I’m sleepless with wet feet drying.
Looking out over the roofscape of chipping paint, antennas, water tanks and cranes, we saw two flocks of pigeons circling. They drew a corkscrew from low to high, from dense to barely visible, from two to fused and then in a split second, they disappeared completely. Somebody had won the pigeon war and somebody else was probably smacking his forehead in the name of momentary loss.
Is it not strange to breed pigeons, to live amongst the infamous aeronaut rats of modern cities, to paint their inner wings red, to make them bead collars, to stand on roofs circling large wooden sticks, training them for hours for the mere purpose of stealing someone else’s pigeons at the risk of having one’s own stolen?
One man’s passion is another man’s bewilderment. Pigeons aside – for they are quite a beautiful quirk to our city, and their shit has yet to become a problem soliciting spiky sculptures and window sills – what bewilders me the most is that in spite of all the passions I have ever called my own, I have yet to find the one that will salvage me, and of course it will, from this certain numbness that follows me around like a stray dog that finds something in me to feed on.
And looking around, piercing as deeply as I can, I see that I’m not alone in this predicament. Have people always been this way, morally adrift, ardently astray? We do a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a dabble here, a dally there, johns, jacks and marys of all trades, masters of none, masters of sidewalks, intake and launch parties. I mean really, how can I sustain a passion if I keep it strapped to the backseat while I drive from one worthless distraction to the other? I think it’s time to start placing the building blocks towards something constructive, time to empty the boxes of dusty memories, time to stretch the mind to new limits, time to work the mind and plant new seeds in it, time to carve meaning into every gesture and decision, time to start making sense to myself first before others, or just a time to do while I am still sane.
There come the pigeons again, flickering little eyelids of white, black and brown, winking to the perched single cooers who join in and split at their ease. The flock turns and then splits into two, seven beneath the long nose of the crane, seven above, so playful for a scatter of pea-sized brains. Their rhythmic motion has an allure of a campfire; I could watch them for hours, buuuut, that’s a distraction I can keep for another day, when I wake up early enough to not look up in surprise and wonder where the day has gone to.
I’m tanning in the Christmas sun.
The last Christmas celebrations…I cannot even remember. They all blend into a single memory of lunch at grandma’s house, which is like every other lunch except that we sit at the dinner table and take longer than usual. We’ve never been a jolly family as a whole. Most of our best moments together were spent in batches of different configurations, my sisters and I, my parents and I, mom and I... So this Christmas, to save me from sneers, I would give up the forcing of “special”.
(Un)Conveniently, this Christmas fell on a Tuesday, which was a pain, alas, if you happened to have the extended family’s humble abode be tucked away somewhere in the far reaches of Lebanese topography, and have work on both of the days that snuggled the 25th ever so tightly.
But as much as you’d like to fight the Christmas spirit, it catches up on you as all friends retreat to family and friends’ dinners, as the streets empty to the point where you can walk down the asphalt spine of Gouraud Street without touching the sidewalk, as cars leave empty parking spaces to clog mountain and valley road flanks, as everyone shuts their doors expecting that even the loneliest of people had made plans for the eve.
I hadn’t made any and I was going to stand by the notion that the best plan is no plan. If the night were meant to be magical, the faeries would find me in some form or colour, regardless of my hideout.
When I was a little human forty-eight inches tall helping to decorate the house with paper snowflakes pressed on frozen window panes, or when I was only three foot six waking up in the middle of the night to see whether Santa had delivered my modest requests, Christmas was the day when the books and stories that I read came to sit with me and only me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t take the hiding seriously, or maybe it’s because somewhere deep inside I did not really want to be alone on the night that was the most awaited time of my childhood years, that the ho ho ho came knocking on my door.
It was unexpected that at an hour to midnight I’d be greeted by a lovely lady in red after a day’s worth of tire shopping, car shoeing, street roaming and poster gluing. , She introduced me to grandmas, aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, one of whom handed me a plate of pumpkin soup for company. Imaginary-Extraordinary-Him was nowhere to be seen except on my phone’s screen.
“Wainik? I can meet you down. I’m waiting for you to eat.”
And then he appeared looking slightly fazed but quite handsome, and looking at the lady in red I deduced that good looks ran in the family.
