The Demonstration

Demonstration

 

There was a demonstration planned for the afternoon. He had to be up at eight, which wasn’t so bad. He liked waking up with the rest of the world, to start walking down around nine or ten. Sarah mentioned she was going, and said she’d be crossing in around nine, but that he’d have to leave his place by seven if he was taking his car, because the traffic was already going to be bad, but he didn’t want to take his car and instead wanted to take a walk down to her side of the city and take it from there. That added another forty five minutes to his walk but would cut the two hours of driving, saving him at least an hour and a bit, for which he could do with loads. Pharaoh said he wanted to be in around four or five, before the sun was up, because the checkpoint wouldn’t be there then and was likely to set up later in the morning. At night, they preferred to park on the upper echelon roads, on Rue de Principe and Legalite. He wasn’t sure what to do about the theater. He had thought it was important to stage there, but in the end, it would be important to stage anywhere, what was important was for him to stage his show. They had been waiting for it for so long. So many people spoke to him about it like it was theirs. They had wanted him to do it, so bad. Waiting for him every year, every season, for the last five years, waiting for him to succeed. Where was he? Writing. He wasn’t a writer. He’d never written one of his plays, but this time it was serious. They were going to do something big. Something that required making an impression. If impressions were able to be made. Marwan, the house manager and owner, had called him the night before in a wave of distress. He was upset, having just been visited by some thugs from the mayoral office. They were in plainclothes but had bats and clubs, and there were six of them, all of them evenly fat and shaved in the same old dirty clothes. They threatened him with shutting the place down if he didn’t postpone the closing, at Least until after the elections. It was a ludicrous idea. They had worked for six months on putting on the production, and people were expecting it to go on as planned. He’d just gotten over the idea of finishing, of wrapping it up. The pressure with postponement would be too much. It would hurt and might drive him away, again. He didn’t know whether to blame Marwan or not, the guy had seen it coming and hadn’t spoke. He hadn’t put in the leg work. Ramiz decided to tell him that, that he hadn’t put in the leg work. It was his first foray into the business. He was too weak, they were easy prey. He thought if he should go with somewhere else. Marwa, the owner of the Randoor Theater, had already offered it to Ramiz to stage the play there, no matter what happened, even if there was a war. But people would reject the change, especially at the last minute. He had to act fast to ensure they all knew where they were going. But Rustom was having a pool party the next day. He hadn’t seen him in years and he promised him when they spoke. He had bumped into him twice in the last month and they finally made a plan. It had been too long, he said. Since they were young. Ramiz still felt that he was young. He had more going for him in terms of his work. Rustom had put in some failed investments, so that everything he touched turned blond. He wasn’t actually going to see Rustom, though that could not be avoided. Rustom’s elder sister, Sabah. He’d gotten to know her through Madame Tuswir, who invited them to a board dinner, in her gallery’s honor. She invested in a lot of his work, knowing him since he was a child. He’d worked for her since he was young, helping her out with paperwork, acting like an assistant. Their mothers were good friends, better than most. Not many could get close to Madame Tuswir. It was enough that she lived alone in her incredible house, three flats with a bedded terrace on the second floor, in the Skylark building on Boulevard Haggar. She had actually recommended to Ramiz to cool it down, at Least for the time being. People were sensitive. He was attracting a certain aura of indifference to their morals that was beginning to hurt the work he was doing. The fact he hadn’t staged in so long was also hurting. He had to be taken seriously, he must. It was in many ways a last chance, for seeing. For knowing what the boy was made of. What stuff he was producing. Ramiz sat at the café outside, drinking his third espresso of the day. The umbrella overhead was wet, from having rained the night before. Every few seconds a slosh of water fell to the floor. His socks, the front of his shoes, the ankle of his pants, all had gotten wet. He had trained himself not to care, when it wasn’t worth caring. He was wearing old shoes, bowler’s from Freddy Karin. The shoes were musk, suede and glass, the make of the soul gave it a sound while walking, and the heel was ushered up as well, having customized it after buying, taking it to an old family friend that lived nearby. Papers were running headlines of a prisoner captured during a recess in hostilities in one of the camps, negotiating for his life before he was slaughtered in midday, held aloft the anonymous crowd as they paraded the charred body down the street. The people of Rue Najjar, Ras al Alib, and Dar Tamim, were said to be joining the proceedings. The body had been quartered, cut from four sides, and the remains scattered along the pavement as the jubilant crowd stomped the loose muscles and tendons, grinding what remained of the prisoner into a skinless pulp. He waited by the pier, where they had agreed to pick him up, his sister, Layla, driving her two friends, the singer songwriter Jonah Tahl, and his friend Abraham Miles, who also played music, mainly bass guitar. The day showed overcast, near ending. The wind soft, gliding. It felt comfortable, harmonious, a semblance of something past forgotten. Like the walks he used to take on the open boulevard, before the breakwater and the boardwalk had been built. Stillness, where the red roads rose. The coffee sellers with their radios. The slow movement of cars and their lights glittered in misted rain. Accepting the cliché, he sat on the rocks facing the water, his legs dangling over the clashing waves, reading from a small chapbook he had bought on Avenue Montaigne, where they sell paper baskets when spring arrives. The volleyball nets in the nearby sand park had been put up, and the jazz radio that broadcasted from the park was on. Behind him, the avenue lay open, the streets wet with fallen chestnut cloves, and the palms dropped their shadows on the soaking pavement. Traffic was slow to move, their car moving an inch at a time, waiting for the red light to glow again, relieving her of her obsession, to move the cars in front of her faster, to be going as fast as she can, knowing it was not their fault, her fellow drivers, it had taken her some years of driving in the city to learn that it was no one else’s fault, as it was not her own. The cars were also trapped. Their human vessels caught in the same web of time wasting. There was a way to do good with their time, she thought, listening to audiobooks, catching up with old friends on the phone, and if it were as slow as it was just now, reading, the car moving inches at a time. But she preferred to listen to stories on the radio, on Radio Metropol, or to listen to the deejays she knew and liked, some of them knowing them personally, having gotten acquainted early in life with bohochic artists of the inner ward. A lot of them, like Pharaoh, would grow to be friends, but for now, she had only just met them, slowly finding her footing in a crowd wasted and stoned. She had picked up her friends, Abraham and Jonah, at the corner of Tal Khar, just outside of the checkpoint. She had never crossed into the settlement, having driven beside the gates at least a hundred times. The guards were always weary for cars, suspicious, unorthodox, hoping to pass the gates, passing without their credentials visible from afar. Abe was playing music at the Purple Goon, Jonah was joining him. She had met them on a film shoot once, they were shooting some kind of commercial, and the extras were all invited to sing along, the two of them, world class musicians, fighting with all their might their getting on, building a reputation. If it were up to them, and not the management currently involved in hoisting them to their utmost worth, they would be content living in a small bunker in Ras Shahid, playing for small and intimate crowds, knowing the names of the bartenders, the dealers, the drunks. Ramiz had wanted to come along, though he wasn’t the most fond of them, not for their political style, nor their namesakes, nor their heritage, which could not be denied. He found Jonah to be a little dirty, unhygienic, his breath was always smelling foul, and his clothes smelled like he hadn’t showered in weeks, which was sometimes right, if he spent a week, say, at the northern border, swimming under palm trees covered in owls. He had a thing for owls, using them in his music, recording them at night, as they gilled along.

