The weather in Beirut was unusually balmy, although I seemed to make a habit of getting myself caught in seasonal showers on the rare occasions I strayed far beyond my village. The way my cotton shirts, once drenched, would stick to my skin as I rushed towards some form of shelter or made my way home in the rain reminded me of late spring back in the South. It was an odd feeling, definitely not one of nostalgia, as if that had been another life altogether.
It was two nights prior to Christmas, and I felt no need to go out and socialise, meet anyone. A holiday, that’s what this was. Back in the solitude of my sparsely furnished room at night, I would listen to the sounds of the street outside, sirens blaring all through the night in between the blankets of silence, every sound the breath of this city.
I hadn’t replied to Eva’s text yet, thought something dreadful might’ve occurred and assumed the best I could do was hold in to my serenities and wait.
I had woken up that morning to come across a voice message from Sam, my only friend from high school, inviting me to dinner as she’d be spending Christmas Eve with her family, and wouldn’t have the proper time to hang out any time for a couple of days.
I had considered her offer, but something was locking me back in that room. It was as if some unseen hands were pulling me away from any social interaction. Like a metaphysical authority imposing me to avoid people. But then I thought, why not?
I called her back and the meeting was set at 1 p.m.
We both had a taste for Japanese food. Raw. Sometimes I judge people on their taste in food, and I seldom approve of those who profess to dislike raw fish, or tartare-style dishes. Culinary cowards, I felt.
The sushi restaurant was a small place on Thompson Street where you seldom found more than a handful of customers, as most of their business was takeaway. Consequently, the underemployed sushi chef was generous with the size of the portions.
‘So how’s your girl?’ Sam asked.
‘Can we basically thrash out anything else? Please.’ I promptly replied.
‘Why? What’s the matter?’
‘I don’t even know, chum. It feels like everything I sketch just goes all the way around. Like things are meant to thrust me in the back.’
‘Is it her parents?’
‘I’m not sure. Sometimes I feel I don’t yet know her in any way. That I’m in love with a mere stranger who’s escorting me to plain murkiness.’
‘What did she particularly say that makes you feel so?’
‘It’s not what she said. It’s the feeling that I’m not even close to being her first priority any longer.’ I replied.
I’d forever believed I’m no one’s leading main concern in this existence; not my family’s, friends’, generally anyone’s. Nonetheless, Eva was capable of changing that. She’d loaded me with heaps of compassion and care that it was inevitable to assume I’m lastly rocking the pinnacle of someone’s list of concerns. It felt unusually fine, I thought, but it was shuddering with time, or maybe I was just envisioning the fading of something otherworldly.
‘Will you see her any time soon?’ Sam inquired.
‘I wish I knew.’ I tiredly retorted.
Sam was getting ready to hit the road back to her family after her sister’s phoned her requesting a ride to the Red Cross centre, where she’d volunteered at.
Glancing at the window, I saw the day’s weather was grey but clear, with no signs of imminent rain, and opted for a walk outside to clear my mind.
It was already afternoon and joggers were by now thin on the ground, heavily outnumbered by childcarers with prams and buggies, trailing noisy charges, and pensioners ambling idly by the ponds, watching the ducks, feeding them in spite of the warnings not to do so. Past the second pond which expanded into a bathing area, I took the first path and wandered in a daydream towards the narrow bridge connecting this part with wilder areas.
This was what I loved so much about that city; the infinity of places where within a few minutes’ walk from a main road in almost all areas you could find yourself deep in a landscape of trees, sky shielded from view, a comforting jungle of greenery and nature. There was something almost clandestine about it that appealed deeply to me, a sense of privacy and isolation at the heart of the urban jungle. A place for secrets.
I took a different direction, instinctively opting for the comfort of a winding, barely delineated dirt avenue where a thick canopy of trees blanked out the sky. A jogger came running towards me and I shifted aside to give her the right way on the narrow path. She briefly nodded in acknowledgment. It was a young woman in black leggings, wearing an incongruous pair of emerald-coloured satin shorts and a heavy dark-green sweatshirt. Her dirty-blond hair was held tight together by an elastic band and her ponytail bobbed up and down in her wake, accompanying in delightful synchronicity the rhythmic movement of her breasts despite the obvious constriction of her crop top. As she passed by me, I heard a thin melody straining through her headphones before fading as she continued her run away from me.
For some inexplicable reason, I wanted to know what she had been listening to. It felt important.
I stopped and sat for a moment on a felled tree trunk, allowing the fleeting memory of the young woman to linger a while.
Just as I was preparing to rise up and move on, my phone rang. It was Eva.
‘Hey you!’ she amorously cried.
‘Hey…’ I answered back, ‘how’d you been?’
‘Not bad actually. What about you?’
I despised long phone calls, something Eva never seemed to have knowledge of.
‘I’m good. I guess.’
‘Oh, I need to tell you something.’
‘I’m all ears.’ I replied.
‘So this affluent cousin of mine came over yesterday and officially proposed…’
‘And?’ I startlingly asked as I hardly attempted to keep a straight face.
‘I mainly deliberately spilled the coffee on him gesturing rejection, but made it sound like an absolute accident. And after I disregarded his entire existence the whole time, he ultimately gave up and said we shall organise a further meeting. We all know there won’t be any further meetings.’ She giggled.
‘Ah, I see.’
‘And as for the cellar thing, um, I’m just too sorry. I can’t risk my mother finding out.’
‘It’s entirely fine. I wouldn’t want to put you in such a situation anyhow.’
‘So you’re not pissed at me?’
‘I couldn’t. Even if I wished to. It’s insurmountable.’
‘You realise what’s ahead of us two days from now, right?’
‘Yeah…’ I replied, ‘would we be able to arrange anything?’
‘I wouldn’t know about that to be honest. Mum is sort of mad at me for how I reacted towards that rich shit lord.’ She sighed.
‘It’s alright. You’re back. I got you. All I want for Christmas is you.’