The Bey Hotel

The Bey Hotel

Convoys and commutes passed along the elevated Highway 3, just beside her, rising above channels of bottlenecked cars underneath he motorway, cyclists rampaging through a canopy of tenement homes suffering from neglect. The streets were busy, busier than the morning day, and the crowds that passed decided their more in common to be more alike. Artificial, stalking Rangers of the PLS whispered among themselves, asking if they needed documents forged. When Jonah left, he informed her by letter, and it was similar to that day that she walked the four miles on Boulevard Haggar, walking along the beach, along the rising and falling concrete wall that served as the boulevard platform, posters of the politicians wrestling for space, some of them dead, most of them active and persevering alive. The familiar faces of the MQP, the PLM, the PLS and the FNL. On the face of the cleric Suud, a mouthpiece for the MQP, a penis had been graffiti’d over the man’s twat like nose, an erotic gesture by the painter, the red and fuchsia contour masking the libidinal form. He told her he would be out of town for a while and asked her to go to his house if there was trouble and to pack some of his things, including a record of The Ghosts playing live at the Red House Theater, with all the original band members involved, and to take the remains of his stash of drugs, mostly just some hash and some pills. The scene at Boulevard Haggar was the same. Suleiman Photo, the photo studio responsible for most of the local portraits was still there. When she was younger, she used it like everyone else for official documents, like the ones strewn upon middle class living room walls, when they still spoke of a middle class, looking lively as ever, a queue lining up outside the door, people in need of photographs, some of them, like herself, to convince an identification. He realized he had forgotten his wallet in the back of the room. He returned to the back. She took sixteen photographs of him, with the same light. Immediately they were trimmed to just six, and she showed him all six. He was satisfied with numbers one, two and three. They were the best. It was before he had gotten used to the sound the flash made when it popped. She agreed. She wasn’t actually supposed to be working there, she said, she was substituting for her sister who was on the job, it was their mother’s place and they were helping her. But she had done a good job, he said, looking into her eyes in all seriousness, wishing she were not so veiled. The evening lights of passing cars glowed along the hills of Route 25. The turnpike gave way to mountains flagging behind the city’s boneless arch. Electrics strung like a coat of fibers, each vine like the staggering of a sentence, glowing beyond repair. On the corner, at Michigan Square, the lights at Naji Music displayed instruments sat silently on the walls, like primary students induced by fear, speaking to a time of less provincial tastes, a strong musical tradition. He accepted his hotel keys back from the concierge. Gibril was going to be there, waiting for him. Gibrl will have showered, he thought, and He will be waiting for me to take her out. He was tired. He didn’t feel like going out. He had been next to humiliated. He was exhausted. Not to mention stressed. Didn’t he see how much the stress was giving? It was immature, he thought, for her to go on like this, wanting this and wanting that, wanting to eat here and wanting to go there, sitting under a sculpture fascinating the park. She came out of the shower already dressed, ready to spend the day. He asked her what she wanted to do. She wasn’t sure. Gibril, he said, please tell me what you want to do today, otherwise I’m going to be stressed. She didn’t know what he meant exactly, but she had an idea. She knew him well. He was going to act out in fits if he was by any impression annoyed. He had planned as much as he planned for it and wasn’t going to be held up. The walls were freshly painted. The floor entirely carpeted. He thought it was spotless, before noticing a stain beside the tall ashtray, between the two elevator doors. It was a vintage street collection, from some other time. He bumped into one of the cleaners in the halls. He was kind, expressing to Ramiz that he had heard about the performance, that it had all gone great, to which Ramiz was confused, as he hadn’t performed, but realized to the cleaner it might have seemed as much, his waxing lyrical on a stage about a poet, who wasn’t even dead let alone interned, the premise of a great performance. He had the vague impression he could trust him. Searching for words, he found that his only give and take with a cleaner before, in the hallway of a hotel, was exactly that day. He had the idea to ask him for drugs, he couldn’t be sure hwy. He thought it would quiet Gibril down, but she seemed capable of doing that she just had to want it. It was a mental thing with her, she had to control her psychology. The inner psychology, accepting that the world was unjust and would be so same, for years and generations. He opened the door for him. A chivalrous man. It was very kind of him, causing so much thanks in Ramiz that he actually stopped to tip the man. He thought it would be right, to tip him then and there, as he done what he had done in order to receive it, and though it wasn’t on the cards per se because he was only just happening to be there without having planned it in his job dissertation he had done the right thing and so deserved to be rewarded for his time. He didn’t have the perfect change for the moment, he was a little off. He had had a fit, while stoned. She took him to rest but he wasn’t alright. He complained about his thoughts, like a child, distressed. She asked him to rest he tried. Then after it was better and the music was on. The lights were dim, the curtains closed. He had panic attacks before. He had prepared for them, had taken lessons and even studied ballet and horse racing as alternate avenues to release his stress, whatever could be done differently to relieve himself. They drove to the secretary’s office, on Rue de Champignons. There were several families in line, those whose pilgrimage had been cut short, those who had lost some of their bags, and several older men who were upset at having to wait so long. At the front end of the line there was an androgynous elderly whose clothes hung over their body in a bulk of rags, talking indecently about their unforced expenses and unforeseen chance. The clerk behind the clear glass walled ignored them, summoning up two bills and a wad of papers for them to sign. There was a discreet murmuring about the crowd as they watched them walk away from their place at the head of the line, embarrassed to have lost so fast. A couple was arguing in front of him over their forthcoming meal, one of them suggesting to eat from the patisserie downstairs, and the other suggesting that the pastries were not daily made, and the flour they used was suspect, so they would prefer to walk the three blocks to Avenue Rose, to eat at one of the dining stations at Le Grand, the busy marketplace open during the week, with food stalls from several colonies on sale. The clerks decided to close their doors, presumably to walk for lunch. The disorderly pilgrims and the other strays discussed what they should do, to apply some pressure or to secede. As she exited the person in front of her waved their papers angrily at an official of the Security Apparatus, whose face gleamed back from behind a white sheath veil, a long navy blue shirt that tucked in the front to their solid gray trousers, falling in the back like a tuxedo suit. Their white gloved hands waved them on, largely in an act of bold deployment. The persons in front of her continued their reproach, and one of tem pulled a lighter from their jacket pocket, burning their papers in midair, to which their companions got upset, fearing they had gone too far. A small scuffle ensued as two of the persons in their small but growing crowd turned out to be plainclothes officers of the Civil Guard, ushering the arsonist and their companions to the Eastside exits, disappearing as the crowd scene dissolved. She caught her eyes. She didn’t know her. She might have known her. She had waited long enough with her stare for  to notice she had been staring at her. She could be severe if she wanted to, she had it in her. She noticed Michael, passing down the velvet halls, accompanied by an entourage. He seemed a little lively for the hour. She didn’t want him to notice her. It was embarrassing the way Ramiz had spoken the night before, and she didn’t want Michael to be confusing her with him anymore. She had enough of Ramiz’s nosiness and his obvious jest and it was all the time. He couldn’t take a joke lightly, all because he was stoned. He drove up to the Bey Hotel, taking a moment as he stepped outside of the car to breathe, to focus on his breathing, letting in and letting out, doing as he was told in the meditations he was offered, as part of his program, in fact. The word red sofas in the lounge, with the long open glass windows and the morning sun streaming in, against a backdrop of olive blue walls, a floral pattern intoxicating the room, white roses and blue grapes suffocating from the addict’s smoke, the concierge’s lousy mouth telling the cleaners off, the suede blue carpet cutting the room in half, left him with a feeling he felt only of home, of wanting to get out and chase whatever could be tailed, legging it the other way. They parked the car in the parking lot. The shadow of the hotel spread across the concrete canvas like the evening haze of a stadium. The signs reading Hotel and Calm long out of use. It had been years since they had been there. Confident, outrageous, swooning in their swarms. The hotel sat at the intersection of Highway 1 and Boulevard Metis, on the outskirts of the inner city, beside where the city pool had first been built, to accommodate daily swimmers. One the one side of it, the People’s Gymnasium, and down the street, the Rosary School, where colleagues of Christians taught from the Book and harnessed the evening’s daily calm, the quiet could be quite startling, for a portion of the city just inside the ropes, ending at the junction of Highway 1 and 3. A four story building with modest furniture, two rooms on each floor. The front desk sits directly at the entrance, so it cannot be averted or overlooked. The premises is not usually trespassed anyway, accounting for its lackluster maintenance. Nothing significant about the place, save for its location, on one of many corners that lead the winding mountain road from the capital on the shoreline to great emptiness on the peaks. He sat under the grand chandelier, on a chair with two arms and an ottoman to go with it. A waiter approached, without his having to move his neck to the side, ordering his favorite drink, nonalcoholic, before two o’clock, a rosemary soda they made that’s the best. He checked in with his phone, setting an alarm for fifteen minutes, checking if anyone had called, knowing that they probably had not, those he had been expecting, and those he did not expect, less likely to call him on that afternoon, had not called. He preferred to spend the time alone either way, wandering by himself without having to be expected to face another soul, let alone a figment of his past, pulling him into the quandary whereby his pride and prejudice were at stake. The receptionist at the desk was sitting in a sailor’s suit and sailor’s cap, and a button down shirt in blue and white stripes. The wall behind him was gold, and there was a map of the world, and smaller maps beside it, with clocks and differing times, as though they could be there, as though it were only a few hours away, several jumps of the clock’s slow hand and they would be there, signed, sealed and delivered, transformed into another set of strifes. They’re shown to their room. She could feel Claude’s presence behind her, hovering in his usual way. She cut the large surplus bag of toilet paper rolls, pulling three out of the torn stack of plastic.

