I’ve been breathing for 21 years and a few months. This totals to more than 7700 days of me being alive. Out of those 7700 days, the one that’s imprinted in my mind the most is a cold, grey and dark day in March, 12 years ago.
March 26th, 1999.
I remember it was a rainy day. One of those days that start off wrong for a nine year old because his favorite TV station was not showing his favorite TV show that night. They were showing an award show for ads, instead. So I was discussing how horrible that was with a friend as we were going back to class after a recess.
So I came back home on a Friday and I postpone doing my homework because, well, it is Friday. An hour later, around 6 pm, my mom comes into the house in a near state of hysteria. She was crying while shouting: “They’re lying to me…. Something happened to my brother, they’re lying to me”
I looked at my mom with a sense of disbelief. What was going on?
My grandma gets my mom to sit down and she hands her a glass of water. My mom was still shaking. Then, my dad comes inside. He sits next to my mom and hugs her.
She asks “Is Hanna dead?”
Hanna and my uncle had gone hunting.
My dad nods and says “but I’m not sure about Elias (my uncle)”.
My mom starts crying even more. It got to a point that a nine year old like me can’t handle so I went to my room and cried. When I came out, my mother had left with my dad. They had gone to tell my uncle’s wife about what happened.
So I go outside, still crying. My aunt (his sister) comes to our place and she sees us all distressed. She shouts from the top of the stairs: “Elie, what’s going on?”
I couldn’t answer her. I had no idea what was going on in the first place, let alone what to say to her. So my aunt left immediately.
That was the last I saw of my mom, aunt and dad for the next two days.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept hearing gunfire and I knew it had something to do with my uncle. I remember looking out from my room’s window and seeing people on our balcony. I asked them: “what’s going on? Is my uncle okay?”
They replied “Yes, Elie, don’t worry. Go back to sleep”.
Naturally, nothing was okay. The following day, the whole village was dead quiet. My cousins were brought over and we all had no idea what was going on. We were told my uncle had died but not the reason. So my cousin Perla, his daughter, started drawing on a board how her dad was now in heaven.
That night, there was a full blown report on the news about the events in my town. Toni Rouhana, a fifty year old man, had opened fire on my uncle and another man when they were hunting outside his property. The army was held in a crossfire with him all night. They had received orders from the president Emile Lahoud to keep him alive at all costs. They fired grenades at him, he fired grenades back. They fired smoke bombs, he was well prepared against them. He was trained in the civil war with Marada (Sleiman Frangieh’s party). Meanwhile, while the army fought him to attempt to capture him alive, my uncle bled to death because the man did not allow anyone to pick his body up, even the Red Cross. Later on that night, when the army realized it’s near impossible to capture a man so well-prepared alive, they blew open his house with an RPG missile and shot him down. They discovered a human skull inside his house and a book about devil worshiping. They also discovered the food my uncle had given him earlier that day, because he did not have enough money to buy it.
That Sunday was Palm Sunday. I woke up and saw my mother looking at the coffee she was supposed to drink. I went over and hugged her. She started crying and asked if I knew what happened. I nodded. She said my uncle was turned into a pincushion. She said he had pleaded for his life when the man opened fire and killed his hunting buddy. And I kept on hugging her.
Then they dressed us up in our Palm Sunday clothes and took us to my grandma’s house. My aunt was sitting in a corner alone, rocking her head back and forth. My uncle’s wife was sitting next to my grandma crying for her kids. My grandma was crying, telling everyone how “Elias from under the dirt wants them to go to church for Palm Sunday”.
So we were taken to church. Mass had already started. We opened the door and entered. The church fell quiet.
My grandma had worn black for twelve years till 1999. She started to move towards brighter shades of color early in January and April. I have not seen my grandma not wearing black since that day in March, 1999.