem soon, though. There were only two small sofas and one bed. With no other cushioning, we would have to resort to sleeping on the hard, cold concrete if there was no more room. The room is also dark, further adding to its chilling nature. It seems that someone had stacked bricks against the outside of the window earlier, forming a wall to prevent bullets from ricocheting in. There was also some miscellaneous food, but not enough for a long time, and there was a battery-powered radio. Besides that, there was nothing else to say about this room- the walls were bare, its concrete matching that of the floor. It smelled like nothing, too, unless you were like me and could sense the dust that lurked in the air. I take a spot on the couch, as I hear the chatter amongst the adults, the bombs still whistling outside. “Aiii, I’m sure that one hit my bedroom!” Aunt Minvera wails. “Yours? How do you know? It could have been mine,” Baba remarks. “Well, you’re welcome to stay in my house if it’s gone after this!” Aunt Gilda suggests.

I tune into their conversation and am caught off guard by their lighthearted banter. Well, at least for a second I am. Knowing my people, we can make any bad situation into an enjoyable one. Even with the bombs raining outside, and our homes left defenseless while we cowered down below, we still kept our pride. Although, this was sometimes our biggest weakness. Some of us let our pride outweigh our safety. My Aunt Adla, who lives on the first floor, had almost refused to leave. Baba told me that she insisted it was safe, and even now she was talking about going back. “I want to be in my own house. With my own toilet, and my own bed.” She said bluntly. Everyone sighed in frustration, voicing their concerns about her going back. They urged her to wait it out, perhaps this would pass sooner than she expected. She huffed in rebellion but eventually decided against her own judgment and stayed with the rest of us. Some of us had pride in our ability to help others. Baba was the one who left the hideout first. He had become restless as the day went on. “I’m the head surgeon! I have to go!” He yelled. “But there must be people there already! It’s too dangerous to go now!” Mama argued back. “Who will be there, the interns? There are soldiers dying for us, they need a real doctor to help them!” His stubbornness seemed to outweigh the clamoring that started in the room, and he began to walk out of the door. “It’s just across the street. I’ll be fine.” As I imagined him running under the bombs, I felt like I was going to pass out.


______

About 2 days have passed with no word from outside. All we can hear are the army tanks, which shake the ground and bulldoze through parked cars mercilessly. The hitting of bullets, falling of bombs, and yelling of soldiers add a terrifying harmony to an absolute chaos of a symphony. Nothing of value has happened, except for Aunt Gilda’s cleaning frenzy. She had found a cleaning kit in the lobby and decided that it was her duty to clean the hideout once a day. “Well, this is our home now,” She explained, “I have to make sure it’s clean!” Besides that, we were left to our endless conversations. But there was only so much to talk about before we succumbed to the fear of the unknown. I began to worry about school. I had worked so hard to get this far, what if I can’t graduate? Will I fall behind when we get back? Will the school even be there? These questions swirled repeatedly in my mind, and there was plenty of opportunity for them to give me feelings of dread. Time felt endless here, it was like we were trapped in a void away from the world. But that all changed when the radio started to pick up on something. I crank up the volume as everyone turns towards me with interest. Attention, they are naming this civil battle “The War of Liberation”. Aoun has declared war on Geagea for this domestic war. Citizens may now safely return to their homes as the soldiers have retreated briefly. Again, they are naming this... I turn the volume down as they repeat the announcement. Everyone’s eyes brighten up as they realize they can go back to their homes, at least for a moment. I grin at Mama and we run up the stairs. Never would I think that going up these steps would give me so much joy, but I feel free as I ascend higher, away from our hideout. When I arrive back at our home it’s like revisiting a moment frozen in time. Dinner remains on the cold stove, halfway finished, and my backpack is sprawled across the carpet. Luckily, everything remains intact, so I take a much-needed trip to my room to freshen up, peeling off my jeans and changing into comfortable clothes after I shower. I look in the mirror and see my olive skin looking more gray than usual- my eyebags heavy and dark. I decide I can’t look any longer and make my way to the kitchen. My survival instincts begin to kick in. The bombing could start again any second now- I need to gather as much as I can. I grab a garbage bag and walk to our pantry, throwing in every nonperishable item I can find. Once the bag is filled, I’m satisfied and haul it toward the doorway. I grab another bag and hurry back into my bedroom, throwing in any article of clothing I can find. Once I have a good variety, I toss in a throw blanket for good measure, along with two pillows. I struggle to close the bag as I go to place it near the entrance. The first bag is gone, meaning Mama probably brought it downstairs. I go to fill another bag when I hear the radio begin to blare. Attention, this war has now gone international. Syria and Israel are beginning to attack, taking sides with the army and militia, respectively. Please get to safety. Again- I shut off the radio in frustration. I can’t even relax in my home for one second without having to think of this stupid war, and now I have to go back to that place. I look around frantically, thinking if there’s anything else I need. My eyes lock in on their target: my backpack. Maybe I can do something useful while I’m down there. I quickly put it on and run back down into the shelter with my newfound items. I start to hear the crashing of bombs again when I reach the bottom of the steps. Defeated, I drag the garbage bag into the hideout. I’m sick of this. I just want to go back to a few days ago, when my biggest worry was passing a test or memorizing a date. I want to go outside, have fun, and have something to do other than just sitting and wasting my youth away. I look up from my moping, lifting my eyes from the floor to see my family in higher spirits than ever. “Look at this picture, isn’t it so pretty?” Aunt Minerva gloats, holding a frame. Yihhh, shou helou[10]. Look here, I brought this rug we can put,” Aunt Gilda remarks excitedly. “I brought a couch and some mattresses,” Aunt Adla says in her usual monotone way, “These lovely boys helped me, of course.” The other two aunts begin to shower them with praise, going over to the late-teens to pinch their cheeks pridefully. They flush red with embarrassment and sheepishly thank the older women. I look around the room and see that everyone is preoccupied with rearranging furniture and decorating. With a newfound burst of energy, I throw my backpack onto the floor and untie my bag, offering pillows and blankets to any spot that needs them. I push around couches, hang up pictures, and make small talk with the people around me. Aunt Gilda walks over and displays a handheld fan, extravagant and made of feathers. “Look Linda, I have my feather fan.” She waves it dramatically. “If I’m going to die, I’m going to die chic!” Everyone’s laughs boom around the small room. Before I knew it, the knot in my stomach had disappeared, and I laughed too, for the first time in days. One boy walks over to me and taps my shoulder. I turn around in surprise. I haven’t spoken much to him yet, but I know he’s the younger sibling, I think his name is Nadim. He’s holding a board game- Monopoly. I look at him with enthusiasm. “I love that game! Maybe we can play it soon?” I ask excitedly. “Yep! We can all play together.” He smiles before he continues helping with the furniture. I find my backpack and begin to unload my textbooks, placing them on the floor near the mattress, almost like I have them in my own room. Now that I look around, this place feels more like a home now, with everyone bringing a piece of their life to share with the rest of us. It kind of feels like a family gathering. I feel more hopeful now. Maybe the unknown ahead won’t be so bad. But I’m ready if it is, because ‘to know is to foresee’, and that’s something I can’t do.

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[1] The equivalent of 11th grade [2] “I want to stomp you with my boot” in Arabic

[3] “Donkey” in Arabic

[4] “You shit” in Arabic

[5] “To know would be a prayer”, in French [6] “We are not perfect and that is perfect”, in French

[7] “To know is to foresee”, in French

[8] “My love”, in Arabic

[9] “Dad” in Arabic

[10] “Woww, so beautiful” in Arabic

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