Yesterday started like any other day in Benghazi. The rumor mill was turning at pace. Sirte was on the verge of falling. The NTC was about to declare an end to hostilities. For days and days, however, we had heard the same, so most of us didn’t expect October 20th to unfold the way it did.
The morning was spent trying to arrange screenings of my film to various English-speaking schools in town. While at the European School, my friend Dado received a call from another friend. Halas. Sirte, the last bastion of Gaddafi, had fallen. Once again, I was a bit skeptical, because I had heard the same before. I went to speak to the Headmaster and didn’t think any more of it.
After the interview, Dado and I headed to the Libya Alhurra tv station to collect footage for the music festival. Something definitely was amiss. Horns honking and Kalashnikov fire at a greater frequency. And even the distant boom of gelatina. Hmm. Perhaps.
We pulled into the station, and joined a crowd gathered by a tv. Sirte has fallen, and some big names have been captured. Yet what of Gaddafi? We waited. Nothing. An interminable period of time passed…and then the cheers erupted. Local news claimed Gaddafi was captured, but once again I was skeptical. After all, Motassim was “captured” 10 days ago. And Saif was “detained” after the fall of Tripoli.
But then the pictures filtered through. Images of what appeared to be a lifeless Gaddafi. And soon Al Jazeera confirmed that it was indeed true. After 42 years of iron fisted rule, the self-styled god king was dead. A man who hovered over his people ominously, even within their dreams, reduced to pleading for his life in a sewage pipe. From whence he came, as some would argue.
We rushed out of the station and headed straight for the courthouse, Dado blasting Dire Straits the whole way. The road was packed. Horns honking. People chanting. Guns firing. There was a palpable energy in the air, one that I had not felt since I was here in April and May. The courthouse area was beginning to fill with people…and the noise was deafening. Walking through the crowd, it was easy to be swept away in the euphoria. For even though the war had been winding down over the last couple of months, the death toll in Sirte was rising steadily, and the specter of Gaddafi still hovered over their lives. Yet now it was over. The head separated from the shaven body.
We spent rest of the afternoon at the courthouse interviewing people, and enjoying the jubilant scenes before taking a siesta. When we returned in the evening, the downtown was absolutely packed. Gridlock everywhere, but nobody cared. We walked by a car accident, but those involved were too excited to pay much notice. Benghazinos and Benghazinas were out in full force, and enjoying a night that they will remember for the rest of their lives. VL Day.
As I walked through the downtown area, I wondered what it would be like in six months. Would the vacuum left by Gaddafi lead to a mass scramble for power? Would one tyrant be replaced by another? Or would Libya become a beacon of light to the rest of the world? Many questions are left unanswered. Yet I can still hear the faint voices of the wives and mothers of the Abu Salim victims on that fateful night in February. “Wake up, Benghazi. Wake up, Benghazi.” On this day, the 20th of October, 2011, I can assure you that Benghazi, and the whole of Libya, has its eyes wide open.
The man closes the door, and flips through the pages. A low hum escapes his lips as he focuses on the words. Outside, the din is growing louder. Cries of rage. Screams of anguish. The intermittent sound of the gun. But he pays no mind. He continues to flip through the pages and whisper the words to himself. Soon he is lost, not within the tome in his lap, but within his own memory.
A traditional wedding flashes to existence. Then a crying baby. Two girls play in the small yard outside as a Mediterranean breeze ruffles their robes. A beautiful woman smiles. Then a group of friends, all of them laughing and reminiscing about the old days…when they were young and the world was theirs. Not the playground of the power-mad, but a land of endless possibilities, of high adventure where the sands of the golden sea hide the treasures of long forgotten cities. The lines of age slowly creep in their faces. They watch and laugh as their children grow side by side.
Now the children, all of them young men and women. The world should be theirs, but they are all imprisoned in the darkest recesses of fear. Then a light. At first a light so dim that one is unsure of its existence. Yet the light grows, grows within the children, these young men and women who live in their prisons. The light burns so bright that they all stand up as one. They leave their prisons. They take to the streets. Look at their faces. Oh so familiar. But no longer the children he remembers. Their voices grow. And grow. And grow.
Then the guns. At first, a few bursts. But the voices still grow. The bursts become streams, and the crowds scatter. But the bursts continue, and the children try to escape back into their prisons. But to no avail. The men in yellow hats show no mercy, and there is no escape. The light flickers as the children run for cover. Flickers and flickers, but it does not extinguish. No, it grows brighter. Brighter with the rage that burns inside all of them. Brighter until it illuminates the darkest parts of their minds. And brighter until it melts the walls of their prison. As one they stop running, and walk toward the guns…
He sees their faces, all of them. The hopes, the dreams, the rage embedded in each and every line, lines that do not belong to those so young. He sees them fall, drowning in their own blood, as those behind step over and continue to march on. He sees the fortress looming ahead. They pick up sticks and rocks. The march picks up pace. He sees more fall. The marchers break into a canter. The screams of rage. The piles of the fallen. He sees his friends’ children rush headlong toward the guns. They fall, yet more replace them. And suddenly, he feels the light inside him. The burning rage grows until it can no longer be contained by his corporeal form. These are his friends’ children. His children. The children of the city, he thinks as he loads his truck with the burning rage.
The light fades, and once again he sees the pages of the tome. Delicately, he closes the book, and places it on the floor. He looks once more to the heavens, and turns on the ignition. The truck inches forward toward the fortress. Night is upon the city, and the bodies continue to pile. The children continue to rush forward. And the guns continue.
The truck picks up speed. the din of the battle is not heard. The bullets that tear into flesh are not seen. And the explosions are not felt. The world around him condenses. The wall is in his sights. The rest is meaningless, an casual after thought. The rounds tear into the frame of his truck, but it is of no consequence. The truck still moves with purpose, and toward its final destination. The shades of the children scramble away, but it is of no consequence. The truck still moves with purpose, closer to its final destination. The shattered earth tries to slow the truck, but it is of no consequence. The truck still moves with purpose. The dust tries to blind the truck, but it is of no consequence. Out of the dust, the night sky disappears. Only the wall. He puts his foot into the floor. He can now make out the minute details of the wall. The imperfections magnified by neglect. He smiles. He picked a good spot. The wall is now a few meters, but he doesn’t slow. And the wall disappears. The faces of his beautiful daughters appear before him. He closes his eyes. And then the light…