Ruisseaux et Rivières 

  
Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent.

Et les grandes rivières, celles faites de détritus amoncelés, aussi nauséabonds que leurs tas de mensonges, elles font quoi? 

Je vais vous le dire, moi ce qu’elles font.

Elles font des vagues, qui murmurent au début, et puis qui grondent, qui grondent, qui roulent sous le ciel de plomb pour venir s’échouer aux pieds des menteurs, des voleurs, des criminels, ceux en cols blancs bien amidonnés, ceux bien droits dans leurs bottes, ceux bien à l’abri dans leurs voitures blindées. Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ça n’a pas toujours la forme que l’on croit, il leur est très facile de se camoufler à coup de respectabilité, de mots creux, de repassage des consciences et d’endormissement des rumeurs. 

Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ce sont comme les poubelles qui s’amoncellent, ça pue et il faut s’en débarrasser. Les menteurs, les voleurs, les criminels, ça ne sert à rien, ça pollue, ça infecte. Allez hop, un grand coup de balai! 

Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent, et de ces grandes rivières naissent des vagues, de gros remous qui font tanguer la barque de la corruption, qui chavirent l’esquif de la cupidité et qui ne laissent rien derrière eux qu’une plage dévastée à nettoyer, un horizon lavé de ses maux, prêt à renaître dans sa pureté retrouvée. 
Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes rivières, qu’ils me disent.

Et les grandes rivières, maman, qu’est-ce qu’elles font? 

Les grandes rivières, ma chérie, elles font la révolution. 

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 28

Lily loved the atmosphere at Em Nazih.
She’d come in the afternoons, when the hustle bustle of Beirut was kept to a minimum, shielded from the craziness by the small stone terrace tucked away in a tiny alley off Gemmayzeh.
She came to write in peace, the soft humming of the distant noise rocking her into concentration, her thoughts and agile fingers on her keyboard only interrupted by the sweet clinking of glasses and arguileh being cleaned. She felt at home, working away and taking her time to talk to Ali, one of the staff members, or with one of the daughters of the owners who taught Arabic to the plethora of alternative youth and possible secret services undercovers calling Beirut home for about three months. Rana, Nada and Nivine were all equally delightful and funny and Lily relished the moments she spent with them, all the while stuffing her face with the delicious batata harra made by their mother. The spices and coriander tickled her tongue while she laughed at Nivine’s latest tale of her pupils who often seemed puzzled to say the least by Lebanon in general and Beirut in particular. During these moments, she always felt incredibly lucky to live here, flaws and all. She had started to train herself in seeing beauty in the littlest things and it hit her hard just how much beauty there was going around.
Em Nazih’s tenants and patrons were a mix of Lebanese taking a breather from a city that could be overwhelming at the best of times and Western and Arab tourists and students learning Arabic and getting to know a country they only knew through the vilifying lens of their media back home. The bewildered looks on their face showed just how much they had trouble processing the clash between representation and reality. Em Nazih’s crowd was a melting pot of artists, secret agents, declared and underground revolutionaries, students, researchers, tourists, family and friends of the owners and staff. It was a place where good food met serious whispers, where laughter died in the fragrant smoke of the Arageel and where the cries of triumph of lucky backgammon players melted away in the frenetic honking that was Beirut’s regular soundtrack.

However, Lily had no time today to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Today, she was writing a piece on a new young woman author whom Gabrielle knew through her gazillion networks. The author had just launched her latest novel which dealt with two women in Aleppo trying to forget their damaged past and forge a future for themselves (these feminists, thought Lily, you can’t ask them the time of day without them writing a novel on women’s paths and oppression and stereotyping and whatnots). She had enjoyed the book nonetheless, and thought featuring the author in her column along with a photoshoot by Gabrielle could make a nice little piece.

And so there she was, taking notes for her article while Gaby’s voice in the back garden resonated against the stone walls. Grace was also there to assist Gabrielle, and perhaps, just perhaps, to soften the blow that could be Gabrielle’s personality. Poor little author.
Except the author seemed to be taking a great liking in Gaby, sharing the same vision as her friend and furthering her suggestions.

– Right, sit down in front of this door! Great, show me your hand with the rings! Grace, habibi, where is the cherry lip gloss? We could really work with some colors here!