“What is it Claude?” She spoke from over her shoulder. “You’re hovering.”

“Is it true,” he asked. “Are you really quitting?”

She put the rolls she had collected down, turning to face him.

“Its true,” she said. “I’m quitting.”

“Where are you gonna go?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Is it too late to convince you otherwise?”

“Are you mad,” she asked.

Shown to their rooms

Samantha arrived at the reception, peeking her head outside one of the office doors, behind the receptionist Claude. She was wearing a black dress suit, with a slim patted collar, two swallow brides painted on the lapel chest, the designers emblem.

“Samantha, these people are here on the (wedding, funeral, conference, anniversary) reservation. Can you show them to their room? I think it was double accessed.”

“Now, we know you’ve booked a double soprano deluxe, but because you’re here by invitation, from a very special guest of ours, we’ve upgraded you to the somersault sanctuary suite, on the fifth floor. You have five rooms, one of them is a traditional dressing room, split for ladies and men. You will find everything you would want to wear inside already. Feel free to try anything on, to wear it. The clothes are yours. And there is a dresser available for you, if you’re interested, one for ladies and one for men. You just let me know and I’ll place the call.”

They arrived at the elevator. She swiped the logo with her card.

“Its on the fifth floor. It’ll be down in a second.”

They smiled back and forth.

“One of the rooms is a meditation room. There are medicine balls, paint spells and crystal cleanses. You can ask for a private tutor as well. We have some very exceptional trainers. They know exactly what they’re doing. I can show you a brochure if you want to see what they offer.”

“Wow, that’d be great.”

“Yeah sure, when were done here Ill show you.”

The elevator arrived, prompting them to step in the moment the doors devolved, following their evolving.

The small short awkward looking man from the Rania Nassar scene, what is it, who is it, tell me, tell me now, who is it.

“This is Majd,” Samantha said, “he’s our elevator concierge. He takes care of your needs, and the night shift guy is Maxwell, who takes care as well.”

“My pleasure,” he said, bowing in his silver suit, his tall silver top hat beaming under the earthen lights, four split centers and a stream of smaller bulbs in the receding facade, the second ceiling wall. “Fifth floor, Madame,” he asked with another bow.

“Fifth floor, Majed,” Samantha said, “prompting him to swipe his card and click on a glowing button.”

They walked through the halls of the floor. The hotel had been renovated, following its long demise, years of war causing its elegant essence to decay. The windows were all restored, though they retained the original design. The hall separating all four rooms, each strutting away from the circle, from where the elevator came to a stop.

“This is the original floor plan, we retained everything in the restoration. The north room, as you can see, looks onto the Mediterranean. The southern room looks onto Durun. East and West, you see both, and either side of the city. Of course, from all four rooms is a city view, but the horizon is what’s interesting.”

“What do you feel like doing today?”

“I’m excited to finally see it,” he said.

“I’m excited to finally show you,” she answered. “Its been so long,” she said. “Its been so long.”

From Durahan on the hard drive Hitachi.

“I feel like, at its core, the music coming out of that time is a music of regret, more than anything else. Sort of, for not really knowing how to make amends. A music of things past, if I’m speaking clearly.

“Yeah, like folk music, the kinda shit we listened to at the time. Look, all of it, the whole scene, it was all just a jazz, you know, a way to make peace with ourselves. Its like a folk song. Every few minutes, the trumpets quiet, the beat circles in again, the crowd starts to play. They getr the message, they get the point. As long as there’s someone singing in the crowd, the song goes on. For example, we have a song we liked to play, when we first started out, called “Take Example”. It was recorded by Desmond Hayes, with Lee Roi Raj on the piano. I think it goes on for like thirteen minutes. The lyrics are three basic lines. He goes, “Fo exampol/politico prisanas/take yo sampol”. In the accompanying music video, the singer was forced to commit autofellatio while being filmed by his captors, a political prisoner camp in Dar Imam, in the early years of the occupation. I don’t think people care about the reference, nor do they understand. All they see is the black, the evil of the act. It’s an impersonation. He would never do such a thing. He’s just playing.”

“I should check in with Audrey,” he said.

Sandra felt like seeing the city on her own. She didn’t want to follow the program, as it was designed. She felt it would be better for her to enjoy the city, on her own. She ate breakfast in the hotel. A plate of refried beans on a wholegrain toast, and a slice of plain white toast with jam and butter. She had the choice of orange juice or apple before her, choosing apple. She chose her favorite hat and her favorite dress, the one she had packed for just that occasion, something sweet but not too nice, leaving eh fancy for the classier moments, some of which were still to come, and the dinners where heels were to be expected, or lunches in shoes that ballooned the view. Dadalle met Sandra at the festival. They’re not their together, mothafucking married. they meet there. she’s basically Liz Norton, only your version, and she has different focus. She saw Michael in the lobby. She found him strange, ever since the night before. At first, she had found him beautiful, in a very boyish way. On the phone, she had been speaking…He had overheard her speaking on the phone, with her friend. She hadn’t thought they knew each other, but they did. He said out loud, that they should come over and tan, instead of going for a walk, which was what they were planning to do, to spend some time outside. Her friend was studying law, and had just come in for the weekend, living primarily at the university. There was a reading that night that she wanted to see. He wanted to see her, though she hadn’t told him she was coming on her own, having overheard the conversation, where Sandra found him to be crude. In the morning, she told her friend she didn’t feel like meeting until after brunch, or they could eat together sometime for lunch, if she wanted to push it more. She liked being there, and being there alone made her more comfortable, enjoying the luxury, the prices of the town. She called her on her room.

“I’m going to the pool,” her friend answered.

“Do you want me to get you anything, from outside?”

“I’m good.”

She liked visiting some of the stores. The room at the hotel was very nice, and the concierge was especially sweet, and the bread they baked for breakfast was almost famous, as were the rugs and maritime wines. Her favorite bookstore was a nice small shop on Tal Khar. The villagers were nice and the students in the neighborhood gave it a familiar vibe. She lived in the Saddle’s Shop on Boulevard Repose for the last three years, working as an events coordinator at The Animal House. She had decided to volunteer, to beef up her CV, and liked working at the port. There was a shop at Petit Orlo’s, where stuffed animal hydes hung from the ceiling, she looked at the various pipes, the fringes, the collars, the leather heads, smelling like Dadalle walked to the front of the line. She was the only woman seated on the line, in the table column. He stepped up to her row. She had removed her hat, a beige beret that went well with her brown and white polka dot shirt, and placed it on the table.

“I no longer saw what I had seen in him.”

“What did you see in him?”

“Courage.”

“And then?”

“He wasn’t the sort of guy who could feign interest. To protect me.”

She bumped into her friend from home in the lobby of the hotel.

“Are you still seeing Owelmo by the way?”

“Every Saturday. You?”

“Twice a week sometimes.”

“He’s amazing.”

“What are you doing today?”

“I think I might go see a show, at a gallery. And then maybe the spa.”

“You should tell the concierge to book you the Intertissue massage. It’s phenomenal.”

“Oh my god, I will. How much is it?”

“I don’t know. I put it on my card, on the room.”

“I’ll tell them, I’ll tell them.”

He watched a child across the hall play what seemed to be her favorite game, otherwise her enthusiasm in begging her parents to partake was unnecessary. The mother had her palms on a computer resting on her lap, while the father picked scribbles from a paper bag, that had the logo of a famous bakery he also enjoyed. Every few seconds, without taking his eyes off his wife’s computer, he would reach into the bag and pull out a pile of crumbs, shoving them into his mouth. He didn’t look the part, but then again they all did it. It was the only way to excuse the little scribbles that escaped a muffin. He recognized by the color of the bag, slow white, and the round pink logo with a sky blue spoon in the middle, that they had bought the muffin on Rue Orli, probably from one of the bake sale stands near a photo studio he had known growing up, and a record store that had shut down. The street was full of families selling fruits and immigrants selling mobile phones and stolen watches. He liked the street, considering going there. He considered eating an apple from the luxury basket on the table, or eating the apple while going for a walk to the other end of the hall, overlooking the small playground where children played like fleas, and beyond it, the small lakelike pond full of grasshoppers and toads. But he couldn’t be bothered to move.

“Would you like to have breakfast,” the kind waiter asked.

“Yes,” Yeshiva answered. “I might.”

“If you want to be seated, please let me know.”

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“I’m sure they will show.”

“Take me there, to breakfast.”

“By all means, please, come this way. We have a beautiful able for you right here,” he said.

