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Husband, Father, Writer, War

I Didn’t See You There

I Didn’t See You There
Credit: zz77

The other night in Beirut, notebook in hand, I slowed to watch an old man part his curtains. Inside a building scarred by bullet holes, he worried his hands, standing beside yellow walls and a water-stained desk. I fumbled in my bag, trying to find a pen. A dog barked. The afternoon light was dying, and I couldn’t find the damn pen.

Then I noticed a fleet of jet-black SUVs, windows tinted, creeping down the block. The old man closed his curtains. Street lights kicked on with a buzzing of white light. I’d gone, perhaps, from watching to being watched.  

One afternoon not long ago, my wife was walking down the street, when she saw a man hustled off the sidewalk by burly men. They entered a waiting vehicle, which roared off into traffic. Standing there, she wondered, Who was that? It could have been any of a motley crew of local militias, armed gangs, national police, domestic intelligence officers, or foreign agents.

Turning onto our street, I saw two of the black SUVs by our front door. Frozen in place, keys in hand, I closed my eyes. It wasn’t hard to picture what came next: A man would hop out of a truck, his jacket unzipped, holstered pistol visible, hand pressed to an ear piece. His gaze might settle on me.

Opening my eyes, I took a step closer to the trucks, realizing I couldn’t see into either vehicle. The windows were completely black. With the taste of pennies in my mouth, I walked upstairs.

Leaving the lights off, I peered through a cracked window. The trucks sat there, engines rumbling. Relieved, for now, not to know more, I sat back and sighed.

I reached into my shirt pocket. The pen had been there all along.

Nathan Deuel has contributed to Harper’s, GQ, The New York Times, and many others. His first book, a collection of essays, will be published by Dzanc in May 2014. He lives in Los Angeles. More by Nathan Deuel