I'm sleepless in Dubai.
I left everything for the last minute. I packed my bags three hours before my flight, called a cab, picked up a package, picked up an envelope and stumbled into the airport, through the metal detectors, through the cloud of perfume in the duty free area, through the echo-friendly corridors and unto the plane. The urgency of those couple of hours distracted me from the obvious: I was reluctant to leave.
I had no reason to leave Beirut. The trip came to me like a sudden jerk pulling me out of bed two hours before the alarm was due. I wanted to sleep in, to snooze, to let the dream of being back-in-Beirut develop and suck me into a deceptive reality. Instead, an intermission was imposed upon me.
To help me better remember the dream, I left Beirut as one would leave their room in the morning. Undone, unzipped, unmade. The strings of the last few days I left, untied. I did not sleep much either. An hour, maybe two.
"Ah, I would've joined you"
"Hmm am still here, my 3rd drink, a bit dizzy..I told you I'm here the minute I arrived"
"1. I wouldn't want to intrude 2. I am uninvited 3. You should shout louder."
"u won't intrude my solitude anyway. Told you "indirectly", I never shout loud :)"
I had to. I rummaged through my drawers. There was nothing relevant, nothing sleepless, nothing Beiruti, so I went for the bright and conspicuous: my favourite red die. I threw on some clothes, jumped into the car and went off into the night.
This is where Serendipity started to get creative. My phone buzzed. Unknown Dubai number.
"So...yea...you know Mr.Keller?"
Worrying at first glance, transparent at second. I was sure this was Capitalyst exploiting his new foreign number.
"I'm wondering how you made the connection. Till when are you in Dubai?"
"Well, he recognized me as someone you'd once spoken about...and I'm here wondering WTF did you tell him? Until Saturday morning."
"Plans tomorrow night? Pick you up from where?"
I hadn't seen him in a long while now and the fact that we would both happen to be in Dubai at the same time was a fun enough coincidence to call for a reunion. We had a very nice evening together, extricating the Mr. Keller factor, filling up the gap between now and when we last bumped into each other in front of the traffic light in Downtown and discussing possible adventure ventures.
My phone was ringing. Imaginary Extraordinary Him. Wow. The familiar ringtone, his photo, his name, two weeks of dead and bitter silence and the need to sweeten it. I answered.
"I thought you wouldn't pick up."
"What's on your mind?"
"I've been so busy. I've only just had the opportunity to digest what happened in London."
Soon enough, the connection started to break up. Call ended.
"Don't do this. Don't fuck with me. No, no, no. This is not happening", I said out loud into the shell of my car. Sometimes, strength needs to be punctuated and weaknesses punctured.
I parked. It was a two minute walk from the pub. As I swam through the humid air, a rumble and a shine caught my eye. Non! Clooney's delicious coupe. I recognized the number plate and he sure as hell did not recognize me walking in my jeans and flats in the shadows of Gemmayze. Glad to see he is still roaming the night!
I climbed up the stairs and walked into the pub. I immediately spotted Lumière to my right, even though he was half hidden by the potted plants. I sat down at the bar and ordered a glass of white.
It so happened that there was no WiFi and I could not come up with a good enough opening line to interrupt his conversation. I called up Belle and she took it from there.
"I left you a red die on the bar", she sent to him.
I waited impatiently. Those five minutes felt like hours. I could not hold it much longer and I was running late as it was. I motioned to the waiter, "Could you do me a favour?"
At that point Lumière got up and went to the bar. I watched the waiter approach him and turned for the exit. As I walked out of the building, Tinkerbell from Peter Pan flashed before my eyes and at the thought of having sprinkled some magic dust on another stranger's evening, I skipped out of the alley and unto the street. I never stopped to look back, but my ears were fine-tuned for the most distant footsteps. His shadow never appeared.
"U could've stayed..."
"I told you I was slippery. I'll want it back soon."
"y did u run?"
"I didn't run, I walked. Are you still there?"
"Nope, am home stranger. U back home I suppose?"
"I'm at a friend's. That's why I left, I was already late! Goodnight?"
"Shower then goodnight. y?"
"I'm getting ideas. Ignore them."
"Such as? Now that u ve told me, how can i ignore them?"
"I want you to be sleepless with me."
"I can arrange that I suppose..."
"So unsure. So hesitant."
"not unsure. not hesitant."
"Are you sure? So far, I've been moving the world all along. Your turn."