They walked along the velvet carpet of the lobby floor, coming down off two trenches onto the main platform, where the walk to the small café in the lounge was down some stairs. They passed the hostess, who nodded her head. He was seated by the window. The buffet looked nice. Sprawling along a bare white wall, overlooking the hall overlooking the quarry, the garden outside and the manmade lake, the stretch of small water lilies swimming in ponds, stubs that froze into the cemetery. He was exhausted from the trip so he allowed himself to binge, knowing it would be seen as impolite to enjoy three plates of the breakfast buffet but he didn’t care. He filled his plate with a foundation bed of couscous, and on top, a poached egg, and on top of it, a garden Leaf salad, and further, a large spoonful of boiled white beans in a tomato sauce, and on top of that, a layer of hummus, and top of which he added three to four slices of avocado, three to four slices of cooked beetroot, fresh hemp seeds and cooked pine nuts, black kalamata olives from the olive groves on the outskirts of Dar Imam, a sprinkle of lemon and a dash of lime, and a decent touch of olive oil, seasonal sea salt and black ground pepper. After dropping his plate off at his table, he returned to the buffet to fill himself a glass of red wine from the bottle on offer, a glass of orange juice from a pitcher, a glass of lemonade to go with the salt and sweeten the savory food, and a small pitcher of water that would fill at least three small cups or more if he accounted for ice. He stacked the drinks on a cute little tray that was colored in rainbow patterns, completely out of sync with the surroundings. Dropping his drinks off, he returned to the buffet to drop off the small tray, at which point a waiter, embarrassed, informed him that the tray was theirs and theirs only for using, “We have to keep it in our hands,” he said, “I’m terribly sorry.”

“Are you,” he asked.

“I am. I was looking for it. I’m happy you found it. I need it, though, I need the tray.”

“Okay,” he said, “you can have it, of course, I mean, it’s yours.”

“I don’t care really, but there’s a way we have to do things. If I bring someone’s lunch, holding the plate with my hand, holding it from the bottom, where the plate is generally hot, what if I drop it? I don’t care if I have to invite him, we’re generous. We can do that sometimes. If I make a mistake, then who care.s I’ll do it. But then he has to wait, you know? Because somebody was too selfish, wanting to have his own tray. Is that what you wanted? What is it with you?”

“No, man, that’s not.”

“Anyways, is there anything else I can get for you? If there’s anything else I can bring just ring the bell on the center piece of the table, between the two candles,” he said, or to give a friendly wave of his hand, at which point he realized he hadn’t had a cup of tea nor a cup of coffee for breakfast, so he asked if he could bring him a cup of black tea, warm, without milk or sugar, and an Americano coffee, without milk or sugar as well.

The manager, Ralph Shars came over to greet him, as he enjoyed his food.

“What’d you get up to last night? You disappeared after dinner.”

“I considered going out, after I left your place. But then I just walked through the shopping district of Metropolitan. I went onto the boardwalk.”

“On Haggar?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s so nice there, these days. Did you see anyone?”

“I saw Charles, actually. He says he’s fine. No need for anyone to ask about him.”

“Haha, what a joke.”

“I know.”

“No I didn’t get to anything. I stayed in all night, watching old television shows on the internet. You know they carry MP3’s on a desk jet here, on this old kind of printer. Everything is in black and white. It’s dope.”

“How long you in for?”

“Two weeks, maybe.”

“Awesome.”

“I know.”

“You going to any shows?”

“I’m playing at the Red House Theater.”

“Nice.”

“I know.”

“Some places are landmarks. They stay gold, no matter what.”

“I don’t know if that’s really the case, but yeah, it’s good. What have you been up to?”

“I just published a piece on the radio.”

“What channel?”

“Metropol.”

“Cool.”

“It’s free, in a way. They give me an element of freedom. I do what I want.”

“What do you talk about?”

“Politics, pussy, songs.”

“You’re wrong.”

“I drove to Calagard last weekend, it was nuts. We built a home out of clay, slept in some tents, it was awesome. I was drunk the whole time.”

“Was it the first festival or the second?”

“The second. The first was a week before. It’s more techno, this one was more rock and roll. To be honest the music sucked, but it had some moments. I was there for the drugs. Samar was there, with some acid. They handed out rocks.”

He had found her in the lobby, looking distraught, pacing between the small booths with wireless phones and the two computers with internet connection.

“Book it online,” he said.

“Call the airline,” he said.

“I have to book it online,” she said.

“The connection is cutting.”

“Are you on hold?

“I am.”

They were both in need. It was the same way Al Mussawi had decided to deal with Hassan Saroukh, who wanted to invest in his propositions. He was told that morning by the hotel concierge that a man was waiting for him in the conference room of the hotel. He was dressed in a white robe with an overhat, two cufflinks on either arm, a charming walking stick made from Cedar wood, an assistant on either side of him, aviator sunglasses and a golden robe, draped around his neck like the body of a snake, left to freely confine him. He had a lazy tongue, which meant that he spoke kind of slurred and slumped in his speech as he spoke, slumping in his overweight chair. Al Mussawi hadn’t heard of the accident.

“It’s been kept under wraps,” he said. “A secret.”

“Difficult to keep,” Al Mussawi muttered.

“Difficult for me,” he said.

“How did it happen?”

“To tell you the truth,” Saroukh said, “I wouldn’t know. I was standing on the side of the street with my wife, Mme. Carlo, and my first wife, Sit Raghida, mercy on her soul. We had just come out of the store where we buy some things for the house, some things for the kids, for school, I go with them because I have to pay, and I don’t like them fighting over the bill for the same set of clothes, our children are quite aligned,” he said, ruffling with his whiskers, waxed to the bone.

Al Mussawi shunned at the misfortune of his friend, his only friend, he felt, in the whole of his world. A truck had come back, reversing into him. They were dropping off a package, a large wooden piano board. The door was unhinged and the latch just opened, falling onto his knees, breaking them instantly. He had his back turned to the board. All he could remember was the look on his wife’s face. He had thought, at the very most, there was a cockroach planted on his shirt, or a sniper planted to the roof just opposite them. But to lose both of his legs, it felt like destiny, something serious but something that couldn’t be helped, otherwise he would be taking too much away from his creator, who was both able and smart.

“How are the children,” Al Mussawi asked?

“Devastated,” he said.

“I’m sure. And the wives?”

“Somewhat relieved! Couldn’t be happier. A fine punishment, they say. But they don’t dare say it to my face. But I know them. They’re too kind to my face. I don’t know what to do with them. Raghida is the curious one. This hasn’t changed things. What can? I married her because of my mother, she was so adamant, asking me every day without reprieve, whether I wouldn’t grant my sister’s eldest daughter the beautiful wish to be bred.”

He thought it a slight chance to pay for his happiness, having to care for her, to pay her rent, to feed them both, to usher them, to grant them presence at funerals and trials and build them an abode, with a maroon of plants and finely saucered, with wild sprinkler roots and bands of horses along canopy rows, and an open field, and children who drink juice out of straws, without ever divorcing. It seemed causal enough for him. He hadn’t known her exactly. The two times they had met he had been artificially drunk, drinking from his uncle’s case in the basement where the two houses lay. She wasn’t allowed out of the house, her mother fearing she would embarrass herself, somehow, by tripping on a stair or shouting someone else’s name without knowing them, asking for their attention when it wasn’t right, and still she refused to stop doing it, feeling as though she must, do it for her own sake, and what about theirs, they asked, day after day, to no advancement, but the feeling was just, they had to deal with it, as parents. He would be so sweet for taking her upon him. He let her out of the house. That day, she had stopped to buy crackers on Sydney Road, where the farmers sell produce in the mornings and the basket weavers sell baskets in the afternoons. She stopped by at the office of Sit Nohad, stopping for tea and smoking two cigarettes. She wore a long white dress that cut off at her knees, exposing her giant calves and her larger feet, the aura of her biggest toe unmasking from the three pronged slippers exposing her feet, having manicured them in the morning herself, heresy among the country folk. Sit Nohad enjoyed her company. She found her to be a bit dull, compared to Serine Abbas, two years older though. She stopped at the apartment of Sit Khaleej, who was smoking pipe and reading in the basement, overlooking a pile of freshly washed clothes, folding and ironing linens, coughing from her smoke. She had just gotten through child rearing and was happy to be back outside, enjoying the cool August warmth, sweating but not smelling, the scent of onions and garlics sweating through the roofs, reaching her outside. They spoke about her evenings, the things she watched without feeling provoked. Sit Raghida found the programs on television rude and disgusting. Her friend agreed. She hadn’t thought about that, she said, but at some point he had simply stopped watching, though even her nephews, who were seven and four, were watching just about everything, anything that shows. Saroukh had been to see her, to complain about his wife. He found her acting strange of late, climbing out of her single bed, walking through the halls at night, seeming out of sorts, rising to alarm when touched or provoked, when woken or gently caressed, she seemed generally afraid and unable to know better. It was a series of ideas Leaching onto her mind. She was having terrible dreams, all of them linked to memories that contorted to form a single whole, such that the memory itself no longer bothered her, but in its remorse a set of paradoxes remained, that of her lazy youth in the summer, reading her father’s accounting notes on the floor in the suburbs, or dancing on Festival on the Night of Three Dwarfs. Her parents never read to her, thinking her too dull to comprehend, but she found her father’s notes in his briefcase or in the pockets of his clothes, reading the numbers over and over, contriving to form some sort of mystery in her brain. At the age of seven, they removed her from school, and at the age of twelve, they stopped tutoring her at home. He was finding her at night peeking in to little cracks in the walls and openings of doors and under them, searching for a sign of some intrusion, a point of entry for her hated folks. The fear of her own was a fear linked to childhood, where most of her fears were born, and most of those around her suffered as well, crippling the women in her family and some of the men, though her father found it foreign and at times disturbing, he understood the necessity of fear, the propriety of becoming disconcerting, as a means of staying alive, otherwise, how could one excel in the Two Forces of the Constitution, swaying endlessly so, keeping the world in balance, was the joke. She had convincingly gotten worse, who was to blame?