“We can play the band game,” Jonah said.

“What’s that,” asked Layal.

“I say the name of a band, and you say the name of a band that begins with the last letter of the name I said. So like, if I say, Starlo, you say, Oh Man.”

“I love Oh Man.”

“Same.”

“Their second album though, I don’t know.”

“It was a shift. They went folk to electronic, boom. No jokes, you know? They wanted more gigs.”

“The third is sick.”

“I have it, if you want to play it.”

“This is fine.”

“What are we listening to,” Ramiz asked?”

“The Pollops.”

“Great.”

“Do you know them,” asked Layal?”

“Me,” Ramiz asked?”

“Yeah.”

“I saw them once. They came here.”

“They came to town,” asked Jonah, looking back at Ramiz by the rearview mirror.

“Yeah,” he said, “they were here once.”

“We wanted them in Illaf, but the boycott rose.”

“The boycott is dangerous,” Abraham said. “It won’t work.”

Layal wasn’t sure what to say. She had her brother in the back of the car, and though he was not worried about her anymore, having taught herself how to use her tools, he was always warning her of their abuse, telling her to keep distance from settlers, such as those. Jonah lived in Tal Khar, above the small temple on Saar. The cleric Suud gave lessons there. He grew up in that sort of environment, wandering between lessons with spiritual guides, learning to sing The Book of the Basic Hymns by heart at the age of nine.

“Where do you feel like going,” she asked?

“Bully’s Bar, I was thinking.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Let’s just head up to Metropolitan and see what’s there.”

“My friends are at the Scaffold House on Avenue Rose.”

“Jonah, don’t you play there sometimes?”

“I do, I was going to tonight. Safwan asked me but I wasn’t in the mood. I don’t mind doing it now though. We’d need some drums. I don’t feel like playing the folksy stuff right now. It’s too hot man. And we can’t smoke spliffs inside.”

“What are you thinking?”

“I was gonna see if Pharaoh’s up for playing trumpet, and maybe Sergio on the drums.”