"Move the world."
"i am at this moment."
"I don't see it moving. Roll the die. If it's 6... If not, it's not time yet."
"it s 2"
"7ayete! I love the honesty."
"y? I disagree."
"I have a big flaw. When I want something I want it NOW. Hence the comment. But ultimately, truth is the healthiest thing one can pass on to someone else."
"it's so much easier than that"
"as much as you can think of...believe me"
"I think you just beat me in "slippery". Why didn't you follow the strange rabbit down the rabbit hole?"
"u were a few floors down..and i wasnt sure it was u..( now i am)"
"Anyway, I was hoping to add a little magic to your evening, nothing more. I was hoping you would react quicker, but my wine finished, my friends were waiting, and the clock was about to strike midnight...so I left my "glass slipper" and slipped away :D"
"maybe u were just making a new post who knows..or maybe...ur sleepless...u should come"
"Wrong. I'm hungry."
"I have labneh :p"
"Do you have tea?"
"Put the kettle on, quick, I'm sleepy. How do I find you?"
It's 03:00. What the fuck am I doing? But I'm doing. I get in the elevator with Diagonal. There's a wad of $1000 and a Mercedes car key resting on the hand-rail.
"Non! Let's just count the money for the sake of it."
The lift stops at the 4th floor and a certain Miss Lebanon X opens the door looking distraught.
"That's a whole lot of money. You should be more careful.", I said.
She takes the money and the keys and closes the door.
"What the fuck was that? A transaction?"
Diagonal and I come up with a number of alternatives to explain the story, but seeing that the subject is already under public scrutiny, we settle for the crack cocaine one.
I'm doing. I'm actually doing.
"I'm in front of... Now what?"
I sit in my car. Something moves in the alleyway, a figure. I'm doing? Doing. I get out and walk towards him. There's something cosy in the way we move towards each other. His cheek is warm.
I step into his apartment, out of the darkness and into the light. Lumière. I look at him. In the light, away from his FCBK discretion. I look at him, from up close, without leaves in the way. He has a smile that transforms his face into a second face that speaks of different things. I remember that, but the memory of his face is lost. And with that, everything that took place is fading into a select catalogue of details and exchanges. There was a labneh sandwich and lukewarm green tea and relief when he pulled out his Lucky Strikes and his height and his quiescence and the yellow light in the room and the familiar feeling of being in Beirut but a thousand miles away. His lovely apartment quickly took on the quality of a sealed, safe bubble, a quality that I first came to know at Botticelli's. But unlike my visits to Botticelli's or Hugg's or Pope's or insert-name-here, there was no music playing in the background. Lumière was a minimalist in speech as he was in his messages, but his comfort with silence blew me away. We spent more than two hours in that room and there was no music, no television, no computer screen, no telephones ringing and no uncomfortable silence, no dead air.
On the contrary, the air in the room stirred like a dialogue between the sea and the shore. My uttered sentences crashed into the space between us with exaggerated confidence, the sprays of animated intonation and residual gestures trying to gnaw at the smooth surface of Lumière's glistening sands. Impenetrable. With every burst of conversation, the precariousness of the situation and his manner of speech, would send my mind thrashing as my words splashed the room, dissipated, curled up in apparent failure and were then beckoned back into the deep blue sea by a stealthy pull that was discrete, but definitely his.
I loved listening to him speak. His words were nothing poetic, nothing exceptional, but meant for me. They felt precious. Whether timid or skeptical, or intentionally minimalist, his quiet presence came off as soft and sincere. I could've stayed there till dawn and past sunrise, but I considered the possibility of being unable to read him well, that even though he wasn't fidgety or yawning, he might have had enough of this particular dégustation. I didn't want to impose, even though I was close to certain that I wasn't.
I snapped my fingers. I needed to hear a cue. He accompanied me to my car. His cheek was still warm.
These moments are delicate. They are beautiful and refreshing and unexpected. They are light. So light in fact that they have no place on the ground. Like clouds. Ephemeral, unearthly, ethereal. Perfectly intangible. Easily inflatable. DIY castle in the sky.
I've been revisiting that moment. I can remember the room. I can see the outline of Lumière. But I cannot see his face. He cannot see mine. He cannot say my name. I try hard to remember and everything sinks in deeper, but still no face.
I've been back too many times. And it's a long trip from there to Dubai. I wish I stayed.