“Not you,” said Al Mussawi, knowing there was a line never to cross. He appreciated the gesture, visited by his friend, and somewhat, his main patron, for the success of his reports, and any sort of stipend that exceeds the usual fare placed to theologians at the Administration’s expense. Saroukh thought highly of him. He liked him. He came off as soft, but well spoken. He respected that in a man, who didn’t need to exert himself physically to exert himself, who accepted to be challenged, overcoming his doubters with gall and thorn collide. He was only concerned what the papers would print if it was known a member of his tribe had spoken fondly of Zahreddine in a public forum, to a mass audience, live and online, on thirteen stream engines collect and one satellite sub, circling the depths at Ras Shahid, powering fifty seven stations, television and radio, firing into two million homes subscribed and two million and fifty seven thousand two hundred and four homes on black market cable, paying a quarter of the price and twice as slow, and often distorted, with static and lag. He left his friend, returning to his room. The large ballroom doors closed with a hush, the click on the wooden doors clamping silent. He crossed through the courtyard of the lobby floor, the velvet matting underneath him. He enjoyed being a guest at the Bey Hotel. It was the most fashionable experience he’d ever had. In the room, they offered him, every day of his four night stay, fresh slippers, and in the afternoons, if he had gone to the swimming pool or left the room for lunch, having taken the slippers with him, or hid them under the bed, which he had done, not once, but twice, they left him a new pair, to do as he liked. He had come with only one pair of slippers protecting his feet, slippers he had worn every day for six months, before winter, and three months before then. He only had one other pair, but they were older, and had bought only four his entire adult life.

The restaurant and the lobby bar downstairs were starting to get full.

“I’m, like a guardian.”

“Of what, Bilal?”

“The judiciary, Barhoum. The law. Who upholds the law if there’s no one to govern it?”

“Nobody.”

“I don’t know. It can become in so many ways. I’m a watchman, a guardian. Like your juror, Adam Morose. He’s an intellectual, is he not? He’s using his powers of persuasion, as an actor, someone who’s face is so well known, to convince the public of his respectability. Why do you think that is?”

“There’s been a smear campaign against him ever since he came out.”

“He knows it is his weakness, that he has no respectability. In today’s world, we respect others because we are told to, not because we believe, deep inside, they are honest, respectable men and women. No, not at all. When we look at each other, if we remove the veil of civility, of society, what do you think we find? We find aversion. Hatred. Smut. Each of us, our thoughts running wild with hatred. Deluded into believing we, ourselves, matter more than them. We deserve what they are fighting for, and because of our smart decisions, and the decisions maybe of our parents, our elders, our well connected friends, we will outsmart them, in the end, we will make their lives ours. Do you disagree?”

“I’m not sure. I can’t say for myself what I feel anymore. Sometimes, when I look at strangers passing in the street, seeing them for the first time, I feel love for them. Other times, that love, it’s even more pure than it was. Sometimes, I don’t care for them, and when I hear something terrible happening on television, what do I care? The problem doesn’t lie with me, though. I have no control.”

“Why do you want to protect your friend, so gallantly? What’s he ever done for you?”

“He’s not my friend, I don’t know him.”

“Then why, habibi, put your own reputation on the line? What good can it ever do you? Don’t you want to get married, son? Don’t you want to have a wife and a family of your own? Or do you want to live in the shadow of your father the rest of your life? Why do you think his father was so revolted by him, he put his neck on the line to destroy him, himself, he put him away? Why do you think? What sort of conversion is there for someone like him, really, converting back to the holiness as things are? His father was disgusted, habibi. You are helping someone who has been abandoned by his own family. The worst thing for a father to see, in his life, worse than any crime committed to his wife or to his daughter, is to see his son decide against becoming a man. A man of his own right. What do you think, this idea, what do you think it matters, what does it mean to you, if you cannot become yourself someone elegant, decent, and refined, what do these ideas mean, when you talk to me about freedom, and expression, and loss? He committed a crime, and like all criminals, in our country, foreign or national, they must pay the price. Hala2, I agree with you, the price is heavy. What can I do? I have to support the law. It doesn’t benefit me now to do anything, sara7a. I’m sorry, he will have to wait. The chamber may be kind, considering he is famous. I don’t know. You never know with these things. What was he doing in such a disgusting place, anyways? To be honest, I didn’t look at the photographs, but, from what I know, it’s too much. No judge in our country will look favorably towards that. Where does he think he is? Who does he think he has become, in our eyes, to let him go like that? What is this place, to him, if he means to dirty us like that? No, no, impossible. No, listen, no. He will not be helped, he will go very far down, before he survives.”

“Thank you for your time,” he said, putting the phone back down.

As he washed his hands, the helper to his left pulled a rolled up towel for him to dry, pulling it from a multicolored stack, the towels, each of them fresh and unused. Khalil accepted it into his hands.

“Thank you,” he said, and the helper nodded, smiling and noticeably kind, from behind a fresh set of teeth.

The helper, Javid, pushed open the door, helping Khalil to pass by without touching. Stepping out from the toilet, he passed two sculptures, lifted from their roots, standing at the wayside like beached dolphins, serving no purpose, having no use. He passed Jamil Kattan’s Deception and the House of Diamonds, two competing jewelry stores, each with its own wing in the hotel lobby, and a few hundred meters from beside the long, oval well, a sprouting fountain, nine towering chandeliers opening up into the central lobby, the wide, waving stairs, coming onto the entrance, where fifteen shepherds took control of doors, each of them a handle, gloved and clothed in cashmere robes. Khalil crossed from the reception to the entrance of the bar. He found his friend Hakim Fattoush, seated by himself on a long velvet couch, looking out into the courtyard of the lobby bar, the piano playing without a host.

“Where are the women?”

“Bathroom, check up.”

“When will they be here,” Khalil asked, looking at his watch.

“The others? They’re coming. On their way.”

“Yalla. Shall we have a drink? What do you want?”

“Double scotch, on the rocks, no lemon.”

“Isma3, I wanted to ask you, did you bring a cigar? I forgot my cutter in the car.”

“It’s in my jacket, hold on.”

Waiters at the hotel bar in the lobby strut around in evening gowns, white shirts, black vests, brown stockings, napkins like aprons hanging from their waists. They looked fresh, refined.

“What’d you do last night,” he asked.

“I stayed up pretty late,” he said.

“In the hotel? You went out?”

“In the hotel. In my room. I got in late. Didn’t move around too much. Didn’t want to.”

“What did you do?”

“I tried to watch something to brighten my mood, it didn’t.”

“What did you watch?”

Cypress Moon.”

“It’s a difficult, difficult film, with a difficult ending.”

“What hurts the most is the way it unfolds. Everything started out so pretty.”

“It’s true man, very true.”

“Can I get you gentlemen something else?”

“I think just the cheque,” he said to him.

The waiter nodded his head and smiled, ducking his chin onto his chest to express his waiting on him.

“So who are we meeting?”

“Nagy Akrout and Nabil Ayoub. Nagy is working for the Ministry of Interior. He works directly with Rashid and Zibrin. He knows everybody. We want him to trigger the early release clause, we’re waiting to have it. We want him to work closely with us. And, by force, we want the government to review their position. I know Bilal Hamdan, I know Sheikh Rashid. They’re good people, very good. They have a lot to offer on human rights. We want to get them to take a look at it.”

“What’s Bilo doing with him?”

“He’s working in the communications arm.”

“Directly?”

“Consultant.”

“3azim. Who else do we know?”

“Ayoub.”

“I hate him.”

“So do I. Who doesn’t? But you need him on your side.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s Bilal’s deputy, and they’re thinking now of putting him somewhere in the cabinet office. I don’t know how or why. They want to shake things up. People are nervous. There’s a lot of strength on the other side.”

“Have you heard from Ibrahim?”

“He’s doing well. Recovering.”

“Hamdillah.”

“He wants to get out. I told him no, not now. Two more years, then we can all step out. Right now, this one’s serious.”

“They want to distance the ministries. They won’t budge.”

“We can try.”

Their women came walking towards them, their two preciously chosen wives.

“Aslan, what can he do?”

“Habibi, he has the media in his arm. He can do what he wants. Spin any story. You want something on Rashid? Where do you go? You go to his stomach, you bite off his arm. You don’t sit in front of him, say, come, let’s go, fight me however you want. He can cut your throat, nobody says shit. What the fuck are you doing? Khalil, isma3.”

