Tales of the Phonix City – Chapter 6

Ziad lit his cigarette and inhaled deeply. He had spent the whole night working on a new song and was pretty happy with the results. Sometimes, he felt he needed nothing more than his guitar, the diesel scented air of Beirut, his beloved sister Nina and his friends to be completely, utterly happy.
He was sitting on a rickety chair at his favorite cafe in Hamra, Bread Republic, a pot of freshly brewed coffee on his right, his favourite book on his left. His nose in the hair, he was for the moment idly watching the world go by, letting the rhythm of the hustle bustle of his city rock him softly, as if all the noises of the city merged into a unique lullaby specially designed to soothe him. His freshly washed hair glistening in the sun, his three days beard giving him a rougher air than usual, he really was handsome, even though he seemed completely oblivious of it. Except maybe when a particularly beautiful woman passed by, quickly glancing at him. There, he could read in her eyes, mirroring his, the bolt of desire, the sudden, fleeting spark that for a quick second would unite two perfect strangers. To Ziad, beautiful was not sleek hair, inflated breasts and bee-stung lips. His artist’s sensitivity would quite forbid it, and shied away from such plastic. His trained eye could see perfection in the aquiline shape of a nose, in the delicious pear shape of a body, in the drops of hazel in black eyes. Why the obsession with removing what was perceived as faults? Why the obsession, the need to look like everyone else? He had spent his life musing on the concept of perfection, on why it was so important to be perfect, to leave everything spotless, to have everything well and in order. Straight hair, straight nose, straight body, and no room for glorious curves, fizzy curls and crooked noses. He avoided the images of perfection like the plague: too much straightness was only almost always a facade for neurosis. In abundance. Put quite simply, It scared the hell out of him.
This is partly why he loved Beirut so much. In Beirut, the exuberance of life somehow managed to always give colours to the grayest areas, the shocking yellows, greens and reds of taxis merged with the ochres of the Potemkin like city center, the ruins of the Civil War acted like a reminder of atrocities that could still flare up at the drop of hat while the elegant grandeur of empty old town houses reminded the city of a glory past, something that could never be retrieved, the bitter sweet taste of having had, and lost, so much, so quickly. He liked the feeling that anything was still possible, even if the worst had been known and was still lurking in some corner, somewhere. A city on the edge, trying to live while keeping evil at bay: that was his Beirut, for better, or for worse.
God but this city could be paradise on earth sometimes. You could feel that Beirut was just a slab of concrete smashed on the Face of the earth, and all of a sudden, it looked like the screen was scrubbed clean and the horrible fog would lift and there it was, life itself, pure, unadulterated energy.
He always became quite philosophical, waxing lyrical when he was tired.
Tearing his eyes from the scene before him, he opened his book. The Catcher in the Rye had always been a subject of controversy between him and his sister.
– I don’t know why everyone, and you, Ziad, who after all should know better what with your degrees in English literature and all, is amaaaaaazed by this book. Honestly, it’s just the stupid story of a a teenager, or a sociopath in the making, who’s so bored and boring You just feel you want to slash your wrists with an envelope just to make the story go faster.
-Ente okhte you’ve always had an issue with teenagers. Anything you want to talk about? Then Ziad would always play the talk show host getting trying to get the truth out of his guests.
– Today, ladies and gentlemen, we receive Nina Haddad, famous designer and Catcher in the Rye Professional Hater. Nina, could you tell us what happened to you for you to despise so much J.D Salinger and his history of alienation?
He’d be perfect, getting everything right, the fake concerned intonation, the little nods indicating he was paying attention to the story, everything.
Nina would always end up bursting out laughing, telling him he was as much of a natural born actor that he was of a natural born musician.
Sipping his coffee, Ziad laughed to himself, playing the conversation in his head, when a movement caught his eye.
He lifted his head and tried to get a good look at who was the woman who was sitting next to him.
Was it?
Could it be?
The woman turned her head and Ziad bowed his again.
No, it was not Lili.
For all his song and dance about loving Bread Republic because of its organic products and locally sourced zaatar, the real reason behind Ziad infatuation with the place was that because it was right next to Lili’s house, and that it was a shrine for happy memories.
Which was why he kept coming back to it.
Which was why she probably kept avoiding it.
What is it that he wanted? The disappointment in not seeing her when he so wanted to run into her was just an indicator of how much of a selfish prick he could be sometimes. Arguing with himself, he berated his cowardice: he loved her, no question, otherwise why would he keep chasing her shadow? Yet he couldn’t be with her, couldn’t commit when he didn’t want to settle, couldn’t leave his music, his political activities, all for the love of a woman.
Suddenly, his guitar seemed hollow, his activities, childish, and a sentence, emerging from years of Marxism that had tried to conceal his Christian education resurfaced violently in his mind:
If I shall speak with every human and Angelic language and have no love in me, I shall be clanging brass or a noise-making cymbal.
Corinthians, 13:1.
He wasn’t particularly keen on drums but fair enough, he got the point. So he was a leftist, musician, noise-making cymbal that was nursing a heart ache of his own making.
In short, not much to be proud of.
He went back to his book, grateful to merge his feeling of alienation with Holden’s, when of course, who had to come with his sister and her friend Gabrielle?
Lili.
With an unidentified man.
Ziad wasn’t sure, but it seemed to him that the noisy cymbal that was his heart went something along the lines of fuck, fuck, fuckety fucker fuck.
At that precise moment, a car chose to drive by, all windows open, the rasping voice of Ziad Rahbani blaring from the speakers: 3aaayyyccchhhe wa7da balaaaakkk, wou bala 7obbak ya walad
Oh shut up Ziad! Screamed Ziad, and for one split second, Ziad wasn’t sure if he were admonishing the grumpy singer in the radio or the grumpy guitarist on the prickety chair.
One thing was sure: his name didn’t seem to be made for happiness and bliss.

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