Wednesday, March 19, 2014

LOST - Lost in Beirut

Previously on LOST: In "Lost in Tripoli", Heba, a Tripoli native, has met Samir when causing a car accident while driving to Beirut. One week later, Samir visits Heba in Tripoli. They have lunch at Hallab and Heba gives Samir a sightseeing tour of Tripoli, a city he only knew via television before. Samir, a busy photographer from Beirut, finds Tripoli attractive. They both find each other attractive.

Heba hangs up the phone. This was Samir, she tells her mother. He can't come to see me this Sunday. He says that he doesn't feel comfortable driving to Tripoli at the moment.

I can understand”, says Salma, Heba's mother. “This country is a mess.”

You know”, she goes on, “your dad is not feeling well in the past weeks.”

His blood pressure is still too high?”, Heba asks.

It is”, her mother says, “and he has a pain in his left leg. He should see his doctor regularly but he can't. It is not safe to go there.”

Those damn snipers.” Heba shakes her head.

Heba and Samir are seeing each other for five months now. Several times Heba has visited Samir in Beirut.

Last Sunday afternoon they went out for lunch, taking Samir's brother, his wife and their children with them. They drove to Zaytunay Bay, a favorite hangout place for many Beirutis down at the Marina. They had intended to have a giant burger at St. Elmo's, but the restaurant was full. Babel at the other end of the row of restaurants was their fallback position. Babel served excellent Lebanese food with a modern twist. The kids liked it too.

In the restaurant, Samir was greeted by Joseph Attieh, the pop singer who had won Star Academy Lebanon in 2005. Samir had photographed him for the cover of his latest album. He hugged him like an old friend.

Until then, Heba had seen Joseph Attieh only on TV and on billboards, announcing his concert on New Year's Eve.

He looked tired. He is more attractive on film”, Heba later said.

They all are.” Samir smiled. “Photoshop works better than Botox.”

Zaytunay Bay was only a few steps away from where Mohamed Chatah, the March 14 politician, had been killed by a car bomb in the last week of 2013. Heba was tempted to walk over and take a look at the scene of the attack. Samir held her back.

Visiting unlucky places will bring bad luck.”

To me it's a mystery”, Samir explained to Heba, “how come his murderers knew that Chatah would take this route on his last day on earth? They must have had an insider talking to them.”

Samir can really talk smart, sometimes, Heba thought that afternoon. But sometimes he takes things too easy.

 Zaytounay Bay, Beirut

Like when they had their first real fight as a couple, a few weeks earlier. After the Chatah bombing, more car bombs had hit Beirut and Heba was really worried. About Lebanon, about Beirut, about everything. But particularly about Samir.

Please be careful”, Heba said, “don't go to these places anymore.”

I have to”, Samir had answered, “I have jobs to do.”

Samir took off his sunglasses. “You remember the famous picture from the 2006 war? Young Lebanese visiting South Beirut to see the destruction there, wearing Gucci glasses. Maybe one day, I will be there with my camera when it happens and then I will be famous.”

Are you crazy?” Heba almost cried. “What about me?”

I love you, and you know this”, Samir said. “But a photo like that could give my career a whole new boost.”

And after the bombings there was Sochi and the Olympic winter games. It turned out that Samir was one of the photographers on the set when Jackie Chamoun's topless pictures were taken.

That little bitch”, Heba hissed. She was jealous. “How many times did you touch her breasts?”

Come on!”, Samir tried to calm Heba. “Not once. I didn't have to. Besides, I was wearing gloves. It was cold.”

That little bitch”, Heba kept repeating. “Where did you spend the night with her? I bet that it was very hot in front of the fireplace.”

She is not such a good skier anyway”, Samir said. “Can we change the subject now?”


I am going to Beirut, mom”, Heba says. “I will take the car and leave in 15 minutes. I want to see Samir.”

Drive carefully, my daughter. And say hello to Samir. When will you present him to us?”

Mom, please. Soon, I promise.”

Just as Heba is about to leave the house, the phone rings. “It's your brother from Qatar”, her mother shouts.

How is life in Qatar, brother”, Heba asks. “Is it as boring as everybody says?”

I am here for the money”, Tarek replies. “Not for the fun.”

Business is bad in Tripoli”, Heba says. “Nobody is investing anymore.”

How much longer can you keep the banks quiet?”

