I’m sleepless in the jabal.
“Tu sais qu’en deux jours sera notre anniversaire de 30 ans?”, she asked, the smoke following each word.
“Wow”, I replied. Should I tell her that I wowed all relationships that lasted up to and beyond 3 months? The words were about to fly out of my mouth, but I withheld them just before take-off. Keep your commitment issues to yourself this time. The last time we spoke about love was half a year ago, when I was still attending mass with The Pope. Only recently did she find out that The Pope and I were long ago committed to the pages of history.
“Is there any difference between say the 15th year and 30th year of being with someone?”, I wondered out loud.
“Bien-sur, ca evolue, ca devient plus fort. C’est tres fort.”, she answered, leaning her head forward and turning her chin towards her left shoulder.
I looked across the table at her husband. He was still handsome, with gray hair and a whitish beard, slightly tanned skin, eyes tired but sparkling and a gentle smile that was hard-to-read. He wore a stylish double-button jacket, its light blue colour brought to life by the mustard yellow leather strap of his wristwatch. His kind deep voice was worth just as much. He considers me as his daughter, but I sometimes wish for him to be unmarried.
I looked back at her. I couldn’t imagine either of them with somebody else, they fit really well. She was the kind of lady who always looked elegant, who encouraged me to be strong, but who never confronted her husband in public, who never spoke about herself in fact and here I was witnessing a foxy dreamy smile that spoke of a different woman altogether as she uttered, “Rien n’est plus beau que la passion” under her breath. I barely grasped the words they were so hushed.
I have seen that look on her face once before, and have wondered ever since if she had not taken on a lover during some point. I have also seen, a countless number of times, the way she looks at her husband and I cannot imagine her allowing herself anything more than a stray thought.
30 years! A war, three kids, a grandson and a granddaughter in the belly. 30 years. That’s longer than I have been on this earth. WOW.
I tried to remember what the 3 months with The Pope were like, how did I not suffocate, how did we keep it afloat?
All I can recall is the beginning, the love-making and the moments we had taken pictures of. The rest is a blur, or not long enough to fill up a span of one hundred days. Give me a couple of moments…
…it’s all coming back to me now.
We woke up the next morning broken. It had been an exhausting yet loveless night. Not only had we gone back home late, but we stayed up talking about the La Connasse incident and talking about us. He tried to hug me when I had put out the lights, but I resisted until I felt his abs and chest on my back: his skin was killer. He could overthrow the Johnson & Johnson baby. He certainly made me take back my words. See, I was one of those prejudiced cretins who thought that chest hair was the zenith of attractiveness…until I touched The Pope that is - it was then that I forgot the nightmare of the hairless rat I lost my virginity to.
Neither of us wanted to leave the other. He didn’t want to leave me alone with my thoughts, and I didn’t want to be left alone to them. We went to Paul for a late breakfast; it would only take a couple of please before the waiters would give in and bring us bread and jam, which is idiotically served till midday only. Full and lethargic, we plunked down with the rest of the Sunday crowd to watch Avatar in 3D. That was our romantic afternoon.
Back home and alone, everything came back to me, including my pride which I had somehow managed to shut up the previous night. How could he do this to me? How did I let him get away with it? And all other fairly typical questions that cross a cheated gal’s head. So how did I deal with it? I wrote him a letter.
I wrote him a letter that was a little extravagant, a little too poetic for the simple message it was trying to convey. His English was good, very cute when spoken, but not enough to read me beating around the bush with a Shakesperean quill. Alas, he never understood my text messages that ventured beyond “Where are you”s and “I miss you”s. It went the same for me; I thank Larousse and the French slang online translators for allowing us to communicate over the phone. So to understand me better, he came over the following day.
We read the letter together. He would read a paragraph, ask me to explain a certain this or a certain that and then give me his point of view. We did this for the nine or ten paragraphs that the letter was made of. I was travelling to Paris that night and I wouldn’t be back before two weeks. We separated on a positive, yet uncertain note.
I missed him, he missed me, and before we both knew it, we couldn’t wait for my trip to be over.
“Je veux te rammener de l’aeroport,” he told me. It would be the first time a lover would greet me! I don’t know what I was more excited about: seeing him again or experiencing a movie cliché.
I landed twelve hours later only because I lost track of time in the duty free shop and missed my connecting flight from Frankfurt. An extra six hours of waiting for 50ml of skin foundation, guilty as charged.
He was waiting for me just as how I had picture him, in his leather jacket, with his tousled hair and looking out of place because he never waited for anybody.