“Sergio’s too busy man, he’s never up for anything.”

“He owes me dude.”

“For what?”

“I paid his fucking fine, when they pulled him over.”

“Oh, like he literally owes you.”

“No but also beyond that, like I went with him to the police station and stuff. We sat there for quite some time.”

“Did he have to do a piss test,” Ramiz asked?

“Yeah, why?”

“They store his details. Just saying.”

“Whatever dude, it’s Sergio. He’s like the fucking chef of the town.”

“Is that what he’s becoming? Guy’s fucking nuts. Seeing a guy like that reminds me though, you know, you don’t have to make it right away, bide your fucking time. Dude was fifty nine when he started cooking, he’s like seventy two now and he’s finally hot.”

“Where was he before,” asked Layal?

“Coastown. That’s why he does a lot of seafood.”

Layal was frustrated, having to endure the summer heat in the air conditionless car. She didn’t mind driving.

There was always a ton of traffic but that day was worse. Sectors of the population were cut off from Route 3 and Highways 4 and 5, vanishing into incidental quarters. Uphills, downhills, three lanes cutting into one road, cars facing off, angry drivers and their passengers, ready to leap from their seats in anticipation of a fight, to extend the social experiment beyond regular bounds. There had been an accident on Highway 3, six of the thirteen lanes completely shut down, directing abnormally inefficient traffic, transit commutes almost impossible until late after dusk, when the day’s main traffic finally died down.

“It’s hot,” Layal said.

“I’m thirsty, man.”

“Do you want chewing gum,” she said, “I have.”

“That’s fine.”

“What flavor?”

“Ruby Red.”

“Cool.”

“You want?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“So guys, what are we doing?”

“This fucking sucks.”

Layal slopped her head against the steering wheel.

“This is torture.”

“We’re going to Bully’s man.”

“It’s so far though, we’re gonna be stuck for two hours.”

“At least.”

“People are abandoning their cars.”

“This is insane.”

“Is it like this every week for you guys?”

“It is. There’s a lot of construction right now. Shit’s booming. Also, there’s like protestors stationed somewhere downtown, permanently. They’ve been there for two years. I think they’re disrupting a lot of the traffic. Like, supposedly thirty percent of the road crossing through downtown is cut off.”

“Where? In front of parliament?”

“Yeah.”

“What do they want?”

“I think they want a new government, I’m not sure.”

“They want lots of things,” Ramiz said, from the back, calling out to interject himself into the conversation, hoping to relieve some pressure from Layal, who would have never known what the protestors wanted.

“Like what?”

“A new government, clean water supply, a safe place to house immigrants, bilateral ties with their neighbors, free healthcare, free education, better public schools, better transportation.”

“Wow. Anything else on the list of popular demands?”

“Marijuana legalization,” Ramiz said, to which they all laughed.

“Unfortunately that shit’s never going to happen.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s cool to hope for it though. Like, to actually believe the world will be better in the future.”

“Alright, guys, I can tell you one of my stories.”

“Are you a storyteller,” Jonah asked, knowing by now what Ramiz was, an emerging playwright in the performance arts, always wanting to get his hands dirty, living the urban life at large, squatting warehouses and putting up installations, breaking into buildings at night and emerging at dawn, having totally reconstructed the entire place. He had a dream of doing it once, in Tal Khar, but the act would land him in prison, probably for life.

“I know some stories,” Ramiz said.

