I'm sleepy after
"Filtenin. Shoo filtenin na7na! We separate for one night and already we have stories to tell in the morning!"
Flutterby giggles, her burning joint quivering between her index and middle. We look at each other in celebration of the years of continuous madness that we've been sharing since high school. Bonnie & Bonnie, partners in crime.
She went out to meet her ex, to close doors courteously, but discovered instead that letting go was exiting through entering and not the other way around.
I went out to meet Diagonal from back home...
The ghostly glass towers echoed our excitement of being in a new place. We knew each other well enough to not compromise our freedom, our anonymity. Together we were no one.
"I have to tell you something."
"What? Is everything okay?"
"Yeah. Try and guess what it is."
"You got a tattoo?"
"No. It's something I'm born with."
"How am I supposed to know? It could be so many things. Is it physical? Psychological? Do you have a health problem?"
"Oh my god, how can you not guess?"
"Do you have a tail?"
He burst out laughing.
"Haha, very funny."
"No way. You're bullshitting."
I was still nursing my disbelief, but I didn't want to make him regret telling me, if he actually was being serious.
"How? When did you know?"
"It's something you're born with. I was sure when I hit puberty."
"Wow," He must be telling me the truth. "I really appreciate you telling me."
"I'm sorry for misleading you with my text messages. It wasn't all fake. I mean I do think you're hot, but..."
By then I had sat down to better absorb the shock of it all. This was the final straw in my series of judgement misfires. I, the undersigned, pledge to give up on trying to discern people's sexual orientation. I didn't even consider the possibility of his being different. But ultimately, why would it matter? Why do people make it their own business where homosexuality is concerned?
Straight people have a very slight, if any, true understanding of what it is like to be attracted to someone of the same sex. I have had thoughts, yes, but I have never caught myself looking at a girl passing me by and thinking of sliding my hands around her waist and up her back and kissing her on her neck, gently. Such urges are solicited by men only. Fantasies involving girls creep up on me when I'm daydreaming or nursing some Neanderthal's freshly inflicted wound. Straight people should calm the fuck down and stop passing judgement on something they do not comprehend and have no active role in. Could it be jealousy, in addition to fear, that fuel their prejudices?
How is anyone concerned with what goes on between two people in the privacy of their own home? A popular argument is that if homosexuality becomes socially acceptable, we and our children will then have to witness PDA (public display of affection). Gay PDA makes a lot of people uncomfortable. A guy and a girl copy pasting their conversation on each other's tongues make me uncomfortable. A little kid begging me for 1000L.L. makes me uncomfortable. Terminally ill people make me uncomfortable. Wedgies make me uncomfortable. You deal with it and move on. The world is for everybody and you have to compromise and make space for others.
"So you're cool with it?"
"Of course, why wouldn't I be?"
We spent the evening walking in the park. He could relax now. I noticed every single touch and with each one I'd note that it didn't mean anything. We were just two souls trapped in two bodies which needed affection. No reading in between the brushings past, no wandering thoughts, just plain being.
By the time we returned to our neighborhood it was 02h00. Flutterby couldn't be reached and I didn't want to risk walking in on a reconciliation. He suggested I sleep over at his friend's place instead. I was shivering and too tired to argue.
"Would you come with me to the gay village?"
"I could. But what would I do?"
"I'm beginning to feel the pressure. I've been here for over a week and nothing has happened. I've never done anything, just childish fooling around. I came here so I could be free and discover what it's like. I'm still a virgin. I though I'd come here and try it with both a guy and a girl, but it's not as easy as I thought."
"You were expecting everyone to jump on you, eh?"
He smiled. "Yeah, kinda"
The mattress received my body like a marshmallow and I sunk into a deep sleep.
When I rolled over the next morning, Diagonal turned to me and asked,
"Would you like to try something?"
I'm sleepless on a train.
I've been away for a week and Beirut is now a place I come from, but don't belong in. I have never felt this myself in my entire life. The burden of being conscious of my self-consciousness has been abolished.
You know when you're sealed up in your car or walking down the street and listening to music no one can hear? You know that feeling of self-awareness when you're mouthing the lyrics of the song or moving your fingers to the beat, so as to project the act of listening to music to others visually (as if the headphones weren't enough)? You know that moment when you catch yourself about to look around you to see whether the others have recognized how up-to-date or sophisticated your taste in music is? Orwell's 1984 has inspired me to call this doubleselfconsciousness. But you see, I only came up with this word so that I could let you all know that I read modern classic literature and that you could admire me for it and that I could self validate myself by projecting my own image of who I'd like to be unto what I think the reader will be thinking. It's a loner's game.
So imagine the constant buzz of doubleselfconsciousness and how it impedes personal growth, and imagine it disappearing. My first taste of freedom.
