What I would say to you, if you were here

If I could talk to you now;

Right now I would look directly at you for a good moment, because it has been a long time since I’ve last seen you.

I’d take you in very slowly, in order to have you fully, but in little doses.

If you were here, in front of me

I would be holding your head between my hands, with great attentiveness,

the way you promised to hold my heart; but more calmly,

so that I wouldn’t ruin any of your edges;

so that I wouldn’t smudge anything I wasn’t supposed to,

and have you as you were always meant to be.

If I could talk to you right now,

I’d try not to say too many words.

You’ve always told me that I talked too much, and that I should learn when to be quiet and listen to the silence that surrounded me after I gave it a chance to settle.

I would hold your hand when you tried to walk away, turn you back to face me just so that I could see you see me;

so that you recognize the darkness in my eyes

and I recognize the light in yours.

I’d touch your hair with all of my fingers and press your head against mine,

I’d tell you secrets just so that you would have parts of me that no one else will ever have.

If  I could talk to you right now, I’d tell you that I’ve missed hearing you babble about the  stories constantly going on in that head you carry on your shoulders.

I’d want to spend a few days wrapped up in the thoughts that you have of me.

Do you still think about me? Will I be enveloped in the velvet of your imagination or is there no trace left of me?

If I could talk to you right now, I’m not sure I would say much more than what you already know.

I’ve loved you enough to know that you do not need me, and will probably no longer think of me, but I am grateful to have loved you when I did.

 

 

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an apology letter to my country

“Where are you from?”

“Lebanon” I said

“Ah, Lubnaneya!” The Uber driver glanced at me through his rear view mirror, smiling, as he turned down the music a little, to hear me clearly. I smile back and fiddle with my hands, I can almost hear the line of questions coming.

I’ve had the same conversation many times before, in the back of cars coming home after a long night, long after all the metro stations have shut. They have always led to the same ending.

It usually goes: Where I am from – where they are from /  How long they’ve been doing what they do / If they like what they do / Do I like what I do / Is it better here? or there?The answers are usually the same.

Opportunities are better here, so my mind is here, but sometimes I feel like “there” is all I think about, it takes so much of my brain sometimes. Grateful for where I am now, but disappointed that it is harder to get the same opportunity there. Things are complicated, and apparently, according to my parents and their friends, and my grandparents and their friends, things have always been complicated; we come from a long line of complications, and now my friends are telling me the same story. It sometimes feels like a broken record, and who wants to listen to the same song over and over again? Even if it is your favorite; at some point, you get sick of it.

Abroad, they ask you where you are from.

“Lebanon”, you respond. “Fun fact by the way, there are currently more Lebanese people outside of Lebanon than in; that’s approx. 4 million in, and up to 14 million out”.  People are usually surprised by that fact, and some may surprise you by telling you they already knew that, the media probably beat you to it, or Facebook, since it is pretty much the same thing nowadays to some people.

I am now finding more and more articles on L’Orient-Le Jour and other newspapers that talk about “leaving…forever“, that dramatic “goodbye, for good” “this is not an au-revoir, je ne te reverrai plus jamais“. As if readers still need reminders of how things always seem to lead into the same ditch; as if we are not to blame. As if I, sitting in the back of my Uber somewhere in Europe, am not to blame. As if our long line of “leaders” are not to blame; quotations marks intended, because leaders should lead into growth, so forgive me if I decide to do deprive them from the luxury of the word being associated to them in any way, without its appropriate cages in quotation marks.  But it is probably much  more complicated than “leaders” and quotation marks. My attribute to them, or lack their of, does not make a speck of a difference to them, or anyone else reading. It will not make a difference to the people living there or out here in the rest of the continents in which we are spread out in. My words are just words, written here because I sometimes still feel a sense of guilt creeping up in the back of my mind whenever someone asks me how long I’ve left Lebanon for.

I do not regret leaving. It was not my choice in the beginning, my parents were looking for a better life for me. They were thinking of us before we were born, they left the comfort of what they knew, to something different and new, and I am grateful to them. But it was then my choice to stay gone, for now at least. Everyone I know, my friends and my family there keep applauding me for my choice of leaving, but I am disheartened that I could not do more.

This is an apology letter to my country, I am a little part of your youth that never came back to you, that decided I could leave you just like all the others who already have.

I am sorry for not helping you heal, but it is a very difficult task that I was almost sure my frail shoulders could not handle. You need the support of much more than me, of much bigger and more powerful. It is my nightmare to see you fall to your knees after years of being beaten by people who do not understand you, but I am ashamed of the harm you’ve endured by us, your flesh and blood. Your family that kept bickering between one another and repeating same mistakes that have evolved into patterns. Your wounds are still here, I still see them, and I am sorry I cannot help you heal.

There is a bad seed in you that is spreading, and I feel hopeless sometimes, because I do not know any better. I watch you suffer and I will not lie to myself and say I have done right by you. For that I am truly sorry, and I hope you forgive me.

