The Minute After

She sat, her hands folded on her lap. She looked like she might have been praying, I wouldn’t know, I was never really good at that sort of things.

I wanted to comfort her, I really did, except it seemed I had forgotten how to breathe. I was drowning in liquid air, barely aware of walking, a rough buzzing had filled my ears, and only one thing was clear: I had to get to her, I had to make sure it had really happened. That it wasn’t all a terrible nightmare.

She sat, her head bent down, she seemed to be folding onto herself.

I tasted something salty, it might have been tears.

Around us, only shadows. Slivers of people running around, cries, orders being given, chaos. Around us, white walls and red tears.

She sat, and I wondered why I was still clinging on to the hope that it had not happened. She just sat there, her hands folded on her lap and her head bent down, and it was like every bone she had was crumbling under the sheer weight of everything she had lost today.

She just sat there, her hands folded on her lap and her head bent down, she sat there in silence; she needn’t speak anyway, her body was screaming for her, her whole posture a deafening scream of denial and despair.

And when I reached her, I put my head on her hands, these hands folded on her lap, and I buried myself in that screaming body, and at that moment, at that very second, our two beings were merged by the hands of grief. Unspeakable, piercing, never-ending and unadulterated grief.

I don’t know for our long we buried ourselves in each other. When we left, the shadows were still running, we were discharged into the grilling sun while we left her to the cold claws of death, forced as we were to carry on living.

How do you keep on fighting, when the ties tethering you to life have been severed?

Living/Leaving here

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This post was originally written as a submission for the Outpost, for their second number on the ‘possibility of living here’, so I wrote about my own experience living in Lebanon. The submission didn’t make the cut, so here it is!

You always want to come back.

No matter how comfortable you are in your life abroad, some part of you is always thinking about it. You think about it when you hear someone next to you on the bus speak Arabic and you feel your heart melt a little. You think about it when you close your eyes and can feel the Beiruti sea breeze on Rawche without having to do much else. You think about it every minute of every day, it’s like this nagging feeling that won’t ever go away, gnawing at your soul. I’ve always asked myself how can one could be nostalgic of things one barely knew. But you can. You can feel linked to where you come from by an invisible, tenuous yet incredibly strong thread, coming from your heart to that place.

I was born abroad, another statistics on the Diaspora never ending numbers, and for as long as I can remember we’ve always gone back and forth between abroad and Lebanon, for my parents didn’t, or rather, couldn’t bear exile too well.

Then one day, I decided to come back. I packed my bags and went, deciding somewhere along the way that I wanted to be part of the new Lebanon. I have two degrees in international law and human rights, work experience in that area, and I was a remote part of the booming Lebanese civil society that was trying to organize itself to bring social change to the country. I wrote articles for different Lebanese outlets and took part in any online campaigns I could get my hands on, but somehow at some point this did not seem enough. I needed to live it. I had the luxury to choose, and to be able to come back to Beirut to become an actual part of it. I thought I could bring my skills and experience to my country, I thought Lebanon would need me, and that I could give it my all. And in a way, Lebanon did need me. Just not in the way I thought.

Beirut had, and still have, this incredible attraction over me. Its bubbling creativity, exuberant force of life, its people, its smells, everything seemed to be calling my name. Needless to say, despite knowing Beirut quite well, distance and time had blurred its flaws, only leaving a frangipani flowers/diesel scented dream. I was in for a rude awakening.

Over the past couple of years, Beirut has earned in Western media the reputation of a lively, stylish city, a heaven for party goers and a cultural hub for arts, which in some part is true. However, this depiction is only one tiny aspect of Beirut, the one the most privileged only can enjoy. What I have discovered while living there is that the incredible weakness of the state is felt at all levels by people living in Lebanon. Basic infrastructure of making water and electricity available to all are not fully functional, thus once again creating inequalities between different regions of Lebanon and neighborhoods of Beirut. Political instability is clearly a drawback for anyone that is thinking of coming back to Lebanon, but I wouldn’t say that for me it was the biggest, for after a while you just learn to live with the risks. It’s the daily chaos, the constant need to have an alternative solution up your sleeve because the state simply isn’t there to fulfill its obligations and the constant violations of civil liberties and socio-economic rights that wear you off after a while. Workers do not have social security, social benefits, people’s rights are trampled on every day, human rights like the right to education and health are contingent to your financial means and this, in order to get Lebanon’s talented workforce back, needs to change. To me, the most insufferable part was the dire inequality. The wage and social gap between different strata of the population is disheartening. And can – and should- inspire revolt.