I was walking down the street towards the tram station. The sun was behind me, burning slowly and stretching my shadow over the cobblestones like a stocking being pulled up the calves.
I loved being on my own. This was my first solo trip abroad. I had never been to Bordeaux before. Surely, I would have preferred it to be Paris, but my parents had conveniently watched Irreversible beforehand and had instantly grow allergic to the idea of me taking a Parisian underpass to safely cross the street...as though rape didn't exist elsewhere.
I looked up. Looking down was a shirtless smiling man. I smiled back and continued walking. Half way into the Place de la Bourse, I turned around and he waved back. Now waving is harmless an act, but when you are always on the lookout for others' validation, validation of iTunes playlist, of LV handbag, of your intelligence, of your hipness, of your superbness, of your uniqueness, a harmless act like that can seem like an affirmation.
[The guy to my right is playing chess on his MacBook Pro and shaking his head and lightly motioning with his fist at the bishop, as though inviting me to cheer him on and commend his mastery of the game in order to make up for my victory and his defeat in backgammon at the beginning of the trip.]
So he waved, and I imitated the gait of a rooster, and he imitated me with his upper body rocking back and forth over the window sill.
My tram arrived. I bid him farewell with an exaggerated arc and watched him disappear as the tram moved forward.
That night I watched an adaptation of Romeo and Juliette. She called to him from her window too.
The next day I returned to Rue Saint Remi. I looked up, but he wasn't there. I approached the entrance door to his building. He was on the last floor. M.Tournant. I ripped out a page from my notebook and drew a little sketch of a guy waving from a window. "Je cherche un M.Sans Chemise. Appelle +33.........."
I waited nervously for a phone call. Nervous. I received a text message.
"Salut, c'est moi, M.Sans Chemise. Comment tu t'appelle?"
We exchanged a couple more messages where we established that he was 27, and I added a couple of digits to my age, that he was a student of medicine and that we would meet the following day in a cafe nearby.
That's when it hit me: I had no idea what he looked like, but more importantly who he was! I rummaged through all possibilities to find the most extreme ones, rapist, serial killer, perv, and I laid them down on the table. What was I thinking meeting up with a guy who I found cute...four floors high up?
The next day I was so nervous in French one-on-one class, that I shared the entire story with my teacher who called me "une folle"...but encouraged me to go anyway. Curious people want to know how a story develops at whatever cost, the large sum being paid by you.
So after class and a long walk about town to calm myself down, I headed for the meeting place, not after walking around the block twice. But he was nowhere to be seen. I turned to leave and there sitting on a table was a T-shirt covering the chest of a man with a charming smile.
The story doesn't develop much from here on after. We had a great time together, my French was -surprisingly- impeccable, we shared the same taste in music, blah, blah, blah. Do these things even matter?
The first taste of doing something stupid and getting away with it. It wakes you up to who you are when you ask the right questions. Why did I do it? What do I need? What was I expecting?
Back in Beirut it's never these questions. Can I do it? Will people find out? What will they think?
These questions too are revealing, like X-rays showing a broken spine.
I'm sleepless above the ocean.
A hum like a well-oiled engine, hum like the ocean, and then a note rolls in, recedes, builds up, recedes wavering, bass buoyant on a surface of light...
Shimmm el ya-a-smi-i-ne
W dou2. El debs
The quaint hiss of the last -s did it for me. Hamed whispered surrender into my ears, sound surrounding us in our loss. I have seen him always serious and always from afar and that never helped to understand him. Too serious, discrete, like in hiding, and then rebellious and revolutionary, like a rockstar, like always one part of a diptych, the other, a part of a myth.
And then that momentary hiss of an -s. Nostalgic. Sincere. Serious for a reason. Discrete for a reason. Rebellious for a reason. Revolution that follows loss, and it resonates in me, because I'm going to lose. Soon.
That's when my throat begins to hurt, to turn hard the walls of the hollow tube that empties the insides of my stomach, filling it up with the sense of falling when I think of meeting Imaginary Extraordinary Him. His cheeks in my palms, his warm breath condensing above my upper lip, our lips fusing like mitosis in reverse, the rough wet surfaces of our tongues feeling each other's texture, mine slipping under his into the humid folds beneath his tongue and then giving his tip an upward nudge with the tip of mine, pulling his upper lip from the inside, so that it's far out enough to deliver my terminal nibble. That.
And now it's not about anyone specific, it's about loss, not mine, but Hamed's. It's about a voice.
That, I'm drunk on that.
I lean backwards and close my eyes, feeling the left tear spill over the eyelid and the right one trying to catch up in bursting. I focus on their course, instead of their cause; the metawaterfall too physical, too overwhelming, like a bag of jumbled Scrabble letters, like a mirage of thoughts swirling in a cup.
