The Reeling City

Translated from Arabic by Sawad Hussain

Having knocked on the door, I entered the office of Colonel Hamid, the man in charge of Benghazi’s crime unit. He was a paunchy man, with a thick beard and stern features, who always wore sunglasses even when evening fell and there was no need for them. He looked at me, scrutinizing me, taken aback by my presence. As I would expect any officer to do, he asked me, “Who are you? What do you want? Can’t you see how many cases I already have to deal with?”

“Indeed I do. Ever since my life was wrenched from me, I can see everything. I’m the corpse of an actual Libyan citizen, not one of those fraudulent types who just bought the passport. My body was thrown onto Al-Zayt Street. I was found there.”

He peered at me. “So many dead bodies on that street, my God. Are you Mr. Faraj Al-Jahawi?”


“His son Tawfiq, then?”

“Not him either. Tell me, why those two names in particular?”

“Because Faraj was the only one who spoke so formally as you do, in Fusha. He was one of the founders of the Friends of Arabic Association in Benghazi. I thought maybe you were him, or his son Tawfiq, seeing as the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“To tell the truth, I don’t know. You and your team have to figure out who I am. After I was murdered, I lost track of my name and now I want to retrieve it. As a dead person, it’s downright humiliating for me to be stripped of my identity and be treated like some John Doe. I’m a Libyan citizen, for God’s sake!”

“We still haven’t gotten to your file,” the colonel replied nervously.

“I want to know the thugs who killed me – a black Jeep chased me down in the dark, and four men jumped out. They kidnapped me and took me to only God knows where, then tortured me before they killed me and mutilated my corpse.”

“You didn’t recognize any of them?”

“No sir. Alas, I wasn’t wearing sunglasses like yours, which help you fact-check and uncover the truth.”

“So they held you, tortured you, insulted you, and all that time you couldn’t identify a single one? What a joke you are!”

“Yes, I suppose I am. Otherwise how else could this have happened to me?”

Colonel Hamid began to stroke his bushy beard, a sign that he was deep in thought.

“Okay, according to what I can see here, you died in 1988, way before the 2011 revolution – meaning that Gaddafi killed you, so what were you doing on Al-Zayt Street?”

“Right you are. Al-Zayt Street has everything to do with the 2011 revolution, not the one back in ’69, during the time of military rule, your glorious era – but death in this country is older than the most recent revolution, it happens all the time. Look at me, I’ve been killed twice and all I want is to sort out what’s going to happen to my soul. It matters to me.”

The colonel exhaled heavily. “Your soul? How about my poor soul?” He then straightened up on his chair. “Come back next week. By then we might have reached our murder cases.”

“Why next week?”

“Can’t you see how busy I am trying to protect the nation from this upcoming Christmas?”

“Do such holidays, God forbid them, put Libyans’ lives in danger like Al-Zayt Street and the Al-Safsafa dumping ground?”

“Of course, Christian holidays are a threat to the morals and traditions of our people! It’s up to me to keep the peace.”

“God save Libya and Al-Bankina, too!”

On my way out, I saw in the waiting room a number of handcuffed cadavers, the marks of torture visible on them. They had been recently executed, disposed of on Al-Zayt Street. They would regularly come by the security headquarters to keep abreast of the latest developments in the inquiry into their murders.

One of them, whose name was Nabila, probably knew me, but I couldn’t place her.

“Hi there, I didn’t expect to see you here. What a pleasant surprise. How are you?” she inquired.

“Alhamdulillah, better after my murder. I’m free from debts, standing in endless lines – you know the usual crises of quotidian life here.”

“Are you from the Al-Safsafa batch or the Al-Abyar one?”

“I died long before those two! Why do you ask?”

“Then you can thank God that you weren’t one of the bodies found in that village of Al-Abyar. I tell you, the atrocities that took place there… nothing like it ever before.”

At that moment, the remains of a young man entered; he appeared to have been assassinated with a machine gun as his entire rib cage was riddled with holes, akin to a couscoussier. “I’ve been coming here for years, the colonels are like revolving doors, always changing, the investigation committee always changing hands, one giving birth to the next – and for what?”

Our delectable chatter emboldened another corpse to break her silence. “Maybe they just don’t have the capacity?”

“They can’t stop buying those outrageously priced SUVs, as if that’s going to lead them to our killers and solve the safety issue in this miserable city.”

“The colonel himself has an entire motorcade of luxury security cars, right out of a Mafia movie.”

Another lady, using her decapitated head as an elbow rest, chimed in, “And still, the investigation hasn’t progressed one iota, no electric gates or even surveillance cameras have been installed. Odd, isn’t it?”

The colonel’s bodyguards came and asked us to exit immediately. Bewildered, we couldn’t understand what the urgency was. “What’s happening? What’s happening?” we asked one another.

Each soldier claimed that he alone had the “real” story, and so we ended up hearing nine different tales, each contradicting the next, but heaven forbid that you question the veracity of a single one.

The colonel hastily left his office, the quick clip-clip of his military boots on the floor reminding me of my mother Tourkia’s mortar when crushing nutmeg.

It was a security matter.

We scurried to the window overlooking the headquarters’ courtyard. The colonel took off in his fearsome Humvee with his entourage in tow, roaring.

Some of us feared that some poor citizen may have broken the law by dying a natural death, God forbid, or that a new dumping ground for bodies had been opened without the military’s consent. From our experience of death out on the streets, we surmised as much. But a rumor emerged that there was a corpse soaring in the Benghazi sky that was able to identify its killer without the help of the internal security unit or Colonel Hamid, and as such it was necessary to stop it before such a phenomenon became rampant.

One of the corpses asked his friend, “Say, what do you think about us flying?”

“I’m scared of stray bullets.”

“When people go to prison, they’re safe from bombs or mines killing them, but they die by other means, and they won’t need to identify their killer, because the state shoves them in body bags with their seal on it. You were tortured to death in prison, right?”


“So then, you don’t need to fly!”

A soldier came and ordered, “Go on back to the cemetery. The security establishment is operating out in the field today.”

“When will the Colonel Hamid be back?” someone asked, eager to know her fate.

“He won’t be back today,” the soldier replied. “He’s got a huge hash burning operation at the port that he’s supervising himself.”

We hugged one another joyfully. “Look, look, look at us … we’re going to get high for free… party time!”

A solemn old lady’s cadaver broke her silence. “As long as it’s on the state’s tab, I’ll fly on over to the port now.”

The sky grew crowded with bodies until those above outnumbered those below. And the elderly were the fastest flying creatures around.