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.