One of the guards at the checkpoint told her it was closed. Army Cross was not passable. She drove through Paragon and onto the next checkpoint. The traffic was terrible around Café Bad, mainly because of the other drivers parking in front of the streetside café that sold like a small grocer on the street, drivers honking their horns and drawing the attention of a waiter. The waiters were polite but they were different from inside. Inside they were clever and had been handpicked, usually for looks but also for some of their jokes, whoever did it best. Outside they were vicious. Sometimes they had the nerve to stare at her knees and gawk. It was annoying for most, but at any hour of day, they were willing to sell decent coffee to go and one or two cigarettes as well, even providing a light. In the original store, on the other side of town, they sold vodka tonic for a pretty good price. The checkpoint at Saud was also closed, and along stream of vehicles collected behind the crossing. The people had their windows drawn and were arguing, some with the authorities and some with each other, as though it made sense or difference. She found it unreasonable, to spend so much of their time fighting. For her, it was better to leave, reluctant but reasonable. She reached the gates to Port La Chaise, where farms run along the vista, rose colored plains rising gradually from a stateless valley, where the sacred tomb of the Yacoubians remains. The checkpoint at Jupiter’s Cross, leading to the side, also closed. It looked the same like at Saud and Army, but for the presence of cars, the open plains appearing suddenly, farms running along the vista, harvested with grapes for wine. The proximity to the sea gave the soil a rich, silky texture, as it was always nourished. In summer, she liked to lunch at the Café Hermes spot on the mountainside, overlooking the valley on one side and the sea on another. The menu was different from the one in the capital. Serving richer salads instead of the meats, though the smell of lamb roasting in the outside oven would descend for miles from the establishment. Nearby to the restaurant was a springwater lake, where some of the patrons would swim in summer. She liked to listen to the same three channels in the car, regardless of who was driving. Even though most of the cars she had owned, and the cars her friends were always providing, were all fitted with the most technologically advanced wireless function, streaming from thousands of songs on a remote hard drive, she didn’t like the repetition. For her, music had to be impulsive. Even if it wasn’t so good, if it came out of nowhere it meant it was right. Otherwise, it was no longer the symphony accompanying their lives. Otherwise, it was some sort of scripted treasure, looted from the trove. The main station, District Radio, on 101.5, played a good selection of classic techno most of the time, with a few short stories interspersed here and there, most monologues in first person, tackling such themes as urban life, urban living, modern love, romantic sex. The reader’s voice was usually calm, determined, and every so often, taking calls from the audience, the reader resorted to being kind. On another radio she discovered by accident the hosts discuss conspiracy theories in different dialects to introduce different people to certain stories. The stories could be very exciting, and sometimes they read short science fiction or political dramas, usually parables, to imbue the conspiracy with an air of truth. The parables would read like it were written today, though it were often more than a hundred years old. The speaker’s ranged in character and voice, from the most mature, sophisticated, with great annunciation and a full, aromatic range, to the most simple, monotone, academic dialect. The show she enjoyed most was called Spooks and the…Layal, on that note, was proud of her brother, proud of him for working hard, though he had a tendency to forget things, and so was often lost, and so it could be hard for others to know where he was, to know how to collaborate, as he was always living somewhat on the fringe, sleeping irregular hours, dropping acid at dawn on the southern coast, where he disappeared for days getting hammered. She liked listening to him tell his stories, ever since they were young, to read them out loud or come up with them on the spot, she had never seen someone transform language so quick, turning the remotest landscape into a slush of words, urging a story forward. She liked his mind, his imagination. She found it strong, masculine. She liked those attributes of masculinity that harbored also the heart, confronting an indifferent void, the pursuit of challenging art. She thought he was smarter than he let on, that he could have done more for himself had he put his mind to it, instead, spending most of his time hanging out with her and her friends, getting stoned, drunk, cold.

“Stories don’t interest me in this day and age,” Abraham said, “but I like them.”

“No? Then what are you into?”

“I’m into, like, weird installations and shit. And folk music.”

The story was the refraction of another story, milder, that began with the protagonist sitting in the library at the Institute of the Arts, running her eyes along the bookshelves shaped like a brain, studying the effects of trauma on third generation noncombatants, when all of a sudden the university shuts down, the alarms go off, and the student is never seen again. Still, she respected that he told the stories he wanted to tell, even if they were simple and often left out the details that would make them last. If people were not interested, in they didn’t want to listen, he wouldn’t tell it. That was the sort of story he liked to tell. Stories where the protagonist goes about their normal day, only to find the world changed and their ordinary life shaken. Stories of men who must first face themselves before stepping into the public. Stories of chases down alleyways and the whole feeling like that of a dream, running like a turbine. The story of a man who wakes up and goes for a walk, and finds himself, after a short while, to be alone in a park, and afterwards, to have entered a labyrinth of stones. A director, having just left the theater of his opus, calling a curtain on his career. Leaving the theater for the last time, he would recall the figure of a man, much like himself, who had stood on his grounds, and felt, just as he was feeling now the entire room conspire to destroy him. Compelled by fear, he would recognize the smell of uric acid. Then there would appear, like a total darkness over the screen, the encroaching insides of a cockroach. Shrouds of October, black clouds engulfed in uniform. The protagonist, frozen, staring hopelessly at the beast, in the admission of a pilgrim, possessed by fear.

“I think we should drive to District 4, guys, it’s much closer.”

She thought they should drive out to District 4 and set up shop there. Tanzim protested. He wanted to stay in the capital, to be there for sure. It’s more expensive, she protested. District prices always rise, he told her, and it wouldn’t be long before the wasted twenty year olds of their sad country flocked to District 4 to gentrify the place and turn it on its head.

Ramiz agreed.

“If we go out to District 4, having heard from others it’s the right thing to do, it means its already too late. We have to look somewhere else,” he told them, “somewhere untouched.”

“Like where?”

“Somewhere magical,” said Ramiz, “spiritual. Like the cactus fields of the Lower Ward.”

“Have you been there?”

“We can do mushrooms whenever we want, and own one of the fields ourselves, build a temple on it.”

