Behind Me Lies the Desert

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: March 14, 2019

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Submitted: March 14, 2019

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Behind Me Lies the Desert

…Yesterday I saw you in the port,
A long voyager without provisions,
Like an orphan I ran to you,
Asking the wisdom of our forefathers:
How can the ever-verdant orange grove be dragged
To prison, to exile, to a port,
And despite all her travels,
Despite the scent of salt and longing,
Remain evergreen?
I write in my diary:
I love oranges and hate the port
And I write further:
On the dock
I stood, and saw the world through Witter's eyes
Only the orange peel is ours, and behind me lay the desert…

 

‘A Lover from Palestine’

Mahmoud Darwish

1941- 2008

 

Chapter 1

The white carpet of clouds outside the airplane window stretched toward what looked like infinity.  Three hours into her flight from London, Justina sat with her face almost touching the plexiglass.  She was so absorbed by the snow-like expanse and the deep blue sky arching above that it took a moment before she realised someone was touching her arm.  She turned, saw it was the young, dark-complexioned woman wearing a grey hijab in the seat next to the empty one between them.  Justina hadn’t exchanged a word with her since the woman first settled on the plane at Heathrow.

“The flight attendant was speaking to you,” the woman said in a friendly tone.

Justina looked beyond the hijabi, saw a smiling flight attendant hovering in the aisle.  The woman’s red, white, and blue scarf tied around her neck was so starched that Justina thought it appeared like it was sticking out of her neck.

“We won’t be in Beirut for a couple of hours,” the flight attendant said.  “Would you like something?  A soft drink?  Maybe some wine?”

Justina weighed the choices.  She was still hungover from her going-away party last night.  Even so, the thought of a drink – just to sooth her nervousness – was tempting, until she thought of her day ahead.  “Just some water, please,” she said.

The flight attendant moved down the aisle.  Justina was about to turn away when she saw the woman examining her.  She was pretty, with deep brown eyes.  Justina made herself smile.

“Is this your first trip to Lebanon?” asked the hijabi.

“Lebanon, yes – but it’s not my first time to the Middle East.”

The woman looked at Justina, seemingly waiting for more.

“I was in Cyprus,” Justina said.

“Really?  On holiday?”

Justina considered how to answer.  “I was stationed there as a United Nations Peacekeeper.”

The hijabi frowned as if the conversation had taken a turn she wasn’t expecting.  “You’re a British soldier?”

“Not for years,” said Justina.  She listened for any comment from the woman, but she was met with silence.

The flight attendant returned with a tray.  As Justina accepted her glass, she watched the hijabi fish in her bag on the floor for a book.  The woman gave her a final look, more bland than friendly now.  “My brother’s in the Jordanian army.  He’s in Aqaba.”

“I’m not going that way,” Justina said.  She then added without quite knowing why, maybe to impress her temporary neighbour or simply out of pride, “I’ve taken a position in Lebanon at a United Nations refugee camp for Palestinians.”

The woman opened her book and appeared to read.  “How interesting.”

Justina paused, then shrugged inwardly.  She was used to people not caring for soldiers, past or present.  She resumed staring at the clouds.

 

 

Once they had landed at Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport, Justina walked along with her seatmate for a distance through the terminal, then gradually slowed until she was lost in more comfortable anonymity.  With little sleep from the night before and the hours of travel, she was exhausted.  After passing through customs and retrieving her luggage – a bulky rucksack and a single, faded canvas duffle bag – she wearily negotiated for a taxi to ferry her to Beirut’s main bus station.  By the time she bought a ticket at the station and settled alone in the rear of an elderly inner-city bus, her mind was whirling with fatigue.  It was all she could do to stay awake and politely shake her head at plastic cups of tea offered by a pair of old women in colourful dresses while ignoring the leering glances of male passengers.  The men’s attention vindicated Justina’s rejection of her mother’s proposal that she should travel in a dress or skirt instead of jeans.  The issue of clothes had been only the latest in a lifetime of skirmishes between mother and daughter.  She much preferred dealing with her father, and it showed in their closer relationship.

Justina’s annoyance at the men on the bus eased when she noticed two young boys watching her with shyness rather than lust.  When she saw one of them blowing on his companion’s bangs and giggling as he pointed at her, she decided they were entertained at how the cool, spring air gusting through the open window sent her unruly auburn hair across her face despite her repeated attempts to keep it pinned up.  She finally stuck her tongue out at them and they squealed in delight.  After five minutes of exchanging funny faces with the boys, the game faded, and she began to doze.

The afternoon sun was peering through a sky etched with white, jagged clouds when Justina woke.  The bus was still churning along the coastal motorway.  Thankfully, none of the men in the vehicle had advanced any closer.  She stretched in her seat and rubbed her eyes.  Her hangover had settled into a lingering headache wandering behind her eyes.  It was bearable.

Justina observed the road signs to get an idea of where she was.  Most of the signs were blue, some green, and lettered in Arabic, French, and English.  They pointed the way toward towns and cities that had no meaning to her.  One prominent English-only sign on a lonely stretch cautioned “Foreigners are forbidden to leave the Main Road.”  She liked that one, wondered what prompted the warning.  Perhaps it signaled the presence of a military base, an archaeological site, or served as a caution about minefields from past wars lurking in the wadis that meandered toward distant blue-grey mountains.  Each seemed possible.

A few miles further on, the bus turned eastward and began winding through low hills.  Justina alternated between closing her eyes and gazing out the window.  Finally, coming around a long curve in a forested valley, she spotted a road sign proclaiming they were ten kilometres from the town of Nabatieh, her destination.  The prospect roused her.  She tried to recall the tourist facts she’d memorised.  All she could remember was that the town boasted a Crusader castle dating from the twelfth century and a mosque from the sixteenth.  She knew the big market day was Monday, in a place called Souq Al Tanen.  That was all; her memory offered nothing more.  In the end, she felt her arrival was like being on the verge of meeting a famous relative whose reputation was stitched together entirely from stories told by others or after looking at old, faded photographs.

The bus rolled into Nabatieh.  Justina felt the town didn’t look like much.  She couldn’t see any buildings taller than the minarets of mosques as the bus threaded through traffic.  And while she felt Nabatieh had a rural prettiness, it looked inadequate to host any refugee camp larger than a few hundred people – and Justina knew some of the UN camps in Lebanon were huge.  One camp, Ain al-Hilweh, held over 100,000 people.  An assignment to a place like that would have felt overwhelming, and she’d been relieved not to be going to such an immense camp.  Nabatieh, on the other hand, only held a couple of thousand refugees.  But, the reality was that she really didn’t know all that much about the Allenby Barracks Palestinian Refugee Camp she’d been assigned to.

