In the idle situation of smoking a cigarette in the summer sun, memories surface like scenes seen from a scratched and scarred wooden windowpane. The heat radiates from the cement buildings, and from the windowpane the memory of the mountain breeze amplifies my fiery stillness on the flared sidewalk. An army convoy creeps its way across the street, its wheels are steady, a soldier mounts the gun on top of the truck, his eyes scan the panorama in front of the convoy, people indifferent to his presence, beggars following fast maneuvering shoes, cars honking at them from all sides, and in front of him a secret line he knows the convoy must follow stringently even though the gun he rides offers neither solace nor threat.
…But to go back to the mountain where my aunt would take me for indefinite weeks away from the blaze of Beirut; I take another drag from the cigarette and through the mind’s windowpane I see a cloud of dust in the distance approaching me, the pebbled road beneath me shaking. I am strange on this road, my aunt’s house is still unfamiliar to me and it’s just across the street, yet the cloud of dust entraps me within it from far away, and soon it is as if I am the one who is approaching it, even though its inevitable danger, this ominous taupe billow, freezes me in place. In the moment of immanent peril my legs respond again, but it’s too late, already midway on the road, I’m cloaked in a rough taupe mist…
They call me inside to the sound check. It’s midday, the chairs are still neatly arranged, ashtrays are clean and the smell of the detergent still fills the air with its thin sharpness. I pick up my violin as Hazem starts playing, waiting for my queue to start. Hazem’s oud picking syncopates between western rock and eastern melodies, my violin keeps to the eastern, alternating between different maqams depending on Hazem’s use of scale.
I started my violin playing as a child with a private teacher, a friend of my mother. She was a hoarder who lived alone; her house smelled like mold, and dust particles would mushroom after every step. My mother thought of it as a perfect arrangement: I’d learn the violin, and her friend would have someone to talk to, but I came to hate her after I joined the conservatoire. Her left hand had a nervous disorder forcing her to perch up the wrist of her fretting hand more than usual, a condition I needlessly emulated because it was the only way I was taught to play. As long as my left hand fretted awkwardly, the teachers at the conservatoire separated me from the rest of the students.
“The person who looks at you playing will think this is a circus show,” Hazem says sternly, still giving me shit about my perched up left hand.
“If you were born after me and I before you, it would be you on the violin now”
“Me, unlike you, would have adapted.”
“What can I say, see what only one year of learning can do? Less, eight months. But no matter, I play as if I can’t wave my hand to saw hello in real life, I play for myself. You’d play with your hand extended, for others.”
“So existentially deep, as always. Next thing you’ll tell me is that some people pray with their hands on their sides, other with the right hand over the left.”
“Well, yes, they do. And they play the same game equally as good. The difference is I don’t play God and judge who is better. You do.”
Hazem, my older brother; he is playing football behind the house in the mountains. A stampede of bicycles, young kids, thinking whatever lay in their way on the road is a necessary victim; an unmerciful army sparing no reserves seeing no defeat in site marches to a steady rhythm. They ride together and form the taupe cloud; metal bodies collide with mine, one after the other they trip over me, scrubbing my body on the mountainous pebbles. But I feel nothing, floating, as if this moment is eternity, painless. I’m motionless on the ground, lying like a lie waiting to be found out, the blue sky slowly recovering from the taupe invasion. Then the discovery, hands over me, carrying me frantically, my body almost slipping from their hands, my blood spilling on the ground, and the bolts of pain…I think, the only way out of this is death.
I go back home after a long night of noise, music and smoke. I open the door of the garden full of mint roots that spread as other roots died of neglect. Brown and yellow roots rest wilted on the ground, begging for a modicum of water to remain motionless, but I decide to uproot them all. Mint roots spread crazily wherever you plant them, and uprooting them is as hard as forcibly forgetting what binds you. What’s left of them reforms them, as embers are promises of fire.
I dig in with my hands, insects crawl on me and I feel the tingle of necessary human transgression. Every root is a memory that I pluck for a momentary period of clarity.
My aunt sits me on the porch, my elbows patched and a faint red slowly seeping through the most elemental form of a patch. She tells me to show the bikers what they have done to me, as if my lacerations are to be a source of my pride and a wellspring of their shame. I tell her to bring my violin, but my request is refused. This is not a time to flaunt my talent, but my soon-to-be scars. Don’t read. Don’t play. Simply be as if in the hoped-for state of perfect. A charade that I’ve been adopting ever since, even when in play.
One of the basest feelings you can ever feel is hatred for someone or something unknown to you. But to hate them exactly because you don’t know them, because you want to know them, that is to love them, these phantom foes and their phantasmal plans.
A wreath of paranoia adorned my mother’s head ever since, one that translated itself into a mortal hatred of my absence. She’d threaten and curse whenever I gave myself to the umbra of her sight. “Be late once again, and I’m never letting you back in,” she’d say, “I’ll never speak to you again,” she’d say, “I’ll close the door on you and forget you,” she’d say. But she’d never uphold them. Late and negligent, I always found the door open. Her threats functioned more as promises of endless acceptance and forgiveness. And I adopted them. I can no longer uphold a threat, neither as a promise to myself nor as a method of negotiation.
I pluck as much mint roots as I can in a performance of forgetting, even if only momentarily in the drunken rage of soiled fingers and bonds. But any act of uprooting is also a commemoration of a tragic event, so that one can always sense the last gasp approaching again and again…
…I know, something must happen now, someone must appear, or at least recognized, so that I can cease to hate and continue again in the state of play…