Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 14

The boat was a bit rocky, the crowd, a mix of citizens going about their usual business and tourists exploring the city, all smiles, the flashes of their camera creating memories they will replay on rainy days to cheer them up.
Amongst them, a tall, skinny, dark haired man bearing an air of deep ennui. Ziad had spent a bitter sweet ten days, torn between discovering Istanbul and marveling at every little corner and the continual anxiety he felt for Lebanon and his friends and family upon hearing news that did not bode well.
By that time, he felt he was a Master at existential angst: come on over, Jean-Paul Sartre, and I’ll give you a run for your money. Thinking of Jean-Paul Sartre, he thought of Jean-Sol Partre, the imaginary alter ego of the famous philosopher imagined by Boris Vian, which invariably lead him to think of that terribly cruelly beautiful novel, l’Ecume des Jours, a love story so funnily painful Ziad felt he bled a little each time the read it.
Not that he would ever admit it: after all, he had a reputation to live up to, a hard shell to sustain. The musician in him tended to lend a specific song to each of this reaction and life events, and he sometimes felt he needed the “You’re so Vain” treatment.

His hotel bore the delightful name of Anemon and was located at the feet of the Galata Tower, in a lively neighborhood called Beyoglu. Every morning, Ziad forced himself out of the plush bed and dragged his lead body to the roof top terrace overlooking the city, where he could have his strong, black Turkish Coffee while watching boats passing by on the Bosphorus. He had a unique view on the Blue Mosque and the Agha Sophia, while he for once allowed his mind to wander at the slow rhythm of the boats before him.
At first, he thought his looming depression would keep him pinned to his bed and that he would only get up to open and raid his mini bar, but Istanbul, just like his beloved Beirut, seemed to have a mind of her own and not bend to anyone’s will, rather making people abide by her rules.
So on he went, slowly at first, exploring the neighborhood and going as far as the Istiklal Caddesi, where he sustained himself on Mante and Cimit, then realizing he was actually enjoying himself and pretty soon, started walking around everywhere. Down from Beyoglu, passing the little Turkish designers boutiques and buying a green jacket for Nina, sure that the cut and fabric would pass her almost unattainable standards, to the Galata bridge, where he actually stayed for almost a day, talking to fishermen and fishmongers, lost in the deep Turquoise shade of the sea, to Eminonu, where the violent colors of boats and ferries waiting for their passengers cheered him up to no end.

Upon crossing the Galata bridge, he was faced with the exquisite beauty of the “new mosque”, that was nonetheless several centuries old, the multi-dome architecture making him think of a slate blue wedding cake.

On and on he walked, and each of his steps screamed and ached for Lily. He wanted to show her the little streets he had discovered off Istiklal Street, an incongruous path made of restaurants and bars, with colorful lanterns giving it a warm redish glow. He wanted her to be there when he improvised a mini concert in one of the restaurants with local musicians. He wanted to make love to her in the pink Istanbul dawn, he wanted to wake up with her rolling her hair around his fingers, the out of key voice of Bob Dylan singing that there was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air. He wanted not only to be tangled up in Blue, he wanted to be tangled up in the blue of her eyes. He wanted to be stupid and romantic and in love.

When the sad news of death and destruction in Tripoli and Beirut came on his TV and in his newspapers, he had rushed to the phone, only to be greeted by the disheartened voice of Nina:
– We’re all ok habibi, don’t worry about us and have fun in Istanbul.
If Nina was calling him habibi without a hint of irony and if she did not nake fun of him or scold him for one thing or another, then something had to be very, very wrong.

He pondered on calling Lily. You know, just to make sure she was fine and ask her to look after his sister. For once, he kind of had a good reason to actually call her.
But his courage failed him, and rather, he had organized a teleconference on Skype with his political alliance to decide which position to adopt. The comrades had organized a candle light vigil to signify that they were firmly standing against the oppression of war, an event that was sparsely attended. Nevermind, he thought, better small attendance than not organizing anything, even if there is three of us, it’s better to show we are there, we exist, us the opposition to the whole system.

He knew Lily must have gone to the vigil, he knew she was as concerned as he was, and suddenly, he asked himself if she hadn’t been right from the beginning. When they broke up, she had told him it would be easier if they stuck together, united in love and in principles, but he felt as if she were an added responsibility at a time where he was arrogant enough to think he had the Revolution, capital R, to think of, and blind enough to miss the fact that it would indeed be easier to share his worries and thoughts with her. She’s so clever and you’re such an animal,he admonished himself. 7ayawein, 7ayaweinm he kept echoing in his mind, God but I’m a little fucker.