The idea that the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East was based in the capital of Austria was a concept Justina never adjusted to.  Vienna, a city of verdant trees, towering glass office towers, intimate dark coffee houses, marble palaces, and cathedrals of weathered stone, seemed a universe away from the refugee camps in Lebanon she became familiar with from her training.  Nevertheless, it was in the comfort of Vienna that she and other new employees had attended ten fast-paced days of presentations on the camps, their history, growth, and current conditions.  The result was that Justina walked away with a mental image of the refugee camps in Lebanon as a shoddy mix of dusty villages, squalid towns, or permanent tent cities – all overcrowded, poor, and prone to the impulsive back-alley or kitchen violence acted out by five generations of people long overcome by the daily frustration of survival mingled with a fear of the future.  Ain al-Hilweh was like that, she’d been told by UN staff that had worked there and returned to Vienna as instructors.  In contrast, Allenby and the smaller camps hadn’t been portrayed with much detail to Justina and her fellow newcomers.  There just wasn’t time for such a thorough orientation of operations, it was explained to them, as they were needed immediately to replace staff departing from Lebanon whose employment contracts had all ended with bureaucratic precision at the same time; a corporate blunder matched in scale only by Vienna’s inability to anticipate it.  The resulting hurried lectures and flurry of paperwork had given Justina’s training a scattershot feel, but she’d kept her optimism up and impressed her instructors with her keenness to learn and ask questions.  As it happened, she was assigned to Allenby at the last minute by a frenzied administrative officer overwhelmed by deadlines whose office she was passing by.

After rumbling a few more blocks, the bus pulled into the station: an expansive, open-aired shed with a run-down look.  Justina collected her bags from the bus’s storage bay and went to examine an illustrated city map in a nearby glass case.  She had an idea of Allenby’s location and searched the map for the Byzantine clock tower she knew dominated the square outside the camp.  The tower turned out to be within walking distance.

Justina followed a main thoroughfare toward the centre of town.  Though only mid-afternoon, the streets teemed with people, almost everyone in motion like schools of fish in a river.  Most men appeared in casual western clothes: tee or polo shirts, Levis, slacks.  Others – typically older – promenaded along in traditional flowing robes.  In contrast, the women seemed more equally divided between dressing in modern outfits or wrapped in dark, coat-like abayas, their heads covered with hijabs, striding with large handbags over their shoulders or examining wares displayed in storefronts.  Many women and girls were outfitted in combinations of modern clothing topped with brightly-coloured hijabs.  Justina also saw men clustered around tables at cafes and young teenagers of both sexes jostling in front of sandwich shops as small lorries bleated their horns to part the flow of humanity and scooters and motorcycles of all sizes weaved through the crowds.  Overhead, minarets and the upper floors of buildings were obscured by electrical wires and power cables strung across streets and buildings like badly-rigged ropes on a wooden sailing ship.  For Justina, the overall effect was a pleasant one, as Middle Eastern cities seemed to throb with a sense of life she rarely felt elsewhere.

At one point, Justina paused to rest and looked in a pub window.  Beyond her slender reflection, she saw patrons inside enjoying pints of beers and glasses of wine.  Worn-out, anxious about meeting her new bosses, she now longed for a drink, but recoiled at the idea of showing up tipsy – or worse – her first day.  Instead, she turned her attention to the stacks of newspapers in a neighbouring kiosk.  Most showed pictures of Queen Elizabeth commemorating sixty-five years on the British throne.  It was an inescapable subject even in Lebanon, it seemed, weeks after the actual anniversary in February.  She moved on.

Justina’s shoulders were beginning to ache when she passed a well-tended cemetery and spotted the clock tower on her left: a carved column of limestone and marble eighty feet high.  The tower was surmounted on each side by clock faces adorned with Roman numerals, but devoid of any hands.  At the base of the tower stood a dusty rose garden whose early buds needed water.  Beyond the tower, at the top of a wide expanse of a dozen stone steps that led to a largely empty carpark, rose the high stone walls and extravagant façade of a building identified by a modest sign: United Nations Palestine Relief Agency (UNPRA), Allenby Barracks.

Justina noticed a smaller structure near the edge of the carpark.  It was a crude hut, not much larger than a few telephone boxes, painted in orange and white stripes, a green cedar of Lebanon stenciled on each side.  Surrounding the hut were dented oil barrels painted the same orange-white pattern, staggered in a wide perimeter.  Justina figured she was looking at a Lebanese Army checkpoint, an observation confirmed a moment later when she saw a pair of uniformed soldiers emerge, each with an antiquated Russian AK-47 rifle slung over his shoulder.  They viewed her with little interest until one of them wearing the yellow stripes of a sergeant spoke into a radio clipped to his collar, keeping his eyes on her.  Justina challenged their stare longer than might be prudent, then strode up the steps with her bags.  As she made it to the top, another, taller soldier stepped from the hut and stood in her path.  Justina caught sight of the single pip on the Velcro-backed insignia in the middle of his chest and took him to be a mülaz?m – a second lieutenant.  He had a radio just like the sergeant’s, but displayed added authority with a modern, holstered pistol on his belt.

Justina set her bags down.  She kept her expression neutral and positioned her hands on her hips, a calculated move to show she was more curious than worried at being stopped.  The gesture seemed unneeded as the young officer maintained a generous smile framed by a wide, carefully-trimmed mustache.  He approached, inspected Justina with dark eyes that – unlike his smile – gave the impression of being clinical rather than friendly.  She waited.  She was in no mood to be delayed, knowing she was just feet away from friendly faces and even a cup of decent tea.

“Papers, please,” he said in clear, American-accented English.

Justina offered her British passport.  The officer opened it and barely gave the document a glance before handing it back.

“You’re here to work at Allenby?” he asked.

“Yes, of course.”

“And you’re expected?”

The question stirred her fatigue into irritation.  “I bloody well hope so.  I’ve only been planning this damn thing for a year.”  Right away, she regretted her tone.  She knew from experience it was never good to annoy the local authorities.  She mustered a smile.  “Sorry, I’ve had a long day.”

