The rain seemed to provide the right soundtrack to the heavy silence between the three people seated on the plush poufs and couches Nina had had especially made from Barjis. Bucketloads of fat droplets pouring over the warm grayness of Beirut, drenching the dusty city, giving it an air of sharp cleanness, an aura of fresh start. As streams of water scrubbed Beirut from its lies and dishonesty, Nina felt the conversation she was having with her mother under the benevolent presence of Ziad was doing much of the same: wiping away the pretense to reveal only the essential, the pure light of what matters, feeble attempts at the truth.
Her bump was now slightly showing, and she closed her hands on it, scooping the pulsating life in her embrace, giving it warmth as it was giving her strength. The ashen face of her mother would have defeated a lesser woman, but Nina soldiered on with the stubbornness of someone whose decision is final.
Mama, I’m not doing this to spite you.
Her mother took another gulp of coffee. It was remarkable how thin her mouth could become, how the soft plumpness of her features could harden this much. A tiny part of Nina felt incredibly guilty for the ordeal she knew she was putting her through, while the freedom monster she harbored and that had led her to take her own decisions from an early age on, confronting stupid prejudice and society’s raised eyebrows at her actions, was roaring that this was her life and her body and that very few people were actually concerned by the choices she chose to make, ie, when it came down to it, no one but herself.
Mama, please say something.
Ziad’s unusually soft voice made their mother let out a deep guttural sigh and acted as a caress on Nina’s agitated soul. No matter how low she was, no matter how anguished, the presence and support of her brother were her treasured comfort. She had not wanted him to be there, yet he had come, rising above her somewhat childish urge to do things on her own, to rely on herself and herself only. ‘I am an autonomous being, and I don’t need my hand to be held, thank you very much’ had been her greeting when he entered her flat this morning, to which he had replied, in true Gabrielle fashion ‘ Jesus Fucking Christ, just because you can doesn’t mean you have to’. That had riveted her, and he had seized this moment to close the door behind him and started busying himself with making coffee. ‘You’ll see, she won’t be that bad, I mean, you already told her on the phone’. After repeating twenty times over that things were going to be fine, Ziad finally shut up and they had sat together in expectation of their mother heavy step on the threshold.
And now here they were, the three remnants of their family, sitting in a triangle of tension and reflection, their souls strained to their breaking point, the absence of their father and husband now more daunting and cruel than ever. Nina was sitting next to the semi opened window, unconsciously rocking her body to the sound of the storm, watching Beirut idly go by, oblivious of big and small tragedies and joys alike, carrying on with being equally a city of chaos and wonder, Ziad perched on the edge of the club armchair, his whole body leaning towards their mother, in a posture of anxious expectation and their mother, between the two of them, sitting on the edge of her seat as it to signify very clearly that this was not to be a long visit, that she was by no means staying.
You will have to get married.
Those six words set something off in Nina, as if her mother had detonated the hand grenade she had turned into.
No, I don’t. And I won’t.
The words were scarce and measured, sharp bullets fired at the wall of propriety her mother had built her world on. Ziad seemed to cower at the simmering anger slowly building up between the two of them. This was a war of wills whose outcome he wasn’t sure of.
What do you mean, you won’t? Do you think I will stand being shamed by my own daughter’s behaviour? Do you think I shall show my face to my friends after everyone has spoken about you until blue in the face? Pregnant and unwed! There is no glory in that you know, nothing to be proud of.
At this, Nina stood up, her delicate frame chiseled against the acid Beiruti light.
Mama. I love you, but if you think for one second that I give a damn about what your friends might think you’re cruelly mistaken. I will not be part of this circus you call good society, where the most evil of acts are hushed up, talked in low, muttering conversations behind closed doors, where pretense is the norm and hypocrisy is celebrated. I will not get married because I don’t want to. No need to look so shocked, I’m not done yet. Mama, please open your ears widely: yes, I have sex. Yes I had sex with this man who, frankly, I don’t know that well. I got pregnant, and I’ve made up my mind. I shall keep this baby because I have the privilege of deciding. The father doesn’t even know yet, I’ve decided to tell you before I tell him because honestly, after I’ve told you there’s no one I can’t take on anymore. I’ve made up my mind and it’s not for you, or him, or society to decide for me what I want and how I want it, it’s not for anyone to decide in my place what I choose to do with my body. And not mama, I won’t nor will I have you pretend that I’m going abroad or I don’t know what. I will give birth to this child in front of everyone in the smack banging middle of se7et el burj if I have to, but I shall not hide. Every day I see war criminals and crooks speak on my TV and they’re not hiding, while they should be covering their heads in shame. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m telling you, not asking for your blessing, your advice or your opinion.
Then I’ll leave, now shall I?
Banging her coffee cup on the wooden table, their mother exited the flat, making the door bang while she went, leaving a gaping hole in Nina’s heart.
After what seemed like an eternity, Ziad’s voice brought Nina back to the shores of life, while she felt his hand on her shoulder, bringing her into a hug.
She’ll get over it. Give her time. Now, how would you like to arrange the birth on Sa7et el Burj? Should we put up a marquee with a sign ‘Unwed Designer Gives Birth to Child: 5000 LL to watch’?
From somewhere deep against her brother’s chest, Nina’s laughter met her tears.