Tales of the Phoenix City – Chapter 12

The sun shone a little too brightly, the noises outside were a little too shrill. She closed the shutters and went back to the uneasy sleep that had been hers for the past week.

The damp sheets were clinging to her body, draped around her like a shroud. Very still, she just lied there on her white wrought iron bed, trying to control her breathing and follow her racing thoughts.

It started off with Tripoli, then it spread, violence taking a life of its own, invading homes and minds, annihilating reason.

One person killed in Jdeideh for some obscure reason, bullets drenching a man’s body because of the cost of a motorcycle. Three killed on Tariq El Jdideh, where old rivalries lit up again at the smallest of pretexts. Shootings in Caracas for God only knows what.

Blood, pain, despair and more blood seemed to be the daily bread of her country, and the frustration nearly sent her hurling things at wall, screaming at the inanity of politicians who were doing everything they could to keep the situation and hatred simmering at the surface, then came whimpering about peace when the fires they had started seemed to grow too big for them.

What she could not understand was why the people had not rebelled against their ill-advised, vile and malicious control over their lives, why the mind boggling levels of corruption had not sent everyone she knew into an orbit of anger and revolution.

She had gone very still with anxiety, fear and boiling rage. It seemed her body simply could not stomach the tension that was very palpable in her ever so lively Beirut, it seemed like these emotions kept tossing and turning in her frame, only to come back and turn against her heart and mind.

Making wedding dresses in such a context seemed like an insult to the people who had lost loved ones, it seemed improper, almost obscene, so she just closed her workshop in an impulsive gesture that was very un-Nina like, shut her phone down, and retreated to the fresh haven of her home, only going out to participate in sit ins and candle light vigils to protest against war and bloodshed, here and everywhere.

Yet it didn’t seem enough, yet she couldn’t feel whole again, or shed the guilt of being privileged and being able to get away with much more than people who did not have the privileges she enjoyed. Staying at home seemed so useless and meek, yet it took almost all her will power to even get out of bed. She knew Gaby was out and about, shooting their city and the bullet holes that were cutting through the air and into concrete and flesh, their sounds a grim reminder that death kept hovering over everyone’s head like a malevolent ghost. She wished she could do something, anything, but kept asking herself if her longing for action was to make herself feel better or really was out of concern for her country and its people.

She decided it had to be a bit of both, in any case, what did it matter, since depression pinned her to her bed like a moth stuck in glue.

Today she had found it in herself to turn off the news that had continually been playing the soundtrack to her angst and distance herself from the lies of the yet another politician claiming to know exactly where the 11 men who were abducted were and at what time, and left her apartment to take a walk to her workshop. “You can’t take everything so at heart”, Gabrielle’s voice kept coming back to her, “here and now, you’ll only drive yourself crazy”.

Where was the craziness? To take everything so at heart the events nearly floored you, or to become so accustomed to violence the mere mention and existence of it doesn’t shake you to the core? Since when bullets had lost their terrifying power and since when life had become so disposable?

She had devoted herself to celebrate new beginnings, and had only just started to realise that beginnings and pain often go together, giving birth being the most striking example of it.

These days the words of Fairuz often came back to her “they asked me what was happening in my country, I told them it is being born again”, but how many times does a country have to be born again or reinvent itself if it keeps running to the same death?

In the shed that was her workshop, the unfinished dresses softly gleamed in the semi darkened room, reminding her of ghost past, and more to come.  

BFF

Yesterday, I was browsing some pictures on Facebook (it’s called procrastination), when I stumbled upon a photo of my civil wedding. It’s a simple picture of my maid of honour, laughing, and I, amused, looking at her, smiling. 

The thing is, you see, she has been my friend for the past 24 years, and perhaps I was too immersed in the crazy wedding fog (not that I was Bridezilla, I simply have a Lebanese mother) to fully realise how much of a blessing it was to have your friend of 24 years stand next to you in such an important moment. 

There are many love stories, the strongest bonds not necessarily being the ones you build when you fall in love. My friend Ludivine and I know each other inside and out but never bore each other. We live thousands of miles apart, yet as soon as we see each other, it’s like our never ending conversation had never been stopped by distance, and we quite joyfully slot back into our routines, sharing our news, our jokes, our secrets. True friendships are like your best pair of jeans, the ones you’ve wore a gazillion times, yet they still fit perfectly and you never throw them away. I’m struggling to find the right words to describe what she means to me: we’ve been to hell and back together, we’ve been together in joy and sadness, like any other friends really. We’ve laughed and bickered and cried and fought and been pissy at one another, we’ve reconciled and forgot about it all, we’ve agonised over the come back of the denim shirt (so 90’s), we’ve dissected break ups over teas that were getting cold as our never ending conversations went along. 

On the day of my civil wedding, she was there, next to me, laughing and making me laugh, my sister in arms, and in itself it was a gift of life, to have two love stories around me, to feel hearts connected in time. 

On the evening of my religious wedding, she got up, her hands slightly shaking, she got up to make the traditional maid of honour speech. I kept looking at her, tears pouring down my face, half laughing, my heart overwhelmed, she got up, ever so pretty in her black bohemian dress, I looked at my friend of 24 years say her words of love and friendship to me, her words, the perfect embodiement of the mix of fun and serious moments we’ve had together, her words, en elegy of our past together, her presence, right there, the seal of all the wonderful things to come. 

I probably didn’t get the chance to tell her that night that I might have signed an unshakable bond with my husband that night, but that the one her and I have and nurtured is just as unfaltering, the way we probably intended it when we were exchanging black khol and blue gloss when we were 15, smoking our Marlboro Lights, thinking we were IT.