A Meeting with the President

I was walking in one of the narrow streets of Beirut. It was noon and the street was small and busy with children and beggars. A man in old drab clothes walks up to me. He had a full-grown white beard and dirty hair.

‘You’re coming with me,’ he said in a confident tone. The next thing I know I find myself with a mask over my head and being pushed and shoved in every direction.

‘Take him away!’ I hear the man’s voice shout. And I can feel the strength of two men pushing me around and leading me someplace.

The next time I open my eyes I am tied to a wooden chair in a small apartment. There is a sink overflowing with crawling little roaches. The entire room is infested with swarming bugs and filthy creatures. The man with the white beard stands tall in front of me, his two bodyguards strategically placed on my sides.

‘Who are you?’ I demanded in a defiant voice.

‘Who am I?’ he repeated with mockery and surprise. ‘Who am I? I am the next president of the Lebanese republic.’

His voice suggested he was being serious. And that was what was most frightening about his statement.

‘You can’t be the next president,’ I answered him. ‘Just yesterday I saw you making your rounds in one of the capital’s streets, picking up trash bags and throwing them in your garbage truck. You’re a garbage man.’

‘Shut up! I’m telling you I’m the next president of this country! I’m going to rob this filthy state and there’s nothing anyone can do about it! Now give me all your money!’

‘But…but…but I’m a writer! I have no money!’

‘Then hand over some of the things you wrote! A story! A manuscript! Anything! I’ll sell them and make a fortune!’

‘But I haven’t written anything…just a couple of short stories that got rejected everywhere I sent them!’

‘Hmm…no good, that’s no good,’ he said, ruminating. He lit a cigarette and offered me one. I refused. ‘That won’t cut it,’ he continued. ‘Seeing as though you’re of no use to me, I’ll just have to kill you.’

‘No! Please don’t kill me! Here, here take my phone! It’s in my back pocket!’

The president ordered one of his bodyguards to reach into my right back pocket and grab my phone.

‘What kind of phone is this?’ he demanded with rage.

‘It’s a Nokia phone!’

‘A Nokia? Don’t tell me it’s one of those colorless screen phones!’

‘No! No! It has a colored screen! I swear! It even has that Snake mini-game!’

‘Not good enough,’ he went again, shaking his head. ‘I’ll have to ask my guards to kill you. You don’t have anyone back home waiting for you, do you? A wife? Or a girlfriend maybe?’

‘No! I don’t have anyone! Women aren’t even interested in me! They’re almost always turned off by my ugly face! And the ones who aren’t fazed by my looks generally start avoiding me the minute they see how I act around alcohol!’

‘Hmm…it’s true that you are one ugly-looking human being,’ he said looking closer at my face. ‘But I’ll spare your life – if you declare me the new president of these lands!’

‘You are the new Lebanese president!’ I screamed from my wooden chair. ‘You are our new leader and the protector of our state and institutions!’

‘Very well then!’ he said with joy and satisfaction. ‘My appeal is strong! I’m on my way to conquer the masses and truly rule!’ Then he stared at the two bodyguards with authority. ‘Boys! Untie this man! Let him go! He has proven to be a worthy follower!’

And just like that the boys untied me and let me go.

‘I’m off to meet my people,’ the president said.

‘Wait! What about my phone?’

‘This old thing? You can have it back, it won’t be of much use to me.’ He handed me my Nokia phone back.

‘Maybe I’ll even write a book someday,’ he continued, gloating in my face, ‘I’ll write about this historic day and my rise as the next Lebanese president! I’ll make a fortune off it and I’ll even send you a copy to show you what real writing looks like!’

He was laughing and spitting in my face as he walked by me.

The three men left the apartment, leaving the door open behind them. I was still in the apartment. My hands were sore and searing from rope burns.

I thought about what happened – I thought about how I made it out alive from this mess. That crazy man had disrespected me – but insulting my writing meant he’d crossed the line.

I thought about going back home and writing a great story. A book even, just to flaunt it in his face and show him I meant business and was serious enough about my craft.

But instead, I just went for a few drinks at the bar and came up with this.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, available on Amazon Kindle for 2.99$ and now in hard copy.

Why you should read this book:

If you’re looking for the next Great American Novel, then this is not it. I promise you this is not a literary masterpiece. I promise you this is not a great book of art. Let us not fall into the illusions of grandeur and simply call things by what they are: A Road Away From Home is a novel, meant to break social boundaries and shatter common beliefs. It is meant to be read with examining eyes and an open heart, for its power lies in its truth. It carries honest words and stems from a very raw, real place. It is meant to contain rough edges, it is meant to contain strong parts that challenge the reader and push him to his limits. If you read this novel and do not feel at a certain point that you want to drop the book or burn it to ashes and move on to something else, then you are not reading it correctly. You are not fully immersing yourself in its story and its social milieu and its characters. This book is made to push you into giving up on it after tough chapters, but as in everything else, the beauty lies in waiting. For only when you see this book through will you truly understand all of its parts and piece them together: every act, every decision, every situation, every thought…and then, just then will the book have proven that it is a whole entity, much more than the sum of its parts, and it will have connected you to its world and its characters and shared with you a piece of their lives in a land perhaps far from yours. But all this, of course, is only possible if you read the book correctly.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

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