Lily watched as the author put on more make up. Gabrielle really had a good eye: the author was wearing a deep mint green midi dress with matching green open toed ballet flats adorned with golden butterflies, topped with a lavender belt. The deep pink lipstick made her black eyes and hair stand out. Gaby had her pose in front of a pinkish door, her back to a weather beaten wall. The overall effect was urban, a tad melancholic and romantic with an edge, which suited the atmosphere of her book just fine.

– Tayb, now try and climb on this ledge.
The author’s eyebrows went up to her hairline.
– Listen Gaby, I do not climb ledges. As a matter of fact, I am not known for my climbing, or for my motor skills for that matters, so excuse me, but I think I will not go anywhere near that ledge.
Gabrielle looked a little discomfited while Lily and Grace stifled a laugh. Gaby didn’t seem to know what to do with this highly unusual opposition. A look to Grace who was busying herself with the make up bag to mask her hilarity had her frown, then laugh as well.

– Fine, no ledge. Jesus Fucking Christ, I hate divas. Yalla, sit down in front of this derelict door and turn your head this way!
– Much obliged, piped the author with a playful smile.

Lily was enjoying this column more than she had thought. The clicking of Gabrielle’s camera to her back, she started gathering the notes of her earlier interview with the author, making it into a coherent, witty and informative text. At some point, she had asked the author if she, like one of her characters, had a way too keep on fighting when life threw hardships at her. The author had this quirky response Lily had not paid attention to before.

Yes I do. It’s going to sound supremely stupid and cheesy, but it helps me nonetheless. When I feel like I can’t cope with life anymore, I shake myself and ask myself ‘what would Beyonce do?’. Seriously, can you imagine this woman being depressed or taking crap from anything or anyone? She’d sass them into oblivion. Now as a feminist, I see clearly how she participates to an industry that oppresses women in many ways but regardless of that. She exudes force and control and just sheer vibe of life. So I instantly picture myself like Beyonce in an impossible headdress, sky-scrapers heels clicking away as I pound the floor looking at life and shaking my head like ‘Oh no no no, this ain’t how it’s going to happen’. And yes I feel better’.

Writing this, Lily paused and took a sip of her Turkish coffee.

What would Beyonce do?
Huh.

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 27

This isn’t over.
He said it with a definite air. His crestfallen face tugged at her heart yet she shook herself and stood firmly her ground.
– I believe it is.
– Why the fuck are you doing this?
She sighed. He was not going to make things easy.
– I am not trying to push you away or to try and make you disappear. I’m just telling you I am keeping this baby and if you want to be involved that’s great we’ll have to work it out but I will not, shall not, marry you.
– It’s the right thing to do.
– It’s precisely why I don’t want to do it.
He folded his arms in a self protective fashion, pushing her out in a defiant stance. Jesus, she should have done this in a public space. This way he couldn’t have made a scene.
– This isn’t over.
– You already said that.
– You’re not going to be able to smarten your way out of this one.
He Was starting to get on her nerve.
– I believe the bump you see where my stomach should be is the living proof that I’m not trying to get out of anything, apart maybe from a lifetime with an almost stranger that I would marry because it’s the right thing to do.
She stopped and gulped some water. God she felt like vomiting. This pregnancy business was no walk in the park.
She needed to calm down. After all, she had just dropped a huge bomb on him and he was only trying to do what he thought was the right thing. But somehow, her courage seemed to be growing alongside her baby.
– Listen, Shadi.
He raised his eyes at the mention of his name.
– I know this isn’t easy. I know you must feel trapped or lost or even angry right now.
She paused. They had only talked about her. It hadn’t really even occurred to her to ask him how he felt about all this, save for telling him she Was not to marry him.
– Now that you mention It, how are you feeling?
His raised eyebrows and the flicker of a smile That passed on his face made her exhale for the first Time in the last hour. Perhaps It would not have to Be this hard.
– Well, first of all, thanks for asking.
She couldn’t place the sarcasm for sure. Let It go let It go she urged herself. Soon it’ll all be over and you will return back to your life of creation, on your workshop, with your assistant teetering on her high heels, polishing her nails in neon pink while convincing an umpteenth magazine to cover your brand. Just bear with him for a bit.
– I’m pretty damn happy.
She chocked on the ginger tea she was sipping in a desperate attempt at quenching her nausea.
– excuse me?
– Well yeah, I’m obviously not happy at the stark rejection you’re offering me on a silver plate, but I am happy at the prospect of having a child. With you, he added as an afterthought. I like you Nina. There’s something about you that warms my insides, somewhere next to my heart.
God why weren’t pregnant women allowed cigarettes?
– You don’t have a heart. You try and buy up perfectly happy small businesses for a living remember? You’ve tried buying up mine.
– Then you had sex with me if my memory isn’t cheating me?
She sprung to her feet. She’d had enough of this.
– D’you know? I’m a tired pregnant girl who’s in a desperate need for a nap and less drama. So bump, meet father, father, meet bump, it’s all lovely and nice, now please exit my house. Chop chop, don’t drag your feet.
– But…but
– But.. But nothing, this conversation is over. You and I are not having a child together, I am having a child and if you want to be involved then all the better but don’t you are come to my house and spring this happy shit on me, we’re not a family in that little Kodak moment you seem to have built in your head. Now bye.