I look for you in every country I go to, in people I meet and places I visit and live in. I look for you everywhere when I am precisely the one who let you go.

I hope you forgive me, and that brighter days come to you. I do not forget where I come from, no matter how different it is out there.

On “Foul” and family

Wednesday, August 28th 2019

I filled with bliss two days ago, as I was walking through Marks & Spencer in Paris, when I spotted what they labelled as “OIGNON VERT”.

They looked exactly like the ones we used to crunch around the table in the morning when I was still living with my parents. We had them as side taste to dishes like “Foul” (pronounced f-o-o-l) they are basically beans with sauce, usually lemon and garlic, for those who are not from my area and don’t know the lingo. They are usually eaten in the morning, for breakfast. The spring onions always added some good flavour and texture to the mix, and I was surprised that they had them in stock here, since I had never seen them in other grocery stores before. All the onions I’ve seen in Paris are either the round white, maroon or purple ones, or the gigantic ones with big green antennas coming out of their stems;

but now I’ve found these little springs of joy and decided to bring them home.

I remembered that I still had a can of “foul”, labelled “with Lebanese mixture” somewhere in my pantry.

Excited, I picked up the phone to call my father in Dubai and tell him that I will make “Foul” tomorrow. Trust me he gets more excited than I do about food, so this conversation is of cosmic importance.

“Baba, I found some onions that look like the ones we eat with “Foul”, I think I’m going to make “Foul” tomorrow! I have all the ingredients!”

“That’s great habibi! You have everything for it? Tomatoes, flat bread, parsley? Raddish?”

Quickly I had realized that my excitement had blinded me from the rest of the ingredients, I was far from done.

“No, no I don’t”.

Silence on the phone.

“Okay I’m going to get the rest of the ingredients”

“Habibi you don’t need to have everything, you can still make it work with just a few things”

“No baba, I’ll do it right”.

Soon enough this became a quest, I planned a day in which I will wake up early and prepare everything.

That day was today.

This morning I went home. I heard my father’s infectious laugh

I heard my mother’s overbearing need of adding more to my brother’s plate, even though he had clearly had a hard time finishing the first round.

I heard my grandmother chopping parsley, knife still in hand, she moves away strands of hair from her forehead with the back of her wrist. The smell of parsley taking over her whole kitchen. It was how its always been. I was where I was supposed to be. I was loved and fed constantly.

This morning was clearly a Sunday on the balcony of my grandmother’s home, surrounded by my aunts, and by a very blue sky, a chirping bird near my ear.

This morning was a Saturday in our home in Dubai. It’s not a school day so we woke up a little later than usual, stayed in bed until our mother called us in because “Foul” was ready. My dad is taking it calmer than usual, he has time to read his newspaper and sip on green tea.

I have always had a big connection with food, particularly Lebanese food, because it is attached to memories I can sometimes only revisit through smell, or taste.

My father used to show my how a “Foul” plate, without the rest of the ingredients, was like a blank canvas.

“You can get creative” He would say

“See, the tomatoes can go around the plate like this” and he would drop some chopped tomatoes all around the beans to make a circle.

“Then some parsley on each side”

He grabs a handful of chopped parsley and trickles them onto the plate, on each side to try to make it symmetrical.

“Radish here, and..”

he would turn the plate over to me

“Oh and don’t forget..”

He takes the tall glass of olive oil and drizzles it all over everything he’s added.

I look at my plate, symmetrical and vibrant, almost too pretty to eat.

I take two breaths and mash everything together, and turn it into a colorful mess.

After all, it’s supposed to be looked at, then eaten. But for a moment it looked perfect.

Today is a Wednesday in Paris, I sit in my pajamas the way I’ve always had in Lebanon, in Dubai, sitting across from the people I love the most. Suddenly it’s a little less lonely in Paris, because I’ve found company in a messy plate of “Foul”. How lucky am I, to be able to come home this easily?  

Saturday mornings – Part 1 –

– PART 1 – Fiction 

My weeks are filled with going to work and coming back home.

I leave before the sun gets a chance to peep through my window, and come home after it has gone. Ever since I can remember, I have used my room as a sleeping unit, conveniently placed near my workspace.

I discover what is around me only on weekends. Saturdays were created for me to recover, slide through my room slowly, and recharge for Sunday. That was when I had heard it the first time.

On a warm Saturday morning in the midst of Paris’ summer, after I had dragged my slippers across the floor for my morning coffee; someone’s music had made its way into my room, almost like an intruder.

One neighbor probably had their window open early because I could not pin point when the music had started playing, I had simply noticed it, and almost instantly, it was all I could hear.

First the piano, then a slow drum; I did not know it then but this would be the last Saturday I would be alone in my room.

I can honestly say, I am, sadly, a creature of habit. Although I had always rejected the idea when I was younger, and would almost always protest my parents’ undying will of doing the same tasks every Sunday until I moved out. I wanted to be different. I never wanted to choose routine, but routine ended up choosing me and I gradually let it envelop around me like a familiar blanket from my past, it was almost nostalgic.