After a year in Beirut I received a job offer in Switzerland. I thought long and hard about going back to Geneva. Was I abandoning Lebanon to its inept government? I felt guilty, but here I was, having an opportunity to do a job I love, under normal working conditions, in a country that uses the taxes I pay to build proper roads and offer good public education. Something in my mind kept nagging me, telling me I had a right to a decent life after all. And so I left again. Looking back, I was too angry at Lebanon’s phenomenal potential being wasted by greed, sectarianism and corruption to stay and be useful. I was too angry at my own inadequacy to change turn things upside down. 

And so I left again.

However, i remain convinced that opportunities are there and lie in the resourcefulness of Lebanon’s inhabitants, in civil society that grows stronger and manages to get more people engaged, in the creativity of its talented people. The more we push for positive change, the more we’re likely to attract and bring change. The moment is now, when the whole region is pounding its fists for change, demanding that its potential is achieved. The moment is now to impact our region’s future and we should not let it pass. The moment is now. We have a whole new landscape to build. 

How to live with a revolutionary without losing your head (Or WSFing his)

The Rev went to the World Social Forum in Tunis.

The Horror.

The horroooooorrrr.

Imagine. Just imagine, all these revolutionaries, so-called revolutionaries, leftists, pseudo-post-feminists, members of the second, third, fourth and even fifth International just roaming free in the streets of the Tunis, pretending they can dance to the sound of darbouka and quoting Marx right, left and center. Imagine the hippies, the Tunisian mukhabarat, the states-sponsored organisations trying to convince you that yes, Bashar Al Assad is a resistant and that Comrade Khomeiny really did stand for the oppressed. Imagine the Palestinian flags getting intertwined with the sickle and hammer. Imagine Oxfam and USAid in the middle of this, acting completely unaware that they were almost as in their right place than a cockroach in a pot of pristine white cream.

Imagine the Rev in the middle of this.

The horror.

You foolishly went with him. I mean, you really did need to keep an eye on him, just to make sure he was not traumatizing the Tunisian people, these poor things have enough on their plate. You went, thinking, ah well, I will follow one or two sessions and then what I’ll do is, I’ll go to the Madina and to Sidi Bou Said to eat myself stupid and buy local artifacts to support the local economy (translate by: to exemplify the evil consumerist urge of buying gorgeous plates and leather satchels and not giving two damns about it being an evil consumerist urge. Take that, world social forum!)

What happened was, on the very first day, you had to restrain the Rev and pull him out of not one, but two fights.

The Rev is 2cm short of 1m90. You are 23cm off the 1m90 mark. And of course, you were wearing flats, so you barely reached his armpit.
And yet, you shoved him aside like there was no tomorrow, pushing him away from the crowd and yelling at him like a madwoman.
The Rev, you see, had spotted some Bashar supporters, who, let’s face it, really did want to be spotted, what with them carrying a ginormous pro-Bashar Syrian flag (is there even such a thing?) and in case we were confused, pictures of the blue-eyed tyrant with slogans such as ‘we’re all with you’. Er, no we’re not.
Now you completely understand the Rev’s rage. You even share it, no questions asked. The teeny tiny glitch is that the setting of the fight was as follows:
– Pro-Bashar supporters: 25
– Rev: Rev (plus you, ok)
You felt the issue might not have been in favour of the Rev. So you shoved and shoved until his cries of ‘traitors! Murderers! Thieves! Cowards! The Syrian people will get their freedom ya KLEB!’ Were drowned in the peaceful chants of some organisations or others.
The fact that Stalinists roamed the campus of the world social forum really did nothing to impress you with the world social forum. I mean, what’s the point of doing a song and dance about social justice and all this ‘another world is possible’ hoopla if it’s to end up having to listen to participants glorifying war criminals. Seriously. You’d be better off at Fashion Week. At least there no one is pretending they’re doing it for the good of humankind.

However, the Rev, with his sweet, forgetful nature, was soon enough feeling better and while severely criticizing and despising the pro-criminals people (KLEB!) he managed to meet up with every comrade under the sun he could get his hands on, attending meetings, organizing and coordinating campaigns, drafting statements as if they were going out of style.
He even went to Gafsa to talk with the workers on strike there an offer his solidarity, luckily without falling into a phosphate mine while he was at it.

You? Oh, after telling a SWP member that you belonged to the 4th International (just to see his face fall, you like being mean to people),you spent most of your time in Sidi Bou Said, like a lizard in the sun.
The fact that you don’t know the difference between the third and the fourth international is irrelevant, and in any case, when the Rev explained it to you, you were not impressed.

