Nasri Atallah Draws a Smile


‘Last night I witnessed something more troubling than anything I’ve seen in a while. I was standing outside Vyvans on Armenia Street in Mar Mikhael with my girlfriend and some friends catching up. I heard a loud thud behind me. At first, as I had my back turned to the street, I imagined someone had tripped drunkenly and fallen on their face. This would not be an odd occurrence in Mar Mikhael. But then I saw a look of horror on my friend’s faces. When I turned around I realized that a drunk Monday night reveller had kicked a Syrian shoeshine boy’s box halfway across the sidewalk and shoved the kid himself to the floor (I knew he was Syrian because we’d spoken beforehand). The kid had been reclining on the drunken scum’s parked and unattended car, and when the scum came back from his night out, he got a barrage of expletives for it.

Since, by the time we realized what was happening, the aggressor was already in his friend’s car, and the car was starting to pull out of its spot, our first reaction was to let it go, and look to see if the kid was hurt. As we stepped closer to the situation, the drunken scum started hurling insults at the kid again. Then he started opening his door, visibly ready for round two. At this point I walked up to his open window and his whiskey breath and simply said: ‘drive away’. His machismo couldn’t withstand being told what to do, so he clambered out. He was shorter than I expected, or I was taller than he expected, but either way, he saw it as a challenge. “Am I supposed to be afraid because you’re a tall asshole?”. I stayed calm, which any of my friends will tell you doesn’t come easily to me. His eyes were bloodshot, his beard greying. He must have been about 35. He looked mean. The kind of person who regularly hurts those he can. I could feel the adrenaline rushing through every part of me. I was shaking, but determined to stay level-headed.
“Get in your car and drive away please”. I was mindful to always stay in between him and the kid behind me, lest he attempt another kick in his direction. The calmness must have confused him. He got in the car and swore at me again as they drove away. I turned to the kid, put my arm around him and said to never listen to anyone who talks down to him. In that moment, I felt happy we’d been there to come between the testosterone-fuelled anger of a frustrated excuse for a human being and the misery of a kid on the sidewalks of Beirut. I’m not telling this story to come off as somehow valiant. I’m writing this because for a moment I hesitated to get involved. And that moment of hesitation should not exist. It is not a choice to get involved when we see injustice, bigotry or violence. It is a duty. Your only option. Always stand up for those who are being treated unjustly. Both you and they will sleep better at night.’

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