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Joseph, the commanding officer said in amazement: “How can you all be living here on Lebanese soil without official permits?”

Father Joseph was unperturbed: “My dear officer, we live on territory that we regard as an extension of Greater Assyria. And then, the monks and nuns never leave the place. What would they do with permits?”

The officer burst out laughing and just shook his head: “Seems you’re a state within a state.”

Then: “So who’s responsible for assassinating this Father Charbel?”

Father Joseph had not the faintest idea and nor had any of us. “My son,” said Father Joseph. “The Lord will exact His punishment.”

At that instant I feared that we’d all be arrested, but that’s not what happened. Instead, the officer made do with a guided tour of the monastery, then left with his men. With the passing of the days, Father Charbel’s murder became a riddle to be solved. The monastery no longer felt safe, its atmosphere darkening until the monks and nuns would glance left and right as they walked the corridors as though afraid a phantom would suddenly appear, knife gleaming in the darkness, and stab them in their backs. From that day on the library was closed. Dust gathered on the Assyrian symbols that decorated its door and the books returned the darkness of their cave, waiting to be dusted off once more.

Excerpted from Jaheem al-Rahib, Monk’s Hell,

published by All Prints Distributors & Publishers,

Beirut 2014

BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015 39

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