A Short Story by DoubleJ

Author: DoubleJ
Created: December 02, 2012 at 09:14 pm
Upload Type: Short Story, G (All)  
Category: Society | Humanities | War
Upload Stats: 4.25 Stars by 4 users with 4 comments and 349 views

Letters From Lebanon  

The hospital is sleeping. The sounds of the night filter through the plastered walls: patients turning in their beds, and the heavy silence of those who cannot rest. Beyond a window, cars dart by on the highway, their lights tracing a fleeting imprint on the modern world.

Down a corridor, illuminated by faint fluorescent bulbs, there is a pair of weary eyes and calloused hands. They belong to me. My brown skin pollutes the white hallway of the hospital, its very existence a restriction in this society. Here I am exposed, constantly feigning a pre-occupation with the monotony of sweeping the floor.

The nurse with the kind face shuffles by, destined for her post in the next ward. A moment passes when she glances at the calloused hands and weary eyes, and they back at her, but she swiftly averts her gaze, as if some stigma prevents any form of contact. Not just race, but also class.

I don a janitor’s uniform, and suddenly I become the untouchable.

A displacement. Working for minimum wage because the land of golden soil does not value its immigrants, but stows its diversity in blue denim overalls, hands it a broom, and dumps it into service for the state.

As I depart from the prison of the sick, the night guard sees the downcast eyes and quavering hands, but he only spares a glimpse. We are two separate entities, brushing up against one another as we move past. The product of disparate histories, together only by chance. He does not know from where I come, and neither do the people I pass everyday on the street: a montage of bodies before the stream of traffic. Consumed by their own whims and fantasies, they float by and are forgotten again.

It is a world of strangers that I have arrived in; I am independent and alone.


The growl of gunfire, the screams of children and the cacophony of explosions drowning out all else. The foul black pillar of smoke coiling from the husk of a burnt out tank, hissing sparks and licking the sky. There are militants, faces clad in black, interspersed among the frantic bodies dashing through the Karantina streets. To them, we are simply the enemy. There are no motives left in this senseless war.

A soft grip envelops my arm, and I turn to face the delicate features of my mother. She is framed by a white burkha, her eyes animated in despair.

“Run, my son,” she says. “You must find a new home.” She is lost in the sea of limbs once more, in search of my younger sister.

It was the last time I saw her.

Through the coiling snake of smoke I ran, retracing steps I had taken so many times before. The streets of my childhood were perverted into a model of destruction; all memories of the Karantina I had known physically crumbled around me.

From that moment forward, I was displaced. An affliction of the world, a burden on society, forsaken by my homeland; I had no choice but to leave.

A shadowed mass awaited in the grey water, crests of tiny waves lapping at its vast iron hull. As the silhouette of the cargo ship slowly began to form, three figures flitted between the containers of the dock, discernible only by the faint sphere of the rising sun. I imagined the scene from an outsider’s perspective, as we cautiously crept toward starboard along the entry ramp. Three refugees, betrayed by the civil war of their homeland Lebanon, make their final plea for escape. We descended into the belly of the ship, folding ourselves into crevices and dark corners. I prayed not to be discovered.

This regiment of refugees was quickly dispersed among the swarm in Alexandria, Egypt. At the refugee camp here, among other Lebanese who had fled as a result of the war, I heard tell of Australia. It seemed like a place of hope.

I became accustomed to those four walls. The one upon which I would lean my back, the two on either side, and one which I would gaze out of, the window in the door being my oculus to the outside world. Here I was among other immigrants, exiled by the events of their nations and the turmoil of their lives. We were deported at the airports or at the docks, and brought to wait in a sparsely furnished cell.

Passing through the Detention Centre every day, I would see the betrayal etched on their gaunt faces, and knew it was reflected in mine. Australia was despair. The hope I had invested in this land was an illusion. Here I was hollowed out, hardened on the exterior and taught numerous ways of making myself invisible.

To satiate my deteriorating patience, I began to write. The first letter I addressed to my mother and sister, telling them of my journey as a refugee, and the land of Australia on the other side of the globe. Guilt bled through my words, until the entire story was wound by threads of fabrication.

My mother: who toiled endless years for me in the slum of Karantina, who withstood the civil war when I could not, who forever remained loyal to her country and family. A new life, promising hope, was the only scenario I could portray.

I have continued the lies ever since. Visa in hand, sixteen months after my arrival I was permitted into a society I had already come to despise.


I now stand before my ‘new’ home. It is above a flight of stairs and to the left. Inside the door I find my name etched on a letter from my mother. The envelope is copiously stamped and inked, forming a collage from which I can trace its journey around the world. I know the very value of this single item to my mother, the paper represents the only connection between us; the only way to communicate between the barriers of status, distance and segregation. Inside, is the finest Arabic script, each black letter an individual story dancing across the page.

Her words transport me back to the streets of Karantina, to the fires in the fields by night and serving in the mosque by day. The civil war, a great blotch of the darkest ink, obscures all else. My memories are a montage of suffering, hostility and retribution. The people, consumed by their hate of the Syrians, the Kurds, the Palestinians or the Christians, abandoned all else and lived by a code of radicalism.