“I’m listening, I’m listening.”

“Khalas, insa, they’re close.”

They stood and greeted their wives, and at precisely that moment, their friends appeared from behind their place, Nagy Akrout, wearing a dark blue suit with a vanilla white shirt underneath, a jutting red collar, open on cuffs, tufts of his hair rising from his shirt, a thin gold chain hanging from his neck, two gold rings, one on each hand, that he was known to tap against the table when he was making a point. Nabil was wearing a pin striped jacket, jeans and a black shirt, brown suede shoes and a Rolet watch, the one he had by his father been gifted.

“How are you guys,” h said to him. “Where’s Bilal?”

“He’s not coming.”

“What do you mean?”

“Call him, give him a roast. He said he didn’t feel well, didn’t think he could drive. It old him I’ll pick you up, he said no. Khalas, don’t worry. How are you, Khalil?”

“I’m good. I’m good.”

“Shall we sit outside? The terrace bar is really nice?”

“Up one floor?”

“Eh.”

“Yalla, let’s go.”

“A7san.”

At dinner.

“So how long are you in town for?”

“Just a few days,” he said.

“But you come often?”

“I have, a lot. But it’s been some time, actually, that I haven’t been.”

“You were bored of it.”

“No, like I really enjoy coming, it just hasn’t worked out. I love coming here though. It’s so much fun. There’s always a new restaurant or bar that everyone’s into.”

“Like this place,” third person said (the person they both know).

“Yeah,” he agreed, “this place is really awesome.”

They took a moment to look in awe at the interior, the wide dome like roof, the falling crystal chandeliers, the long oblique doors made of Cedar wood and reinforced with slabs of city concrete, and the long water well at the entrance to the main dining hall, beside which,

“What’s the main attraction, would you say?”

“The patrons. Definitely. They make it what it is. A sort of art.”

“But they put a lot of work in on the design.”

“Yes, definitely, the design is elaborate. It was ahead of its time. They were the first to use the pipes, you see the pipes, they left them out there, exposed ventilation, hood, all of it. Now its normal, you see it everywhere. They were the first to do it.”

“What do you recommend we order?”

“The chicken hearts are fantastic.”

“Are they, like, real chicken hearts, or just shaped like hearts?”

“No, no, they re quite real hearts, actually. But they cook them different here. Usually they re eaten a bit dry, overcooked. I think that’s the traditional way. But they really let them cook very slow so they’re so, so tender. When you bite into it you can taste the blood. Its amazing.”

I don’t know how I feel about that,” she said, laughing, trying to hold back her discomfort. “What else is known here?”

“Well that’s just a starter. I can order us some starters if you want,” he said, “and for the main course, do you want something different or something familiar? The penne arrabiatta is very, very nice. Spicy and cheesy but very good. And the fennel braised gnocchi is outstanding. Do you want something meaty? Gluten free?”

The waiter, Sarmad, came over for their order, holding a small notepad and pen.

“Its cool that they use a paper and pen here,” she said, “I hate that everyone shows up with this huge tablet nowadays, its so ugly.”

“Totally.”

“Hello,” Sarmad said, cheery. “Have you decided what you will have,” he asked, “has someone read you the specials for today?”

“We saw them on the board,” he said, “thanks. I know what I want, and I’m going to order some starters for us to share.

“Please,” the waiter said, leaning over here, “Just press this button here and type in your name and the menu will show up.”

“Why is this so complicated?”

“I’m sorry, we’re trying to get it fixed.”

“This is a disaster,” Tatiana said, her eyes open flushed, the sound of her nails scratching against the tablet screen as she tapped the options, the touch screen commands reading too slow, she had been warned already by the waiter to trust the tablet’s judgment, waiting for it to remit her call, rather than pressing wildly incoherent tabs, forcing it to surrender.

“What do you do when it freezes,” she said?

“Nothing, you just wait. I’m terribly sorry,” he said.

Medris was clutching the tablet at his chest. The protective screening was covering the object, plastered against his shirt. He had wrapped his hands around the tablet, three fingers on each side, the thumb holding it on the inside jacket, the pinky languid on the wayside.

“Oh, it’s arrived,” she said!

“Express option,” Tatiana said.

“All that’s lacking is a military escort,” Medris said, smiling at them, bowing.

“You’re too funny,” Rania said to him.

“Oh god it smells like lavender!”

“It does, doesn’t it?”

“These new functions are unbelievable.”

“How can they transport smells?”

“The memory is encoded in the device, formally speaking.”

“That’s incredible.”

“It’s becoming smarter than us.”

“Definitely more active.”

“Yes, right.”

“I make sure to bike to work every day,” Medris said.

“You must, having to eat this wonderful food every day.”

“Oh, we have staff lunches, it’s far more basic. It’s better for us that way. I don’t think I can do this creativity for so long.”

“Do you live at home with your family?”

“Yes, for now. Until I get married, of course.”

“And is there a bride?”

“Not yet, Madame, no. If you know somebody,” he joked.

“Of course.”

Both their eyes fell on Mahan, naturally, being the youngest of the group.

“Sergio loves lavender, doesn’t he,” Tatiana said.

“He does.”

“Does he give you guys a hard time?”

“No, not at all. He’s very kind. Very passionate, of course, so sometimes it can be a little rough, if you don’t know his way, but no, he’s totally fine, not so aggressive at all.”

“That’s wonderful.”

“So fine.”

“Your husband was here earlier. He came by for coffee. Completely unannounced.”

“I know. He told me.”

“He was a little tired. It was unlike him.”

“Things are a little off.”

“Everyone is tired.”

“Well, read it me, will you?”

“He says he wants to make a feast, he wants it to be obvious, that we’re all coming together, feasting. I’m surprised actually. I thought we had told him to go for something lighter, vegetarian.”

“At the beginning, but when he stopped answering we had Lena write him saying anything would work.”

“I love his salads though.”

“I’m sure he’ll make salad.”

“I don’t think so. Not something modern. It’s a very traditional meal.”

“What’s he planning?”

“Kabuli Pilaf, the rice made with masala spices, cumin, nuts, pistachios and cashews, strips of lamb meat embedded in the rice.”

“Is he going to cook the lamb on the spot?”

“I guess so. We can go through it together tomorrow. I’m not in the mood right now to read this thing out.”

“Okay. Tomorrow then.”

“We can call him, see what he says. If there’s anything you want to ask him before we commit.”

“You don’t want to commit right away?”

“I don’t know. We don’t have to.”

“We should. We wanted him to do it. We told him that.”

“And still he didn’t budge, until now.”

“Let’s not pick a fight, Kathi.”

“I don’t want to fight. But I’m curious. He must have run out of money.”

“I doubt that.”

“Why else would he change his mind?”

“He came to his senses!”

“So, Nagy tells me you’re from our hometown. Have you been back since,” Rima asked, her hand cupped below her knee, one leg propped over the other, waving her open toed heel in the air, violet colored nails and Burgundy wraps, the straps of her heel and bracelet, a combination of lace and moonstone. She wore black suit pants and a pure white shirt, with three buttons forming the closed cheddar collar. It suited her, she looked refined. It suited her, thought , making her look refined.

“I went to see my school,”  said, “one last time. It had a great effect on me. But the neighborhood has changed. It’s for the better.”

“Where did you go to school,” Suleika asked, reaching over her friend’s leg to be heard, speaking over the wine.

“At St. Colette, I studied there all my life. It’s becoming a conservatory, private.”

“You studied art?”

He laughed.

“No, economics. We were given the choice at the age of twelve, to go into math, the arts or science.”

“I used to live around there as well. I love the area.”

“Yes,” Bilal said, “it’s very nice. To this day it’s beautiful.”

“I used to visit a garden there, after I left, where me and some friends spent most of our nights.”

“Do you know it,” someone asked Bilal?

“In the old village,” Bilal said, “on Rue Haggar, right off the boulevard, am I right?”

“That’s correct.”

“My friend’s sister watered the flowers there, and her friends came to join her on warm afternoons.”

“We used to pick lemons straight from the trees.”

“Those days are gone.”

“Yes,” Rima said. “They’re gone.”

He sat quietly on the plastic chair smoking his hand rolled cigar, drinking from a frosted beer in a tall glass.

“What happens next,” she asked.

“I don’t know. I think they take him into custody, and then they take it from there, run some tests, aggravate him as much as they can, humiliate him.”

“How do you know him?”

“I don’t. I heard from a friend, that’s all. I mean, I see him, around, all the time. He goes to Wallabi’s on Park North.”

“The rugby bar?”

“Yeah, I don’t know why.”

“Maybe he’s into jocks.”

“Either way, he’s fucked.”

“What’s he famous for, by the way?”

“He’s done some pretty aggressive shit. It’s really lo fi, experimental, Avant garde.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing you know, for sure.”

“Try me.”

“Captain Code?”

“Nope.”