The sharp noise of the door slamming was still ringing in her ears when Yasmine came in with the latest coverage of Nina’s dresses. As usual, Yasmine was dressed to the nines: her YSL sandals high as ever clickety-clicking on the beautiful old-fashioned tiles of her home, her perfectly cut 7 for all mankind skinny jeans an exquisite shade of blue, a simple oversized white top topped with a chunky statement necklace completing her look, Nina told herself she could not have picked a better assistant/PR girl. Her appearance screamed ‘I’m a DIVA and if you don’t oblige me I shall whine you into oblivion’, which guaranteed good coverage, which kept sharks like Shadi at bay and ensured clients kept coming to have their wedding dresses designed by the new hot designer, aka Nina Haddah, as long as she was in the papers and that word of mouth worked in her favour.

Yasmine had gained some self-confidence in the past few weeks, trying to rebuild bridges with her family while working on her independence which proved to be difficult at times to say the very least, so it was with a bit of surprise that Nina to see Yasmine plump herself on her chintz couch, take off her eyeglasses to reveal dark circles and reddened eyes.

– It’s been a while since the last time I saw you look like a rabbit in a hole like that. What’s happened?
– Nothing.

The answer came sharply, knifing the peaceful afternoon with acrimonious dryness, Yasmine’s tone a shield to ward off any attempt at comforting. Nina knew better than to fight it, and simply grabbed a box of tissues and the last issue of Oriental Elle, where her Grecian one- shoulder tulle and silk crepe dress was being showcased. Absent-mindedly, she turned a page, while handing over the box of tissues to Yasmine, who was quietly crying on the sofa, her honeyed tone hair gracefully falling on her delicate tanned shoulders.

– Life is a cross to bear after the other, as my devout mother who doesn’t speak to me any more would say. What’s the new cross habibi?

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 26

A worrier.
The word sounded so much like warrior, except their meaning was worlds apart. Did warriors ever worry? And if so, how did they manage to hide it?
As the bitter humid cold of the Beiruti winter seeped through her window, Lily rearranged the blanket around her shoulders and watched the fading lights of the Simmering City. Warriors did worry. Underneath. Like Beirut, always in a state of on edge expectation, waiting to see where the next bullet, the next bomb, the next power cut, will be coming from, yet undeniably a warrior, her bullet holes her battle scars, her survival, the accomplishment of heroes.
Several cars passed softly in her street, mostly services drivers roaming through the streets in their old rusty Mercedes, more comfortable in the quietness of night, hoping to catch early risers and late party goers staggering home mumbling and laughing in their inebriated state.
Ziad was asleep in her room, sleeping the sleep of lovers’ bliss, his tangled curly hair spread on the pillow, his pale skin even whiter against the soft grey of the sheets.
They had resolved nothing, they have dealt with nothing. He had gotten back to her and she had opened her door, however reluctant she might have been, she still could not kid herself.
She still had opened her door. And he still came back. For how long? And for what?

The pinkish hue of dawn took her away from her reverie for a moment, and she sat there, watching the pitch black night turn into indigo, watching Beirut waking up, the lights flickering in flats and apartments turning into the sleepy eyes of the city, half fluttering as if in a daze of a dream. How was it that such craziness could be so peaceful? How was it that the angry, boiling, deafening cacophony turned into a quiet, soft, magnolia scented, haven in the wee hours of day? The sea breeze caught her off guard and she closed her eyes.