“Does anything grow?”

“The most vital poisons.”

“We can go to the palms. We should see what it’s like.”

“I’ve been there, mainly mangroves.”

“Still, it’s nice.”

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s nice.”

“Do we take the train,” Jonah asked, a question which was really inquiring whether or not Layal felt like driving, as her…Still, Layal said, let’s go to the palms this weekend, either way, moving there or not. We should see what it’s like, she said, knowing not to force the issue with either of them. Do we take the train, Tanzim asked, a question which was really inquiring whether or not Layal felt like driving, as his license had recently been revoked, and Ramiz had never driven, though he passed the exam he never trusted himself to do it, a condition of fear not helped by his friend’s determination not to be within a hundred feet of any vehicle Ramiz was driving. Except for a bicycle, of course, which Ramiz did exceptionally well, so much so that he often quipped, in a gesture of defeatism, that if it all didn’t work out, it all being his plays, he could still try his hand at bike courier. A joke to which Tanzim often would respond by suggesting, tearfully, that Ramiz decide no later than soon, as the life of a bike courier was quite short, shorter than that of an artist. The response would make Ramiz blush, but later, finding himself alone, he often wondered whether or not Tanzim believed in him, whether he saw as he so gallantly suggested the stars of revolution in Ramiz’s eyes, the intellect and the radiance of Yunus Kum, and the armory and prose of Zahreddine. Did he put him in the league of his father, Ramiz asked himself, the shadow of the man curled over him like the cocoon of a strong divorce.

I can drive, Layal said, but Ramiz disagreed. He thought they should take the train, as it was more romantic for all of them to be in a similar state of mind, not having to drive, of course, Layal driving and Tanzim worrying about it, hogging the seat up front, though Ramiz didn’t mind, he often wondered what sort of shock it would call if Ramiz tested Tanzim on the seat, if walking up to the car he mentioned ever so gently that he would be sitting in front, met with obvious surprise by Tanzim, who would probably not realize the effect of his words at all, continuing on his way until, at furthest notice, the car in touching sight, Ramiz would have opened the door a moment before his hand could meet the lever, claiming his seat in the front. It would completely surprise him. A total shock, to the point of total annihilation of thought, pure instinctual silence characterizing at least the first two minutes of the ride, after which, Layal would surely notice, having lit her cigarette, chosen the music and started the car, mentioning something on the point, sparking an intervention by both Ramiz and Tanzim, the latter of which would be consumed in rage or generous confusion, while Ramiz would assert his place, claiming it as his own. He really did have a claim over the seat. He reasoned that, as Layal’s brother, and also as the youngest, he had a role to play as chief navigator and partial joint roller, sitting shotgun, without protests from either of them. In old Jarmusch films, he would declare, the rotating of voices and shotgun sitters pretty much defined the architecture of the films, reinforcing the fact, to Tanzim and Layal’s imagination, but also to Ramiz, that Ramiz lived just about every moment of his life within the venture of a film, as though in living his life he were really the protagonist of his own life’s film, the navigating principle of something larger than himself, which in suggesting that film were larger than natural human life, as much as could be surmised, set Ramiz apart from his two confidantes and colleagues, Layal the staunch believer in the patronage of the House of Bey, and Tanzim the ever oscillating pendulum of cannibalism and faith. Tanzim agreed with Ramiz. He much preferred taking the train. Partly out of the same aesthetic vein as Ramiz, bred from the same cultural root, but also because he secretly feared Layal’s driving, though he would never admit such a scandal in public, to the two of them at that. It wasn’t simply her way of doing three to four things at the same time, including steering the wheel with the head of her thigh, a thigh he had yearned for, especially in the grueling daylight hours of one summer of death, the summer he stood before his muse for the very first time. Forget the fact that she lit a cigarette or a joint’s roach with one hand, steering the wheel with her legs, changing the music on her mPod, while simultaneously eating from a bag of chips, or a Tatar sandwich, her favorite, especially from Kelli’s, the butcher’s shop on Boulevard Reine. Layal did not know the meaning of any of the signs. She could not even read the signals or the warnings of other cars, as she had never once used her own lights to signify changing direction or a sudden stunt of speed, so why should she focus on the lights of other cars if she had so forcefully neglected her own? But Layal was convinced that she should drive, a surprising turn of events from that morning, when she had resisted with violence the suggestion on Ramiz’s part for her to drive them to Café Bad, to meet up with Tanzim. But to suggest to her the surprise would have been foolish, since everybody knows Layal’s weighty identification with her car, Georgia, a summary of which featured in Holiday magazine’s Festival spread two winters in a row. The first occasion was a photo shoot conducted by one of the staff writers, who had grown up with Layal and was working the job as a salary bump from photography, while the second occasion was the result of a mistake by a paparazzi photographer trailing the cult band Sister Dash through Pastoral during their tour of District 21. Layal’s self image was often balanced against her feelings towards the car. A derelict, thirty year old Volkshaben convertible, whose vanilla paint washed off into a smoky concrete mesh, Layal often regarded the car as her living homage to bohemian youth, a monument of her rabble rousing, radically voguish upbringing on the streets of Dar Imam and Bel Hakkar. The car itself was littered with insignia, reminiscent of old Saucerre paintings of prison houses in the early confederate decades, each cell adorned with photographs, cutouts, tiny sculptured pieces amassing a shrine of piety and faith, the odd colored wheel and strings of beads and sacred yarns draping from collapsing . She took great care to amass the items carefully, like a curator cares for a gallery’s cause, her favorite of which had to be the silver strip of tape, used as a VIP wristband at Jugular, the synthetic rock festival she attended for the few years she thought that type of music was cool. Or if it wasn’t the wristband, hanging from the rearview mirror, it was the note her mother had written her on the day of her graduation from school, taped onto the windshield like Luther’s answered debate. These were for sure the pointed examples she suggested to cherished guests of her chariot, but to herself she often regarded the stained label wrapper of a Suret wine as her chief adornment achievement, the only remains, beyond scarred memory, of her first virginless night. But there were times Layal regarded her bottomless dame as a testament to fulfillment. Where others saw the beaming emblem of character and boutique charm, the authenticity people identified with Layal, Ramiz and their family, who had an eye for things quaint, charming yet tolerable, a trait she took great pride in, she sometimes wondered what it said of her trajectory, her patience, her will, that the best she could do was three decades old, beautiful but not functional. The car broke down two, sometimes three times a week. She would wait on the side of the road, alone or with her guests, until someone passed them offering help. Usually, a bulky man on a scooter too small for his size would offer to drive her to the nearest station to fill up her hand tank and bring her back. She had always imagined them to be more interesting than her initial find upon accepting the ride and driving away with them like a character in an old Dollwood movie, where bikers and drifters of other districts swept into town in a fury, drinking all the booze and courting all the girls before vanishing into the endless night. They parked the car in the empty parking lot. The shadow of the hotel spread across the concrete canvas, flickering to the beat of two towering streetlights questioning their use. A fluorescent glare, like the evening haze of a stadium.