I mean, who CARES if the USSR was a state capitalism system or a degenerate proletarian state? Seriously people, that’s what they’re fighting about.

Who cares? I asked the Rev. The USSR is extinct anyway. For fuck’s sake.
The Rev looked at you ever so kindly, then laughed. Truth be told, you thought, these people could do with a laugh. And with a serious make over.

You’re in the process of founding your own international. Invitation only, of course.

How to live with a revolutionary without losing your head (or peace and lovin’ his)

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.
Comrade Che Guevara

The Rev is kind.
You are mean.
Do you kind of see where the problem is now?

The Rev, ever the humanist, sees the good in people, perceives judgment as the ultimate sin, and finds excuses to the wickedest behaviors through material reasons. ‘You have to try and UNDERSTAND why this person chose to behave that way! Stop judging! Who are we to judge? We’re all humans! Maybe their material circumstances do not permit them to behave in another way and in any case, this is all the faults of capitalism that has fucked up people’s lives and brains!”. The fact that the person whose attitude you’re judging has just performed some horrible act and behaved appallingly is irrelevant. The Rev uses kindness as the flag he will brandish when the revolution conquers.

In another life, the Rev was Jesus Christ. You tell him so repeatedly. That upsets him. His kindness doesn’t extend to questioning his atheism.
As previously said, you’re mean.

But beware! Being kind does not a hippie make, for the Rev is Not a Hippie. On the contrary, he doesn’t particularly likes hippies. Nothing major, his sweet, non judging, all accepting nature would never allow it, but in the privacy of his office, he will eventually mutter darkly at all that lovey-dovey, away with the fairies, let- us-braid-each-other’s-hair-with-wild-poppies hippie approach to collective action. Make no mistake: the Rev might be kind, but to be successful the revolution absolutely needs the hard core organized party preached by Comrade Trotsky. Minds can not be fogged by weed: you shall be alert at all times to fight the attacks of conservatism, patriarchy and neo-liberalism and to educate yourself and others on the politics of oppression.

The downside to the Rev’s kindness is that he kinds of expect people -you- to be as kind as him. And people-you- can not be arsed to do so. You just don’t have it in you, I mean, all this gentleness, Jesus Fucking CHRIST, it’s exhausting. You don’t know how he does it. He helps older people carrying heavy luggage at the airport. You curse them under your breath, wishing they would go AWAY so you can FINALLY advance in the line and go HOME. He plays with crying children on the train/plane/everywhere, cooing peekaboo like a soccer mom while you hide behind your book, cursing under your breath about over indulging parents and impolite children. He goes to every protests, nay, strike that, he organizes every protests known to mankind and arrives the first, lugs around props and materials for street actions, suffers never-ending, so-boring-you-want-to-slash-your-wrists-and-die-a-slow-painful-death conferences and still manages to come home with a smile. You go to work, you buy shoes, you’re exhausted, you make fun of him carrying his banner and still manage to go home with a frown.

In short, the Rev is impossible to live with. I mean, his saint-like behavior just reflects badly on you. You know you’re mean, you don’t need to look it in polite company while he’s saving a kitten or something and you’re yelling ‘To hell with the kitten! I’m cold!’.

You hate to say it, but sometimes you wonder if the Rev, with his positive outlook on life and expanding heart, isn’t your natural Prozac.
I mean, think of it this way: with him around, you don’t need a mood enhancer and think of the money you’ll save for shoes!

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.

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.

 

A Day in the Life of The Revolutionary

A day in the life of a Revolutionary

07:30: Alarm rings. The Revolution never sleeps, why should the Rev? And by extension, why should you?

07:31: Opens eyes. Asks you if you’re a socialist revolutionary. You’re a 28 year old highly tired woman who hasn’t had her coffee yet. Your eyes still closed, you say no. You distinctly remember mumbling something along the lines of ‘fuck off, you and the revolution’

07:35: Anguish. He’s married to a bourgeois reactionary. How did that happen?

07:36: No point in dwelling on this, after all, isn’t he supposed to attract people as much as he can to the cause? He shall overcome. Gets out of bed.

07:37: Turns on YouTube. Puts on his playlist ‘Revolutionary Songs for the Revolutionary’.

07:38: L’Internationale blaring from the computer for the whole world to hear. Enters showers. Starts singing.

07:39 – 08:20: Showers, get dressed, while you’re being treated to Bella Ciao, L’Internationale, Na7na El Thawra Wou El Ghadab, complete with his own voice and a little dance routine. Murderous thoughts threaten to choke you.