Things had to change. Something, anything. It had nothing and it had everything to do with Ziad. He wanted a statu quo with her, some place where he could figure out what he wanted while benefiting from their relationship. They were so good together, yet Lily could not help but feel cheated, taken advantage of. He had demands. He had questions. What about her? What were her needs? What were her questions? She wanted everything but a statu quo. She wanted to feel her life in motion, like sand trickling through an open palm. She envied Gabrielle for being unapologetic, she envied Nina for her unborn child, for her strength. She envied everyone who seemed to have a rough idea of what they truly wanted and just went for it. She wanted to be like Beirut. She wanted to be a resistant. She wished for the pulse of life of the city to enter her heart and never leave, never let go of her.

She realized this desire for change had matured and matured in her head until she had decided to do something about it and had shifted the focus on her column. Finally something she was actually proud of.
She glanced at the open newspaper spread before her and felt a tiny glimmer of pride at the sight of her article on Alexandre Paulikevitch, a dancer and choreographer of such breathtaking talent his show had brought tears to her eyes. Not that she needed much at the moment, anything seemed to set her off. Watching alexandre’s graceful frame twirl into the spotlight, his crazy curly hair dancing a dance of their own, she had felt outside of her own body for once, her being taken away by the energy created on stage. If only I could be as free as his mane of hair.
Where did all this waterworks come from?
She could hear Ziad muttering in his sleep, oblivious of her internal turmoil.

In what seemed to become a pattern, she picked up the phone.
– For fuck’s sake.
– What happened to Jesus?
– He’s asleep as you should be. Why oh why do you always feel the need to call me at some ungodly hour? Why? It’s not because I always wear black that I m a tortured artist or some shit and don’t sleep you know. I do sleep. In fact, I very much like it.
– Are you done?
– Not even nearly done. What’s up?
– My life is at a stand still.
– Mabrouk
– I mean it. What do I do?
– Jesus Fucking Christ! Fuck! Lily! No wonder your life is at a standstill if you wait for other people to tell you what to do. You know what to do you just don’t have the guts to do it! Shake your life out! Lily?
– I’m listening.
Gabrielle’s voice came back softer.
– Tear your life apart and keep what you love.
– And let it kill me?
-You’re right. It’s a perfect time for Bukowski.
The silence in her phone only seemed to bolster her. She had a lot of courage to muster.
She had some fights to pick.

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 25

 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.

How to Live with a Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head (Or Becoming His)

You’re not sure. The symptoms are creeping up on you, taking you off guard. You’re not sure but you might very well be, gasp, in the process of becoming a revolutionary.
Needless to say, it kind of shook you.
The first time you saw it happen, you watched it from afar, like someone watching a train wreckage, fascinated yet unable to do anything about it. It was when the Rev was virulently criticizing the muslim brotherhood, stating they were not socio-democrats, making a parallel with Kerensky: Kerensky! That traitor! They are not like Kerensky ! We shall boycott the referendum in Egypt! Let us not legitimize something that can never be legitimized! And instead of pinching him and reminding him he was NOT Egyptian and therefore had little to say in the matter, let alone actually vote on it, you surprised yourself by thinking: ah Kerensky, that Menshevik. How did you know he was a Menshevik? At the time you didn’t really pay attention to it, thinking that you went to university after all and might actually remember a thing of two. When you shared your concerns with the Rev about your sense of impeding doom, he called knowing your Mensheviks from your Bolsheviks ‘the basics’ and seemed utterly unimpressed.
But the dread stayed with you.
You soon came to realized you knew the lyrics of l’Internationale. Not that you actually liked it, but still, you knew it nonetheless. Then the symptoms started piling up at an alarming rate, without you always noticing. You started having nervous fits causing you to insult the TV and throw things at it, frothing at the mouth, every time you saw Marine Le Pen on the news, while the Rev was explaining how much of a myth it was that workers voted for the far right in France and that there was a need to deconstruct this myth and make it appear that it was indeed that evil class, the petit-bourgeois, these reactionary heretics, that were to blame.
You started humming to Bella Ciao at unexpected times.
You went to a Revolutionaries meeting, and actually participated instead of rolling your eyes so far back into your head they did a 360. You did realize it was in a God Forsaken basement with a dreadful lamp giving the room a depressing light making your skin look gray and under normal circumstances, the bourgeois spoilt brat that you are would have laughed and belted it to some cozy café (Note: NOT Starbucks. Never Starbucks. You’re not that bad), but this time you stayed and actually gave some input.
At the end, the Rev, the Chair if the meeting (what else?) warmly congratulated you. The happy look on his face was the seal that translated your lingering anxiety into something articulable: you. were.on.a.slippery slope. You tried poking fun at him but your heart wasn’t in it, you had other things to worry about. What if it were irreversible and you were stuck in a state of permanent revolution, starting boring people into a stupor each time you would meet them, arguing until the Rapture about the difficult position of the left vis à vis the Syrian crisis?
As usually happens, Beirut saved you. Following four hours of flight and incessant infant screaming, you were in a right mind to 1) force feed Xanax to the next child you saw and 2) give a lecture to inapt parents about telling your child off when said four year old child was screaming for the sake of it, just to test his voice or something. The Rev, always the humanist, was playing with the kids, spotted an elderly couple and helped them with their luggage. Sneering, you spat: what now Abouna Rev, shall we wait to help more people with their children/luggage/life?
You had made fun of him AND you had called him Abouna, which is not as bad as being called a Stalinist but is still a religious title nonetheless, and we all know what the Rev thinks about organized religion.
You were back.