“We can stop at that town.”

“Where shall we stay?”

“The editor booked something, I think.”

They were staying in the hotel.

“What do you feel like doing tonight?”

Tanzim felt like watching the game, he had already had the plan in his head. He had thought of watching the St. Andrews game that evening, but he had assumed that none of them would be interested. Assuming as much, he devised a plan that would enable him to leave at the necessary moment, to take his leave of them. It had to come somewhat unexpectedly. He rehearsed the move three times before meeting them. Once in the shower, where he mapped the plan, then later in the elevator at home, and finally once in the car. It consisted of his rising from his seat, which he appropriately did, at all times only at the perfect moment, fearing the slightest edge of move, the slightest gesture out of sync with his surroundings, would derail the blasting train, pulled from the womb like nesting eggs, engulfing the moment in awkwardness that would last a memory in his lifetime. Acting on his plan, he stepped out of his seat, pushing against her knee while he refused touching her, stepping over her trailing leg with his thigh.

“Where are you going,” Ramiz asked.

“To the bathroom,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

In the bathroom, he took the opportunity to play with his phone, thumbing around the keyboard with his forefinger. After some time, he decided to take a piss, and afterward, he washed his hands, wiping them on his jeans as he walked back to their table, through the opaque summer halls that smelled of stale detergent, evading the hand dryer or the bucket of towels left wilting in a strawstrung box. As he approached the table, he decided he would have to come out and say it, to take his leave of them without making such a deal, and not to insist that they join, if they really didn’t want to, nor did he know, for sure, if he wanted them there at all. He actually didn’t want them to join. He wanted them to think like they had joined without them needing to join, to be so free of chance that the very possibility that they were not invited to join was incomprehensible to them, as it is among friends, who need no invitation. Before he could open his mouth, Layal spoke.

“Let’s watch the game,” Layal said.

It surprised Ramiz. He had no idea what game she was referring to, but it sounded like competitive sport, the sort of activity he had never enjoyed. By proximity, Tanzim was intrigued.

“I think I saw that they’re showing the game, in the lobby,” Tanzim said, referring to the sign he had just read.

He showed up twenty minutes early. He decided to step outside, to have a few puffs of a joint.

“Can I get you something to drink,” the waitress asked.

“Sparkling water, for now. I’ll have a beer when the game starts.”

“Great.”