It was in the comfort of routine that I had hoped to hear music in the morning, but I could not escape the rush of being kept on my toes, wondering whether the Cinematic Orchestra will pave its way into my living room for a morning concert, whether there will be an eccentric song choice, or whether there will be no music at all.

So I would open the window near my bed, inviting the piano in for my morning coffee every Saturday, and I started hearing little mumbles in the background, a soft, feminine voice sometimes carried on a little longer than the record.

She never listened to the same song twice, or at least I do not remember hearing the same song again. But they sometimes carried the same composition, a similar pattern: they were slow, and many were played on piano. I noticed that they were unhurried.  They took their time. She liked her music like I liked my coffee. Slow churn, taking the time to pour and sip until it no longer burned my tongue, her music never came on too strong.  Her songs spoke of a love long lost, of a heart held in between her hands, and of days stretching out till their ends. They spoke of falling, and I tried to hold on to some, as much as I would let myself of course, on worn-out Saturday mornings.

There was something freeing about letting someone choose for you, pressing their hands against your eyes and putting on whatever came to their mind. Sure enough, her window had become one of the quicker ways to get to know her, to hear what she was thinking without ever meeting her, and I chose to listen every Saturday.

 

Train stories – two golden rings

The train already moved and it swooshed her to the person that is supposed to sit in front of her, she stumbles on him. One man behind her held her back from her jacket, his hands too frail but his grip tight, he grabs her by the jacket and the back of her arm to put her back in her seat gently, afraid to be too abrupt. 

“Excusez-moi, pardon” she mumbled to the man she fell on, too preoccupied with how she will sit back down, her knees seemed to be in tired shape, she couldn’t avoid the fall.  

The man in front of her was understanding, the train waits for no bad knees. 

In two stops, that man left the train so she looked at the one beside her, whom I’d only seen the hands of. 

They both move places and now sit facing my direction. 

She removes her moccasins and places one foot on the empty seat in front of her, the other still on her shoe. 

They both talk without looking at each-other,  both of their hands are crossed on their laps coincidentally. They sit in the exact same position, her left hand on top of her right, his left on top of his right. They both wear the same gold ring around their fourth finger.

Same tired hands, you wouldn’t know which belonged to whom. 

It occurred to me, that without meeting them I knew that they read each other like books. 

They were so close they looked and talked like each other. 

They had the same hands, the same spots time gives you when you’ve been and seen a lot. 

They have intertwining memories, one I am sharing with them right now. He opens the small window to his left and wind passes through, he places his hand on hers and she smiles. They said nothing, they no longer had to. 

artichok-ing on feelings

I like the way artichokes fall apart under my fork.

This isn’t coming out of nowhere, I was just eating a salad with them as a main ingredient.

I stuck my fork into one of them and it just crumbled apart, layer after layer of thin paper-like coats, almost withering away at the touch of metal, too weak to stay together, but still strong enough to detach into individual, separate layers.

I didn’t have to forcibly spread them apart, they just fell, almost shy of their own existence.

Their taste is surprisingly there, and not there. They are not of a loud nature. They don’t really bring an abundance of flavour. They do not sting or bitter, they like to hint their flavour. It is little by little, and not all at once.

Their center, when you expect it to be harsh and solid, is actually the softest part of the artichoke. It’s remarkable to see how this part holds all of the layers together like glue.

To the naked eye, they are firmly held side by side, and one on top of the other, almost creating a safety shell that covers the center.

To the touch, they open up as if they were always meant to; detach and fall apart in calm nature, almost like petals from a flower that had passed its blooming season; a flower losing its petals because it is how it was always supposed to be; beautiful for a moment, but sadly temporary.

did you know that artichokes are actually flowers?

Google just told me, but I think I may have already guessed.

a tale of two blues

He was as light and as unexplored as the sky itself. So vast it stretched and overtook her whole universe.

She was a deep ocean, when he only expected a little rain he could dampen his feet in.

But he was up there, and she was down here.

Maybe he liked to look at her from afar, she thought.

Maybe he would think she was breathtaking then. She couldn’t understand why some people were drawn to the sea so much, when he was clearly only thinking about different ways he would drown.

She looked up from her water, straight to the clouds above her and thought how different his blue was from hers. We are not the same. Her blue swallowed light when his emitted it.

Sometimes she wished she weren’t too heavy to simply reach up and feel what it is like to float with nothing under her.

She longed for them to meet halfway, but she knows that if he got too close to her, he’d be afraid to sink. She was also hesitant to fly, but mostly afraid to fall, so she kept sending paper airplanes into the sky, folding their edges neatly before their takeoff.  They would quickly disappear between the clouds. Nothing ever fell back, so she wasn’t sure if they’d ever gone where they were supposed to go.

So here we leave it, a full world between our blues. Maybe we were only meant to love from our distances. Just like the sea and the sky, we mirror, never to touch.