How To Live With A Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head, Or Co-opting His

336px-Hipster_trotsky

 

The Revolutionary has been following this column with ever increasing concern now. ‘What are you saying about me again? Please make sure the facts are accurate, you never know, we might recruit more people through your series’. Needless to say, the Rev has not understood the very concept of fiction (although sometimes I wish the content of my column was fiction), and needless to say, the Rev is delusional. I’m not recruiting anyone; I’m giving out hope to fellow people living with revolutionaries. We shall overcome.

The Rev has friends. Well, he has friends and he has comrades. See, they’re not the same. Friends are long term acquaintances the Rev met when he was still debating what his ideology of choice would be, at a time when he had elected his thought leader would be Zinedine Zidane. The Rev’s friends are usually bankers or real estate brokers or other nasty uber-capitalistic specie whose eyes glaze over whenever the Rev desperately tries to make them turn to the dark revolutionary side where the cookies are fair-trade and organic (such neo-liberal terms, pah, ‘Fair Trade’ another marketing ploy to try and make people forget about the dire oppression of Southern farmers and workers). And herein lies one of the great tragedies of the Revolutionary’s life: How could he ever reconcile his beliefs with the decadent bourgeois lifestyle and belief of his long term friends? They’re his friends, he’s very loyal and he’s nothing but a humanist, I mean, he should be able to make them see the light radiating from the permanent revolution. Such an existentialist conundrum.

As it happens, the Rev’s friends flaunt their paychecks to his face before starting their brand new BMW with a bang with manic laughter, such a graze to his poor heart. They shall never understand the beauty of equality. Sadly for him, the Rev shall never give up on turning friends into Comrades. You have not yet shared with them the ultimate way to get the Rev off your back, which is to call him an oppressive Stalinist. You’re mean.

With a sigh, the Rev therefore goes to his Comrades to find solace. Comrades are people who know their Posadists from their Entrists and who can exactly pinpoint on how many levels Leon Blum was wrong. They can meet up, discuss wildly for hours why the Permanent Revolution is the best socio-political book that was ever written, like, EVER, and agree that mainstream capitalistic thought has infected the heart and minds of potential revolutionaries. They can sing l’Internationale together , translate each other’s work and share the dame sense of humour, giving out hearty guffaws and making thigh-slapping jokes you do not understand: ‘ And then he said, THIS is the real Super-Structure HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

You love the comrades. How could you not? They’re so afraid they might be accused or actually found guilty of sexism they treat you like a prized egg. Which is in itself sexism. You tell them so. You have no shame. As previously mentioned, you’re mean.

You have become highly reluctant to introduce anyone to the Rev, for after thorough assessment, more often than not, he is likely to put on a frown and close up. What’s up, you’ll ask, he’s a liberal, he’ll mumble, and manage to make it sound like an insult. No, you have understood a long time ago that being called a liberal is only third to being called a Stalinist and a social-democrat in the insult scale of the Rev. You thus hide your liberal friends for fear of him trying to ‘recruit’ them.

Recruititis: the uncontrollable compulsion to recruit people to the Party. Starts innocently enough with questions that are actually traps (Do you know where all your social rights come from? The struggle of the left, that’s where they originated from my dear fellow), then it kind of takes a life of its own with the Rev repeating self-fulfilling prophecies with the fervor of an Ayatollah on Ashoura, gently cajoling you: you’re a Comrade now, yes you are, you’re a comrade now, until you actually believe you are indeed a Comrade, without you knowing how it happened.