The officer’s own smile remained etched on his face as he made a show of stepping aside.  He acted like a man who held all the strong cards in the deck – and knew it.  “Yes, I’m sure.  You’ve come a great distance.  Don’t let me keep you.”

The officer’s condescending tone annoyed Justina further.  “Thanks very much.”  She lifted her bags and started toward her new home.

“Welcome to Lebanon, Miss Kent.  I’m Lieutenant Amhaz.”

“Pleasure,” Justina said over her shoulder.

 

 

Allenby had originally been designed by an Ottoman Empire army engineer to impress the future.  At first glance, the barracks looked magnificent: a pile of chiseled stone comprising two tall upper stories stacked above a main floor, each of the wings spreading at least two city blocks to form a massive, four-sided citadel.  Justina knew from old photographs seen in Vienna that the wings enclosed a vast courtyard, a setting perfect for military parades or a bloody last stand.  The side she faced held the main entrance, ornamented by a protruding portico flanked by marble pillars.  Justina could only guess at the number of rooms but estimated this side alone had at least one hundred arched windows.  The barrack’s roof was crowned with red tiles and mostly pitched, interspersed with gabled windows, but even standing below in the carpark she could see the roof had been dismantled in places and entire areas leveled off into terraces with sheds of cinder blocks or corrugated metal to add a fourth floor.

In addition to Allenby’s dulled grandeur, the barracks showed signs of past conflict.  Justina saw bullet impact holes scarring long stretches of the exterior walls like holes in Swiss cheese.  In other places, large pieces of stone had been blasted away, the walls left surrounded by metal scaffolding or simply unrepaired; sad sights that left an impression of a giant’s hand having ripped out great chunks of rock from a fragile palace.

Justina went through the main doors, surprised to find the entrance unattended.  She knew she was expected to report to the camp director, but she couldn’t resist a look inside the courtyard.  Dropping her bags in the entry, she passed through two empty reception areas decorated with gilded baroque wall panels beneath lofty ceilings and emerged through open French doors into the courtyard.

In the cobblestone square, Justina finally glimpsed crowds of the people who lived here, the Palestinian refugees she’d been hired to work with.  Settling on a nearby stone bench, she tried to gauge how many people she saw.  Five hundred?  A thousand?  Whatever the number, the space easily held the mixed lot of men and women, boys and girls, sitting in groups or wandering in the shade offered by dozens of arches and arcades that lined the interior of the quadrangle.  Older Palestinians wore traditional clothing, the men in jallabiyehs – long loose robes – with many also wearing checkered keffiyehs, while women had on the same long black abayas she’d seen earlier, a hijab or shawl over their heads and shoulders.  Others – young adults, teens, and children – sported Western-style clothing, with hijabs covering the hair of numerous young women.  Scores of people had mobile phones pressed to their ears or were texting, while the occasional person or group clustered around an open laptop.  Other bunches of young people played in undefined plots of space; boys kicking soccer balls in clearings, girls engaged in volleyball in the far corners – only the youngest children mixing together.

Except for the people and the makeshift playing grounds, the courtyard looked spartan.  A dry, cracked limestone fountain stood in the centre, missing most of the colourful tiles that once decorated it.  There were undernourished trees scattered around, their scaly trunks bent with age.  Old iron lampposts, their globes missing or shattered, stood at regular intervals along the inner walls like tired sentries.  Above them towered four stories of windows, most open.  Within the rooms, faces of all ages peered down at the human display below.

A female voice broke through Justina’s reverie.

“Excuse me.  Are you Justina Kent?”

Justina turned to see a Palestinian woman, twentyish, smiling down at her.  Her head was uncovered, revealing long dark hair framing a round face with large eyes.  She wore a flowered top and a long dark skirt that went down to her sandals.

“Yes, I’m Justina.”

“I’m Wafa Sa’adeh.  Welcome.”

Justina stood.  “Thanks.”  She gestured toward the crowds.  “I couldn’t bear not having a look.”

“That’s a good sign.  I like it, and we’re blessed by God to have you.”  Wafa’s English was flawless.  “I saw your things when I came downstairs.  The director’s been hopping around all day waiting for you.  Just don’t tell Raed I said that.”

“Raed Sayej?”

“Yes, our fearless leader.  I’ll take you right up.”

They returned to where Justina had left her bags.  Wafa picked up the rucksack.  Justina lifted her duffle and followed Wafa up a curving stairway to the second floor.  She led Justina into a spacious office jumbled with polished furniture arranged on colourful Turkish rugs spread over a marble floor.  On the white walls, a series of blown-up, framed photographs stared back at Justina: black and white images from Allenby’s courtyard taken over many decades.  There were severe-looking Ottoman Turkish soldiers in high-collared tunics and fez hats, others showcasing bearded, expressionless French poilus, and still more of British Tommies grinning in puttees and pith helmets.

“Raed, I’ve brought you a woman from far away,” Wafa called toward the inner office.

“Is she from an island?”

“From an island across an entire continent.”

“For God’s sake, don’t let her get away.”  Raed emerged from his office.  He was tall, with wavy, greying hair and a thin beard that looked less manicured and more like he’d forgotten to shave for a week.  The careless look extended to his faded jeans and wrinkled, buttoned-down shirt.  He had tired, but kind eyes.  “I’m Raed.  On behalf of Allenby and myself, welcome.”

Justina shook Raed’s hand.  “I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be.”

“The perfect answer.  Wafa, please take Justina’s things to her room.  And then can you bring some tea?  That bus ride from Beirut makes your throat as dry as sand, even on a lovely April day.”

Wafa took Justina’s duffle and left.

“Let’s go into my real office,” suggested Raed.  “Out here is where I hear complaints from every person or committee in camp and beg donors for money.”

Raed led the way.  Dominating the room was an antique desk cluttered with stacks of papers, a row of books, a telephone, and open laptop.  There was a wooden chair opposite the desk.  In a corner stood a sofa, low table, and an upholstered chair.  Raed established himself on the sofa and gestured toward the chair.  Justina sank into its cushions.

“Your file was emailed to me from Vienna,” began Raed.  “It’s pretty much dry fact without the verbal embroidery they love.  I suspect there wasn’t time since I know you were essentially plucked out of nowhere by Frederick Kommer and delivered here.”

Justina tried to relax under Raed’s steady, but friendly, gaze.  “What can I tell you?”

