Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Murder at the Quacking Duck.

The Quacking Duck was a night club in the basement of a hotel in Beirut till a shell landed on it on New Year’s Eve at the turn of a year back in the seventies. Magda had just finished a set with the band shortly before midnight and was stepping down from the small half-moon stage. I had been waiting for her at a table at the back of the smoky room along with Zainab and Nabil. That’s when the shell hit.

The lights were dim; the applause was weak and half-hearted at that time of night before the main act came on to see in the New Year; we were all tired after the long bus ride up from Latakia where Zainab and Nabil had arrived by boat from Alexandria the previous night.

The shell must have hit just as I turned my head away from the stage to see if the bar was clear enough to let me go and order more drinks. There was a confusion of noise and light and sudden movement. In an instant I realised that I was lying on my back with a small, round table lying on my stomach, its legs sticking up in the air inelegantly, but I couldn’t figure out why. Why had the world been re-arranged without me seeing it happen? Why was I looking through swirling dust at the ceiling? Why was Zainab lying on the floor with her skirt pulled that far up? Everything was wrong but there was no-one to tell and I didn’t know exactly what it was that wasn’t right.

“I’ve fallen into a coma”, I thought, “I’ve had a stroke. I have to break the spell”.

So I tried to speak and move. That worked. Forcing air and sound out from between my dry lips was the first act of rehabilitation, the start of the long process of putting things right, bringing order back into life, but it was only the first tiny step.

Bit by bit reality sunk in, pieces of a jigsaw started coming together turning chaos very gradually into order, but many pieces were missing or in the wrong place. Some bits got moved round in my brain as other people joined in. Someone started to moan, then another. As the reality of pain kicked in moans turned to screams, but Zainab wasn’t making any sound and she didn’t move. Sirens blared. Water gushed from a fractured pipe. Noise began to build and men started walking around the room, taking long strides to avoid standing on whatever was in their way, and the world was sitting at an odd angle.

Someone bent over Zainab then straightened again and came over to me. A weight was lifted from my chest, dust poured into my mouth. Some dark, towering figure kneeled beside me and I could feel hands running up and down my body. I was rolled over. I was on my feet. I had grit in my eyes. There was shouting. I was standing in the cold night air in a wonderhell of sirens and flashing lights and the moon made the sea all starry with tiny, yellow pinpricks of light.

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