You could try and come to the rescue of the cornered poor soul and free him from the ever seducing claws of the Rev, only it’s decidedly too funny when it’s not happening to you.

Yes.

You’re mean.

 

How to Live With A Revolutionary Without Losing Your Head: Or Beiruting His

The Rev is back. Not that I had felt his adventures would be gone forever, but at some point you have to evolve past the bourgeois witticism and actually get your hands dirty in the Revolution.
Which I did, but let’s face it, I am worse than useless with an AK-47 and much more apt at sitting on my privileged ass and observe the dynamics propelling the Revolutionary at the heart of the struggle.
While we have been busy with other things, the Rev has been deepening his understanding of The Cause and The Revolution. The Rev has even moved for a while and lived in Beirut for a year. You thought you’d have a year long honeymoon. He thought he could get closer to the centre of the revolutions shaking the Middle East. You thought you’d travel around Lebanon for the scenery and the people. He thought he’s travel around Lebanon to interview trade unions activists and fellow revolutionaries.
Clearly, you had the same expectations. Same wavelength anyone?

The Rev arrived in Beirut a bit worried: I mean, Lebanon really has a long standing tradition of conservatism and a neo-liberal, ugly capitalist economy. Ah but never fear, for historical materialism is applicable everywhere, and Comrade Trotsky would never allow you to despair! Let us be like Comrade Guevara and ignite focos everywhere, even at the heart of the counter-revolution!

Now you have only been once to the Lebanese Amn el 3am, and didn’t like the experience too much. The place could have had TORTURE CENTRAL written all over it, it was so bleak and testosterony and miserable. However, all of a sudden, you started imagining the rev getting arrested, beaten up and locked up in a cell somewhere. I mean, all this bashing of the police and security forces could not possible do him any good: this unit? A sectarian cell! And this one? An even more sectarian institution! Down down with the sectarian system down!

You lost a bit of weight, naturally, from having your stomach knotted in a nice little bow of anxiety, which was only made worse by him insisting he needed to go to Nabatiyeh, Zahleh and other places to interview obscure leaders of obscure factions. But the Rev could not confine himself in Beirut. I mean, Beirut is all well and dandy but there are other fields to discover, other souls to awaken to the wonders of the Permanent Revolution. You let him go, then started worrying after him not calling you. You’d think he was being held, or that he had a car crash on Dahr El Baydar, or worse, that he had finally gave in, joined one faction and started his military training. Eventually, he’d call: ‘Hi! Sorry! I was having such an interesting conversation! Then they kept me for Siyadiyyeh! Then I tried to convince them that Stalinists were an ugly breed and that they needed to join the 4th international’!

The Rev could not be in Lebanon and not go to the Palestinian camps. You went with him once. You wanted to, alternatively, lie down and weep, kill Lebanese authorities, burn dawalib and stomp your feet, screaming it’s not fair! It’s disgusting! Shame on the country who keeps human beings in such a state! Tfouh! Tfeh! Akh! Needless to say, you were utterly useless.
The Rev, however, because he is enlightened by the warmth of the Revolution and inhabited by the spirit of Comrade Trotsky, knew exactly how to behave. In no time, he knew everyone in the camp, played football with kids (whom he annoyed, I mean the kids wanted to play football, he wanted to use football in order to share excerpts of the book he’s working on, Comrade Trotsky at the Kolkhoze, a kind of Children’s book with barn animals except in this one agricultural workers owned their means of production) and was having tea under the flag of the Jabha Sha3biyye, bemoaning the death of Comrade Habash. You know, as you do.

Just a regular day in the life of the Rev.

Now aren’t you happy the rev is back? Stay Tuned, for the Rev had much more adventures in Beirut!

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 23

This city.

This city gets under your skin, invades your bloodstream. You can’t ever leave it, even if you travel, emigrate, destroy your passport and burn down your house.

This city stays. It leaves an unshakable bond, an imprint on your forehead, like the most vociferous mistress, stronger than passion, fiercer than tenderness. Love.