I am afraid that we will run out of money shortly. We struggle.”

I will send you money in the coming week.”

And then, Heba is on her way to Beirut. The Salam mosque that was blown up by an explosion last August is still under construction. And the little department store next to it, a collateral damage of the bombing, hasn't reopened yet.

A Mercedes taxi stops and picks up new passengers. Heba honks the horn. The restaurants on el Mina Street are almost empty. Ashraf Rifi is still riding his horse on the big poster at the end of the street. Since Heba last took this road out of Tripoli, Rifi has become Lebanon's minister of justice.

Justice. All we want in the Arab world is justice, Heba thinks. Maybe more than any other people in the world.

Why is it that justice is so close to our hearts and yet so far from our minds? Heba has no answer.

She is excited to drive to Beirut. She is excited to meet Samir. On the radio they play Joseph Attieh's new song.

My life has changed quite a bit since I have met Samir, Heba thinks. I have finally left my comfort zone. At least, I am trying to leave it. This may be my last chance. After fifty, a woman with no man at her side slowly withers away. That's what my daughter says. It's scary.

The army checkpoint on the highway south of Batroun has a ragged look, as always.

The poor kids still have the same old guns, Heba sighs. The 3 billion dollars that Saudi Arabia has recently pledged to the Lebanese army haven't trickled down to here.

Heba reaches the Casino du Liban and the traffic starts getting heavier.

I wonder what the people here think about the situation that Lebanon is in. Do they still want to be a part of Lebanon?

Despite her thoughts wandering off, she is cautiously cruising between the lanes. She doesn't want to cause another accident. The highway goes from three lanes to two, and then back to three again.

This area looks safe and prosperous. It seems to Heba that she sees a new sushi restaurant every time she passes this area. But everywhere they go from here, they risk running into bombs.

She must brake hard to avoid a collision with a bus that cuts into her path. Do you feel like going nowhere, the billboard opposite Crepaway reads, like your life is too complex? Simplicity is the solution.

Highway to Beirut
On Zalqa highway, the traffic is so congested that Heba has time to check out the many furniture stores on the right side of the highway. I don't like the heavy dark woods of the furniture in Tripoli, she thinks. It's too conservative. But the tacky Italian designs are not my style either.

Why isn't there an IKEA in Lebanon, like in Europe? We have ministers for everything, but no one cares for the things we really need in Lebanon. Heba hits the accelerator.

Then, finally: one last corner and Heba will reach Samir's house. Samir is a really handsome guy, actually, Heba says to herself. With his hair going slightly grey he has a bit of a George Clooney look.

I used to be turned off by men with grey hair. They seemed so old. But with Samir, it's different. Heba feels the happiness rising inside her.

She is surprised to see Samir in front of the house when she arrives. Heba parks and gets out of the car. They kiss each other. Samir appears to be stressed and distant.

What is this suitcase here?”, Heba asks. Samir shrugs and he stutters.

I am sorry that I couldn't tell you earlier but there was no time calling you.”

Telling what? What do you mean?” Heba's face has turned to white.

I just got a call from Sandra, you know, the leader of Sandmoon, the band. Sandmoon will start an European tour tomorrow and Sandra is desperately looking for a photographer and video guy to travel with them. Their regular guy broke his leg in Faraya this morning.”

I still don't understand.” Heba is trying to breathe calmly.

I figured that I take the offer and go with them. I would have loved to spend a cozy weekend with you. But it is Europe, it's a job, it should be fun.”

In a hurried movement, Samir swings his arms around Heba and kisses her again.

Sorry, I have to go. My flight is in one hour. I love you. And we will see each other soon.”

Heba feels like she has never felt before. Something had just knocked her down.

Samir knows too many women, Heba thinks. But that's not it. That's not the point. There is something else that's bothering me.

Here I am. Standing alone on a boardwalk in Beirut. Where shall I go?

From a distance she can hear “Truly Madly Deeply”, Savage Garden's hit record from 1997. It's from her bag. Heba's phone is ringing.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! WOW!!!! I cannot believe how much this Heba resembles me.
    My eyes couldn't follow the lines fast enough, I ABSOLUTELY love it!
    I am so shocked by the amount of coincidences and common things I have with these stories! Please keep'em coming! I am so impressed, my mind is speaking french.
    *eyes wide open*