by SUMEJA TULIC
I kept looking up and touching the tip of my head. No, it will not rain. The sky will crack up tomorrow or in a month. The sand will turn into sticky smoke that the bare legs will carry under the eaves.
Sunday is the saddest day to leave Beirut. Everyone I met is up the mountain, on a picnic. Only the nannies, the maids, the orderly are on the streets. Standing in front of elapsing buildings, groups of amazingly braided women in tight jeans will look at you intensely and you will think that you are the new kid in a beach bar in Mombasa. On other days, I will see them in their uniforms — strawberry milkshake or pale blue colored — in pairs of two carrying fresh fruit sold from a truck, looking in a direction I couldn’t designate.
My first night in Beirut was a dark Friday mellowed by August’s bitter sweetness. Empty backstreets and drunken middle aged couples. No starts, no moon, no directions. I wanted to leave immediately or redo the first walk through the city. And then, somewhere in Achrafieh, on a stoop, in a small glass box, surrounded by plastic flowers and transcending holiness, stood the first Beirut Mary I saw. I kept pointing the phone at her, lighting her little face — world’s tiniest expression of modesty perhaps. Eventually, I befriended all the Holly Maries and some of the bearded saints in the area. A paparazzo love denoted in three packs of films and dozens of thank you's I said before — something a 10 year old me would name little female mosques.
I walked up and down Raouché among fat kids, young loves, yearning men only to end up on a hill covered with dogs’ droppings and wild flowers. My nose is red and my eyes are wide open. I am standing in midst of shit, in front of a city, above the sea, I wrote on a postcard. At a certain age you start to appreciate things only when they consist of the gutter and the gold. Somewhere in Switzerland there is a pretty, shitless hill I would absolutely loathe, just like there was a sweet, kind man I hated, and left him waiting until the bouquet he brought froze.
When I dance I don’t care and all I want to see is my skirt whirling. But as I go about it, I start needing something to match the washing machine in my brain spinning melancholy and joy and my small tragedies. And I did it that night, on a dancing floor that kept changing colors, teasing the stars' constellations to appear above. I swear I heard a wolf howling on that hill above the Raouché.
I was bruised and stained in Beirut by the dark, frightened, mad eyes of tanned Syrian workers. Their looks would stay with me long after I had passed the construction site in the downtown. I thought of their little houses and gentle mothers. I thought of their wives and killed brothers. I thought of their tired teenaged sons working beside them. I thought of million whys this world should end today. Luckily, on the way back, just before the streetlights are turned on, everything is less aggressive. The Syrian workers are pleasantly flirtatious and few of them are in a small corner park next to Elie Saab’s boutique praying behind a tall African imam.
In search of the best ice cream and some harmless trouble, one morning I ended up crossing River Beirut. Before noon, it is hard to find trouble in Bourj Hammoud. Beneath small red Armenian flags and in shadows of cloth lines, only nervous mistresses can pick fights with the sleepy hairdresser. Her man — George, Toni or Aziz — the one with a black mustache and a deep open shirt, will come to her tonight.
After they have ate and drank and danced to the radio, he will gently strike her hair. The hair needs to smell like hair saloon shampoo. So, why the hell is hairdresser using the cheap, household shampoo?
Thick eyebrows, green eyes and a nose of a delicate Hebrew model. Oh shoot me blazing faith, I have loved! He spoke about music and I responded with something meant to impress. I thought of the damn dresses blossoming flowers from 50s and late 80s in my luggage. He should know that I am more than my shorts and this plain t-shirt. But how can be that slipped into a conversation about Palestine? I want to see him late at night in Hamra street. I want to take him by the hand and kiss him in an alley. By the way, how does it feel to kiss while looking at social justice, anti-clerical and anti-rape themed graffiti?
Along with my saint friends, Annie’s bare chest is the most beautiful thing I have seen in Beirut. Behind her was an open window letting in summer’s fog and a beam of blue light streamed from a cross. She painted her nails and smoked while I wished someone else saw the two falling stars. I wished. Most of my wishes come true, but most of my wishes are dishonestly modest. When the wishes come true, I wish for more, for extensions. Annie deserves a poet to dwell on her chest. Instead she got me. My Annie must be modest like me.
On one of the weekends we went to the Cedars and saw a lonely donkey, a ruined house, a wedding and the tip of the world. God was there for sure but we didn’t see him. We heard something of him in the chanting of a Buddhist who prayed on a top of centuries old house while the rocky land swallowed the sun and the sea. The chant went on beautifully with the sad voice of a woman who sang about the Christ and the blood that dripped from under the nails. In a nearby village someone lit fire. Shortly, the smoke replaced the chant and the song.
On that last Sunday I stood on the balcony. The landlord of the building and of some fragments of the universe, Samaha, arrived in a car driven by his personal assistant, doorman and driver, Samuel. Samuel spends most of his nights sitting in front of the building watching cars go up and down. He wants to sing in a choir. That is something he did back home somewhere in Africa. The couple across the street was out of the city. They will be back in few hours. They will sit on their balcony and tell stories to each other. The nudist was home but he was dressed. I think he had guests. That would explain the children that played on his balcony. I said my dearest goodbyes to cars that went up and down, left and right. One for sure went to Dahieh, one stayed in Achrafieh, one went to Jounieh, one to Mar Mikhael street and one went to a place I didn't learn its name.
Sumeja Tulic is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Sarajevo. You can find her website here and her flickr here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about learning to skate.
Photographs by the author.
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