Tales of the Phoenix City – 16

Dignity.

The word had a beautiful tone to it, a sound so rich and profound it felt like it was pounding streets by itself.

After the whole drama with Ziad, Lily had stayed up all night, tossing and turning, asking herself a hundred and one questions. Oddly, the questions pertaining to Ziad were not the most difficult ones: yes she loved him, but she was no fool, and she was not going to run back to his arms just because he had a kind of epiphany while roaming the streets of Istanbul. She needed time. They needed time. They could see each other, spend time together, and see where it would take them.
She had told Ziad as much while on the phone with him at Nina’s office. Nina had looked at her with something very akin to admiration and contentment. The unspoken approval of her friend had convinced her she was making the right decision.
It was odd, that after so many tears and questions, she had held back when he had come back. Something she forgot she had had knocked on her door, and that was her own will. And a little of self respect too.
Ziad seemed sheepish on the phone. He knew her well, he knew she was not one to take decisions lightly. He knew her serious nature, he knew she was not being coquettish or pretending to make him wait in vain. Lily had integrity, and that prevented her from being manipulative. Oh no Ziad only knew her too well, and in his mind she must have looked like some modern day Jane Eyre, a woman who could be passionately in love yet restrain herself if she thought it was not the best for her.
Good.
Her mood was anxious but not sad: the interrogations that inhabited her head were no melancholic soliloquies. The racing thoughts attempted a grasp at her life. She had been in Beirut for over three years now, writing aimlessly at her newspaper on life and style. Her last piece had almost made her throw up, as she went interviewing a famous party organizer who regularly threw half a million weddings and engagement parties, the pearls and gems on the vases full of extravagant, flashy flowers almost blinding her.

On her way back, she had seen the guy who always stands at the end of the Accaoui steep street, selling Chiclets. He was wearing his usual surgical mask, purportedly to shield him from the Beirut deathly fumes.

The sight sickened her. The inequalities tightened her chest. She felt worthless. What she had once thought to be the perfect easy job that would enable her to carry on her own research and writings on the side was beginning to feel like an ongoing advertisement for a system she only felt contempt for. When did style had stopped being a detail, a moment of grace in one’s appearance, manners or lifestyle and had started becoming the price tags on things and events people did not need? She was supposed to be writing about life, God damn it, and yet, life, real life, and not it’s reproduction on glossy papers, seemed absent from the pieces she wrote so dispassionately.

That night, Lily picked up her phone.
– Jesus Fucking Christ, for the Lord’s sake, whoever the fuck you are, just go and sleep and call me in about ten hours. Jesus!
Gabrielle was no woman to be awakened at the crack of dawn. Lily smiled in spite of her mortification at awakening her friend’s language and cranky mood.
– Ahem, habibti Gaby, don’t scream, it’s me. Lily.
– I swear, don’t habibi me, I swear, if you’ve woken me up to blab about Ziad for the umpteenth time, I shall be very rude to you, very, very rude indeed.
– But you’re rude anyway! Anyway, this is not about Ziad, and stop yelling you’ll wake Grace up and I only meant to wake you!
– You seem in an awfully good mood for someone who’s awake at this hour of day! Or is it night? I’m not quite sure. Gracie is still sleeping like the angel that she is, thanks to her earplugs. She’s a smart one, that girl, I should follow her lead.
– You can’t. You’ve taken an oath to be always on call, just like me and Nina, so shut up and stop complaining for about two seconds, so I can tell you while I’ve taken the risk to awaken the beast.
Lily heard the flick of a lighter and Gaby inhaling on her cigarette. She dived in.
– Look, I would like to give a new twist to my column…
– What, you’d like to interview rich old codgers on top of their wives?
– I remember distinctly to have asked you to shut up. Anyway, I’ll have you known that I precisely want to stop interviewing these people, and start giving a space for the people who actually bring the life and style to this city. You know, like the penniless student who’s dressed so flawlessly with her mom’s vintage clothes, or the old dekken bringing food to his older neighbors with his basket, or the group of friends smoking arguileh and diving into the sea on The Corniche. I want to see less fake noses Gaby, it’s making me lose a little bit if my soul, I feel like I’m selling myself and my skills to the people who can buy pages in our newspapers.
– Yeah Lily, of course, YOU’re an evil capitalist bitch.
– Laugh all you want, this is how I feel anyway, and I need your help. I need you to take splendid photos of my subjects. The paper might go with the new pitch easier if it looks immaculate and nice, even though they’ll push me to carry on with the old stuff. What do you think?
– I’m in, of course I’m in, now can I please go back to sleep? I’ll still be in in a couple of hours, and I might even be friendly.
– Go habibti, go. Thank you.

Sitting down in front of her window, the dove grey of the Beirut dawn sky blushing its pink hue, Lily turned on her computer.

– Now let’s see what we make of you, Beirut!

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