It felt strange that I was happy, far removed from familiar faces, yet so warmly surrounded by a large family that didn’t seem to have ever indulged in the well of Mediterranean disputes. Of course, it is always easy to idealise an image that one covets to be one’s own.
And then came a touching moment, that stirred the walled-off barricaded me. Imaginary-Extraordinary-Him had grabbed a stool and a Santa hat to hand out the gifts. He called my name. My eyebrows reconfigured into a puzzled wave.
“Yes, you, come over here and give Santa a kiss.”
It was so endearing that he had fished out a last-minute emergency gift, probably meant for someone else, and wrapped it up from him to me. It was the only gift I would receive this Christmas, but it got to me like only a simple loving gesture could. I took my time to open it, savouring the notion that someone cared, enough, and I felt a crack run down my wall, split me open just enough to see that I sort of cared enough about him as well.
I’m sleepless in Beirut.
The skies have finally opened and the bawls of heaven have washed away the dirty paperbrown laundry hanging over Beirut. It never rains here, never drizzles, never pitter patters, only pours. And when the buckets suddenly start tipping over my desert, the hibernating whims and desires come out to flirt and play with the raindrops.
It is a lush autumn garden. Scarlet and sensual, ripe and covetable, almost sinful, almost like a trip back in time to that chapter where Eve in a fig leaf showed Adam where the party was at – but instead of thanking her, he’s been bitching about it from that bite onwards.
It is a lush autumn garden, crimson and passionate, sweet and perfumed, almost heavenly, almost like a trip back in time to those days where behind every tree there was an Adam stripped of his fig leaf, almost like the picture of the kingdom I’ve imagined for myself, like the picture on a postcard from the land I used to reign, signed by me, happy to be lost in that forest, in that jungle, dancing to beats of every single tree trunk drumming its fingers in waiting.
The pieces are falling into place and the celestial bodies are moving towards some prophetic configuration: either harmonic or catastrophic, I cannot tell, but I’m counting on Venus.
The night after Kavinsky and I laid down, our terms and expectations, we crossed paths at “Reasons to be pretty”. We saw him before the play started, going up the stairs. I was sure he wasn’t alone, but the lights went out and there was no telling where he had disappeared to. I was sure I didn’t want to bump into him looking like the drenched pile of hair and fabric that I was, caught by the biblical storm the moment we left Deprague. I was sure that it was going to be awkward because only yesterday he had given his word, “You will not see me with anyone.”
After hours of sitting in wet boots and jeans watching actors shout, argue and create drama over a most benign slip of tongue, I spotted him giving a standing ovation to what must have been a walk down memory lane post-divorce.
In the foyer, while turning to head towards the ladies room, Kavinsky’s face appeared so close, so suddenly that I received a punch of adrenaline straight in the stomach and let my legs carry me away, away, further away soon as the third kiss on the cheek was complete.
He called me half an hour later to excuse himself, “I’m sorry, I felt uncomfortable, she is just a friend.”
For the entire week that followed, his name would pop up every now and then, inquiring about my whereabouts, inviting me over, always last minute. Clearly, it was getting too comfortable on his part...
Martini was part of the group that chose to sit next to Yamamoto and I at the party where I first met Joos. They were older and a little dusty, not hitting too hard, just a group of boys at heart with belts cutting them in two, slight bulges. The other two were doctors, a gyno and a plastic, and Martini “sold Chiclets”. He was the first to make conversation, but it felt more like the buttering of a set up between the surgeon and I. We didn’t hang around too long; clearly their age was a red card to be held up by Yamamoto. I was tipsy and every song was my favourite; the perfect guise to drag me away from the elders and into Joos’ spinning wheel.
While I was being twirled, I spotted My Boss, or at the time, my future Boss. I knew it was him because I had done my research following our anonymous exchange. He was cute and I loitered around so that I could, one day, point out to him that we were within inches, imperfect strangers.
Foux was there too with his buff and tight posse, and we would come ear to ear every hour to discuss the comings and goings of the melting pot.
“That’s My Boss, he has no idea who I am! He’s cute, non? And, oh look there, the guy in brown, that’s Brick, I met him in London.”
