I'm sleepless in Beirut. Whenever there were plans to return to Otherland in the summer, I would sign up on a local social networking site with the intention of making a couple of friends to spend time with once I got there. As if by default, most of the contacts I'd make would be guys. Tower was one of them. We decided to meet the day after my arrival, at 16:00:00 under the bell tower of the city's cathedral. I was excited. Prior to travelling, I had spoken to Lulu over the phone and he had agreed to come watch a contemporary dance show with me. Over a year and a half had passed since I had first met and last seen him. During that time he had succeeded to rise to national fame. He was elected as one of the sexiest men in the nation, he was rehearsing for a number of plays that were to open in October and not to mention he was the host of a local TV show. I'd call him once a month to talk a little bit about this and that, but soon enough Google had all his updates at my disposal. Thanks to the tabloids, I discovered that he was dating a woman eight years his senior, who resembled Uma Thurman, a lady with strong facial features and who just happened to have the same name as I. Our conversations were never flirtatious, but I clearly remember one texting session that filled me with enough hope to last a year. "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita."- excerpt from "Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov
I hold these lines responsible for Lulu, for Italian Creep, for Candy Man, for Freud, for Botticelli, for Fuego, for Blue. Oh Vladimir, those encounters might never have happened had you not bewitched me with your words. I wanted to be a muse, to have someone think about me with such tenderness, with such forbidden desire.
I was still underage and elligible for the role.
Lulu admitted that it was one of his favourite movies and that the idea seduced him. Had I been a third person, I might have thought him a pedophile, but I was a melting popsicle.
I arrived to the ticket booth on time. They were about to close, people were shoving to get their tickets. I tried to squeeze in, to ignore my instinct to queue and wait, to be true to my Arab nature. Some old lady in an old-fashioned hat kept on rubbing against me. With some effort, I got hold of two seats. I paid and walked out into the busy street. Tower was supposed to meet me in an hour and I thought it would be polite to confirm. After all, the last time we spoke was a reasonable while back and plans are always open to change.
But, my phone wasn't in my bag. It wasn't in my pocket. I emptied everything out and it still wasn't there! Damn it, mom was right.
"Zip up your bag! You're provoking theft. This is not the Middle East." It had to be that old hag. She kept on pushing against me. I remembered seeing the glow of my phone at one point. Fuck her! How can anyone take something that doesn't belong to them?
I felt violated and alone. The street was buzzing with people and nobody seemed to notice me. A tear rolled down my cheek. I looked up. The clouds hung like gray washed-out pillow cases. But there, at the end of the avenue, the golden cross atop the cathedral was glowing like a newly bought peg. It called to me.
I went inside, a little shy, wondering whether it was possible for people to tell. Religion aside, the height, the light and acoustics of the space comforted me. I sat at the back, closed my eyes and waited for my breathing to calm down. Five minutes later, I felt a little better.
I had no way of contacting Tower, no way of getting in touch with my mom, who had the habit, like all mothers, to think the worst after one call unanswered. I walked across the street to the central post office. I'll buy a phone card, call my friend to have her call mom who didn't deserve to have a nervous break down right at the start of the summer holidays.
Having never used a pay phone before, I stared at it oblivious as to what to do next. There was a shop next door and I went in to ask for the shopkeeper's help. I must've looked distraught, because he asked me whether something was wrong. I bathed in the warm pool of pity pee and let the trickle of my measly tragedy reach his ears.
That lovely kind man pulled open a drawer and produced a large brick Motorola.
"There. You can use my old phone, it comes with a line and everything."
"Thank you, but I cannot accept. It's too kind of a gesture."
"Don't worry about it. You can return it when you get a replacement."
I was more touched than Botero's Adam. It felt a little like turning a corner and bumping into a mammoth. Samaritans are an endangered species. One must nurture their kindness.
I thanked him profusely and promised to return the cell phone as soon as possible. Suddenly, the world did not seem as ruthless and unfair, the clouds as oppressive, the people as cold-hearted and cell phones as important.
I always go back to that day for inspiration. There is something so sincere in the kind gesture of a stranger. No hidden agenda, no benefits to reap. Perhaps after much dissection, one could find an underlying selfish intention, but feeling better about yourself by being an altruist is a malice of PG standards.
Tower proved to be a man of his word. At 16:00, I stood up on my tip-toes to kiss his cheek. His complexion was Twilight-pale, his eyes like werewolf's, his hair charcoal black and to his shoulders and his height neck-breaking. His face, his voice, his words radiated kindness. But kindness is a thing to be handled with care and as soon as I realised it, I recognised the possibility of my being careless and too childish and clumsy to sustain it without testing its elasticity. Perhaps that would explain my early childhood hours spent modelling plasticine; I would always knead it to the extreme to see how far a ball could be stretched.
We spent the afternoon roaming the city, hiding from the rain, drying our long hair over cups of tea and looking into each other's eyes for longer than necessary. It was a summer romance in the making...