08:25: Practices mock speeches in front of mirror to other make believe revolutionaries. You tell him he looks like a rambling dictator. Abruptly stops, looking wounded. He has woken you at an ungodly hour to the sound of L’internationale. You consider yourself entitled to hurt him. You have no shame. You live to vex him.

08:30: Asks you again if you’re a socialist revolutionary. Tells you you have the thinking already, and that the step from feminist to socialist revolutionary is really quite minimal.

08:32: Applies band aid to where your shoe hit him.

08:35: Makes you coffee.

08:36: Sits in front of computer for the daily ‘Revue de Presse’.

08:37: You break a glass, cut yourself, noisily look for a pretty band aid, burn yourself with your hair straighteners, call your mother who yells in the phone as if you were in Zimbabwe (while she actually lives 30 minutes away from you). Rev doesn’t budge.

11:00: Finishes reading up daily press round up. Newspapers in English, French and Arabic have been read, shared on Facebook, insipid authors have been duly insulted, inept so-called political leaders (real oppressors, sucking the blood of the people, more like) have been exposed. All geared up for next attack.

11:00-12:30: Updates blogs. Keeps finding new photos, writes new articles. ‘This is the real face of the revolution, not the crap mainstream media is showing! Let Us show the truth’

12:30: Doesn’t eat. Having lunch is for bourgeois capitalist who have the luxury of time. The Revolution can’t wait.

12:35: Calls you. Asks if you’re a socialist revolutionary. You tell him his persistence reminds you of the black days of Stalinism, and would Comrade Trotsky approve of this oppression he’s exerting.

12:36: Whimpers. Did you just call him a STALINIST????

12:36-18:36: Reads.Writes.Researches. Reads. Writes.Researches. Occasionally speaks to self and computer. Reads. Writes.Researches. Reads.Writes.Researches.Sends emails to political groups admonishing them for lack of activism. ‘I want the flyer ready for this Saturday, I insist, we need to spend the afternoon traipsing after people, pressing it on them until they’re too scared to refuse’. ‘Did you do the flyer? Did you?’ ‘Ce n’est pas sérieux!’

19:00: Has dinner with you. Artfully leaves books on the hope that you’ll read them. You toss the anthology of the Bund aside and very purposefully open a stupid novel in front of him.

19:05: Starts actually telling you about the Bund.

19:06: Gently removes your head from the oven, promises he’ll stop, then takes off for Revolutionary meeting.

23:30: Comes back. Wakes you up ‘we’ve had a fantastic idea! We’re gonna do a flash mob, a round table and a demo on Saturday afternoon! yes! At the same time! Yes!’

23:35: Skulk as you told him no one will come to the three at the same time and why does he like waking you up all the time? Why?

23:40: Starts first Skype call of the night with Comrades abroad. Half asleep, you hear some ‘jokes’: ‘And THEN! I Told him he was an entrist! HAHAHAHAHAHA’. You believe you were facepalming in your dream.

02:40: Finally turns off light. Gives you a kiss.

02:41: In the dark. All his blissfully silent.

02:42: Asks you if you’re a socialist revolutionary.

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!

Exile

I see them in your eyes, every day, the little questions eating away at your soul.
I see them, the little icicles of worry and despair, the never ending feeling of guilt, threatening to destroy you.
You smile and you laugh and you live, yet your heart is someplace else, with the thousands of brothers and sisters being tortured in God-forsaken prisons, their cries only echoing the screams of others. You smile and you laugh and you live, yet your mind is someplace else, trying to do something, trying to help, trying to relay information, trying.
You sit there, with your face in your hands, feeling guilty for being here and not there, unable to reach out to them, unable to join them as we plead and beg you to stay, where we can feel and touch you, where our selfish fear roots you to the spot, binds you to our love.
You sit there, endlessly talking to Comrades, debating until the little hours of morning on which position you should adopt, what you should do, endless, endless questions lining your heart with iron pins, the flavor of loss and sadness poisoning everything you taste. You can’t go, because you know what will be expecting you if you do, because you’ve been barred the gates of your home.
And I sit here, hurting because you are, bleeding for you, unable to soothe you, our minds and hearts with the sufferings happening beyond comprehension, and I sit there, the feeling of helplessness excruciating.
Then you find the strength in you to smile at me, and with that only beam resuscitate a glimmer of that old friend.
Hope.

My Next Novel…. On Its Way

I’m VERY VERY VERY happy to share with you the superb news that my second novel will be out at the end of this summer. It’s being published by Tamyras Editions, whose editorial line I love. I hope you’ll like the book!