It was the beginning of spring in the age of boobs emergence. I waited for the day to dawn to take my morning stroll to Jana. I had my neck decorated with cheap gardenia lei. It was half an ornament and half a cover-up for my unsupported pea sized breasts. With a pseudo swagger in my strut, they were tossed in the air before landing pathetically into a short-lived unsexy bounce. I was exploiting my innocence through a medley of French yé-yé songs that I mixed on a pre-used cassette tape.
A Sony walkman in one hand and a zaatar man'oushé in another, the stroll was euphoric. The temperature was tied to an enticing 23 degrees Celsius. At the corner of my hood, the scent of gardenia came blasting on waves of early morning breeze. Walking in Beirut in the late 90s was like taking a tour of scents. If you sniffed too hard, you could detect the smells of dried blood, welding fumes and fresh vomit. Beirut smelled like the moon, a mix of fired gunpowder and lunar dust, the consequence of dying stars.
A beggar, who was deemed a Syrian intelligence spy by the entire Mar Elias neighborhood, blocked my way with his extended hand. From his mumbling lips I could tell that God was the subject of his speech. I moved on as I already had it figured out that God was not on my sympathy list. The stroll took ten minutes for the tidy Beiruti. But for me, it was a matter of seven minutes and thirty seconds. I had a solid knowledge of secret shortcuts to get from my home to Jana's.
While everyone around us was consumed with jealousy, Jana and I shared a fierce friendship. We strongly believed in the perpetuity of our bond. We encrypted in each other the codes to our inner universe. We embodied oneness. Jana was the only person who I could embrace a solid twelve hours of her physical presence followed by four hours chatting nonsense on the landline phone. We had a lot and nothing to say to each other.
Once arriving at the corner of Jana's neighborhood, you could see the haunted palace. I heard once Jana's mother saying that there were two ghosts occupying it. One of them was a front door guard and the other one was a rooftop radar. I had named them Wadi'a and Badi'a and invented farcical jokes about their ninja abilities and super powers. I was surely and with no doubt under the influence of Japanese anime TV series for a very long while. If anything ever unified the Arab world in its entirety, it was inarguably Captain Tsubasa, known in the Arab world as Captain Majed. Wadi'a and Badi'a were the epitome of Captain Majed, exceptional yet implausible.
While crossing the steep road, the gentle beep of a car horn stopped me. My eyes landed first on the hanging eye shaped amulet then on the well-groomed man in the driver's seat of what seemed to be a white Chevrolet. I was not sure whether the amulet was supposed to ward the evil eye off of the car or the man. I took a step back. The smell of his bargain obsolete perfume blew my nostrils. I wasn't as near as you'd imagine but my allergic reaction to stinking smells was something you wouldn't fathom. A plagiarized song, originally Turkish, in the voice of Fairouz was playing on the radio. It was something about a village girl singing for roses or maybe cows. I couldn't really tell. But all in all it was a celebration of the age of innocence.
'Excuse me. Good morning,' he said. Apparently he had a question.
I slid my headphones down.
'Do you know how I can get to College Lycée Abdel Kader from here?'
I rested my headphones on my shoulders to make my gestures purposeful. I was known to talk better with my hands.
'If you keep going straight then take the first right and drive down the slope it will be on your left hand,' I said with confidence.
I mapped his face. There was something strange about this man. He had a peculiar look and a fixed smirk. You'd think it was his typical face. His right hand was hooked tightly on the wheel. I suspected to have seen fungus coming out of his nail. It took me a few seconds to notice his left shoulder moving up and down in a fast pace. His blue veins were anxiously fleshing out of his skin. His left hand was jerking. His face was transforming. He looked like he was having a stroke. I was motionless. The idea of looking down below his shoulder did not cross my mind. Then the man gasped unexpectedly. I looked down. He had his penis in his hand. It was enormously long, grossly jiggly and swollen while fighting hard to erect. A far-fetched penis to exist in real life!
My sensations were raped. My guts churned. I took a deep breath in. His rancid perfume mixed with rotten sweat lingered in the air and made me nauseous.
I took two steps back but his penis was still visible. It was so long that he could hold it up above the window level. It felt like it was getting longer in real time. I could only think of two possibilities. Either he was about to cast it around my tiny body or I was to break out of my motionlessness. I looked in every direction until I landed my gaze on the haunted palace. I wanted to run towards Badi'a and Wadi'a so badly. Instead, I froze in my place and looked endlessly at the palace. The man had two ideas in mind. Either I was content or I was a psychopath.