“Everything, but we’ll make it mutually informative.  For every question I ask, you get one of me.  It can be about Allenby or personal.  This way we get to – what’s the phrase – size each other up?  You go first.”

She knew where to start.  “How many refugees are in Nabatieh?  I heard in Vienna it was two thousand.”

“More like three thousand.  Five generations of Palestinians.  Plus, we have at least six hundred Syrians in Nabatieh who fled their civil war and decided this was as far as they wanted to go.  But twenty miles away, there’s a Syrian camp of ten thousand, and fifteen miles beyond that, another camp of twenty thousand Syrians.  Someday, the Syrians in Lebanon will dwarf the Palestinians and there won’t be enough of anything for anyone.  It’ll be a miracle if we find a way to get along.”  Raed scratched his beard.  “It doesn’t help that the Syrians are a grim bunch, too – but they’ve only been refugees a few years.  It takes time to develop a sense of humour after you’ve lost everything.”

“Are there Syrians in Allenby?”

“God, no.  They’re scattered around town like weeds.  They root in abandoned buildings that even we gave up trying to fix – at least when the Lebanese allowed us to.  But the Syrians are coming along.  They have their own sponsors and NGO’s.  It’s a race to the bottom.”  Raed leaned forward.  “Now it’s my turn.  Tell me about your career in the army.  We’ve never had a British soldier with us before.”

“It wasn’t much of a career,” Justina confessed.  “I enlisted after Sixth Form in 2005.  I was all of eighteen and stayed on for four years, plus two in the reserves.  I got as high as Lance Corporal.”

“And what did you do?  Something medical, wasn’t it?”

Justina believed Raed knew her background but wanted to hear her say it in her own words.  “I trained as a medic.  After that I was assigned mostly to camps in the UK.  I attended firing ranges or accompanied training missions to Scotland.  I went to Norway once.  It finally got a bit boring, to tell you the truth.  Then I heard they were looking for volunteers for Cyprus and I put my name in.  Being in the United Nations Peacekeeping Force there was one of the best times of my life.”

“How would you describe your position on Cyprus, Lance Corporal?”

Justina recited from memory.  “My official duties were to facilitate contacts between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, provide emergency medical services and deliver mail and Red Cross messages across the demilitarised Green Line that partitions the island.”

“Impressive.  And you said you liked it?”

“Very much, and I loved Cyprus.  I would have re-enlisted if I could’ve stayed there – I felt that useful – but the army doesn’t do things that way and I got out.”  Justina shrugged, feeling wistful.  “It was probably for the best.  In the end, the army just wasn’t for me.  Or maybe it was the other way around.”

“At least you got to wear a United Nations blue beret.”

“I still have it.  I believe it’s my round now.”

“Please.”

“Where are you from?”

“My family is from East Jerusalem.  We owned a hotel there, up the road from Damascus Gate.  It was originally a nineteenth century mansion and my father had a vision.  The Israelis had a vision, too, though, and the hotel was destroyed in 1967, the Six-Day War.”

Justina remained silent.

Raed chuckled.  “Don’t worry, Lance Corporal, my bitterness dried up long ago.  We moved to Beirut and over time I found myself here.  You can even say the Sayej family is still managing a hotel, the largest one in Lebanon.”

Justina was taken by Raed’s attitude.  “Is your family in Nabatieh?”

“They’re in Beirut, but I try to see them every weekend.  Perhaps you’ll meet them some day.”

Wafa returned carrying a tray laden with a teapot and glasses and asked Raed where he wanted it.

“We’ll move to the desk, I think.”

Wafa laid out the tea.  It had a light, floral aroma.  Darjeeling.  Justina saw there were only two glasses.

“You’re not staying, Wafa?”

“This part of your reception belongs to Raed.  Besides, if he didn’t like you, he would’ve handed you over to Doctor Masri already.”

“We were playing ‘question, question’,” Raed said.  “But since you’re here, Wafa, you can ask one of your own – in return for another, of course.”

“Did Raed ask you where your home is in England, Justina?  He fancies himself an Anglophile.”

“I like rain,” Raed said.

“I’m from Sheffield, in Yorkshire,” said Justina.  “What about you?”

Wafa’s smile appeared genuine.  “I’m a daughter of the camps, but originally my family is from An-Nasira, in Galilee.  You call it Nazareth.”

“And she’ll tell you all about it, believe me,” Raed said.  “But now I need Wafa to take some drug reports to Doctor Masri to sign.  Just let me find them.”

As Raed rummaged around, Justina looked at the books aligned on the desk.  She saw a green-bound Quran, a black bible, a copy of The Essential Talmud, and an Arabic-English dictionary.  On either side were leaded glass snow globes serving as bookends, their motionless porcelain flakes settled around tiny, faded Christmas trees and tilted castles.

Raed found the papers he wanted, handed them Wafa.  “After you deliver those, can you track down Sybilla to give Justina a quick tour of our imposing camp?”

“Yes, master.”  Wafa winked at Justina and left, her skirt swishing around her feet.

“I like Wafa,” Justina said.

“Everyone adores her.  Now let me find one more report before I lose it and we’ll get back to interrogating one another.”

Justina turned her attention back to the snow globes.  They appeared very old and expensive.

“Those belong to my youngest son.  He loves the snow.”

Justina saw Raed smiling at her.  She felt self-conscious, like being caught looking at something private.  “I didn’t mean to stare.”

“I don’t mind.  They’re worth staring at.  Those globes remind me that I have another life.”

Justina’s discomfort lessened.  “The books are interesting, too.”

“Those came from my wife.  I need all of them to operate this place.”

“I can’t even imagine.”

“Actually, I don’t run the camp.  Internal groups and outsiders in Beirut and Vienna control Allenby.  I just sign papers and keep the UN cars clean.”

“That’s not how you were described you in Vienna.  They said you were the best camp director in Lebanon.”

“That’s flattering, but nonsense.  To make these camps work, you need to be more of a magician than a bureaucrat.  Politically, each of the UN refugee camps – in Gaza, the Occupied Territories, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan – has been ruled by popular committees, mostly old men belonging to Fatah who wait for Yasser Arafat to rise from the dead.  Then there’s the younger internal security committees in each camp that serve as the police force, but those groups are more complex.  Some of them are aligned with Fatah, others are Hezbollah, and in Gaza it’s Hamas.  There’s even some Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the camps.  They all mix like oil and water.  Tell me if you know this already.”

Justina drank her tea.  “They didn’t put things quite that way during my training.”

