The truth is I was forced to return to Beirut without knowing if he was still hiding there. Maybe he’ll come back. Pounce on me. Keep me from sleeping. He sneaks in from the balcony or from the stairs or the street corners. I hated my home because of him. I can’t stand the empty rooms, the benches where no one sits but shadows, the features that have disappeared under dust. I would have put up with my entire life if not for his appearance. I used to lean on my will to live like old woman on a cane. But now it has left me. If I had known that things get this bad, I would never have abandoned Yaffa. Instead, I listened to my husband’s family, who warned me that it is impossible for a widow to live alone. Each time I saw them, my foolishness came spilling out, I thought that joining their family was just a formality, nothing more. If only I had remained in my country, and not joined them in Lebanon. If I had remained then perhaps I could have taken care of everything for myself and this base outsider would not have planted himself in front of me like a bride promised to Satan. I hope to sleep one night free of his ghost. Without being startled by that specter of his that appears to me among people and jinn. I endured the entire civil war without complaint. I prayed, ate, and received guests. I went to work and took care of my grandchildren. I didn’t despair, not for a single moment. Nor did cowardice get me. Unlike the others in my building, I wasn’t even rattled when the heavy bombing began again. If only he had not appeared. If only he would be struck down by the evil eye. What had I done to deserve this? I hoped for death rather than this string of tragedies. It’s enough that this wicked one has come after me, terrifying me with his boundless evil. I could have remained in the country and given in to my husband’s family, if not for that nameless force. An impulse lies buried in my chest like a knife jiggling left and right each time I hear them speak their language, unfamiliar to our streets and our homes. If they were guests—welcome! But for them to throw us out and sit in our places—in our homes; when their language throws us out and sits in the place of our language, this is what I could not endure.
That language that blotted out every person I had in my life. In 1936 I was a child. Bombed, our home collapsed on top of my father and mother. My husband, a freedom fighter, was martyred in 1948. I gave birth to a fatherless daughter—she never saw him or knew him. That year I also gave birth to my hatred for their voices. I swear. If not for that, then I would not have left. I no longer had anyone—no any energy to listen to them while they ruled over us. And commanded us like slaves. I said: I am leaving. Oh—if only I had not left. I discovered my homesickness from the very first instant that an Arab border soldier silenced me at the Naqurah checkpoint where I had crossed. I thought that the Arab world would be like Abdel Halim Hafez singing “My beloved homeland, my great nation.” When I discovered that my assumption was mistaken, it was already too late. The Red Cross contented itself with getting people out—it was not concerned with getting them back in. Everything I had seen in my entire life—all the horrors of the civil war—lay in a heap. The thing that hid in the corners of the house was another heap, but it was more terrifying in any case. The never-ending bombs rain down indiscriminately on people’s heads, but this cur lies in wait for me alone. I once stayed awake, watching near the kitchen door, from seven in the evening until seven the next morning waiting for him to come out, but he didn’t. My neighbor Abu Salim advised me to lock all of the windows and open the door to the kitchen balcony, but still he didn’t show himself. I was forced to eat at the neighbors’ home after he took over the kitchen and refused to leave. At night I heard his footsteps and the sound of him playing with the dishes and pans. He broke most of them, leaving nothing where it belonged. When I strained my neck to get a glimpse of what’s happening I caught only a glimpse of a bit of fabric and I say to myself, “Maybe he sheds his skin each day and casts it off so that his revenge on me can increase.” Later, I learned that it was nothing but pieces of the black cloth that covered the back of the refrigerator. It didn’t even have a cord to plug it in with. The tape that connected the speakers to the recorder was shredded. This was all simple in comparison to what he did with the piece of green soap. In the beginning of his invasions of the home, I only noticed his presence when I noticed a piece of soap thrown under the sofa in the living room. Bismallah al-rahman al-rahim. How did it fly and land here without me touching it? How did a piece of soap move itself across the house? The violent sounds that rang out in the night kept me from sleeping. The sounds of things banging into each other and crashing into the furniture. A strange buzzing and a continual nibbling sound, along with a constant rustling. My thoughts flew apart—I was convinced that demons had possessed my home. But the question of demonic possession in a city rocked by daily airstrikes like Beirut was unthinkable. Every inhabitant in this city knew that there were no demons except men. Who is this creature that upsets my home like a crazy military brigade? Abu Salim came and told me after examining a few drops of black oil that I found on the pavement even though I didn’t have any oil at all, that the perpetrator was a rat from the depths of hell. I started sleeping on the small sofa in the entry hall. I retreated from the bedrooms completely, as a precaution. I locked all of the doors around myself, and took to waiting and listening. When it became clear that he was not going to leave ever, despite all of my efforts, Abu Salim came with his son again carrying a pistol determined to kill him and getting him out at any cost. But he disappeared, and none of us found him.
Truthfully, I am the cause of all of this. Why was I so foolish and stupid as to leave Jaffa and come to this place? What brought me here except my own foolishness? I went through so many terrible things afterwards. One of those Arab countries that trumpets grand slogans cast me into prison for thirty years under the pretext of a security investigation. I spent many days on the steps of the empty building in the thick of the bombing afraid of dying alone behind a closed door of an empty building. Tomorrow my visit to my daughter’s home (she lives outside of Lebanon) ends, and I return. Will I find him hiding there like usual?
— Translated by Spencer Scoville.