Through it all, she continued to write. But I have betrayed my mother. I have betrayed Lebanon.

Down this street upon which I now live, the lights flicker on and off behind closed doors. Each light is a person, their culture intact; they are blessed by their own pleasant memories. Their lives have not been contaminated by war; the inspired fight for justice which only incites terror. My body is a shell in this place – my soul remains in Lebanon, with the people who have started again. Re-constructing buildings and re-forging cultural ties.

I have played the refugee. I have stolen the opportunity of a better life which was not rightfully mine. I have forsaken my history, and now I want it back.

I sit down and begin to write. From a fountain of heritage and ancestry, Arabic flows from my pen. This letter will be the first step of my journey back home. I take comfort in the soothing motion of ink on paper, for I know the words that I write, this time, are true.

© DoubleJ - all rights reserved

Author Notes

'Letters from Lebanon' primarily deals with themes of displacement and separation, which are embodied by the events experienced by the main character. Various forms of inspiration contributed to the creation of this short story, one of which is the song Soul Meets Body by Death Cab for Cutie and the contemporary artist Camille Zakharia.

I have interpreted Soul Meets Body to physically represent an environment or place where the soul meets the body. In other words, a place where an individual truly feels they belong. Naturally, a sense of belonging links closely to the concept of home, so this theme which is also explored in the narrative developed from the initial interpretation of this song. In the story, the place which ‘completes’ my character is Lebanon: its portrayal is both real and metaphorical. He longs for the physical aspects of his homeland: such as its culture, places and people, but also for the sense of union he experiences with his family, particularly his mother.

Zakharia discusses in detail the concepts behind his work in the exhibition 'Elusive Homelands: The Immigrants':

“We, as immigrants, constantly search our innermost selves to justify our selfishness, and our noble explanations abound. ‘We really didn’t leave our families for a better future for ourselves. It’s all for our children.’ Our aging parents, whose multitude of sacrifices ensured our ability to emigrate in search of this “better life,” may suffer our loss, but this is what they really want for us, a better future in a foreign land thousands of miles away from them. We did not forsake our homeland. It is our homeland that betrayed us with its wars, its corruption, and its failing economy.” – Camille Zakharia, 2007

This quote in particular heavily inspired the creation of my story.

With my story I also wanted to portray a darker side of Australia, in particular the institutional and covert racism which exists in our society. This racism has gained prominence in the national ‘issue’ of refugees, which has caused multiple media and political frenzies, but is in fact an excessive amplification of the extent of asylum seekers in our country. It is a fact that more asylum seekers arrive in Australia by plane than by boat, yet this entire minority is labelled as ‘boat people’, and are portrayed as wanting to dismantle the fundamental components of Australian society. Discrimination exists on an institutional level through Detention Centres: Australia clearly has a healthy enough economy to provide refugees with adequate living conditions, yet institutional racism disseminates widespread discrimination against refugees. This impacts heavily on their perception of Australia as a country.

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Comments & Reviews ( X 1)

October 17, 2013
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I enjoyed this amazing piece

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December 09, 2012
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Wow, this is just fantastic. Such a sad tale, with so much depth - you are a very talented writer! I love the descriptions (I'm a sucker for detail!), you created such a vivid scene. Great work! Also love the fact that you were inspired by lyrics and quotes - I'll have to check out that song, I've only heard one song by Death Cab for Cutie, and I loved the lyrics of it You've inspired me to use lyrics for inspiration in my own writing!

Awesome! Thanks! I'm glad I inspired you.

 DoubleJ replied on December 10, 2012

December 06, 2012
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I agree with the previous comment! There was amazing details and description! That is what being a writer is all about. Keep up the good work!!

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December 05, 2012
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Great promise!
Excellent writing. Secondly, you'd like James Miller, author of Sunshine State and The Lost Boys.

On to the critique. The language is great, and I enjoy your writing style, with just a few juddering sentences that break the flow of the piece, "A moment passes when she glances at the calloused hands and weary eyes, and they back at her", "as if some stigma prevents any form of contact" too informal, (social acknowledgement instead of form of contact?) "The people, consumed by their hate of the Syrians, the Kurds, the Palestinians or the Christians, abandoned all else and lived by a code of radicalism" Had to read a few times to understand what he was talking about, .

I'm interested as to what the aim of the story is? Is it a political piece with intertextuality galore, or a modernist approach with "every man IS an island" in mind?

Your character seems rather 2d, like he's a means to an ends rather than a character with his own personality. He has a history, but his actual views are cliched and overused. I didn't feel sympathetic towards the character, but that might be because he is so self deprecating, which gets tiresome after a while. Redraft and PM me a link!

Great premise, needs polishing.

Wow, thanks for the awesome feedback! It's refreshing to read my story with your comments in mind and I definitely see what you mean. Your comment about the 2Dness of my character I can totally agree with, it's like I am describing things that have happened to him, but not how he reacts to them. I'll definitely have a go at a redraft!

 DoubleJ replied on December 07, 2012

No worries, glad I helped, as I said, some great promise here pal!

 bhogben replied on December 12, 2012

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