The pulls exerted by his voice pull at my tears and they cusp my jawline. My hands cup his face like they did when we first met and they hold him long enough to say goodbye without actually saying it.
The whistling, the strum of the guitar encourage me to go through with it. Do it. Do it. Don't back away. C'est la vie. Nothing lasts, only moments that feel like they last forever, and if I will have to say goodbye it will only be because I said hello.
And the dreamy lyrics tawajli albi. It'll be worth it. Even my albi.
I'll buy the ticket. I'll cook him food. I'll iron his shirts. We'll name our kids. We won't make them, but we will make love. We'll forget to forget.
Bass inta bi baitak.
W ana bi Beirut, bi baiti.
W bainetna el bahar.
But now that I'm here, I'll go make memories that I will try to unremember the day when loss will become too much to bare and Hamed's voice will fill me up and soothe the pain.Shim.
I'm sleepless above Istanbul.
Skimming the tops of trees, teasing the surface of water, caressing the harvested golden down of wheat, a tiny airplane ripples through rolling landscapes. Its sister, reflected in the blue glass, powders her cockpit nose in the face of wind, leaving behind puffs of exhausted vanities. The always lagging thunder that follows betrays its peaceful gliding and for a moment the people down below are aware of the plane up above, but perhaps not so much of the people in the seats and never of you, sitting in 36D.
The body of the aircraft shakes like a just-touched Rembrandt thigh. I pause to check that we are not losing altitude and resume my rigid sans cible stare as the vibrations wane into a reassuring hum.
Flight attendants slide the raided trays back into their slots as we fly in parallel to breakfasts on wooden tables and morning coffee on sidewalks. Strapped to our stiff seats by seat belts that would bow their heads before their automobile comrades, we are breaking the curse of our featherless arms. And so are the hundreds of other passengers flying over land, ice and water.
I try to tap into the collective consciousness of this planet, hoping to be aware at once of its day and night, rain and sunshine, sands and rocks, winds and caves, bakers and butchers, gluttony and famine, orgasms and abstinence, raves and prayers, croissants and sushi,
oligarchs and war, wide avenues and walled-in communities, silverware and paper cups, sexy black trash bags and oil spills, elephants and jellyfish, funerals and weddings, a baby born in India and a baby dead in England, McDonalds and Italian mothers milling about in their cucinas, Argentinian cowboys and The Naked Cowboy, ballet classes and working the rice fields, smell of freshly brewed tea in Kerala and ground coffee in Brazil, sewage and blinding white Grohe toilet bowls, an ant on my kitchen counter and a cockroach at my neighbours', the size of Russia and the size of a human embryo, Mahler in the morning and Mahler in front of a fireplace, bottled water and wine, sip, sip, crunch, munch, slurp, step, tread, slam, sigh, sniff, cough, sneeze, fart, wince, TURBULENCE, heart drops to tail bone, speed of plane exceeding expectations, shit, something fell, am I going to greet the
world below as a pancake?
Khaiii, for a moment I considered air crash. In that case, I'd imagine my heart would start drumming, but I would remain calm, close my eyes really tight and start letting go...I once heard that sleepwalkers are more likely to survive a hard fall than those who are awake. Why is death teasing me these days? No. Why is my mind so aware of it? This was just customary turbulence, with the same soundtrack of seat belts being fastened, flight attendants' footsteps hurrying up and down the aisle, the pilot telling us to return to our seats, the radio crackles peppering his speech quarantining him in a far away safe place, away from vulnerable panicky us, making us all want to tell him to shut up because what does he know sitting in his invincible cockpit that will detach upon engine failure and drop him to safety in Zagreb where he will emerge a hero from beneath the red exhaling parachute.
This invention of flying never ceased to astound me. I am in awe that if I decide to wake up in Tokyo, I can catapult myself a couple of hours into the future and be there to greet the rising sun.
The labour in my grandparents' orchard would wake up at 4am, mount their donkeys and hiccup the mountain side, so that they could start the day's work at 7am and finish at 4pm, so that they would be home before sun down. By then I will be all the way across the world.
Like atmospheric dust. Like magic.
I’m sleepless in Beirut.
Checked my schedule and it looks like I will be free to pick you up from the airport. Natrik.
Red had always been a man of few words, but he was also one of the few men I could depend on. We went out back in 9th grade, we barely kept in touch and the last I saw of him was over a year ago, but here he was waiting for me. I gave the memory of him a tight hug.
Technically school sweethearts don’t count if they don’t survive graduation, but Red was a little different. He is so careful about what he expresses and to whom that when he opened up to me back then, I knew it was a gift I was to cherish, safeguard and take with me to the grave.