“Why would they?  If Vienna was totally candid about the working environment in the camps, it would be like asking someone to walk along a cliff wearing a blindfold.  And that’s just the human manoeuvrings within the camps.  Everywhere you go, each country that suffers Palestinians has developed their own ways to cope – Lebanon especially.  Take Allenby.  All around us, the Lebanese have checkpoints and sentries, watching us like we’re a disease about to infect them.  You saw the gallant Lebanese soldiers when you arrived?”

“The ones at the guard post by the clock tower?”

“That’s merely some of them.  Come with me.”

Raed stepped to the arched window behind him overlooking the courtyard.  Justina joined him and saw hundreds of Palestinians still below.  The window was open and the sound of so many voices lapping upward sounded like an amplified murmur.

“Look out there and think of a map,” said Raed, “with us in the middle.  That checkpoint you went through is behind us on the left.  There’s another checkpoint outside behind my right shoulder near some shops and our school, and a third one beyond the barracks in front of us – a watching post everywhere a gate into this place was built.  And those don’t include the army foot patrols outside, the helicopters that buzz us, and the soldiers not in uniform or the Internal Security Forces – the police – who hang out in the parking lot and follow us around Nabatieh.  And let’s not forget the Palestinians who live here but are paid informers.”

“Holy shit.”

“I couldn’t have put it better.  And so, what does all that mean?  Simply, that the Palestinians in Lebanon are treated as a threat to the country, so their army tries to contain us in the camps.  This is a process of ghettoisation.  Each entrance to Allenby is controlled by the army.  To enter or exit, your car is checked, your documents are examined.  There’s probably even a camera with a telephoto lens in the clock tower.  In effect, Allenby’s just a large decaying prison.”

Such government-sponsored, explicit separation of refugees sounded far worse than anything Justina had witnessed on Cyprus.  “So, all three thousand Palestinian refugees are stuffed in these barracks and kept under a microscope?”

“Nothing is that simple here.  Once you learn your way around, you’ll see that outside Allenby, we’ve spilled over in every direction.  But only those with enough money to pay the Lebanese rents are able to move so upwardly – if you want to call living in the neighbourhoods around us a social promotion.”

Justina took another look outside.  “I’d like some more tea, please.”

Raed refilled their glasses.  “Have I appalled you, Lance Corporal?”

“No,” Justina said, “but I’d suggest a re-write of Vienna’s training programme.”

“And Allenby is grand compared to other camps in Lebanon.”

“Like Ain al-Hilweh?”

“Exactly.  See?  You know more than you think.”

“But not enough about Allenby – at least, not enough to hit the ground running.”

“If you tried that, Allenby would hit you back.  But what I’m trying to do is teach you, and quickly.”  Raed peeked at his watch.  “I’m doing pretty well, too.  Or have you had enough of me and just want Sybilla’s tour?”

“Another question or two, please.”

Raed smiled and waited.

“Exactly how large is Allenby?”

“There were originally more than 430 rooms here – half the size of your Buckingham Palace, but ours are much less opulent.  They were designed for simple Ottoman soldiers and then somewhat upgraded for the more demanding French at the end of the First World War.  Then came the British.  They didn’t make any great improvements to the barracks – just named the place after one of their stuffy field marshals.  No offence, Lance Corporal.”

“None taken.”

“Anyway, most of the families here now have two rooms to themselves; three if they’re very lucky or – not so lucky – are very large families.  You’ll soon be able to judge for yourself who’s come out ahead.”

Justina glanced around the office.  “Are the rooms as big as this?”

“I wish they were.  I even asked Vienna to turn this stupidly large space into living quarters for more refugees, but they wouldn’t have it.  They said the decorum is needed for UN appearances.”

Justina made a disapproving face.

“That was my same response to Vienna – only in triplicate.”  Raed shrugged.  “At least the refugees’ rooms look better than the barracks does on the outside.”

“I did see some bullet holes,” Justina said.

“Several decade’s worth.  Most of the damage is from the July War in 2006 when Israel invaded Lebanon – but Allenby and its people have suffered during every war since Israel’s establishment in forty-eight.  We began filling the barracks a few months later.  I said there are five generations here and it’s true.  The single cemetery the Lebanese let us use is very crowded.  You probably went by it on your way from the bus station.”

Justina remembered the cemetery on the other side of the clock tower.  “So how do you do it, Raed?  How do you make it all work?”

“I’m a pragmatist that tries to do things one day at a time.  For instance, we need more than five miles of new water pipes in Allenby to replace the lead and cast-iron ones we still have.  We’ll be lucky to change out a hundred feet this month.  But, that’s more than the fifty feet we replaced last month, so I’m happy.”

Justina set her glass down.  “Tell me what you have mind for me here.”

“You’ll be working with Doctor Masri because of your medical background, but we’re short-handed everywhere.  Can you do anything else?”

Justina hesitated.  “I’ve been teaching Lower Sixth art and art history at a school in Sheffield called High Storrs.”

Raed looked amused.  “You’re an artist?  Vienna left out that part.”

“I’ve never been terribly good at actual painting, so artist is a stretch.  I’m much better at lecturing the unknowing about Renaissance art or Roman statues.”

“But you could teach drawing or painting to young people?  You know – just share some knowledge?”

“I guess I could muddle through the basics.”

“We’re agreed then.”

“It’ll definitely be memorable.”

“I’m certain your class will be very educational for everyone.  You do have more of an artist’s eyes than those of a soldier, at that.  I’d say that makes you rather more multifaceted than some of our other international employees.  They’re what you might call a mixed bag.  But, we have our stars.”

“I’m thrilled to meet them.”

“And now a gentle word of caution.  Most people here are grateful of the UN’s help, but some refugees will be very suspicious of you.  Why?  Because you’re here by choice.  Few in Allenby have anything like that and there are those who will never trust someone who leaves a world of plenty for a world of next to nothing.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“Another thought: this camp – any camp – can be unpredictable.  Terrible things can happen without much warning or no warning.”

“In the army that can mean a lorry bomb.  Can you give me a local example of something terrible?”

“Sectarian fighting.  Shootings.  In your field, drug wars – but the most serious thing we’ve ever had was human organ trafficking.  We stamped it out, though I wish we’d caught the ringleaders, whoever they were.  That wasn’t so much a case of sudden danger as a prolonged reign of terror, but the bottom line is the same: don’t put yourself in danger.  Your safety is important.”

