I’m sleepless in Beirut.
Before, when I used to travel, I’d go to the airport from Botticelli’s house. It was much more pleasant to leave with a freshly baked memory, than to lock up the empty apartment, which would stop existing the moment I would step out the door. While I’d be away, Botticelli would carry on living amongst the remnants of my last visit, rearranging them, layering them over with everyday details until I’d come back with stories, impressions and gifts from some place where I had left my own cloud of dust.
For the entire first year, I’d arrive to his house looking more estranged than a stranger. I would see him, on average, every two weeks. My periods of absence were not left to chance for I was very conscious of my time spent away from him. I doubt I could say the same for him. I was trying to prevent him from feeling cornered; it had nothing to do with him seeing other people. The one thing I was sure of was his being honest. He never spared me the truth, even if it rated high on the cruelty scale. Although the truth wasn’t always what I wanted to hear, it was surely always what I needed to hear. Oblivious to it at the time, he really did have my interests at heart.
A week after our first meeting, I passed by his house to give him something (I don’t recall what it was anymore). The walls were washed a beautiful red and the air was saturated with that familiar warmth of an afternoon nap and the cool excitement of an approaching evening.
I didn’t stay long; I was on my way to the theater. I invited him to join me, but he preferred to stay home and work, though I was most welcome to pass by after the play, he said.
I love going to the theater and it didn’t matter at all that I was going alone, but as soon as it ended and people started forming circles of discussion, I felt a little alone. I was back at Botticelli’s with some Kitsch chocolate cupcakes. He reacted so sweetly to the gesture, that from then on, I would usually bring him some delicious treat from some bakrey or an experimental first-time dish I had made at home (I trusted his taste!).
We spent that evening talking and I went back home pretty late. I felt as though I had traveled. He lived in his own bubble and when I’d step out into the street, it always felt like waking up.
I was back the next evening; I brought along my work. We stayed up really late. I remember sitting on the couch and him sitting on the floor, my feet resting on his knees, and the two of us laughing. By 4 o’clock in the morning, we started feeling sleepy. I was way too tired to drive and without a word passing between us, we went into the bedroom. He put on a DVD, and we lay side by side staring into the TV.
By now the night was loosening its black veil while my eyes struggled to stay open. I felt his large hand engulf mine. It felt like being safe at home, while a storm tore away at clotheslines and tree branches. I instinctively pulled his arm over my shoulder and held it to my chest. I was taming a bear, now so warm and docile.
I don’t really recall how and when, but the inevitable happened. My fascination was a fascination no more, it was the deleted scene from American Beauty, the one I had always wished they had filmed, the one I made into my own.