He was one of the “cool” guys. His pants hung low, his walk was signature, he played soccer during breaks, he didn’t talk much, he listened to rap, he carved stuff into his desk, he would talk back to the teachers and he was dating one of the girls from the group I hung out with.
I was the introvert of the group myself and maybe that is what drew me to him. We became friends, if friendship meant chatting on MSN or talking on the phone for hours after school. Soon enough, I realized I was attracted to him, but he was “in a relationship”, if being in a relationship meant holding hands in the cinema and having access to the bra fastener. Definitions and boundaries were different in the –teen years.
We felt that we had a lot to share with one another and that we genuinely cared. Following complaints from our parents regarding the long hours spent on the phone, we came up with a solution: a notebook that we would use as a cross between letters and chatting. I’d write in blues and pinks, and he would write in black and red, and we’d sign with tags that took up half the page. Within a week, his girlfriend/my friend grew suspicious of the intention behind the notebook. We played innocent. I wasn’t going to break them up. I wasn’t going to break the unspoken rule. I tried.
And failed. I lost a friend, but got myself a boyfriend. He was the jock, I was the nerd and we were cute. We were so cute in fact that our first kiss came six months after the official start of the relationship. It was an issue we talked about, but the more we did, the more nervous we became and less capable of making the first move. It didn’t help that most of our dates were group dates or that my mom just happened to want to watch the same movie. “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” was different. We went to sit in the back by ourselves, and somewhere near the end of the movie, I finally lingered close enough to his lips for him to kiss me. Sigh.
What followed were make-out sessions in the staircase of my building or in the boys’ bathroom at school. Keep in mind that this was Dubai, before the world knew about it.
Our relationship was limited by parents, school and society, but surprisingly it lasted for a little over a year. We broke up because I had met Lulu and wanted a man and he met Rebound Girl and fell in love, but it never ended on bad terms, we just drifted apart. He changed schools the following year and ever since, I haven’t seen much of him…
…he did however come to Beirut last summer, and it was a punctuation mark to an open sentence.
I wonder whether he’ll be expecting another exclamation mark when I open my mouth tomorrow
I'm sleepless in Beirut.
“Khalas. This is it. I am going to be a drive-by curiosity.” I thought as I jerked forward with my eyes on the rear-view mirror. I didn’t have enough time to judge the speed at which the Honda was coming towards me, but it was so close that the H was already beyond my view. I remember thinking that Dad didn’t know his car was about to be sandwiched.
I looked at the dashboard, no air bags, I looked at Dad, he was intact, I looked at the front of the car, it was inches away from a bumper, I looked at the rear-view mirror, and there was folded blue metal, a genie of steam, a white bubble and a lady in a black and white top rocking back and forth. My dad was already out of the car and on the phone and the lady seemed to be okay; she had the air knocked out of her.
I reached for my seat-belt, only half-ready to see the damage done. I looked at the front first: nothing. I walked towards the back expecting the worst; the Honda stood behind, mauled and with the engine making a loud whirring sound. Our baby was relatively okay, though not without bruises and a trunk that needed a good shove to close.
There was no blood. Nobody in the five cars that had collided was hurt. Everyone was smiling with relief, not a swear word was exchanged. A possible tragedy turned out to be a parody on female driving. Although it must be mentioned that only a quarter of an hour ago, we drove past a guy who had driven his entire car unto the flower bed.
That’s when it hit me. Death could come so suddenly, I wouldn’t even know it. One minute I am here, the next I am gone. Simple as that. What struck me the most was the mundanity of it: it will not be grand, it will not be heroic, it will not be memorable, and it will not necessarily hurt! It will be just another accident, just another trigger for a couple of 7arams and then life will reconfigure itself around it, the blood will dry, the bodies will rot and eventually the memories will fade away until there is not a single trace.
A crystal bowl is filled with candy. A candy wrapper grooms itself in the bright light of the display cabinet. Its paper is blue and shiny, and makes one think of new beginnings when touched. In its neat folds there is promise of something bigger than itself, of something almost perfect. A hand hovers above the bowl for a moment, two fingers zoom in and the candy wrapper feels the warm consequences of its destiny. “So this is what glory feels like,” it thinks as it catches the light so attractively it leaves no room to doubt its chosen” one-edness”. The fingers drop it into a pocket and it is the only candy wrapper in this pocket and the pocket becomes its kingdom. Being a ruler seems to come so naturally, it almost feels effortless. All of a sudden, it is pulled by its hair, crumpled into a ball and thrown in the waste bin.
So don’t get any big ideas about being special. Don’t expect to go out with a bang and a marching band. Death is as mundane as a fly sitting on a wall. Death is as uneventful as an empty page in your schedule. Death is simple. On. Off. Almost desirable amidst the chaos.