Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 9

Gabrielle felt incredibly happy. Getting ready to drop by Lili’s, she was thinking about the business she had just started, her very own hybrid graphic design/ photography lab. She had done It for herself, but also for Grace, her beloved girlfriend of five years. Theirs has been a tortuous path, one that was lined with obstacles:hatred from society, incomprehension and guilt from their families, and ultimately, love for each other and acceptance from their true friends. Five years of emotional lifts to finally arrive at a plateau of relative calm and serenity, feeling like a lovely quiet home after a gruelling day.

She wished Lili could feel the same, but knew better than to interfere too much in her friend’s innermost feelings. Unlike Nina, who could behave like the most obnoxious Lebanese mother with her friends and still get away with it, Gabrielle dealt more easily with concrete actions, purposefulness and rational decisions. She was not born this way, but life, with its unexpected twists and turns, had wired her to only be able to swear and curse and come across as strong and hard as nails. Sometimes, she even felt it was true, that she had had to fight so many difficult battles, she couldn’t possibly be bothered any more by the never ending autopsies of hurt feelings over coffee. Try and come out to your Lebanese family while studying, working, and trying to keep your relationship together and then come back and see if the indecisiveness of a spoilt brat such as Ziad had the same impact on you.  

Yet Gabrielle felt Lili’s pain acutely and would have gleefully told Ziad what she thought of him had he not be Nina’s brother and her friend’s great love. Perhaps she’d be more useful to Lili when Lili decided she wanted to get over Ziad once and for all: for now, her pain was too raw for anyone to be able to do anything.

Putting on her jacket, she opened the kitchen door where Grace was experimenting new recipes. Living with Grace, or so she felt, was like living with a deliciously fragrant ray of sunshine. A chef, Grace loved to let her creativity loose by reinventing traditional recipes, adding spices here and a little less sugar there, creating odes to the country they both loved dearly despite and in spite of its numerous thorns. She had always hated the “love it or leave it’ mentality. Who had declared that weird notion that if you loved something you shouldn’t and weren’t even allowed to criticize it? Lebanon had a million and one things wrong with it, and not mentioning them would not be a sign of love, but rather, of acute hypocrisy and blindness.

Entering the kitchen, she felt the wonderful smells fill her nostrils, and amidst them all, her beloved, her hair tied back covered by a keffieh, her apron neatly tied behind her back, looking as if she was in trance over a steaming pot.

– Oh devilish witch, what pagan mixture are you brewing?

Grace gave a chuckles and a start. She loved it when Gaby pretended she was a witch enthralling people with her tantalizing blends.

– I, beloved child, am rediscovering the well known desert of Mhalabbiyyeh, measuring orange blossom water and a hint of rose water, debating if a pinch of cinnamon is advisable, leaving the condensed milk to brew with the Maizena, but, no! Oh No! Don’t even think for a moment that you shall be allowed to taste it before it is neatly sitting in my gorgeous mismatched cups covered in ground pistachios and raisins!

Grace’s quick hand swiftly hit Gabrielle’s own hand that had wandered a little too close to her precious desert.

– Behave yourself! If this version of Mhalabiyyeh is successful and as delicious as I’m suspecting it will be we will have to include it in the book!

– I will take the most beautiful pictures to glorify the most wonderful food Lebanon has ever seen, of this you can rest assured, smiled Gabrielle.

– Where are you off to?

– Nina has gotten in her head to have that customer of hers, Yasmin, renounce her upcoming wedding with that dreadful, incredibly rich fiancé she thinks she absolutely needs to marry not to wind up alone and suicidal. Believe me I’d rather work with you on the cookbook so we can progress design wise and choose the color palette, but our sweet crazy friend seems to deem  it necessary that she offers as many examples of the Great Diversity of Love, in all caps if you may, to that Beiruti Princess, so that she can see one can be happy outside society’s normative box.

Grace beamed at her.

– Nina can’t help herself, she has to be a protective mother to everyone except to herself, beamed Grace. I do love her for it. Go, do your intervention, then we’ll have plenty of time to work. Yalla! Go save that poor girl from the claws of society, or from Nina’s embrace, I don’t know what’s worse!

With a slight movement, Gabrielle pecked her girlfriend, stole a freshly baked almond-hazelnut coffee, avoided another pat on her guilty fingers and dashed outside, taking another helmet for Lili to ride her motorcycle with her.

Lili was waiting for her in front of the old fashioned blue door of her building, the beautiful gardenia tree blossoming above her, generously shielding Lili’s thin frame from the sun while filling the air around her with its sweet pungent smell.

– You look like death, boomed Gabrielle by way of greeting.

– That’s probably because I feel like it, retorted Lili grabbing the helmet from her friend. I’m never ever approaching alcohol ever again. From now on, just call me Lili Rose Water Drinker.

– Just stop kissing twisted bastards, you’ll be just fine.

By the wobbly smile and watery eyes she made out behind the helmet, Gabrielle understood full well it wasn’t one, but two interventions that were needed that day.


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