Bring me bitter chocolate, she said, the blackest and the bitterest you can find, please, to reflect how I feel.
Her words hung awkwardly in the air. What are you supposed to say when someone you barely know opens up to you in the most unexpected, blunt and sincere way? She said it half joking, probably not to spoil the buoyant Beiruti mood, the laughters, the glasses clinking, the distant voice of the young woman singer providing the soundtrack to her woes. Her mouth tried going slightly upwards when her eyes remained hollow, two hazel spheres burning my own retinas, trying to convey the most universal message: if you can’t help me, at least try and understand me. Her bleakest feelings in a heartbeat, barely time for the onlooker to catch the vibe, to comprehend the silence, barely time for an eyelid to shield her soul and for her social mask to be back on.
She caught my eyes, and understanding started fizzing between her and I. Come dance with me, she said grabbing my arms.
She was not asking. She was pulling me, yet pleading with me. Come dance with me, for this moment, and this moment only, I want to forget who I am, and I need you to be my crutch so that I can face these people and these stares wondering about me, judging me.
Her, the woman whose headscarf kept on perfect position throughout those glorious minutes where she found herself again, her old self, the woman she lost somewhere along the way in a fit of crazy, stupid, inconvenient love.
And so I danced, not because I felt like it, but because I wanted to provide her with the break she so needed, because I could almost feel in my own mouth the ferruginous taste of her bile, the acrid disappointment of what she thought was but appeared would never be. I danced and I twirled and I jumped and I laughed along with her because she was like a prisoner on bail and that I wanted to do anything, anything for her to smell carelessness and forgetfulness again and caress the feeling of being free. I danced because I knew how she felt, I just had to look at her to think, Ah, but for the Grace of God, Go I, for I, too, knew bitterness and hurt, and I too, had needed shared laughs and the touch of a hand just to get through the next minute.
He was absent yet he was here, everywhere, in all her talk and in all her movements, he was in every glance she kept shooting towards the door, in her jumpy mood, in the ever slightly shaky hand that brought her drink to her lips. He was the much beloved threat that poisoned her, the frown he always wore now transposed to her own face, his of disapproval, hers of constant worry. I could only imagine the constant pain she had to live with, the constant ache of loving so deep someone who passed on judgements to her so often she could never trust him again, lies were were her only refuge.
What can you do when somebody you barely know pours out their soul to you? You get up and dance, you take her hands in yours and you laugh, you dance and you laugh and you sing out loud, in the hope that all the singing and jumping and dancing will pray the Devil back to wherever it came from, and keep the terrible fear at bay.
Even for a second, especially for a second, you sing and forget, and in that moment, life becomes possible again.