The phone kept on ringing, his heart beating to its rhythm.
There a click, a pause, then a caramel like voice answered: hello?
A gulp.
An intake of breath.
A plunge taken.
“Lily.”
A pause.
” I’m a 7ayawein”.

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Tales of the Phoenix City, Chapter 11

Airport halls are all the same. Rows of humans treated like cattle, trying to bear the excruciating tedium that is waiting in line for an hour behind families of screaming children, haggard travelers harassed from waking up at the break of dawn to catch a flight schedule at an ungodly hour, excitement and laughters, a condensed sample of humanity stocked up under the same roof while waiting to be shipped someplace again.
Ziad could see all of this, and yet, couldn’t bring himself to feel part of any of it. He had become increasingly private these days, even more so than his naturally shy disposition. He sat for hours on ends, chain smoking,a medical note having absolved him from going to work, a burn out, they said, thinking about what is it that he wanted to do, and who he wanted to be, in his life. A whirlwind of questions tormented him. Outside, Beirut seemed to mute her usually buoyant self to allow the rickety racket of his thoughts bumping against one another. He often missed the delicious hour of dusk, realizing he had forgotten to eat at dawn, while the pomegranate sun drenched the concrete city in its ray of velvety, lava-like sunshine.
His sister had schedule an intervention.
Nina seemed very fond of interventions these days, and very worried about his disheveled state.
She was the one to blame for his mere presence at the airport.
“if you don’t book a vacation, I’ll tell Mom. It’ll upset her so much, knowing you all depressed, she’ll keep calling you all day everyday to make sure you’re not slashing your wrists somewhere in a dark corner, and next thing you know, you’ll be begging me to put a stop to it”.
Another thing Nina was very fond of was guilt-tripping, a trait inherited from their upbringing that his sister had perfected into art.
And so he went ahead and booked his ticket, choosing Istanbul, not really knowing why, hoping perhaps that the energy of the city would supply him with a renewed dose of optimism.
Waiting at the gate, his eyes shut from the mayhem of children and tired mothers around him , he allowed his mind to wander to Lili. Her hair, that delicious golden mane in which his fingers ran so freely not so long ago, her silky smooth skin, the three freckles she had on her shoulders, surprisingly mirroring his own trio of beauty marks at the exact same spot. Her quirky way of seeing the world, her slender fingers typing away on her computer, that hypnotic concentrated air she had when she was working on a story, her nose ruffled and her eyebrows knotted, her whole faced expressing intense thinking and reflection to find the right words, the right turn of phrase.
The longing for her was excruciating, and he asked himself for the umpteenth time if he had made the right decision, leaving her high and dry when things were getting serious.
Ziad had always fancied himself as some kind of bohemian, ready to pack his bags in under a second to participate to a Marxist conference, eager to take his guitar and stay up late until the little hours of the morning, smoking and composing, talking late into the night with the city that was his main inspiration, blessed by the semi silence of darkness. He was happy walking around everywhere, talking to idle people, taking pictures of everything and everyone, pictures that now adorned every inch of his apartment in a shabby building of Caracas. When Lili, serious, poised, strong-willed in a kind of quiet way Lili tumbled into his life, part of him wanted to run away, no matter how strong the love he felt for her. He was no white night in shining armor, he felt weak, and indecisive and lost, still trying to figure out who he was and where he was heading. He felt unfit and unwilling to take care of her the way he imagined she wanted to be taken care of.
That Lili never wanted a white knight in the first place, or could more than properly take care of her own self never occurred to him, and there he was, spinning his thread of golden prejudice and own complications until he could not see anything clearly anymore, blurring their powder blue romance into something much darker and foggy. Every day he felt more and more hemmed in by her and their relationship, and everyday he draft away from her, leaving her more and more confused and hurt, until there was nothing left between them but a ice cold awkward bundle of tensions that was begging to be pierced. He did it finally, after gathering up some scraps of courage, and she looked at him with the face of someone who has no clue about what went on in his head. She was no fool, and until that kiss she so unexpectedly gave him last time at Bread Republic, he had barely heard of her.
Now he was sitting in that airport hall, thinking that if only he had had the codes to navigate his life, if only he had be taught to open up and share his feeling and anxieties, then maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t be waiting for that flight by himself, and that perhaps he would have someone to talk about this fears to, someone who understood and scolded and comforted him more than his sister or his best friend.
He felt a tiny hand on his lap, patting his knee: he opened up his eyes to a black eyed girl toddler who had used his leg to strengthen herself while precariously walking over to her mother. Gently leading her way, Ziad felt he could give the same comfort to the woman he loved, and be comforted by her in the same simple way.
Sighing, he picked up his back and entered the flight, half hoping his depression would lift along with the plane.