This is what Gabrielle had told Grace. She could never leave it, not with what was happening, not with Nina needing her, not with her own self needing the air of Beirut now more than ever. Sulphur, Diesel, Jasmin, Magnolia and Oud. She would not, could not leave this air, she’d suffocate. Intolerance, prejudice, harassment, she’d face it all, she’d fight it all, but she was not to leave.

Grace had only asked one question. The most terrible she could ever have asked.

– Do you love this city and your life in it more than you love me?

Gabrielle had not believed what she’d heard. Grace was not usually like this, she and her, they epitomized the modern couple, free from the shackles of jealousy and possessiveness. Perhaps Grace’s vulnerability was triggered by Gabrielle’s iron will, by the gleam of absolute decision she had seen shine in her lover’s dark eyes. No prevarication, no hesitation. She would stay.

– There is nothing or no one that I love more than you on this earth. But if I leave, Grace, I’ll die. Misery will consume me whole. The Guilt, the horrid guilt of my comfort overseas would eat me whole. I know myself. I won’t be able to cope. It’ll be the end of me. I will stay but I want you to think about what is it that you want.

– I want you.

– And I want you. But if you stay for me, then one day, if and when something happens, you will resent me, and I could not bear it. Simply could not.

It was Grace’s turn to show her will.

– Listen. I love Beirut as much as you do. I wanted to leave because the climate of hatred we have to live under is unbearable. Do you know why I always wake up at 04:30? Because 04:30 is the blessed hour where everyone just shuts up. People are slowly stirring in their beds, some are praying, others are dreaming. Coffee is on the way, and everyone is still too suspended between wake and sleep to think of hating. I wake up while you’re still deep in slumber, and I look at the pink dawn over the crumbled gray buildings, I look at Beirut and an insane feeling of love, deep, deep love for every bullet hole, for every teeny tiny rock shakes me whole, like if I could hold the city tight against my chest in an eternal embrace, I would. I would be staying for my own happiness, which is be with you, here. But you will have to get used to the fact that sometimes, when I’ll be overwhelmed, I will want to leave. It doesn’t mean I will actually do it. It just means I’m human, I get weak, and I don’t see why I should keep silent about it. Is that too much to bear?

Gabrielle was speechless. Five years, and through and through these five years, Grace still knew how to amaze her. Petite, soft spoken Grace, sitting on her velvet armchair, looking straight into her eyes. From the outside, it looked like she was the calmest, quietest person currently having the calmest, quietest conversation. But her eyes gave it all away.

There was nothing left for Gabrielle than to walk up to her, cup her face in her hands, and kiss her.

Later, Gabrielle would go for a walk, her rib cage a little looser, her breath, a little less shallow, relieved to have straighten out the hollowing decision that had been hanging over them for the past month, poisoning each of their caress, looming over their heads like a malevolent bird.

Later, Gabrielle would roam the streets of the city she was almost ready to sacrifice so much for. She would go and talk to the mothers, sisters, and wives of the 17 000 disappeared in Syrian prisons who were holding their daily sit in in front of the UN, asking for a tiny bit if peace of mind. ‘It’s the not knowing that kills you’ said a Stereophonics song. It’s the not knowing what happened to their lives, their hopes, their loves, and there they were, sitting in front of people and institutions that could not care less about their shattered lives, that only demanded forgetfulness of people, that only demanded obedience and quiet. Gabrielle would whip out her camera and start taking pictures of these women and of the pictures they were holding, because after all these years, after all these words, the only things they were left with were pictures. All the while she would be playing in her head a song she liked by Shadi Zaqtan , a song which spoke about 11 000 empty places. 17000 here, 11000 there, and God knew only how much everywhere else. Empty places filling thousands of hearts with sorrow.

She would come and sit and talk. Then she would pack her bags, her heart a little bit heavier, so much sadness, so much unbearable suffering, the torture of not knowing what had happened to the person you loved the most. She would pack her bags, and a decorated staircase would appear in all its multicolored glory, an older woman sitting on her balcony would see her pass by and would ask her to come and have coffee with her.

Gabrielle would shoot and shoot and shoot, images to replace bullets, life to replace death, excerpts of life and hope, because Beirut, no matter what, always gave you a reason to hope. Yet another. Reason to hope.

In another life, in another apartment, Nina, a hand on her womb and another on the phone, was preparing herself to have the toughest conversation she would ever have in her whole life.

The line crackled a bit. One, two, three rings. Then the receiver was picked up.

– Hi Mama!