“It’s about this guy, his name’s Raymond, he lives in a small van in a suburban desert. He spends most of his time swatting flies and drinking beer on his vanfront porch. He’s part of a community, like a trailer home, but more for like hippies and artists than poor. So they’re like sitting around discussing some pretty intellectual stuff and all of a sudden there’s this ram that runs right into their park, running right at his car. He steps to the side, freaking out, somewhat tipsy, somewhat high, and the ram just goes right into the truck. Seconds later, the thing explodes. Two of his friends die. He spends the next two months in captivity in a secret island prison, being tested on and interrogated, to see how much he knows. By the end of the film you realize the eam was part of a project, a series of projects put in place by the Ministry of Internal Operations at the time. They had this idea, see, and its funny ‘cause their spreading the idea in this film has brought on the actual implementation of it in real life, something so extraordinary though it happens all the time, with almost everything, so, you know, be careful what you fucking present in your art because that shit matters. So anyway, he was detained, and it turns out the ram was part of this super secret operation where officers were planting bombs in random animals, in carcasses, etc., and sort of sending them out there to do random harm, blaming the event on cold blooded terrorists, but they were fighting two sides at the time, the MQP, and the PLS, and the FNL were just starting out. It was all in quasi control of the elite but the elite always have their feet in both sides, so they were all mingling and chatting away together, none of it having any effect on their lives, just sort of publishing manifestos left and right, adding to their steam, building some sort of ideal character, but in the end, it’s the workers, you know, they were on the streets, pushing, getting pushed, and then it lost control. I think it was like nine days of serious shelling, from either side, though the loyalists were the first to sweep territory ont heir own, they didn’t have to switch sides. But yeah, so the film had an effect on what actually happened, but in the movie he gets away from the prison, he tells some reporters about this problem, and they basically rescue thirty two dogs and one hundred seventy cats from being made into suicide bombers. It was all so surreal. I saw the film recently, actually, so I’ve seen it twice, and it’s funny, you know how when you watch a film, you reach this point the second time around where you’ve like noticed enough things you hadn’t noticed before that you say to yourself, damn, right, I am just an idiot, I do go about my life with blinders on, like a horse in a carriage arm, never looking from side to side, never looking up or down, just straight, just what the picture tells me.”

“Why would they want to do that? I was never into science fiction, or anything that got into a weird mainstream, like it’s so weird it’s basically mainstream again because it’s so far fetched it’s not real.”

“The government in the movie or the government in real life?”

“In the movie. I don’t care about real life.”

“In the movie, they wanted to assert control, but everything was out of their hands. They had no way of doing it, so it was their task to just stir up as much shit as possible, so everybody is fucking lost, nobody knows which way to go, nobody knows who to trust, everybody is afraid of being blown up by a bomb, you lose trust in the police, in the military, you lose trust in yourself, then the journalists turn, the politicians are scum, nobody is on your fucking side, and all of a sudden, you’re sitting at a café, having a pint, and a four legged creature that makes you want to bathe in her arms comes up to me, and without saying or doing anything, you pet her head, she lies there, and for two, three minutes, everything is perfect, everything is fine, and your girlfriend comes back from the toilet, she says, what a cute dog, grabbing the snout from under the chin, and suddenly, in a flash, the dog blows up, you and your girlfriend die, the owner dies, the couple sitting behind you with their newborn in a stroller die, the waitress taking orders at the table right in front of you dies, as do the group of three who’ve just stumbled out of the club or the afterparty, still in last night’s clothes, fucking vintage, glorious, doing it right, partying like its their last life, they too die. What the fuck choice do you have, seriously, after something like that, then to turn around and look at your bastard friend who’s had too many pints and is on again about changing the nature of our government, saving the republic, maybe violence is the only way, and saying, you know what man, we’re all fucked, it doesn’t matter how much I can do, I don’t want to do it. It’s called the Baylor’s Nest, it was a concept developed by academics, psychologists, working alongside the government in ’09, after the war was dragging on. Basically, you take a society, you take a people. Now, people, people are scared. Inherently, not scared, but people know they’re in danger. There’s certain shit they have to do to be safe. Right?”

“I guess.”

“So, the key to creating a system, these guys set out to do that, they wanted to create a system that could extend the government’s hand into the society after the war was over, but without relinquishing too much control, and the government went on to sell this information as raw data to our own government who supplied them with the data in the first place, and the manpower to achieve it. Anyways, so, they found that the best way to control a system isn’t to better it, because with betterment, though makes sense that things will be better, even if that is extended to everyone, there will always be someone who wants more, more or less, and on top of that, with betterment comes the unexpected changes that are a result. In the end, they decided the best way to trick the system into submission is to suffocate it, to create such an enduring mess that the entire structure is thought to fall apart without it continuing its state of chaos. To create such a chaotic system it seems to require the chaos of which it is also built. In the end, it wasn’t for that reason just, to create that state of chaos, that they were after, but they wanted to know whether or not you could maintain the same amount of, I guess, vigilance, in a human population, for any one period of time. What’s a government’s worst fear? Coup d’état. By military, by people. By an outside force. Fearing the loyalists within is much more frightening, much more damaging. You can’t unite both sides of the aisle when each of them is a traitor to the other. But when someone comes from the outside. They realized that to control people was to imbue upon them a feeling of such hopelessness, translating that hopelessness that they feel into a strong and embedded sense of helplessness, that even if they tried with all their might, and everyone around them tried and those around them, there would always be these unknown forces within or without the system that keep it inherently bad, that maintain the evil. That this force is more natural to the world, and to the universe, than their own feelings of oppression, of vigilance, which become almost like defects, becoming like a deviant of the system, an alien to your home. Just accept it, they tell you, don’t fight. If you fight, you’ll lose, and you’ll look like that guy on the side of the street, digging his hands into the dumpster for something to eat, something to drink, something to read and something to take home, wearing the same uniform clothes you saw him in yesterday, the day before, that morning, the morning after. Do you want to be that guy? Some people say, I don’t. Why? Because I don’t want to die alone. We all die alone, there’s no difference. But what do you leave behind?”

“Step one, Hamid comes out of his house one morning, and instead of ignoring the questions posed to him by reporters, he says very simply, very simply put, I love where I am right now, I love my club, I have a lot of passion for Tar Asil Football Club, and I intend to finish the championship and see this title out, and to ride the squad’s promotion to the premier League. I’m very happy here, he will say, and I want to continue playing. Then he will walk away. The press will be happy, he has promoted his club. The locals will be jubilant, etc. Then, in, say, forty eight hours, I will put you on a plane to Rio, just for fun, and you will happen to be in the lobby of a conference, nothing important at all, say, a conference for wines, or for collector’s shoes, and they will suddenly hear, because I have put someone there, someone I have spoken to already and hired, instructing him to be there at that time, he will announce that you are the father of Hamid Hamza, the footballer out of Ras Shahid, who’s making headwaves all over the place. I will be sitting in a hotel room, here, in front of your house, and at that moment, I will telephone Rashid, your driver, to drive to the stadium to meet with Hamid, to bring him to the doorstep of his home, where the reporters will be waiting for him, to answer some questions, after what you have only just said, minutes before, which I have insured goes viral.”

“What have I said?”

“That you know from Hamid that he wants to move, that he wants to play in a better League one day, that he’s always supported the Red, and that he wants to move on with his life after, and they will put this in quotes, like Hamid “has done all he can do, they will say, you have said, he has done all he has done at Tar Asil, and must move on, to better himself. They will ask Hamid, he will say no, I didn’t say it, but of course, growing up, I have always loved and adored the Red, to be a fan of the Red is to know control, to know power when you see it, to know what is good and what is wrong, to know how football is meant to be played, to try and play it. They will take away from it that your son is interested, but that he doesn’t want to go very far without both clubs being supportive of it. So they will go to the coach of both teams, and while they try to find them, in the meantime, I will push Sami Gibril, a club legend, and Taher Marwan, a former player, club legend, and former manager as well, and on top of all that, a good, good friend, I will have them put out a statement, somewhere online, or maybe set up a radio show or something, I don’t know, and I will have them say, we think Hamid makes a great, great player for us, we think he is probably one of the best technicians in the game, and he would suit the team’s style of play, the team’s identity, very well. I will personally have Fatih on the phone, he knows me well. I delivered him Rudy Kanaan, remember? Nobody remembers I did that but I did. And I delivered him Tony Shalhoub as well, when he was still young. He played seven years for Fatih when he was with Tal Khar, and now he is with Tal Asir. So what do I know? Maybe the old man owes me a favor or something, now that we are both getting a little old. I will tell him, look, it’s impossible to hold on to Hamid Hamza anymore. It’s just not going to happen. You’re going to lose him very fast . Regardless of what you do, he goes now or next year, under even more pressure and no money for you. He will not step up this year, he will not play well. You are pulling the plug from under his soles. He will lose his feet, I’m telling you, and your relationship will not end well. On top of it all, I will make the case that it is totally unfair for them to hold onto him, like they own him or something, and for him to be put away like that. In the end, Fatih will fold. He’s old, he doesn’t have the energy for grudges. He’s brought them back up to the League. If he doesn’t sell Hamza, and buy six or seven players in his place, he will enter into a player revolt.”

“How do we orchestrate a move, habibi? Make it easy for us. Since he was young, he wanted to wear the red of the Harmeens, and not the glowing white of the Bedurs, but they are putting in a good offer. What do you think is best?”