Suddenly, Badi'a appeared on the rooftop. He looked like an enormous dragon. He breathed out his fire onto the white Chevrolet and turned it into ashes then dangled the man down from his elastic organ to bounce repetitively until it detached from his body then turned into a noxious serpent that crept on him, hissed in his ears then stung his paralyzed body and discharged its poison orgasmically into his blue veins. His blood began to dry out before my eyes. The man looked at me pathetically and said 'please please help!' I victoriously laughed myself into a hysterical fit that could be easily mistaken for gelastic epilepsy.
My laughter got out of control to the point that it thwarted all the man's efforts. His jerking hand slowed down. His penis melted below the window. It was no longer in sight. I just couldn't get myself to stop. It got awkward. He turned the radio up to the highest volume. My laughter was still louder than Fairouz's voice. His face transformed into that of a defeated child who was kicked out of soccer team for missing the easiest chance to score. He precipitously and swiftly took off. I could hear his anger as he raced down the slope. Instantly, my laughter fit halted. I looked at the palace. I saw Badi'a. He was a she. She threw a gardenia flower through the air. It magically landed in my curls. She said, ‘Good morning, D!’ then she disappeared.
I ran towards Jana's home but couldn't hold my ground. I splashed my vomit on the sidewalk and dropped on my knees. Jana rushed towards me and slid off my gardenia lei where my gut soup was dripping through. She knotted my curls unfashionably and wiped my face with her blue scarf. I rested my back against a car. Jana did the same. We gazed at each other for a while. There was a mystical silence. It felt like Jana and I were the only ones inhabiting the ghost town.
My boobs were no longer covered with my gardenia lei. I noticed that Jana too had no cover-up. I told her about the well-groomed man in the white Chevrolet. She said she could no longer take the smell of my vomit. We walked silently. It was one of the longest walks we ever took to school. That morning, Beirut was eerily inviting. Our silence unfolded its dark charm.
We walked into the empty classroom, unlike our habitual tardiness. We sat next to each other. I sensed that something about Jana has changed. I wasn't sure what it was. I asked her if she was okay. She said she was. I told her that I didn't believe her. She said she was sorry. I waited for an explanation and she knew that.
She stood up in front of me and said she had something to tell me. I waited. Jana never made introductions. She was the kind of storyteller who went straight to the point. She was an impatient bitch. She told me about her evening walks back home from school after our Friday volleyball training. She described the roads she took, the candy she bought and the faces she met. She reminded me that I never walked back with her as I used to stay for my dance practice and she wasn't into dance. It felt like she was blaming me for not taking the walks. Her voice started to tremble and I knew the story had a sting in the tail.
A number of classmates interrupted our moment. Jana swallowed everything she was about to say. She sat next to me silently for the rest of the day. It felt like a planet crashed between us. Our bond diluted into a crater. Over the recess, I had my lunch alone in the cafeteria. I had no idea where she was. I looked for her in the playground but she was nowhere to be seen. I went up to the classroom to find her weeping. I watched her from afar. She took a pen and paper and started writing. Her tears were wetting the paper as she wrote unstoppably. She folded the paper, opened my desk and placed it inside. I felt somehow relieved.
We pretended as if nothing had happened. We walked back together like we usually did every day except Friday. When we reached her place, we performed our handshake routine halfheartedly. She told me she would call me at 4PM like usual. I continued my stroll home.
I itched to open the letter. It was rubbing against my trouser pocket with each step that now lost the pseudo swagger. Once I reached the haunted palace at the corner of Jana's neighborhood, Wadi'a whispered in my ear that Jana was not going to call me at 4PM. A restless sensation shivered through my body. I took the letter out of my pocket and hesitantly abandoned it unopened at the door of the palace. I dropped on my knees and wept myself to a hysterical fit that could be easily mistaken for gelastic epilepsy.
I unknotted my curls. A familiar odor emerged. I sniffed my hair and my body hard enough to detect the smell of dried blood, welding fumes and fresh vomit. I smelled like the moon, a mix of fired gunpowder and lunar dust. Just like Beirut, I was the consequence of dying stars.