Set in contemporary Beirut, A Road to Damascus is a faux-thriller about a reclusive botanist who witnesses a political murder and is drawn into a personal investigation.
It takes Nancy all of five minutes to fall into a dreamless sleep, the motion of her back counterpointing the caged growl of my Volvo. Both had a long and eventful day and have earned their rest. I shift the car into fourth gear as its engine hums a sigh of gratitude.
But my day isn’t over yet. In fact, it’s just started. At this timid rate, we’re still a good fifteen minutes from Beirut, so I roll up my window and relish my alone-time in complete silence.
But as it turns out, those moments are short-lived. Nancy mumbles and shifts in her seat, then wipes her face with the back of her hand. “How long was I down for?”
“A couple of minutes,” I say, then to myself, “That’s all the alone-time I get.” She turns to look ahead and I see her face brighten with an orange hue.
“Look,” she says pointing ahead and for an instant I think she’s caught in another thriller-movie attack of fear. But no, her eyes are wide with wonder, like a prophet looking at a burning bush.
I look ahead too and see I’m not far off: The Beirut skyline glows with flames under a cloud of thick black smoke. “Reports of peace have been greatly exaggerated,” she wisecracks, and she’s right.
From our insulated Volvo-cocoon we watch the city we left this morning loom closer, a much-changed landscape of fire reds and charcoal blacks. We drive into the Ring Area onto Selim Seleim Bridge, its sides lined with burning tires and men of all ages spilling oil into the flames. Even with our windows rolled shut, the sounds and smells of revolt fill our car.
I worry Nancy might be frightened again, but no, she’s exhilarated. “Let her burn,” she mutters. Then her voice rising she sings, “Down, down, down. Weed the country out,” lips trembling, flames flickering in her transfixed eyes.