“Vienna was blunter.  They said that between my UN salary and training, I’m an expensive investment.  Maybe because I’d been in the army, they thought I believed I was just a piece of meat and I’d want to throw myself on every hand grenade.”

“You’re not a piece of meat – but people like you are still pricey to replace.  That means no crazy risk-taking.”

“Yes, sir.”

Raed seemed satisfied.  “On to practicalities.  The only luxury you’ll have is your own room.  It was for an officer, but don’t get excited.  You’ll find it very small.  It was just easier to keep rooms like that intact for international staff rather than knock down the walls.  Everything else for you is more communal.  You’ll also have an excellent escort to show you how it all works.  In fact, she’s here.  Your timing is perfect, Sybilla.”

Justina turned to see a smiling woman leaning against the doorway as if she’d been there this whole time.  She appeared in her late twenties, five and a half feet tall, if that, with a curvy figure and blonde hair that brushed her shoulders.  Justina was struck by the woman’s large blue eyes, perfect high cheeks, narrow chin, and full, pink lips.  Told by family and friends since she was a girl that she herself possessed a ‘willowy beauty’, Justina distrusted the term and was benignly jealous of any woman whose attractiveness was obvious, effortless, natural.  Here was one of them.

Sybilla wandered in and placed her hand on Justina’s shoulder.  “Welcome, Engländer.  We’ve been waiting forever for you.”

Justina caught the accent: German.  She touched Sybilla’s hand.  Her skin was soft.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Sybilla will be your prefect, Justina,” said Raed.  “She’s been here three years and if we ever leave Allenby, we’re taking her with us.  She even speaks Arabic.”

“Do you?” marveled Justina.

Sybilla’s laugh was throaty and deep.  “It depends who you ask.  Some make fun of me because they say I speak with an Egyptian accent.  What about you, Justina?  Do you speak Arabic?”

“Nary a word.”

“Any other languages?”

Justina was embarrassed.  “I did A-Level French, but that’s gone out the window.  I know some Greek and Turkish curses, but that’s it.”

“Curses in Arabic sound much loftier.  I’ll teach you.”

“I see you’re going to be inseparable,” said Raed.  “Sybilla, please show Justina around before she collapses from her long day.  And you, Justina, come to me anytime about anything.”

Justina stood, shook Raed’s hand again.  “Thank you.”

Sybilla steered Justina by the arm out of the office.  Side by side, they ambled down a hallway of high dulled walls that looked shadowy even in daytime.  The dimness was barely assisted by the frail radiance of bulbs in widely-spaced, brass chandeliers.  There were few people to be seen; mostly Palestinian staff with UN identity badges dangling around their necks going from office to office.  Others – Justina took them to be refugees – appeared to be wandering aimlessly.

Justina saw the time on a wall clock inside an office: almost four o’clock.  Her day had begun over two-thousand miles away and many hours earlier in England.  Raed was right: she wasn’t sure how much longer she could last but was determined to press on.  She asked, “Where are we off to?”

“Nowhere in particular.  I thought we’d go to the courtyard for some fresh air while the faithful are at prayer.  Then I’ll take you to your room.  Anything else I show you, you’d forget by tomorrow.  You’ll see everything soon enough and in no time, you’ll feel like you were born here.”

They turned a corner and left the bland office corridor behind.  Ahead stretched another hallway of faded greens and blues, the walls punctuated every ten feet by doors, some open, most closed.  This was the beginning of the refugees’ quarters.  Sounds of muted voices, crackling radio broadcasts, and daytime television programmes rose and fell as they passed from doorway to doorway.

Justina and Sybilla did a complete round of the floor, ending at an unmarked door.  Sybilla went first down a dank, narrow stairway.  As she descended, Justina heard the amplified, musical-sounding words of the Muslim Adhan, the Call to Prayer, recited by muezzins from Nabatieh’s mosques.  Coming from several mosques and not timed the same, the echoing prayers exuded a rhythm that reminded Justina of a singing round, a harmonious perpetual canon.

As the women exited the stairwell and entered the courtyard, the hundreds of people Justina had seen earlier seemed to have vanished.  Only a few dozen remained.  Of these, the only apparent difference she noticed was that virtually all the girls and women were without hijabs.

They walked to the fountain and sat, quietly watching passersby.  Sybilla was the first to speak.

“I’m happy you’re here, Justina; and not just because we’re short of staff.  A story arrived ahead of you that I found very intriguing.”

Justina felt wary.  “What story?”

“That after applying many times for a job in the camps, you showed up in Vienna and talked your way into the job.  I love that kind of spirit.  It’s just the sort of attitude needed in Allenby.”

Justina wondered how that version of the actual story had travelled from Austria to Lebanon.  “I probably only got their attention because I offered to pay for my own training.”

“That just makes you more inspiring.”  Sybilla smiled.  “But, I know something of the politics in Vienna, so that excuse is bullshit, I think.  So, yes; you’re determined, but I also expect you’re extremely good.  How you first got your foot in the door doesn’t matter, does it?”

Justina recalled the true sequence of events: the numerous UN applications she’d filled out, the letters of appeal painstakingly composed, until – finally, last year – she’d told herself the hell with it and travelled to Vienna on her own to confront the UNPRA personnel officer in charge of Lebanon.  The official, she knew, had been a university schoolmate of her company commander in Cyprus; a woman Justina had kept in contact with after leaving the army.  Her old CO had offered to help in any way she ever could and Justina – feeling desperate enough – had called in the favour and asked her to arrange an introduction.  It was the only time in her life Justina had ever used a professional or social connection to get ahead.  And while she still had a lingering shame that the tactic wasn’t exactly fair, she’d allowed her determination to work in the camps override her last hesitation.

“In the end, they took me,” Justina said.  “That’s all that matters.”  She wanted to change the subject and gestured around the courtyard.  “This place emptied fast.”

“Ja, that’s normal.  There’s a mosque two blocks away the refugees’ use, but most everyone finds it easier to go to their rooms to pray, except for Friday’s Sal?t al-jum`ah.  The community prayer.  As for the rest of week, who wants to pass through a checkpoint five times a day to worship God?”

“Are the Palestinians all Sunni?”

“Mostly, but there’re some Shiites.  And Christians, of course.  That’s mostly who’s down here.  Wafa’s Greek Orthodox.  Devout, too.”

They fell silent.  Soon, Justina’s eyelids began getting heavy.