“Tu m’as trop manqué,” he said squeezing the air out of me.
He had to return to the airport in a couple of hours to see his friend off. We dropped of my bags at my place, I grabbed a fresh change of clothes and we headed for his flat. His friend was already up, packing his things and shooing my cat out of his suitcase. I said hello before disappearing into the bathroom. Nothing comes between me and my shower.
They were ready to leave by the time I dried my hair. We loaded the car and went back to the airport. By the time we got there the sky was already beginning to show signs of a new day to come. They hugged, exchanging a couple of words and his friend trundled off into the departure lounge to return to Paris.
I offered to drive; he looked depleted. I suggested we go to Tyr and he did not resist so long as I agreed to drive us back and forth. He fell asleep by the time we reached Khalde, and he would wake up every now and then just to see where we were. The highway was practically empty after Saida and the desolate scenery that stretched out before us basked in the splendor of the rising sun. I hadn’t seen something so beautiful and moving in a long time.
I’d turn to my right every once in a while to take in the comfort of the sleeping Pope. He was entirely at my disposal and whatever upper hand I gained through this, I wanted to use it to take care of him and shelter him. You could say that as my lover fell asleep he awoke the mother in me.
We walked around the old town for a while. Our camera attracted a small group of kids who took it upon themselves to show us around. They showed us where they lived, where they played, where their families went shopping in the old souk and where they went diving in the summer. The walking, the intensifying sun and the hubbub of children wore us down. We found ourselves a table at a café overlooking the sea and ordered some coffee. It was January, but the heat, the azure blue waters, the sandy shore and the palm trees spoke of a different time and place.
The coffee gave us enough energy to walk back to the car and drive to the entrance of the Tyr Nature Reserve (separated by nothing more than a street from what seems to be a plastic bag and tire plantation). We dragged our bare feet along the path, over the wooden bridge and unto the warm sand of the shore. The Pope collapsed as soon as we spread a piece of cloth on the ground. I threw my clothes into a pile next to him and ran straight into the waves. The first contact with water was like running into a wall. The cold seized my entire body in one tight shockwave and I let out a noise that is usually reserved for The Pope’s and insomniac neighbours ears only.
It only took a couple of moments before I felt one with the sea. All my senses opened up: my eyes saw high and wide, my ears heard every drop crash and every shell drag, my nose smelled the sea, the tall grass and the city, my tongue collected the salty droplets and brought them in to spice up the traces of coffee and dough, my body felt the push and pull of the sea, its cold grip, its soft caress, its mass and its foam and I felt limitless and alive and I ran into and out of and along and I jumped and I rolled in the sand like a madwoman.
I collapsed beside him and he woke up for long enough to put his arm around me.
“T’es toute mouillee, et froide. Viens, viens…”
I heard voices. I raised my head to see. There was a family, or two. One kid was carrying a kite, the other a plastic bucket and the parents were carrying small backpacks. They did not look local, which was a relief since I was in my wet underwear and trapped beneath a sleepy arm of a male siren.
It was then, with my wet and shivering body against his warm side, that I felt the desire I had kept locked up for two weeks suddenly jump out and lock me in a trance. The entire world receded in a big whoosh, like water retreating from a rising submarine. I wanted nothing more. At first I allowed myself a nibble on his ear, a few kisses on his neck, but I hadn’t vouched for the same beast to take over him as well. Lying on our bellies we struggled and the only force keeping us apart was the sharp children’s laughter only a few meters away from us. Just enough decency not to perform.
Defeated and famished, we got back into the car. He fell asleep with his head on my lap, and I held him close against me whenever we approached bumps and dips in the road. It felt nice to know that I had it in me to be gentle and caring. There is so much aggression out there that it hardens you up and rapes you of your altruistic instincts. Before The Pope, I was at a point in my life where I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to succumb to my feminine nature. With Mr. Keller, I couldn’t stand being in the same bed as him, if he’d touch me, my breathing would become pronounced with rage and he would ask me what was wrong, and I’d tell him to not touch me and he would retreat into his black hole of rejection and I would stay awake all night wondering what the hell was wrong with me. It took his tears and a look of complete dejection to move me. Now, I only needed to look at The Pope and my blood would turn to wine.
That night, like so many others, we spent stealing each other’s hours of sleep. I could summarize those three months as a constant state of sleep-walking in a day dream. I am still compensating for the lost hours with afternoon naps.
Three months. Thirty years. How wonderfully exhausting.