Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 19

So much sun. So much freaking sun in this freaking city. No matter how hard you wished for it, the weather simply could not make itself match your Mood.
Jesus fucking Christ, as Gabrielle would say. Gabrielle was a lesbian. Not that there was anything wrong with that. She had just never been friends with one. Oh God. Sometimes she asked herself if she hadn’t made the biggest mistake of her life. Everything now seemed so unknown and blurry. Wouldn’t it have been better if she had gone through her wedding and complied with what was expected of her? Right now she would have been sipping a latte in her white and gold marble living room, in her upscale building overlooking Rawche.
Instead, she was following up on some order placed by Nina, in a cramped studio on a rickety chair.
Granted, she WAS sipping a latte.
I mean, you could take a girl out of her bourgeois comfort zone, but you could NOT take her out of her fondness for sweet coffee.

Shedding one life really was like shedding a skin: it left you raw and vulnerable.

Only for a short while, had said Nina. After that you become stronger.

She often wondered about Nina. How can one person be so fucking serene all the fucking time? Didn’t the woman get depressed over her single status? Didn’t she fear winding up alone, old and left out? She had asked her that very question during one difficult night, after her mother had barged into the workshop, barking imprecations of doom, death and destruction, in which the words “shame”, “inheritance” (or lack thereof) and “dishonor” came back quite regularly.
The past few weeks seemed to have been filled with these words, transmitted by aunts and cousins and of course her mother, until they had become like a regular tune, a distant stream of hurt, a cruel song she kept hearing at the back of her mind, without her even realizing it.

After a while, the words had stopped hurting her and she was only left with an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt. She had let everyone down. Her family, who had paid so much money on this wedding and who had done nothing except wanting her own good. Her ex-fiancé, who, despite being atrociously boring, arrogant and petty still did not deserved to be left in this way, and her friends, who could no understand why she had deserted their shared lifestyle. The worst part of it all was that her father had not called her.

It was bad, all round.
A thought kept nevertheless rearing its rebellious head. It was a thought that kept her awake at night, that kept her from running back to the life she had just left: my life is mine.
The fact that her parents loved her in their own way and had spent money on her did not give them the right to decide everything for her. They could no longer buy her. Her fiancĂ© did not really love her, not like she wanted to be loved: he saw her as a prized possession, a woman with class and relations and money, a wife that would have made him look good. He would soon find another fiancĂ© to play trophy wife with: she was well placed to know they abounded, she wasn’t the sole specimen of her breed. The fact that she sincerely regretted hurting people did not make her change her mind: to the core, she felt she had made the right decision.

It was just that she wasn’t used to 1) stand up for herself 2) have everyone being crossed with her and 3) not needing everyone’s approval every time she did something.

Her sheltered upbringing had shielded her from the evil in this world, but had failed to build up her strength. She was now taking an advanced, express class in Having Her Own Mind 101.
Failing the exam terrified her.

She looked around her: particles of dust were dancing in the rays of sun peering through the blinds. Muted noises came from the outside, signs that life, against its better judgment, still went on. She was as unimportant as dust: one day, this too shall pass. The Beiruti Princess felt crushed, drained, as if the hurtful words and judgment had washed her of her previously brilliant colors. She had found a small studio for an affordable rent, and reminded herself she was Nina’s PR/Communications/assistant now.

I am Nina Haddad’s aide now. She asks for my opinion. She respects it. I earn my own money.
I’m standing on my own, two, shaky, too thin, feet.
That felt odd, but nice odd, like when she let herself out of her flat every morning, that shiver, that thrill of independence she got every time the turned the key in her lock. Or when she had told the party planner to straighten her manners when she was talking to Nina’s petites mains. Had she been like that before? Belittling women that had she deemed uneducated, backwards, out of it. When she had met them, she had felt wronged, like these women did not fit the image she had forged of them. They were so much stronger than she could ever be. Some more friendlier than others, they all had good and bad days, they were all desperately human.

Independence was bitter sweet. She sighed.
Her phone rang, caller ID withheld. Absent-mindedly she picked it up.