Before we could call it a night, the towering Gyno took me out for one last dance to some remix of an oldie. I was turned and twisted so much, that the cumulative sum of the evening would have had an abacus go haywire were it not for the lack of expensive drink in my blood. When I went back to the table to collect my things, the trio stood up to exchange numbers and cards. It felt slightly theatrical, the table nearby watching our phone-lit faces mouth numbers and correct spellings, but I was glad to step unto the stage for a change.
The following day, Martini sent me a wordy maladroit message and I dismissed it. I recalled him having been handsome, but I also recalled previous lessons of drunken phone number exchanges and decided on passing the course.
Months later, when we were carrying on Birthday Girl’s birthday celebration to Iris with Ohlalah, Yamamoto and Joos, I saw a familiar face across from me. I couldn’t pin point where I had seen him before - and there is nothing more annoying than blunt ends and tongue tips – so I picked my brains for a good fifteen minutes until I recognized the Surgeon. He seemed to be sitting alone, so I walked over to say hello.
But he wasn’t very talkative. I don’t think he even remembered me. Which turned out to be a blessing as half an hour later I saw him approach the table that we had all been, discreetly I hope, eyeing. There sat two very conspicuous ladies, who turned down every mongrel that couldn’t live up to their standard dollar, and it was clear that a dollar or two was needed to finance the treatment of inflamed lips, histamine-stricken boobs and pinched noses. How ironic, I thought, that the doctor find his patients during his darkest-hours.
Only when the skies opened up a week ago did Martini unexpectedly join the showers of sudden attention falling over me. The earth was all wet now and any extras could only whet it further.
I'm sleepless in Dictateur.
Some time after midday, the urge grew so strong that I thought I was having a panic attack. I didn't even need to close my eyes, all it took was a prolonged gaze away from the day's work to see the two of us tempting fire, to feel it lick my sore neck, wring me free from that suffocating chair and send blood down my sleeping limbs. I bit my lip to keep it from betraying me in this cold interior. I would have to wait it through.
"What time do you finish?"
As the clock struck leave, I was out of there like a wrong number and in and between the taillights like a criminal, polluting the neighbourhoods with the trashiest, loudest songs I kept for such breaches.
In his driveway, it was dead silent. He buzzed me through and came out to meet me.
"Do you like it here better?"
"More than before."
It looked like it had been modeled after him. The lighting was more dramatic and the effect reminded me of the pair of lions that stood at the gates of ancient cities, intimidating the aimless wanderers, warning them to steer clear. But it stood alone and him beside me.
"Let's have dinner. I'm starving."
I was late, again, but my lack of punctuality would soon be forgotten. We carried the plates of sliced avocado, turkey sausage, thin leaves of batarekh and few pieces of fatayerto the table.
"I am having vodka. I don't know why I am so stressed today. What can I get you?"
I lingered for a moment, never having been one to go for strong drinks, but there was no wine, only red, and I didn't need my teeth grinning scarlet.
"Just add some ice and orange juice."
I gave it a taste only to choke on it. He glanced at me with a look of surprise reserved for little kids caught doing grown up things. At that particular moment, I felt the age gap stretch like an accordion – the resurfacing of delicate mathematics is inevitable.
It was quiet, too contained. He asked me about the pronounced veins on either side of his forehead, "This has never happened before, what do you think it is?"
And instead of assigning it to stress and fatigue, I let slip the possibility that it was something that could pressure him for time, that it could ignite a state of emergency to sign off a deal before he…
"I'm leaving after tomorrow. For a few weeks."
Seductive Europe, once again, will devour yet another. This affair of take aways and leftovers was beginning to seem deliberate - a diet imposed, a rationing miscalculated, a full course meal to dream of. Will a moment ever shift into linger?
His imminent departure, though earlier than expected, would serve as a conveniently raised rug under which we could sweep the bout of foolishness that was about to and bound to happen.
We went downstairs to "watch a movie". I had never been so deep in his lair; the difference between the private and public halves of the house was quite tangible. The walls above spoke of majesty, depth and sophistication, yet the guts below were digesting loneliness in front of a large TV screen that lit the barren walls with ghostly light. There were hints of the upper floor, hints of good intentions, but it was easy to tell that the supposed family room had not witnessed much joy or laughter since its journey from paper to four walls.