“Are you consulting me, Mr. Hamza, or are you asking for my services?”

“I want to know if it is worth to ask for your services. Your retainer is strong, too strong I would say. What have you done, habibi? Since you signed Sami Gibril, your profits went down. Everybody knows. You want to get back into the game. You want my son. You want me to give you my blessing. You want him to give you his word. Give us a plan. Show us what can be done.”

“The process is easy, Mr. Hamza. I have a plan, of course. It’s a very easy series of steps that I follow, and if we follow them close, together, we can ensure that we are agreed in how fantastic everything goes. At the end of the day, the only thing we need is for your son to move to his desired team, the team of his choice, and to score a lot of goals, and to one day become captain of the national team if he likes, and we can take it from there. For me, it is a simple set of rules, and each step I take the time to put into action. For example, your son is interested in playing for the Harmeens. They wear red, which is his favorite color, he has always said, and his wristband, since he was ten years old, is also red, is it not?”

“Indeed.”

“So, from this I can already say we have a strong commitment, on the basis of colors alone. Colors may not seem very important to you and to me, Mr. Hamza, but to the average person, who spends his entire week sitting at work or sitting at home, depressed, hating what they do, losing their spirit, the world becomes very dark. It’s like black and white, suddenly, everything is lost. Do you understand? The world loses its color, everything is black and white and most of it is grey. But when you turn the television on, or you walk the four miles from this house, to the National Stadium, and you see your favorite player wear the glory red, you know, in your heart, there is color. this is how it feels to be a fan. Now, I have to understand the fans, because in a way, I work for them. See, they are the ones losing their money. For all of us, we gain. This is our job, our industry. In the modern world, if you work in the industry, you profit, if you are outside the industry, you pay. They pay to watch matches, for subscriptions at home, for jerseys and to visit team announcements. They travel, just to see them play. You remember the story of the twin boys, who ran away from a wedding near where Hamid was playing? Things like that, they never get old. The fans know they are paying, they are paying not to be bored. So in the end, they have to support what we are doing. The steps are very simple, they are engrained in the head of every agent, like me, some worse, some better, nobody as determined, and nobody as determined to greet your son to his new life, a new series of employments. I want him to become a legend, Mr. Hamza.”

“Habibi, my son, with or without you, with or without anyone, is going to become a legend. You are something extra, something we allow. If you don’t realize, you are not the first meeting I have had. My son is a very great talent, and everybody knows, and he already has a great agent, the only reason we are changing is because of his age, he has admitted and told us himself, we needed him in the beginning, to do something great, but now he’s getting old, he wants to move on. He doesn’t want to travel anymore. How can an athlete be represented by an agent who doesn’t Leave his home? It’s ridiculous. I told Hamid, seven years, I told him. This is your last chance, pull out. As much as I love and respect Dr. Hajj Ibrahim, he’s not very good anymore. So we have started listening to offers. My son is ready to move on. He’s twenty four, turning twenty five in the summer. He scored eighteen goals last season, providing twenty five assists. He’s on fire, if you say, he ended the season very strong. He has played for the national team fifteen times, scoring four goals already, and providing an additional five assists, some of them, those two against the Burbs, were goals to remember, and they were all in the pass.”

“I have a very simple process, let me tell you a little more.”

 

 

 

 

They had breakfast at Mr. To’s. He was still up from the night before, having left the office at eleven, planning to meet an old friend at the Miami Sports Bar to have a drink and watch the game, and maybe grab something to eat. They sat in their usual table in the back, behind the major gamerooms, where most of the games were playing, in a quieter area of the bar. His friend, Hamad Subhan, wanted to watch a basketball game. He had told him about a bet he wanted to put on. They usually put down twenty bucks on the pool inside the bar. But he was taking bets online. They ordered chili cheese fries, a basket of onion rings, a basket of buffalo wings, a bowl of guacamole with a basket of chips, six oven baked quesadillas, two chicken, two deer cheek and two shrimp, and a bottomless pitcher of beer. They were watching old replays on the screen above the bar, each drinking from their frozen beers. The television was on in the back. There was a player celebrating a flurry of goals and shots on target, removing his shirt several times, doing some minor backflips, one rotation at most. Against rivals, he was known to punch the corner flag, pumping his fist in the air, screaming with an open mouth the sacred GOOOAAAALLLLLLLL!!!

“Is that Hamid Hamza,” he asked.

“It is.”

“I have to go talk to him,” he said, wiping the sweat from his head. “Do you think I can? Am I too short?”

“What? What’s the matter with you, brother?”

He was nervous, he knew it. You work for the paper, he told himself, in a few months, Hamza will retire, and when he has no more career he will be nothing, he told himself, standing awkwardly to the side, waiting for him to pass them. In a few months, after he retires, he told himself, standing awkwardly to the side, waiting for him to pass them, waiting on his turn to act surprised, having known for so long and for so long prepared his reaction, wanting more than anything to get passed, looked over, for whatever reason, so long as nobody else oculd tell, which they wouldn’t, he was certain, for having Hamza to look upon, they would not notice him, standing by them, watching as his disappearance flawed. In a few months, he told himself, grabbing at his notepad, Hamza will become a reporter, just like you, if he is lucky, though he is probably not even literate, and it is not even given how his voice sounds at all.

“Do you watch much football?”

“All the time. I used to love playing, but I reached an age where I just became a shittier version of myself. I don’t like the feeling of losing the ball. I used to have such control. If I had been given the chance, I think I could’ve done something. And you, do you ever watch football?”

“A little. I’m interested in the story. It has me intrigued. I don’t know why. Maybe because he is such a star player, and all of it is connected, somehow, to everything else.”

“He is the face of the nation.”

“Part of the nation, not all.”

“He’s done wonderful things. He came out of nowhere. People didn’t respect him, not at first, not like now. It’s true, he had a lot to prove, but they wanted him to be a failure, even when he reached the top. There are people in your circle who discriminated against him. They were never impartial. Not at all.”

“Are you here to protect him, Mansour? Are you here to protect the reputation of Hamid Hamza?”

He snapped the end of a cigar, promptly lighting it.

“So what? So what if I try?”

“So, you will spend a lot of time looking over your shoulder.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Of course not. But you know what is happening. You know what happened to Karim Massoud, and to May Shalhoub, yesterday morning.”

“God will protect their soul.”

“They never believed in God, only the spirit. The spirit that holds, that is whole.”

“Are you going to their meetings, Massoud? Are you spending too much time with intellectuals?”

“To each his own. We each have our different views on where this place is going. I want to be there in the end, that’s all. I want to see how it all ends.”

“Well, one thing I know for sure. It’s not like a game of football in the end. There’s no winner, only losers, however many play the ball.”

“You never go out, but then you watch like a hundred games.”

“It’s just an excuse to not have to sit at my desk and penetrate. To stare at something while ruing in my head. Staring at an empty slate.”[1]

The broadcast showed the press conference before the game. The manager was taking questions. Thomas stood in the back, watching from a distance the scene unfold, exploring his options as the scene advanced, knowing where it would eventually go. The rioters outside the stadium sang “The Rotaro” with vigilance, every few seconds shooting off flares, lighting up the sky. The away fans inside the stadium were growing obnoxious, and the team buses had to circle twice to find somewhere to park, eventually settling for a hiding place between two dumpsters, where lorries often park in the rain.

“They’re the smaller team. How do you think they’ll react?”

“Is it fair to say the referee made a mistake?”

“How will you shape up?”

“We’ll try to attack, but we want to stay solid. I’m going to go with a four four two, to maximize on our strengths. Quick ball movement, controlled in possession, counter attack. It’s what we do best. We have to make room for ourselves.”

“How do you think they’ll shape up?”

“I don’t really know. They’ve been solid of late. They’re progressing.”

The commentators,

“They  fight in the midfield. They don’t ever make the easy pass. It’s becoming a problem for them.”

“It’s funny to see (Rooney) as an elder statesman.”

“I feel like the role has made him a bit soft, don’t you think? He’s taken it on well, but it’s made him soft, in a sense. Like he’s accepting it, and it means something, and it means he’ll never play again in that dangerous way that first made him a star, with that intensity that sometimes saw him get a red card, but it was okay, he did it so well, nobody cared. One or two red cards, for an entire season, that’s fine.”

“Not in major tournaments, though, which is where he fucked up.”

“Sure.”

“You know what the problem is,” Hakim said, “they don’t have one free kick taker. Everyone wants a go. They need a threat taker. It takes the pressure off, gives the guy a chance to try something spectacular, to aim for genius, as they say.”

“Captains starting to take command,” he said, “he’s taken the last three free kicks.”

“I never understood star strikers wanting to take corners. Get in the box and have a go!”

After the game, Commentators brought onto the terrace of the hotel.

“There was a lot of talk and banter before the game but then nothing. Though they stuck to their gameplan, wanting to stab on the counter attack. But still, they showed no spirit.”

“What are your thoughts on coaches showing their emotions?”

“Well there’s a difference between pulling a knife and having a go at someone on the other team, and just, you know, celebrating when it comes to it. I think it’s alright. All in all I’d say it was a fair performance from both sides. Wouldn’t you?”

