Tales of the Phoenix City – 29

Gaby was watching the ever expanding frame of her friend, taking pictures of her as she moved bare foot on her tiled floor, draped in a large lacy poplin white nightshirt. Nina was looking tired in the Beirut sinking sun, the sweet autumn wind finding its way into the apartment through the half closed green shutters, gently caressing people and furniture, reminding them that there were good reasons to stay, too. In spite of everything. Nina was arranging on her tray the delicious looking fig jam and homemade sweet anise kaak Lily had brought back from the Bekaa valley, pondering if her hunger was greater than the nagging nausea that had plagued her throughout the 36 weeks of her pregnancy.

– Jesus Fucking Christ, for the love of all that is good and holy, how, just tell me how, does your body manage to accommodate that alien in your belly?
Nina smiled patiently. After all, this was a question she kept asking herself, about four hundred times a day.
– Well, I’m not even sure myself. Sometimes I stare at my body in utter wonder, thinking it’s the most perfect, clever thing in the world…
– Please spare us all the hippy talk I am begging you, interrupted Gabrielle, all this hoopla about your body and its abilities yawn yawn yawn
– Ma hek, if you left me finish. So I was saying, sometimes I am amazed by what I can do, and other times I just feel so, well, full, so heavy, and achy, and moody…
– Are you naming the seven dwarves?
– No seriously, that whole pregnancy thing is no walk in the park. I will never understand the women who claim to have never felt better than when they were pregnant. It’s a huge strain on yourself, on your body and emotions, it’s like this tidal wave of change, you don’t recognize yourself. Everything swells to accommodate a person you’re creating, a person you feel jab and poke at your insides and punch and kick you. Sometimes I’d be sitting down and it’s like my bump has already a life of its own, it goes crazy from one side to another. How odd is that? It’s happening to me yet I can’t wrap my head around it.
– Well, you’d better start wrapping your head around it, seeing as you’re giving birth in about four weeks.
– Yeah no, i’m not.
Gaby started and looked up from her objective, trying to assess her friend’s tone.
– You’re not?
– I’m not.
– Okay then. What do you propose will happen? Will you keep that child inside your womb for all eternity, kangaroo style?
– No no,they shall take that child out of me, but I do not plan on ‘giving birth’ and ‘laboring’ and participating or cooperating in any way to the delivery of that baby. I’ll just let modern medicine do what it does best: fix things.
– You scared?
– To fucking death. The pain, Gaby, how does one bear the pain? I hear all that talk by the midwives about how beautiful and manageable everything is through breathing but i’m like, ‘quit lying to me, if breathing magically made the pain go away, women would not beg for epidurals and oxygen and the shit loads of drugs they ask for, half crying’. I’m not gonna lie Gaby, i am seriously wondering about how people deal with the fucking pain. I demand to know.
– Wait, I’ll go back to my extensive experience in giving birth to 14 children. How the fuck do I know? The whole process seems so foreign and remote to me. A bit like China.
– Nina chuckled, trying to get comfortable in her vintage upholstered wicker chair, putting her swollen feet up. Gaby resumed her frantic picture taking.
– May I ask why you’re all over me with your camera? You look like a paparazzi chasing Kim Kardashian.
– Who?
– Never mind. Just stop taking pictures of the sorry mess that I have become. And since we’re on the subject, please stop likening my vagina and its upcoming torture to China.
– Oh for fuck’s sake, can we please stop with the whole pity party? I am told many, many women have done what you’re about to do before. Apparently it’s even very probable that your body will know what to do by itself. So breathe. Didn’t they teach you anything in that drab, God forsaken prenatal classes of yours? Grace came with you and she bored me into a proper stupor with talk of dilatation and effacement and perineum and pushing and ‘managing the pain’ by breathing and whatnots. Seriously, if you could handle the pain of the preparation to the whole ordeal, you’ll do just fine at the event itself. Oh and by the by, I take pictures because you’ve never been so beautiful and I want to frame a couple of those for your child to see how perfect her mother was while carrying her.
– I didn’t know you were such a thoughtful, kind poet.
– Well, there I fucking go, the sensitivity of Verlaine trapped in the body of Patti Smith
Nina planted her eyes in her friends’. The intense gaze rattled Gaby, who stopped being flippant and held Nina’s gaze with the same intensity and gravity. Now was not the time for jokes.
– Seriously, Gabrielle. What am I doing? Did you see the state of the country and the world I am bringing that child in? Am I doing the ultimate selfish thing? I don’t really care about my child not really having a ‘father’ figure…
– Yes she will, she’ll have me!
– Seriously, ‘father figure’ simply doesn’t mean anything anyway, except maybe patriarchal oppressor. But I feel like I am under so much pressure. My body is definitely not my own anymore, by nature’s design and by people’s will, by the constant stream of ‘well wishers’, telling me I should give birth without medication, telling me I should breastfeed because it’s better, and don’t even get me started on all the parenting advice perfect strangers are showering on me. Sometimes i just feel like escaping but It’s like I’m stuck. I just would like to be able to claim my life and body back, but people are trying to sell to me the sacrificing, long suffering mother stereotype as the ultimate and best mother figure that could ever exist and I just don’t want this for myself, and i don’t want my child growing up thinking it’s ok and normal to be a slave to motherhood.
– Your tangled web of questions has confused me,not the least because i think, of all your organs, the most fucked up as of now, is your brain. Since when did you start caring about what people say? Seriously, you’ve been renting your body for the past nine months, bloody do what you want to do with it when it’s over. You’ve always been your own person, I don’t see why that should change. Raise your child the way you want to, telling her what you think is right and then let her make her own experiences. The way I see it, just let people’s remarks and comments slide off your back and carry on.
– You know, you’re a good cheerleader…
Gabrielle saw where this was going.
– No, please, no
– And as a good cheerleader and my best friend, I’d like you to come with me the day I give birth
– OOooh for fuck’s sake, Jesus Fucking Christ, no, fuck, no, don’t do this to me, Jesus, no, can you imagine me with the blood and the cutting of things, and the whole butchering, no, I’ll probably be taking pictures for my gore collection instead of helping you anyway, seriously, take Grace, she’s strong and responsible and lovely and has been to the classes, or Lily, she’ll sing hippy welcoming songs to your child, don’t take me, please
– I want you. You won’t let them bullshit me when i’m vulnerable.
– But
– I want you. Gabrielle, will you be my ‘birthing partner’?
– Oh Jesus Fucking Christ, yes i will but don’t ever, ever refer to me again as birthing partner. Ever.
– Good, said Nina, closing her eyes and relaxing. You were not hard to convince after all.
– I feel like i’ve been manipulated in some way, mumbled Gabrielle, fixing her filter yet again. Fuck.