“Let’s go find your room,” Sybilla said brightly.

They crossed the square and passed under an archway below Raed’s office.  From there, they climbed the main stairway to the top floor and followed a deserted hallway that dead-ended before an inconspicuous doorway.  Sybilla used a key to enter.

“This is our little dormitory,” said Sybilla.  “You’ll have your own key tomorrow.”

A whitewashed hall was interspersed with doors on either side.  Sybilla approached the last one, opened it, and stood back.  Justina stared into a shadowy chamber.

“Your new home, Engländer.”

As Justina stepped inside, Sybilla reached in and flipped a switch.  A shaded desk lamp burst to life to reveal a narrow, scantily furnished room; a monk’s cell.  The room seemed crowded with only a bed, desk, an upright chair, and an unfinished wooden armoire.  The white walls bore no decorations, nor was there even a light in the high ceiling.  The sole relief came from an arched window midway along the length of the room and an identical one at the head of the bed; hers was a corner room.  Her bags had been arranged in a corner and topped with towels and a bar of scented soap.  Justina fell in love with the miniscule bedroom.  This would be her space.

“Our toilets and showers are at the end of this hallway,” Sybilla said.  “The men share with refugees further away.  The room by yours is empty and used for storage.  Your nearest neighbor – me – is the next door down, across the hall.  We usually eat in the dining room downstairs, but I’ve kept some food since lunch in case you were late or tired.  It’s not much.  Would you like me to get it?”

“You’re spoiling me right off the mark.”

Sybilla smiled.  “I think you could use some spoiling,” she said, and disappeared toward her room.

Justina moved to the open window above the headboard and peered below into the barrack’s carpark.  It was empty of vehicles except for a tidy fleet of six white Toyota SUVs, each marked with the blue UNPRA logo.  Beyond stood the clock tower, casting a long shadow in the late afternoon light.

At the base of the tower, Justina made out the mustachioed figure of the Lebanese Army officer she’d encountered, Lieutenant Amhaz.  He stood slouched against the wall, smoking a cigarette, watching a group of refugee boys making a wide arc around him.  As Justina looked, the officer seemed to make an act of turning his entire body like an Old West gunfighter as he kept the boys in view.  He even held his arms away from his sides like he was going to draw a gun.  The youngsters didn’t appear amused and picked up their pace as the lieutenant angled himself in their direction.  At the point where the officer faced Justina’s window, she shrank back.  This was a man to be wary of, she thought.  But there was something comical about him, too; an extreme sense of self-importance she’d seen in more than one junior army officer that usually exceeded true ability.  Between that and the size of his moustache, she decided to call him Groucho.  She also resolved to avoid him as much as possible.

Sybilla returned with a tray piled with fresh pita loaves, a bowl of hummus, olives and sliced cucumbers, and a pot of tea.  She placed the tray on the desk and poured them each a cup.  Then she kicked off her clogs and settled on Justina’s bed.

“This is lovely,” said Justina.  “Are you joining me?”

“Maybe later.  You go ahead.  I appreciate a good appetite and you may have walked from England for all I know.”

Justina sat down to eat.  She tore off chunks of bread and used them to scoop up mounds of hummus.  It was velvety, garlicky, and delicious.  She didn’t realise how hungry she was and kept eating.

Sybilla cranked the window open.  From her shirt pocket, she withdrew a pack of cigarettes and lighter.  “Do you mind?”

“Go ahead.”

Sybilla lit her cigarette with a careless sensuality and exhaled out the window.  The tang of tobacco spread across the room.  The smell conjured in Justina’s mind a vision of her father, an unabashed smoker of cigarettes and pipes his entire life.  Sybilla tossed the pack on the bed between them, a white pack with zigzag blue stripes.

“They’re Lebanese Cedars,” said Sybilla. “Not so bad you choke, but not so good that you want one too often.  Cedars are a very balanced desire, I think.”

“Sort of like a formula for having good sex.”

Sybilla raised her eyebrows.  “Ja.  Exactly like that.”

“Are there many more expat staff at Allenby?” Justina asked, reaching for more bread.

“Not anymore.  We used to have almost two dozen from around the world.  Then the UN General Assembly cut the money for our agency and people fled as soon as their contracts ended to work at better paid disasters.  Ukraine, Turkey, Yemen – take your pick.  Now we have eleven, including you.”

“I can’t wait to hear about such chosen few.”

Sybilla flicked an ash out the window.  “Some are easier to know than others.  Take our six Japanese.  They don’t even live in Allenby.  They have an entire house at the other end of Nabatieh and travel in their own minibus.  It’s against all the rules, but they fund those things themselves.  They run training courses in jewelry-making and hybrid gardening – whatever that is.  They’re very polite and dress extremely well, but they make terrible tea.”

“Sounds very Gilbert and Sullivan.”

“It gets better.  They each have little Palestinian flag pins on their shirts.  The Lebanese have no idea what to do with them and wave them through the checkpoints as fast as possible.  If you’re ever in a hurry, find the Japanese.  And the only language they seem to understand is their own – I don’t know how they teach, but they do.  The only exception is Itsuki, their leader.  He has good Arabic and English.  He and Raed get along well, too.  That helps.”

“And the rest?”

“There’s a Dutch couple, Carolien and Gerd.  You can’t miss them.  She’s short, he’s tall.  They advise on construction projects, all kinds of machines and auto mechanics.  And then there’s Adrian.”

“Who’s he?”

Sybilla crushed out her barely-smoked cigarette.  “Adrian Caine.  A countryman of yours.  He’s been here longer than me.  He works with Doctor Masri, so you’ll see a lot of him – probably more than you want.  More than I certainly would want.”  She put a hand to her mouth.  “Shit, I shouldn’t have said that.”

Justina was charmed by the awkward expression on Sybilla’s face; a look wavering between embarrassment at saying too much and love of gossip.  She took her tea and sat across from Sybilla with a reassuring smile.  “You make this Adrian sound rather curious.  I’d love to hear more.”

Sybilla slipped out another Cedars but didn’t light it, just turned it over with her fingers like worry beads.  “He’s the clinic pharmacist.  We got along at first, but now I think there’s a place in him where he doesn’t let people go – a dark place.”  She shrugged.  “But those are my feelings.  You may end up marrying him.”

“My God, you remind me of my dad: forever on about inappropriate men.”

Sybilla regarded her unlit cigarette.  “Are your parents alive, Justina?”

