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Historical Fiction

It was burning hot that day in august. The lazy streets of Beirut never seemed emptier as I walked to the local bakery. The fresh smell of thyme reigned over the places once occupied by busy and rushed crowds. I craved a “Mankouche” fresh from Abou Walid’s oven, despite all my nausea and disgust, I was craving a mankouche and a cigarette.   

Antoinette, sits outside. Her swollen leg lays on the white plastic chair, serving as a worshiping statue to the circulating mosquitos. Once cheerful as a butterfly with an appetite for food and chat, she lied there numb, on a broken chair, facing the quiet sea.

She seemed half asleep. The big straw hat covered most part of her face. Her immense body dropped from the borders of her seat, immobile since 3 days.

“How is she doing?” I asked Walid.

“As you see”, he replied. His sweaty face was red with heat, or with anger. I couldn’t tell. At this stage, sensations become tangled and unrecognizable like a giant ball of ammonium nitrate hitting you in the face day after day, second after second.

“What’s up?” I looked at him, in the eyes. I knew him since he was a kid. He had the same age as me, and although we weren’t friends, but we know each other.

“We are going to the demonstration today, are you coming?”

I was not a big fan of protests, I despise masses and I really hate loud noises. But I found myself saying “sure, see you there”.

“We must descend in great numbers. Let them fear us. God curse the all”

I devoured my delicious thyme pizza, while walking into the devastated neighborhoods.

“Gemayze” where my maternal grandmother lived, where I came back after school each day for years, where I tasted the best tabbouleh in the world and played football with the neighbors

“Mar Mikheal” named after “Saint Michael”, where, I used to go to church, attend scout meetings, ponder upon religion and faith, get drunk in each pub or bar it harbored, enter heated debated about political systems and human rights with every single religious minority who ever existed in Lebanon.

“Geitaoui” where I had my first kiss, and where I work now as a sound engineer for an indie record label.

Into the rubles, I entered the space. There is nothing to describe it expect space, where air is free to circulate through the deconstructed rooms, to flow like bad omen between lives continuing their path towards the abyss.

Half a desk, third of a chair. I tried to sit. I fell. I stayed on the floor.

I held my phone. I looked up my messages again. There it was, my invitation email glowing among others. This morning, I just received my invitation to Canada as a skilled immigrant. I had worked so hard for it, months of exams and applications. Finally, I got it. This was my jewel, my exit ticket. Finally, I will be able to leave. Once I adored this city, the vibrant street, the positivity of its people, their sophistication, the endless opportunities of discussions and dialogs.

I tried to collect the shattered CD records, I was the first to make it after the blast. 3 days passed no one was able to show up. Karim is still in the hospital. Rita in the streets. The “creative trio” that was our nickname. At daytime we worked like mulls, sweating over sounds, figuring out the most original way a song could be interpreted, at nighttime we hopped from concert to concert, improvised, structured, mad, warm, every kind of music, we savored all melodies from everywhere in the world.

Walid lost his father to the explosion that took place in august 4. Rita her brother. I understand their frustration with the government and the ruling class. I didn’t want to sound like a coward or an ungrateful brat. I rejoiced in the what Beirut had to offer. Now, I must give it back.

It was already passed noon. I decided. I’m going to the demonstration.

The music was Loud, Lebanese and loud. It was about freedom. It said, “I breath freedom”. I continued pass the gatherings. Lebanese flags all over. Some of them were painted black and white instead of the standard red and white whereas the cedar in grey, to mourn the victims of the explosion.

I lighted my fourth cigarette for this day, a light blue “Gitane” as I listened to the conversations around me. The voices seemed so familiar.

- They are not martyrs, they are victims. Shouted the man wearing a facial mask covering all his face except his beard.

- Victims, martyrs who cares, they are dead now. Answered Rita.

“Here you are” I said trying to raise my voice to it maximum volume.

I hugged her. Covid-19 can wait I said to myself. My best friend just lost her brother.

- How is your mom? I asked.

- She’s on Xanax.

- And your dad?

- He just sits and watches TV all day. And I’m here she added.

- I knew you will here. I came to be with you.

- I know how much you hate these rallies. Thank you for coming.

- I had to. You know after what happened. I couldn’t just sit around watch the news all the time.

- I agree. Any news about Canada?

- Nope. I said.  

I wasn’t able to tell her. Her mourning, the black flags, the frustration of the protesters, the loud songs about country and freedom, the smell of fire and smoke, all of that prevented me from telling the truth. I will tell her later, when everything is calmer. In a café by the sea, like old times where we used to sip our black coffee facing the Mediterranean Sea, listening to the fusion mix of oriental and occidental sounds.

Calmer. Calmer than now.

Tear gas, sound bombs, smoke everyone like a 90’s dancefloor.

We marched with the demonstrators towards the parliament building, what is left of the parliament building. We chanted “DOWN FALL THE REGIME” we were angry, we had every right to be so. To shout. To scream. Our lungs exploded. I roared at the security force members. I didn’t care. I was defending a city I loved, a city I am forced to leave behind.

“SHAME ON YOU”

“SHAME ON YOU”

I looked him in the eye. Anger over anger, boiling lead to more boiling. I grieved my memories, my friends, my work.

I never felt I loved Beirut so much.

I looked him in the eye. He was getting ready to shout a rubber bullet. Rita was rushing towards the parliament gate. She was not alone. Several rioters were approaching with her. Forward was their only way, where their pain can finally hit a wall, where their free fall will be stopped. I followed them.

“We WILL ENTER”

“WE WILL ENTER”  

I kept hearing the voices, loud and clear, but a pain suddenly took a hold on me.

MY EYE

MY EYE

I was not able to see. Everything was black as I heard the screaming sounds raise up like never before. 

March 17, 2021 10:14

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1 comment

Fatuma Abdullah
09:49 Mar 25, 2021

Very good story, the decription of the city included the mood of the city and the writer's love for the city.

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