The voice at the other end made her eyes fill with spontaneous tears.

Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sneak Preview of Next Novel

I couldn’t resist sharing with you a bite of the next novel I’m working on…I hope you’ll enjoy!

Shirine

Je suis une enragĂ©e. Une enragĂ©e de ma terre, de ma vie, de mon absence d’existence. Je me lève le matin avec le goĂ»t amer et bilieux de ma salive mĂ©tallique, mon sang bouillonnant dĂ©jĂ  dans mes veines fatiguĂ©es. A peine les yeux ouverts j’en veux Ă  cette ville blanche comme de la crème, doucereuse comme un gâteau de mariage, alors que je sais pertinemment qu’elle est entrĂ©e en putrĂ©faction depuis longtemps, elle et le monde arabe qui l’entoure, je la sais maculĂ©e de boue, de la boue faite de cette poussière qui caractĂ©rise Alep et de cette pluie fine qui aime Ă  s’abattre sur le ville. Je la sais salie de la morsure des bavardages mĂ©disants des vieilles femmes qui n’ont rien d’autre Ă  faire, pas plus que les jeunes d’ailleurs, qui aiment autant parler sinon plus que leurs aĂ®nĂ©es, qui adorent commenter mes cheveux courts et mes pantalons, mon attitude martiale, ma posture de frondeuse. Je suis ma propre rĂ©volte, un soulèvement populaire Ă  moi toute seule, et ça les gens le remarquent, les gens de ne l’aiment pas. Je vis seule, je mange seule, je ne porte pas de maquillage, je suis cernĂ©e de mes nuits sans sommeil, le visage marquĂ© et Ă©maciĂ©, je hais les moules et les Ă©tiquettes dans lesquels on essaie de me couler et que l’on tente de m’estampiller. D’aucuns me croient lesbienne, d’autres folles, au fond personne ne connaĂ®t mon histoire et je n’ai pas envie de la leur raconter. Une forteresse imprenable, voilĂ  ce que je suis, voilĂ  ce que je veux ĂŞtre. Je ne baisse ma garde pour personne, si ce n’est peut-ĂŞtre pour Millie, la vieille dame de compagnie de ma grand-mère qui me connaĂ®t mieux que personne, qui se fait du souci pour moi, qui me scrute, me surveille, a peur que la digue immuable ne se fissure et ne se brise, laissant jaillir les sentiments enfouis, les larmes ravalĂ©es, la colère comprimĂ©e et le deuil niĂ©.

Tous les jours en prenant mon cafĂ© turc bien noir et ma première cigarette de la journĂ©e j’observe ma voisine de l’immeuble d’en face. Elle pleure beaucoup, mais comment dire, sans larmes. Elle se contente de regarder la rue fourmillante de vie d’en bas, avec ses vieilles femmes faisant sĂ©cher leur pain sur la place du Forgeron, les marchands ambulants, les passants affairĂ©s. Elle les regarde et j’ai peur qu’un jour elle ne se jette de son balcon, elle et son air mĂ©lancolique de petite fille traumatisĂ©e. Elle m’Ă©nerve. J’ai envie de la secouer, de lui dire qu’elle doit et qu’il faut se battre, et garder sa tĂŞte haute, plus haute que les lames acĂ©rĂ©es de l’angoisse.

J’ai croisĂ© beaucoup de femmes comme elle dans mon autre vie, on dirait qu’elles sont lĂ , avec nous, mais leur regard vide indique qu’elles sont mortes.

VoilĂ  ce que je ne veux pas devenir. PlutĂ´t crever que d’admettre que je suis morte Ă  l’intĂ©rieur, je prĂ©fère cent fois ĂŞtre en guerre contre la terre entière, je prĂ©fère que l’on murmure de dĂ©sapprobation derrière mon passage, plutĂ´t que de devenir une quelconque bobonne sans aspirations ni souffle de vie.

Je berce et protège ma colère, mon dernier rempart contre l’assassinat de mon âme.