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter I

A great admirer of the Tales of the City from American author Armistead Maupin, I love the serialized version the books were initially published in. I am therefore trying a little experiment here, publishing a new story (I don’t know where it will take me, but come along with me for the ride!) in a series version. Hope you Enjoy!

Lili looked up from her article to gaze at the bustling street below her. Hamra never seemed to get any rest or sleep, always a mixture of hip and trendy youth working for social media startups, artists, students trying to recapture the leftist revolutionary flavor the neighbourhood had once been home of, tourists and foreigners reveling in the Beiruti eclectic uniqueness between two Arabic classes, women efficiently going on about their business, taxi drivers waiting for naive pockets to empty and hapless street vendors watching the world go by. The 9awmiyyeh flags waved softly in the diesel scented breeze, sporting a symbol singularly akin to a fascist one, as if marking their territory: here shall no enemy enter.

Or beware of the dreadful consequences, thought Lili, remembering how she’d heard some acquaintances declare they were purely and simply afraid to go to Hamra, following the beatings they received at the hands of the 9awmiyyeh shabeb during a demonstration.

The flags were the only thing that bothered Lili in the microcosm of a street she had learned to call home. She loved her neighborhood, the way she loved Beirut, with a kind of absurd forgetfulness about all the things that went usually wrong in it, cursing one minute only to get a feeling of absolute adoration the next, vowing eternal fidelity to the decrepit buildings and entangled webs of electricity cables.

Lili had first come to Beirut 3 years ago, on a research trip that was originally scheduled to last six months. She had come at a point in her life where she had virtually no anchorage, nothing and no one to hold on to, to make her feel safe. Her mothers, a successful photographer, was always booked on shoots on the other side of the world, while her father had long deserted her and her mother and was now building orphanages in Cambodia. Lili often wondered where the humanity lied on saving everyone’s children except his, but never voiced it out loud, because to her open conflict was like poison that would seep into her veins, setting down deeply in her bones. She therefore swallowed her anger and pain, sublimating them in tortured verses that she found so ridiculous she hid in a locked folder of her computer.  She came to Beirut while conducting a research on Middle Eastern politics for her Masters thesis. What she had thought to be a short term stay turned out into a love story with the whole country. She had come to immerse herself in another world: three years later, she felt she was still learning things everyday.

Now a journalist for an English language newspaper, she felt her life needed a change, yet another one, but she had no clear direction on where she wanted to go. Sitting at her desk in her high ceiled flat inundated by the citrus bright sun, she felt a gray taste in her mouth, the taste of things that were taking way too long to come, the taste of frustration and bereavement. Something inside of her deeply resented the sadness that Ziad’s departure from her life caused, and so she had learned to suppress any negative feeling. True to form, once she realized where her thoughts had drifted she forced herself to wake up from her daydreaming and return to concentrating on her article.

She was responsible for the Style and Living section of the newspaper, very far away from her degree and interest as a political analyst, but she preferred to be paid to write about lifestyle than for her political opinions to be constrained and dictated by the editorial line of a newspaper. She therefore divided her time between interviewing plastic over made up wedding planners during the week and going on road trips to remote areas of Lebanon to talk to villagers, refugees and political figures. This duality suited her, it made her feel whole.

She was in the middle of her article on a hot new Lebanese designer who was getting excellent reviews for her embroidery work when her phone rang, breaking the serene atmosphere of her afternoon. A shiver ran down her spine when she read the name on the blaring screen.