There was not much to choose from in his DVD collection, so I indulged in metaphor for backdrop: a BBC documentary on wild nature.
Fast forward. Pause. A still of mountain goats wrestling.Play. The TV cast my shadow large over him.
"Look at me. Look at me."
They were both strong, two throbbing masses in tight lock, both trying to break free from the other to launch a final blow.
Play speed x0.5. A close-up of muscles growing, the skin taut around them and the ribcage holding everything in from total explosion with all its might.
The tall redwood trees crashed into the grass. It was loud,beautiful and tragic. The last chapter of the Kavinskychronicles was nearing full punctuation. I left him be in the empty parcel spotted with stumped limbs and tree trunks. Though it's hard to admit, I left him be not without limping.
I’m sleepless in Beirut.
There must be a name for it, teetering on a thin line between adaptability and self-deceit. I’d like to think that I’m keeping my balance, but in the back of my mind I know that balance is a religion of minute proportions. At any moment, if I’m caught off guard, I could slip.
I feel like I shouldn’t put it into words, I feel like what we have is sacred and only ours, but I never, never ever, want to forget that day.
It all happened rather suddenly. I had e-mailed him after spending a few late night hours going through old photos.
“I want this end to end.”
Little by little, over the course of a few days, I grew more adamant. I was anxious and scared, but I wanted to see him, I had missed him. Yet the old paranoia of being too unabashed, borderline invasive, kept me from taking drastic measures. I messaged him once more, I called him, but there was no clear sign that he felt anything more than a shadow of kindness towards a fond memory.
Then one morning came an e-mail. It wasn’t personal per se, but enough of a glimmer for me to call him up just one more time.
Botticelli picked up, “Coucou. Long time!”
“Finally, finally, I got through to you!”, I laughed.
“Do you want to have lunch? I’ll be operational in an hour,” he said closing the conversation.
I threw my hangover out the window, jumped into the shower, changed three times, and flew through the streets, singing, “Ain’t no sunshine” at the top of my lungs.
What was meant to be lunch, turned out to be a glorious feast, followed by a walk, the pinching of cheeks, incessant talking, remembering, sharing, brainstorming, sketching, working, hugging and holding, holding, holding unto the dearest.
People have come and people will go, but the ones with who time stands frozen are the people one must shelter from one’s vanities and selfish whims. People that will care about you will be few; they will be few when you are twenty and they will be few when you are eighty.
I have betrayed my responsibility towards them. I thought that if I had been dispensable to others, others should become dispensable to me. People can make it almost impossible with their parade of foolishness, but they must not be taken lightly. Ultimately, you should dispense of those that you cannot care for, those that you cannot give anything back to, those that are beyond your reach. Dispense of empty relationships, but own up to those that try despite your own foolish circus.
I had betrayed him. I am sure of it because I sensed a shift in responsibility. I had always thought that he owed me something for being distant, for keeping me at bay, but he was right to do so. And now, sitting there with him, listening to his actions, he didn’t have to say a word for me to realize that he had given me something worth guarding. I am in debt for his honesty and I have to make it up in weight.
It was past midnight and I didn’t want to leave, I was fearful that my harebrained pack of wolves would have me running with them to sniff out buried bones the moment I stepped beyond the threshold of his home. Fifty-nine moons had risen and fallen, to howl yet again seemed almost primitive, to promise anything was just as wise, but I felt it this time, I felt it against my ribcage, that I should never, never ever let him go again.
I’m sleepless in Be-uprooted.
The day had been heavy. It was impossible to shake off the feeling of unease. Lebanon was shaken hard. I was tired, but I didn’t want to come home to echoing footsteps. I washed away the day’s worth of smoke and dirt, wore light colours, no black. Deep breath. 21:00. Time to leave.
Kavinsky had already set the table. He poured the champagne and served me the quinoa salad he claimed to have made. It was delicious, but was he capable of delicious?
“You look great. I really like what you’re wearing! Did you lose weight? There’s something different about you.”
“Maybe a little. But thank you.”