He watched her walk away, trying not to be too obvious he was staring at her ass. He found her cute. Older, but cute.

“Work here long,” he asked.

“Kind of. I know everybody by name.”

“You know my name?”

“The regulars, I mean.”

He called.

“Sorry I’m late. She’s having an allergy attack.”

“No worries.”

“Is it crowded?”

“Not so far. Few people outside. Girls. Pretty empty inside.”

“Let’s watch outdoors, no?”

“Yeah. Whatever.”

“It’s cool. We can smoke.”

“Yeah for sure. You guys gonna eat anything? I was thinking of ordering.”

“Order, order. We can order when we come. Or is there some nachos or something.”

“I’ll order some things.”

“What’d your family think of your last film?”

“Well, it was heavily pornographic,” he said, “You know? They were confused. I remember my mom saying, I like it, but why all the sex?”

An old friend he hadn’t seen in a while came to town.

“We might watch the game tonight at the hotel, at least at first,” he said.

“Yeah. Would be great to see you. I’ll join you guys for the game.”

“So, how’s shit man? You liking it here?”

“I am. I like the details. It’s not so busy, but there’s things happening. It’s cool. I like the space you get here. Physical space. Home space. Workspace.

“Public space. Like, some gardens.”

He pointed up in the air, to their surroundings.

“Exactly. And personal space too, you know. Personal space in public spaces. Like here, earlier today, I was watching the game, people came into the bar. It was obvious I had the best table. But they left it to me, even though we could’ve easily shared it. Not that I don’t want to share, it’s just interesting, how uncomfortable people are bothering you, bothering other people.”

“They don’t want to be annoying. They stay out of your way.”

“Big time.”

He had sat next to Sabah. He found her interesting and liked the way she was dressed, the only woman in a jumpsuit, not wearing a dress, showing off her legs, even though she had the nicest legs out of all of them, they were the Least ones forced. He found her charming and cute. She told him she had almost gotten married, that it was a good thing it didn’t work out as she would have definitely gotten a divorce. He told her he hadn’t ever married, wasn’t thinking about it. They talked about wine and the work they produced. She started in advertising but later quit, wanting to do something more personal, creative. They ate baked potatoes on a bed of blood sausage. She garnished the meat with powdered cider, he garnished his with cloves, the smell of garlic resonating. She admitted that she loved garlic, and loved when a man could eat it raw. He asked her if she wanted to try, if she wanted a bite, she said yes, why not, snapping her teeth at the toasted bread where Ramiz had spread the toppings, a little bit of garlic slipped out of the bite, resting on her lip. She wiped it away with the side of her finger. He asked, later, after they had gotten acquainted, if she often delivered from Sinbad her favored chicken sandwiches with garlic aioli, pickles and fries. He liked their sandwiches, and went there from time to time, still, even though most of his friends had stopped growing, citing their sanitation conditions. She laughed and said that no, politely, her driver Mohammed picked it up for her, quite often actually, generally once a week, and she ate the sandwiches on a platter, like they were served like that, but they weren’t, they were first in sandwiches, and the sandwiches unrolled, on purpose, something she demanded they do, and they always did it, willing as they were, hoping to content her missus. She ate them and watched an episode of a series, sometimes two, sleeping as early as eleven on weeknights and on weekends at twelve, waking up to go running or train at the gym, to keep in shape for the better seasons. They got along well, and as they left they shared numbers, making dates and forming arrangements. She was loud and drunk and he was melancholic and high. He loved listening to her rally behind her thoughts. She told him she was having a party in two weeks, and that he should come. She often held the parties on her pool terrace apartment. There was a bar installed inside the pool. There was an open door policy for those who had already come, and a friend or two was alright. One time, Hadi Maroun showed up with eight of his friends, seven of them guys. Sabah herself rejected them at the door. She said it was alright for him still to come, but she expected, for his pride, that he didn’t. That was enough to show him out the door. He’d started coming, six months later, figuring people had forgotten the scene. They hadn’t. The concierge remembered him at the door. He told her he would visit, either for the party or sometime else, trying to feel her out. She said that he was welcome anytime, given he gave her notice, to ensure that she was free, not occupied with something else. He understood. He didn’t visit until three parties later. He had been busy and was putting on the final touches of his script. He was turning all the scenes outdoors into one location. He wanted to minimize the idea of space. He wanted to do away with space, to give it the feeling of living in a bunker, crowded by neighbors, hearing their stories for the last time. He didn’t want to get caught up in following them through their stories, walking around the city in a tyrant’s dream. And he had removed himself completely, from the entire list of characters, forming a new base of qualities, of progressions, of character developments and initiations. The third party rang on his alarm, which he had set immediately after having met that night, knowing he would forget and would be too embarrassed to call on her. He wore brown corduroy pants with a white collar shirt. He groomed his moustache. He bought new shoes. He even reserved a taxi the night before, confirming it the next day, in the afternoon, two hours before joining, Leaving his bike at home, so as not to arrive all sweating with a runny nose. There he met Rustom Bash and Ren Shahid. They were standing with Gibran Lah’had and Antony Gibril. Antony had just opened his new restaurant, Gorigo, based on a concept he developed during his time at school. Things were gong well, he said. Ramiz wanted to enter the conversation, to be polite. Before he could say something, Gibran asked him what he was doing.