“But like, near celebrating on an almost chance, going a bit nuts if it doesn’t go in. Showing it, you know?”

“Yeah, it’s alright.”

“I like seeing it, actually. Shows the heart.”

“Captain for the other squad is coming onto it. He’s going to take it.”

Captain took a free kick. He stepped up, from thirty four meters out.

“Scored! From way outside the box! His second of the tournament and in such style!”

“I think the keeper’s fumbled it here.”

“Yep, he put a palm on it, but no chance.”

“What a strike.”

“And as you were saying, he knew he was the only guy with a shot at taking it, and its worked.”

“(Sturrige) takes a shot.”

“Oh. Didn’t even realize they put him on!”

“What are your thoughts on Coach Anderson?”

“I like him,” he said, “he likes attacking football. He plays aggressive.”

“He plays — —- in defense.”

“Well he wants a ball playing defender! Who’s strong on the ball. He’s smooth, controlled in possession, he’s strong in the air. Look, they’re happy to concede goals. They played — — in defense for five years. The guy’s barely five foot four, can hardly jump over his children, let alone against strikers in the division. They know they’re gonna score more goals in the end, period. They have the best attack in the League, probably in the world. At the end of the day, at this level, you just have to score more goals.”

Halftime pep talk. The broadcast gained access to the halftime team talk, showing silent images of the players taking it from their manager. Towels wrapped around their necks, some with shirts off, others with their jerseys still on them. The mood in the locker room was glum, at best. The broadcast came back into the commentator’s booth, for the start of the second half. The booth was small, but bigger than most, a whole four seats wide. There was a plank that gave on to a couch, where they could sit and watch the game, speaking remotely, spending most of their time away from the mics, spending it honestly, drinking, and chatting, chatting away. Amin did feel good on the mic. It was natural for him, to speak above the rest, to make himself heard. He was a gentlemen, and a common figure at the Element’s Club. He went to the hairdresser’s, Raphael’s, at least twice a month, which wasn’t itself an oddity.

“Well, it’s the keeper’s game today. He’s the one who’s out to make a statement, to his country, to his club, and to his competition, and also, let’s not forget, to his inevitable suitors come July. Is he going to follow in the trend? What is he going to do, when the tournament’s over? How is he going to perform, when the pressure is really, finally on?”

“And remember, he’s replaced the captain as the number one, so the captain’s now sitting on the bench, watching him play his first big tournament as the number one.”

“It was bold by (del Bosque), and you know, for Saghir, it’s painful. It hurts. But for the country, I think it’s the best. Saghir is getting old. He’s no longer the cub he was, Leaping from left to right in a flash. He’s gotten older. He’s had to adapt, and admittedly, for his club, he does alright. You get more time to adapt, more consistency, more matches. On the international scene, it’s different. It’s rushed. You only get three chances in the group stage to show yourself, for the team to advance, you have to be on. On, at all times. That’s what he’s going for, and so far, it’s what he’s doing.”

“And look no further than (del Bosque) to make those bold moves.”

“And the keeper on the other end.”

“Well, he s an elder statesman.”

“And what do you make of Jaafar being named to team of the season in the domestic League(chiellini)?”

“I think it’s ridiculous. I love him as a player. He’s intelligent, he’s tough, but he hasn’t shown the strength or the pace he has in former years, and he’s made far too many poor decisions of late, like that red card against Sweden,  and the penalty against Duras.”

“This has been a major, major surprise. We knew (Italy) were coming in strong, coming off the back of two solid wins and a relaxed performance, when they knew they had the draw. But this intensity, it’s earned them a goal. It’s going to be a long profit for them, coming off of that stupid loss.”

“What do they need going forward in this second half?”

“They need to be more intense, more serious on the ball. They need to show more intensity, more urgency, more drive. You could see, (fabregas), in one of the last plays of the first half, he was taking a free kick on the left side of the pitch, going to chip it into the box, he was urging his teammates forward, saying, come on guys, come on.”

“How do you feel he has played?”

“Well, you look at his opposite number, (de rosse), and he’s put in a real shift. He’s ding the best he can. Really putting it out there. It’s not like that for the other.

“In my opinion, he’s kept them in the game!”

At the press conference after the game.

“What did you tell your players during the game?”

“Well, I knew we were lacing some spirit. We played well in the first half. We played tough. But the dominated, and I felt that we were a little scared. I’m not ashamed to say it because of how we came out in the end. We knew we were the underdogs, and I felt we knew it too much. I reminded them how far we have come, who we really are.”

“Did Salim Ayyash deserve his red card?”

“Of course. He was provocative. There is a law in place not to show banners and flags at games, by players, by coaching staff, by anyone associated with the clubs. During games, at Least. To keep the fans from going nuts, that’s why it’s there, that’s what it’s for. He pulled his shirt slightly off, after scoring. Everyone saw the photograph. I don’t need to say anymore. This will do justice to those who say he is a saint. I don’t want to say anymore. It was a very provocative thing to do, and he deserved it, and I’m sure the ride home will not be made pleasant. There were very large portions of the fans waiting outside.”

“Are you condoning violence to be done to him?”

“No, of course not, not at all, but what he did is very provocative, invoking such memories of hate. It’s despicable, and ignorant. It shows how stupid of a man he is!”

“So what do you think? This Hamid thing really goes off?”

“I don’t know. I think, they want to ship the guy out before the media get on his balls. They’re fascinated by him, and they’ll destroy him.”

“I don’t get why they hate him so much. He’s loyal, he’s young, he’s pious. He even does a lot of charity work.”

“People hate to see others succeed. He doesn’t even make that much money. The people hating him make more money than him. But they see how much he is loved, they’re jealous. The largest military in the world can’t buy you that. That kind of love, you earn it.”

“How does this thing go down?”

“Step one, Hamid comes out of his house one morning, and instead of ignoring the questions posed to him by reporters, he says very simply, very simply put, I love where I am right now, I love my club, I have a lot of passion for Tar Asil Football Club, and I intend to finish the championship and see this title out, and to ride the squad’s promotion to the premier League. I’m very happy here, he will say, and I want to continue playing. Then he will walk away. The press will be happy, he has promoted his club. The lcoals will be jubilant, etc. Then, in, say, forty eight hours, I will put you on a plane to Rio, just for fun, and you will happen to be in the lobby of a conference, nothing important at all, say, a conference for wines, or for collector’s shoes, and they will suddenly hear, because I have put someone there, someone I have spoken to already and hired, instructing him to be there at that time, he will announce that you are the father of Hamid Hamza, the footballer out of Ras Shahid, who’s making headwaves all over the place. I will be sitting in a hotel room, here, in front of your house, and at that moment, I will telephone Rashid, your driver, to drive to the stadium to meet with Hamid, to bring him to the doorstep of his home, where the reporters will be waiting for him, to answer some questions, after what you have only just said, minutes before, which I have insured goes viral.”

“What have I said?”

“That you know from Hamid that he wants to move, that he wants to play in a better League one day, that he’s always supported the Red, and that he wants to move on with his life after, and they will put this in quotes, like Hamid “has done all he can do, they will say, you have said, he has done all he has done at Tar Asil, and must move on, to better himself. They will ask Hamid, he will say no, I didn’t say it, but of course, growing up, I have always loved and adored the Red, to be a fan of the Red is to know control, to know power when you see it, to know what is good and what is wrong, to know how football is meant to be played, to try and play it. They will take away from it that your son is interested, but that he doesn’t want to go very far without both clubs being supportive of it. So they will go to the coach of both teams, and while they try to find them, in the meantime, I will push Sami Gibril, a club legend, and Taher Marwan, a former player, club legend, and former manager as well, and on top of all that, a good, good friend, I will have them put out a statement, somewhere online, or maybe set up a radio show or something, I don’t know, and I will have them say, we think Hamid makes a great, great player for us, we think he is probably one of the best technicians in the game, and he would suit the team’s style of play, the team’s identity, very well. I will personally have Fatih on the phone, he knows me well. I delivered him Rudy Kanaan, remember? Nobody remembers I did that but I did. And I delivered him Tony Shalhoub as well, when he was still young. He played seven years for Fatih when he was with Tal Khar, and now he is with Tal Asir. So what do I know? Maybe the old man owes me a favor or something, now that we are both getting a little old. I will tell him, look, it’s impossible to hold on to Hamid Hamza anymore. It’s just not going to happen. You’re going to lose him very fast . Regardless of what you do, he goes now or next year, under even more pressure and no money for you. He will not step up this year, he will not play well. You are pulling the plug from under his soles. He will lose his feet, I’m telling you, and your relationship will not end well. On top of it all, I will make the case that it is totally unfair for them to hold onto him, like they own him or something, and for him to be put away like that. In the end, Fatih will fold. He’s old, he doesn’t have the energy for grudges. He’s brought them back up to the League. If he doesn’t sell Hamza, and buy six or seven players in his place, he will enter into a player revolt.”

 

“It’s pretty lawless here, isn’t it? You can basically do anything here.”

“You can. As long as you just do it right. Do it kindly. Do it without too much noise. You can get away with anything.”