All Hamady could hear was the grating sound of sirens. He had recoiled in horror and his heart was beating frantically. The explosion had set his ears ringing. His mouth was dry and his eyes roamed around the scene. A moment ago, he had been almost run over by a car driving directly towards him at full speed. It was the second time he had found himself at the brink of death that day. He wiped a stray tear from his cheek and started recalling the events of earlier that day. For instance, Roberto’s hug. They would probably remain etched in his mind for a long time.
Maria, Emilio, Sofia…later, they would be recognized for their bravery.
He felt proud of them. Now, it all seemed like a distant nightmare. He took a cigarette out of the packet he carried in his pants pocket, placed it between his lips, lit it, drew on it and swallowed its poison. Then, he exhaled the smoke, which slowly billowed its way to the sky. His body loosened up and a chill slid up his spine.
Just before everything went down, he had been standing on the second floor of the Bardo National Museum with a party of Italian tourists. He was their guide, the one in charge of telling them the stories behind each and every museum piece. Suddenly, he heard what he imagined to be a piece of ceiling plummeting to the ground. At least, that is what he told the tourists in an attempt to calm them down. However, they seemed to disagree with his interpretation of the alarming sound. They were convinced that they were under a terrorist attack. Hamady didn’t want to believe them, but he couldn’t refute it after he ran towards the stairs leading down to the lower floors, gripped the banister, looked down, and, with his own eyes, saw the bullet holes on the museum walls. He ducked to avoid being seen, and so did the tourists around him. He looked at Maria, who had followed him, together with some of the group. Her eyes were bloodshot and bugging out of their sockets. She was holding her hand against her mouth in an effort to restrain her impulse to scream. Everybody crouched behind the banister, paralyzed by fear.
Suddenly, an idea popped into Hamady’s head. He stood up, signalling his group to follow him. They left the building through the closest emergency exit. The bus driver was surprised to see them racing toward him. Hamady saw bullet shells lying on the ground. He picked some of them up. One of the terrorists showed up and began running toward them. As soon as everyone had gotten into the bus, Hamady told the driver to take them to La Goulette. Once they had left the scene and were seemingly out of danger, Hamady started to regain awareness of the world around him. With a shaking hand, he felt through his vest pocket the bullet shells he had just picked up. He took them out and sniffed their smell. Horror gripped him once again.
Once they arrived at the port, he dug a small hole in the earth surrounding a palm tree that had been planted in the middle of the street, and buried the bullet shells in it. As he continued walking, a bright smile flickered across his face.
Peace settled in his heart. He promised himself that he wouldn’t let anyone scare him like that in the future.
Born in Tunis in September 1981. In 2007, he graduated in Arabic Philology from Tunis’ Ecole Normale Superieure. In 2015, he became a finalist of the Naji Naaman Literary Prize with a collection of poems written in prose. He has published two anthologies of flash fiction: Not as bad as expected, Lilith Publishing House, 2015; and The Maze, Melad Publishing House, 2017.