“Is not hospitality an interruption of the self?” Jacques Derrida, Adieu, p. 51.
April 5, 2009 – Beirut
The dreamy eyes had widened with ferocious excitement at the news of being accepted as a future student in the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. The family enjoyed a frenzy of jubilation. The daughter of a handicapped father and struggling mother had carved her way to one of the most prestigious universities in Europe.
“Derrida; Balibar; Foucault; Sartre; Bourdieu; Weil.” Kanz, the star daughter, screamed, her family around her in a wobbly circle, the unity of a promise fulfilled and a new promise being made bringing them together. Her mother cried; the news too strong for her to process with the same re-stricted attitude of her normal days.
“You’ll go there, you’ll be free. You be who you want to be and make us proud.”
There was no mention of what she wanted to major in. Nothing mattered except the departure with a promise; the commitment to a decision of being greater than her predecessors, of being as great as her potential allowed her to be.
April 11, 2011 – Beirut.
Kanz’s brother woke up and immediately called his sister in France. But no one answered. He woke his mother, who grudgingly told him to leave her alone. But he insisted that she should wake, so he bellowed.
“Mama! You have to wake up. It’s April 11! Mama. Kanz is in France and today is April 11.”
His mother’s eyes widened as if an ocular nerve had been pricked. Panicking, she got out of bed, at a loss and tried to call Kanz. But to no avail. No one answered.
“What do you want me to do now? Just worry? What do you want me to do?” she screamed at her young son who responded with a blank face and a shrug.
She turned on the television. There was no mention of anything happening in France, but a hysterical maternal hunch was laid heavy on her heart; Kanz is going to be in trouble. Kanz needs her. Kanz wants to be held tight.
April 11, 2011 – Paris
Dusk. Kanz, twenty-two, locked herself in the bathroom and sat in the water-full bathtub. She sat there, on her naked bottom, her feet close to her chest and hugging her knees with her thin white arms. The water submerged half her body, her breasts half floating atop the still water. This stillness permeated throughout the whole apartment. She made herself an enactment of a still-born foetus because she knew that the day would mark her as a stranger, born anew, demanding her, forcing her to obtain a new identity.
Three years ago, she had left Beirut with a baggage full of promises. The promise of a glorious and strong return.
She opened her legs and let her hair sink in the shallow depth of the bathtub. It started spreading, hair by hair, widening, opening up like a mushroom explosion under slow motion. She passed her fingers through it to see if it’s still strong, still thick, still solid enough to hide her if she needed it to do so.
The sun rose and the smell of bread emanated from the many bakeries surrounding her apartment. She gazed haplessly on the covers of the bed. The French sound of civilization slowly entered the room. The passing cars, the rapid French ranting, the high heels, the clatter of shopping carts, the music from street performers; and then the phone rang. She stared at the red light going on and off rapidly as the ringing echoed throughout the still room: another French sound which she did not want to respond to. She stared at the ceiling and imagined the course of her day: people staring at her, people thinking that she’s a criminal by birth, by indoctrination, by force, by root and stem. On the arm-chair next to the phone, she saw how the world outside finally found its way to the core of her private life.
The phone rang. Again, she did not answer.
The hour of departure had neared and she knew that she had to get dressed. Facing it will only make it go away, that monster of reality. She saw pictures which contained her now lost object of safety. A flux of memories rushed confusingly in her head, mixing with each other, all of them containing this object which she thought would be with her until the end.
The first days in university; the night-time walking and stares; the fear of losing it all. And fear made flesh. She lost her source of confidence.
April 5, 2009 – Beirut
After a lengthy time of celebration, cake eaten and pastries served, the father called his daughter from his room. He lay in bed like an old sage. Kanz sat on the tip of his bed, still smiling, and he looked at her, her big black eyes glaring at him.
“I’ve raised you the best way I could,” he began talking, his voice struggling to articulate his thoughts. “And I’ve never forced you to do anything.”
“And I do not want to start forcing you to do anything now. But I want you to know that if the time comes when you have to part with what you think constitutes you, you feel free to do it.”
“Open up and experience everything. Never hold back. The phoenix burns itself so that it’s born anew. And we should do the same. You’re going there to shine. And no doubt you’ll say a lot of goodbyes along the way, to people with lovely faces and strangers with curious gazes.”
She nodded again. He coughed.
“But the seasonal road ahead is only lit by our sight, and even though at some moments we might be blind, there’s always insight to find. The best thing I can tell you to do is to never look back. Be young and willing. Burn every bridge and don’t write back. Freedom is having nothing to lose. Don’t get attached to something that can be easily taken away from you.”
She got up and went outside.
Four months later, she packed her bags and travelled to Paris with everything to lose, the burden of a promise and the weight of a decision pushing her down to earth in a humility felt only by a slave in front of a master. But her father’s words echoed in the back of her head. Somehow, she felt safe.
And she could not, would not fail them.
April 11, 2011 – Paris
The phone rang for a third time, and this time she got up. Her dry body trotted heavily to the phone.
“Hi Kanz. Are you alright?” Her mom breathed heavily.
“Yes. I’m alright. I haven’t went outside anymore.”
“How does it feel?”
“It feels like freedom.”
“Freedom?” a strong tone of confusion with a spice of betrayal marked her mother’s surprised question. “You feel free?”
“I have nothing to lose anymore.”
“What? Don’t say that. You still have everything to live for. Don’t forget what you want to do.”
“But. I can’t do it anymore.”
“It’s not the end of the world. You can do it. You can cope it.”
“I have no one here, not anymore. As of today I’m alone.” A pause, a silence fuelling an ominous feeling of suspension. “I have to go.”
“Just do what you have to do Kanz. Remain calm.”
She hung up. Three years ago, it was an easy decision to go out, full of the confidence to be what she wanted to be. Now, the life outside made it impossible to do so. It has been explained to her as the price of independence.
And she looked at her burqa and found all the independence she wanted ghostly written on it.
It had been explained to her as the price of equality.
And she looked at her burqa and found all the equality she wanted emanating from it.
It had been explained to her as the price of freedom.
And she looked deep inside and knew that the freedom the world outside promised her is one that conditions her to be unaware of her origins. And she rejected freedom if it asked to be unaware of her origins, like being born from an egg thrown in the woods.
So she got up, wore the burqa and stepped out of the house. She walked down the street knowing that rapid French words are going to target her; that police whistles are going to sound at her sight. And she walked until that which was meant to happen occurred, the noose of French hospitality tightened on her neck, suffocating the spirit that had promised a family that she’ll do well; that she’ll do her best.
French words, and police whistles. Eyes glaring. She didn’t like the noose that she was hanging from. She went back to her apartment with a fine for wearing what she wanted to wear. She could not, would not accept the way she was accepted. She called her mother and told her that she’s coming back home.