Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 3

Ziad had called Lili. Again. Yet again. As soon as he heard her voice he felt a catch in his heart, a catch he tried to conceal by adopting an extra business-like tone with her. He could not help it: he could not be with her, yet he had to hear her voice, if only to prove to himself she still existed, that he only needed to reach out to her to open once again the door to a never ending dialogue he had chosen to close. 

Ziad, needless to say, was arrogant, the special kind of forgetful arrogance that comes with the privilege of being a man: the fact that Lili might not want to reopen anything had not even occured to him. 

– Hi, Lili, I hope you’re keeping well, he heard himself ask in clipped tones as soon as she picked up. 
He could almost have hit himself for being so condescending towards her. Knowing Lili, she’d probably reply soflty, all the while nevertheless thinking about what an utter prick he was. He knew she hated confrontation, and he was ashamed to admit that suited him sometimes, if only because he knew she was no woman to give him a hard time yelling into the phone. She didn’t know the power she had over him, and he never felt compelled to telling her. Cowardice can creep up uninvited, at any given moment, after all he was only human, he liked to think. Just another way of justifying himself in his own eyes, and not very successfully at that.
– Hello Ziad, I’m good thanks, came Lili’s caramel-like voice. 
She sounded good. Somehow that annoyed him. Wasn’t she supposed to be drowning in sorrow, listening to REM? 
– Well, you sound good, he replied, his voice a little too acrimonious to his liking, betraying his feelings. What are you doing?, he bit. 
– Working, I’ve got a deadline. The abrupt answer made him cringe, but hadn’t he deserved It, After all he put her through?
He knew a  dismissal when he heard one. He had to come up with a good, reasonable excuse to justify his phone call, and somehow he thought: “I only wanted to hear your voice”, was not gonna make the cut. 
– Oh well, if you’re working, I shan’t bother the great magic of the writing genius, he replied, each syllabe resonating with the venom of jealousy, how dare she have a life outside of them? Them, Ziad and Lili! 
Yaaaay Ziad, score ya akhi! Go on, be aggressive, that’s the way to go! Why? Why did he need to be so stupid? Lili hated confrontation but she was neither weak nor a push over: she respected herself too much for that and would make sure, with her tone equal, her well modulated caramel like voice not raising above her usual tune, that the conversation stopped at that point. 
And true to form, his punishment came: 
– Well Ziad, if you’re calling me to aggress me, waste my time and be generally unpleasant, I think i ll just hang up now shall I? Have a nice day. 
Ziad stayed a long time with the receiver pressed to his ear, listening to it beeping, each beeping noise creating the rythm of that acute, universal yet unbearable, insanely inhuman feeling: loss. 
Later, he would use that noise in a song, he would try and put his confusion over himself and her into words and music, well organised music that made sense. But for now, he would keep on sitting at his desk, the receiver pressed to his handsome face, sorrow creasing his brow, his aquilin nose chiseled against the window like Chinese shadows, his black curls an entangled web encircling his face like a dark shadow.
Ziad broke up with Lili for no reason really, except that he felt he needed to be alone for a while, to ponder and reflect on where he wanted to go, what he wanted to do, and with whom. He liked to think of himself as an artist, he loved the tortured musician figure, his scraggly beard and appearance, the late nights with the boys, composing, drinking, smoking, the beauty of new music giving a background to the Beiruti powder pink dawn. Was he ready to kiss his fantasy goodbye for the commitment of a steady relationship with a woman, who, let’s be honest, he loved? 
Lighting a cigarette, he blew off the smoke, his heart beating fast, his brain working non stop. He couldn’t figure things out for himself. But he knew someone who could help. 
Grabbing his leather jacket (what else?), putting out his cigarette, he dialled the number of his sister Nina, running to her for comfort, and maybe, advice. 
Hope, yet again, had knocked on his door. 

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