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The Devil is a Black Dog: Stories of War and Revolution from the Middle East and Beyond

By Sándor Jászberényi

We emerged from Mohamed Mahmoud Street, our faces burning from tear gas and our shoes making a wet, smacking sound against the pavement from the mixture of oil and mud. My leather jacket was speckled with buckshot holes, and Sanders’s old Soviet coat hadn’t fared much better. I took my gas mask from my face, sat on a bench, and lit a cigarette. Sanders—who was tall, black-haired, and Jewish—sat next to me, dropping his 5D in his lap. Dirt outlined the place where his mask had been.

“It’s getting dark,” he said.
“Yeah, we’re fucked for more pictures.”
“Right. How many did you get?”
He took the cigarette from my hand and had a drag. I looked at the indicator. “Three hundred and forty-eight.”
“I got around that many as well. It’s enough.”
“My face is burning.”
“So is mine. Let’s grab a drink.”
“Where?”
“Well, I’m not about to cross over to Zamalek. So here at the Lotus.”
“Okay, let’s go.”

I felt dizzy from the gas and my limbs were heavy. Sanders was also out of it; we could barely drag ourselves along. The Lotus stood at the head of Talaat Harb Street. It was one of the few places that held a license to sell alcohol. Nobody ever actually stayed there; the mattresses had bedbugs, the sheets were grimy, and there was never any hot water.

To get to the bar, you had to ring a bell on the wall, signaling the headwaiter, who would send the elevator down. Even as we ascended we could hear the thrum from the street. As soon as we stepped from the elevator, our faces were hit with cigarette smoke. Every table was crowded with journalists; practically the entire international media was there. Alcohol hinders the absorption of tear gas into the bloodstream, and it eases the poison’s effects. Everybody there was guzzling drink after drink.
I peeled myself from my equipment and sat at the bar.

“What will the gentlemen be having?” the headwaiter asked.
“Itnēn Auld Stag, min fadlik.”
He nodded, grabbed two dusty water glasses from the shelf, rinsed them out, then took some ice from a bucket. “Single or double?” he asked, bottle in hand.
“Double,” we said simultaneously. He poured and we each downed ours in a gulp.
“Another?” I nodded yes. I was drinking on an empty stomach; I could feel the alcohol run up my spine.
“What’s the score?” asked Sanders and staggered over to the TV, which was showing Mohamed Mahmoud Street. In the dark only the flaming barricades and the flashes from the police rifles could be seen. Al Jazeera was broadcasting live from one of the apartments on the square.

“Thirteen dead, more than three hundred wounded,” said the headwaiter, placing the next round in front of us. “Though the Ministry of Health hasn’t confirmed that yet.”

“Well, at least it wasn’t us,” said Sanders. We drank to the fact that we had gotten through the day alive, that we were OK. We were still alive to file one more story, to spend another day in a foreign country with foreign inhabitants, in the middle of a foreign conflict.

“I’m going to wash my face,” I said and headed toward the restroom on the floor below; a grimy rug covered the steps that led there. Halfway down I came face to face with Sahra Gamal. She had already taken off her scarf, her black hair falling to her shoulders. Her face was damp with water.

“Now, can I invite you for a drink?” I said.

“I’d rather just go to my place.” ‘She took my hand, climbed to one step above me, and kissed my lips. I could smell the tear gas on her skin. We went back to the bar together to get my stuff. Sanders was already stupidly drunk. He looked at me and in a gurgling voice said, “Watch out. That one’s crazy.”

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