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!

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I Can’t Get No Sleep

No, not only a Faithless song.

Insomnia seems to become part of my reality, as if my body REALLY enjoyedwaking up at 3:54 and thinking: Sleep? That old thing? NAAAAAAH I’m well off without it.

Thing is, Body, Spirit or Mind, my inner soul would LOVE some sleep, would actually cherish every moment of it. Sometimes, I just feel like saying, Ok, Good Night everyone, that’s enough life for me for today, bring the oblivion please. Which would last for about 2 hours. And then, I’m SUPER awake, more awake than I’ve ever felt, I’m so awake that I start organising my life, go over conversations, thoughts and feelings and fears going round and round in my head, until sleep is no longer an option. It seems that nowadays I have to sort out my life between 3:54 and 6:40. Then I drift off. Then my alarm rings, at 6:45. Then I REALLY want a cigarette. Yes, at 6:45. I’ll probably become one of those older Arab women who drink their coffee and smoke their cigarettes from their bed before even stepping out of it, screaming orders at the top my lungs (or what’s left of them) with a raspy voice.

Anyway, so what do I do when I can’t sleep? First I toss, then I turn, then keep looking for a fresh part in my bed or on my pillow. Emotional elevators tend to come at around 5:00, when I’m done with practicalities. I agonise over mundane things that seem too small to even notice in broad daylight. When I get to accepting the fact than there will be no sleeping for me anymore, I simply decide to live with it, and check what I could do. This is usually when novels are finished (both mine and other people’s), blogs are read (especially this one, product of another Sleepless Soul), lists are made, life is organised. When I was younger, my Sleepless company was Fiona Apple. I’ve listened to When the Pawn over a hundred times when I was 16, waiting for her (raspy) voice to nurse me to sleep. Now I just plug Shadi Zaqtan in my ears and go on about my business, my insomnia nicely taken care of with a lovely soundtrack to go with it.

Insomniac people probably think too much, all the time, taking a washing machine approach to life, tossing, turning, agonising, going round and round. And one day, just like that, some parts of your brain just resolve whatever issue you might have, and you have nothing else to write about, because seriously, what’s interesting about a good night sleep? 🙂

As if he were singing to me…

Right, so I have a slight tendency to be obsessive. Like, when I was 12 and had just discovered Oasis, I decided that I will be in love with Liam Gallagher for all eternity and that I had to listen to “What’s the Story? Morning Glory” two thousand times before my mother threathened to destroy my CD player and, just to be on the safe side,to go to Manchester to kill aformentionned beloved Liam so she wouldn’t have to listen to another “because maybeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee you’re gonna be the one that saves meeeeeeeeee” one more time.

That’s how bad I was. And please don’t get me started on my Bob Dylan phase. I wanted to reverse time and become Suze Rotolo so that I could be the one on the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan cover.

See, I told you. Obsessive.

Alas! Time has not made any improvment to my disorder, and I’m happily as obsessive as ever, except maybe now I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t necessarily need to be in love with a musician to listen to the same record over and over and over again. And then a bit more. I’m not a teenager anymore (Thanks Jesus Christ and all his angels and all his saints for good measure, Hell must be a pleasant place next to living with teenage angst, but that’s not our current point).

It usually takes me a while before full fledged obsession kicks in. I usually start off being quite normal, like, ooohh nice song I like it.

Then, if the song is really good, something happens.

Exhibit1 : First time I listened to Wonderwall, I was like, boy this Mancunian needs a hair cut. Then something in Liam’s electric voice triggered something inside of me, a sadness, a melancholy (yes, more teenage angst) and I was as good as done.

Exhibit2: First Bob Dylan song: All I really want to do, I really thought this had to be a joke. Somebody who sang so out of key probably needed to be a genius. And what a genius. Bob’s still my friend for the nights when I can’t sleep, I don’t even need to play his records, my brain’s has recorded them all.

So first time I listened to Shadi Zaqatan and Friends, I enjoyed their music, thought the lyrics were deep, moving, interesting.

But that was about it really.

Then, one day, I just paid a little more attention to one song in particular, Bshoufek fil Balad, and that’s when it happened. The lyrics, Zaqatan’s voice, so deep and pure, the song transformed into a love letter, an aching one, a one where you wanted so badly to talk to the person but simply couldn’t.

I’ve been listening non stop to the record for two days in a row now, and have no plans in stopping. The songs speak to me now, to some hidden chord inside of me that understands the love for one’s land, the anger and the hope.

My obsession and I are old friends now, we’re like an old couple, too into one another for me to be wanting to get rid of it.

PS: I’m obsessive yet generous, here’s the song, please like it so we can all be obsessed together