“Yes, both safely tucked away back in Sheffield.  Dad’s a Church of England vicar and my mother works for a tiny book publisher.”

“Any brothers or sisters?”

“Two younger brothers.  Michael’s a twenty-five-year-old musical prodigy on the bassoon.  Can you imagine?  The bassoon?  The thing looks like a bloody great walking stick and sounds like a love-struck moose.”

“I’ve always liked the cello.  And your other brother?”

“James – a horrible teenager only interested in football and girls.  I’m not close to either of them.  They couldn’t even be bothered to help clean out my flat or come to the airport with my parents to see me off.  What about you?”

Sybilla helped herself to a piece of pita and returned to the bed.  She began nibbling.  “An only child.”

“Where’s home?”

Sybilla seemed to consider the question.  “We’ll say Munich.  That’s where my mother lives.  My father – the Honourable Karl Schenck – has been dead for some time.”  She paused.  “I miss him.”

“Sorry.”  Justina detected something off in Sybilla’s voice.  She sidestepped her curiosity by asking, “Did you grow up there, in Munich?”

“It’s where I went to school, especially university; the Philipps-Universität Marburg.  That was always my parents’ choice since I was born, but it turned out well, I suppose.  There’s a wonderful centre for middle eastern studies there.”

“Is that how you came to be at Allenby?”

“It had its role.”  Sybilla leaned against a pillow.  “What brought you to Lebanon?”

Justina was about to reply when the bulb in the desk lamp flickered, went out, came back to life, and finally died, engulfing the room in shadows.  She looked at Sybilla in amused silence.  After a minute, the bulb flared and shone steadily.

“This happens all the time at Allenby,” Sybilla explained.  “It’s worse when it happens at night, but everyone just bumps around until the lights come back on.  But be cautious.  If you’re not in your room or with others when the lights go out at night, find someone to be with.”

Justina thought it sound advice.

Sybilla got the conversation back on track.  “You were telling me how you chose to come to Lebanon.”

“It started in Cyprus.  I became interested in refugees when I was an army medic there.  But when I got out of the army, I thought I wanted to be an art teacher.”  Justina shook her head.  “Who picks that as a career?  I mean, I could draw, but I really must have been crazy.  Anyway – later at university – a friend talked me into attending a meeting of the Sheffield Refugee Solidarity Campaign and I got hooked on refugees again.”

“But you didn’t volunteer for the camps after university, did you?” Sybilla commented, not unkindly.  “You waited a few years, doing that teaching thing.”

Justina paused.  Sybilla seemed to know a lot about her.  Had she been talking with Raed?  “Staying in England to teach was my fault.  I mean, I never really thought I qualified for a UN job.  They’re forever asking for qualified doctors and whatnot.  But I always kept my hand in the medical side; you know, being in the Reserves plus working a few hours a week as an NHS ambulance technician.  I was never able to take my mind off refugees, either.  Lots of my students were from immigrant families and I doted on them.  I finally had to give the UN another shot.”

“But why Palestinians?  Why aren’t you in Somalia, or Thailand?”

Justina took their glasses to the desk.  For the first time, she noticed a sticker the size of a drink coaster glued to the wood.  Printed along the edge of the sticker were the words “Holy Mecca” in English and Arabic and an arrow pointing, she guessed, toward the city of Mecca.  The arrow, the Qibla, was for Muslims to know the direction to pray toward.  She faced Sybilla.  “I’ve never seen refugees fall out of a tree in any city without a goodly number of them being Palestinians.  It was like that in Cyprus, too.  There were Palestinian refugees there and they were some of the neediest people I saw.  Add that to the fact that I’ve loved the Middle East since I was little, listening to all those bible stories from my dad.  It just felt natural to come here.”

Sybilla tucked her cigarette back into the pack.  “That tells me a lot, but I still think you’re very courageous to be in Lebanon.”

“That’s hardly true.”

“Well, what is it, then?  What drives someone from a nice tidy life to a place that’s such a storm of religion and politics?”

Justina laughed at the ceiling.  “You really go after it, don’t you?”

“I’ve never known the daughter of a clergyman.  I want to understand makes you tick.”

Justina tried to think of another way to explain herself.  “Conscience makes me tick.”

“Conscience?”

“That’s it.  Being a vicar’s daughter has given me a terrible conscience about needing to be involved in something bigger than myself – and then a year as a Peacekeeper in Cyprus just piled it on.  If I’d stayed in England, my life would never have been what I wanted it to be.”

“That sounds harsh.”

“Maybe.  But for the longest time, I’ve felt impossibly keen on…well, justice.  I suppose that sounds airy-fairy, but it’s the one ideal I can’t shake off.  Social justice.”

Sybilla glanced out at the gathering darkness.  “My father would’ve liked the ideal of justice very much.”  She wriggled into her shoes and scooped up her cigarettes.  “It’s time to let you sleep.”

“Thanks for everything, Sybilla; the food, the talking, everything.”

Sybilla picked up the tray and waited for Justina to open the door.  She was halfway into the corridor when she turned around.  The elfin gleam had returned to her eyes.  “You’ll do wonderful things here.  I know it.”

A question occurred to Justina.  “Sorry, I’m not usually this dense, but I forgot to ask.  What do you do here?”

“Me?  I teach English, of all things.  I give also give instruction in computers – with the few we have – and teach a dance class for girls.  You’re welcome at any of them.  Our school is at the end of Sultan Suleiman Street.  You can’t miss it, but if you do, ask anyone.  Now go unpack, go to bed, whatever you want.  I’ll be here at six to take you to breakfast and introduce you to everyone.”

Justina closed her door.  She took the three steps needed to cross to her slender bed and settled onto the thin mattress.  The room grew quiet.  Within minutes, an overwhelming weariness seeped into her.  Tempted to close her eyes and sleep, she remembered something and fetched the mobile from her bag.  As the device powered on, she looked outside, saw the slender top of a minaret outlined in strings of bright green lights pointing into the darkening sky.  Just then, the sounds of the evening prayer, the Azan Maghrib, swelled across Nabatieh.  Allah u Akbar, Allah u Akbar…

Justina calculated the time difference between here and Sheffield.  Reasonable, but she was too exhausted to talk.  Instead, she texted her father a message:

Arrived safely.  Made a friend already.  Her name’s Sybilla.

J. 

xx


© Copyright 2019 Kevin Gerard Neill. All rights reserved.

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