“Sleepless, why do you always complicate things? It’s like I have to run and run after you. Stop playing these games, you’re becoming a typical Lebanese girl…”
I interrupted him then and there, “I am not, shh, shh, I am not and you know that’s not true. You complicate things for me. You are inconsistent. It’s like you change over the course of the day, not to mention the week. I really didn’t like the way you treated me that night, or how you only invite me over at night, for parties, to bring girls. If it weren’t for my conviction that you are not the person you portray yourself to be, I wouldn’t be here. But I know, I know that you are not this sleazeball, this party animal, this whatever…. I understand, we all have to put on a face, especially when we go through difficult times, but don’t put it on for me.”
He went still.
“You like this painting?”
“Do not change the subject. Listen to me, listen to me when I’m trying to say something to you.”
“Sorry, I am listening, I’m listening…”
“I hate playing games. Before, when I used to meet someone new, I’d give him or her my all, my trust and respect and then during the course of the relationship I would play accordingly. But, that hasn’t worked for me. I give too much too fast to people who don’t deserve it. You may not be that person, for all I know, you could be deserving, but you’ve been inconsistent and I cannot give you more than I have been giving because I don’t trust you with it. But really, I’m not like that, I’m the simplest of people.”
“I’m simple too.”
“I’m simple, but over the course of my stay here, the local social dynamics have obliged me to work within it.”
“Can I be straightforward with you? I like to tell things as they are. You know what turned me off about you? All those limits you put. The girls here they think that if they play these games with me, eh w la2, I will pursue them more. I do not understand what they want from me, so I let go completely. I am not interested.”
“I understand your position, but you also have to understand mine. I don’t know you, yet, not enough.”
“It’s been what, half a year now?”
“Yes, but during that time how many times did I see you? Ten?”
“My problem is, I don’t trust people. You’re a smart girl, you know that? You’re dangerous. Very dangerous.”
He had said that before, in March. The first time I dismissed it as pure flirtation, but now, I kind of agreed. Not with the dangerous bit, the smart bit, not intelligence or knowledge, I know my limitations there – I do not know a lot. Yet what I do know, is that I can trust my intuition, and intuition is not just a fairy that lives on your shoulder, intuition is more about subconscious situation assessment. I know that I can trust my intuition, because every time I fuck up, it’s because I waver or think too much. Every time I become flustered, it is because my thoughts are too loud and I cannot hear that inner voice. I mustn’t think; I should learn to let my brain think quickly, efficiently, and then take it from there.
What I was thinking at that moment was the following: he is discussing limits and portraying them in a negative light, so that he could manipulate the situation in his favour.
What my brain was relaying to me, via intuition, was that I felt good, better. I felt like he was being honest. He was not making up love stories, nor was he the kind of man who was incapable of being open-minded or simple. He very well could. If I could be, why couldn’t he?
After dinner, we went outside. He motioned for me to sit next to him. I thought, no, this is too close for comfort. But I felt, like yes, I wanted to feel the warmth of another human being. So I shut up and sat down.
It was the perfect close to a hefty day. The sea and the sky were pitch black, only the lights of the fishing boats spoke of teeming water. The city was far away. There was only the sound of waves, the wind in the tall grass and the random frog ribbit ribbit every now and then. His dog was curled up next to our feet, excluded, but loyal.
Kavinsky placed my hand in his and I was surprised I didn’t flinch. This was it; I was going to listen to the brain pixie. I was going to immerse myself in the Kavinsky experience to see where it would take me. No pre-meditated limits, only the considering of immediate comfort zones.
He was now curled up next to me like a baby. It didn’t feel smart, nor did it feel dangerous, it simply felt good.
It felt good to believe that there was a chance this inferno of moderation and sobriety would be put out. I may have finally met my match: somebody who never stayed around for long, who locked all doors before going to bed, but always kept the windows open, somebody who was essentially lonely, too proud to admit it, yet always hopeful to stumble upon momentary tenderness.
I left my mind outside, with crossed arms and a vexed frown, to watch over the whining dog that couldn’t make sense of what had come over his master and friend.
We would bring it to boil, then let it simmer, boil and simmer, boil and simmer, until the heat became unbearable and we unglued and reconciled with the idea that today we would keep it civil.
“You want dessert? I have the most amazing chocolate cake ever”, he proposed.