“I’m a playwright,” he said.

“Are you?”

“I make plays, and big installations and staff like that.”

“Ramiz makes great plays,” Ren said, knowing him from their time at school together.

“When’s the next show?”

“I open the first.”

“After Festival?”

“Day of, actually.”

“Is that what you guys were looking for?”

“I would have preferred launching two weeks later, just to have that window, to say we’re launching on the first, shoot for it, get there, hit that ultimate high, then give ourselves that window to fill in the remaining details, to make it perfect for sure.”

“Makes sense,” Rustom said.

“What about you,” Ramiz asked? “What do you do?”

“I’m an entrepreneur,” Rustom said. “I’m opening a restaurant this week actually.”

“Oh yeah? What’s the concept?”

“Seafood on a bar, basically. And like, being in the water while eating. Submerged. But its totally indoors. It’s not what you think.”

“Nice. Where is it?”

“It’s in my building. I own a building.”

“Rustom bought a building in Pastoral,” Ren said.

“Is it dirty,” Ramiz asked?

“No. It’s super clean. Why would it be dirty?”

Ramiz realized he had mentioned his play, having mentioned something he had thought he had forgotten.

“I want to have a restaurant on the ground floor, in the back, and maybe even a small terrace bar, open only at night, or on weekends. The kind of place for people who want to spend their money wisely, on finger food and drinks, made with quality ingredients and attention paid to every last detail, from the light fixtures to the toilets to the mirrors on the walls, to a list of the ingredients and from where they’re supplied, on the menu, or on the wall inside, somewhere less evident than a menu, like at the door or something. You know? The kind of place where Bellini’s are made with fresh peach and the martini olives are handpicked from a sack of organic goods at a farmer’s market in town. With a great fucking burger. The restaurant can be tied to the bar, so the two work together to attract the same crowd, alternating nights between dinner and drinks. People go out here every night, it’s known. I just need a good fucking menu, something solid, something unique, something unique but that isn’t too insane, you know? Something fresh and tasty. I’m okay with the burger being the only greasy thing on the menu, and like, an occasional fish and chips, as a special or something.”

“What will you call it?”

“I don’t know yet. The bar, you mean?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know.”

“Does the building have a name?”

“Yeah. Basically you get to do that when it hits a certain size.”

“What’s it called?”

“The Skylark.”

“That’s nice.”

“I like it a lot.”

“How did you come up with it?”

“To be honest, I can’t remember. I was brainstorming with some friends for a while. I hired a team, to do the logo as well.”

“Designers?”

“Yeah. You probably know them. Do you know, Pussylicious?”

“The brand managers?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah of course. They did my design. The whole place.”

“You as well? Man I feel like they did everybody.”

“You cant blame them. Or their clients. They’re good.”

“They are, but what’s the point if it’s all one vision.”

“It doesn’t matter, bro, it sells. People like it in the end. Do you know how many people have come into my place, saying they were sent by their friends at Pussylicious? They know everybody. And people always say they like the design.”

“Yeah but how much did you pay?”

“It doesn’t matter. I paid. It was worth it. I’m making a killing off Fridays alone. Do you realize, I’m one of only three clubs in this city open after four am? I stay open two nights, all week, and it makes me more money than anyone else.”

“It’s true. You have a sick kitchen, as well.”

“Sergio, man. He’s a boss.”

“How’d you find that fucker?”

“I met him in a bar, actually. I was watching rugby, and he came in with his friends. They play rugby together, all of them. They’re big, big guys. Sergio is a big guy, I don’t know if you noticed. He’s fucking huge. But he cooks like a queen. Honestly, he’s the fattest motherfucker I know, but his hands, his hands, they’re like skinny dog hands, they’re hairy, like paws. He cooks with gloves, don’t worry. He’s a big son of a bitch. But yeah, we found him basically that night. I was with Khalil. You know him, right, my business partner? We did a line that one time, at Sarah’s. Do you remember? It was really dark, there was no A.C., but the party was going. I like that girl by the way, what’s she up to? Do you see her these days?”

“I’m into one of her friends man, Sabine. I see Sarah all the time.”

“They’re great girls. You get to my age, you miss girls that young. Happy. Full of life. Girls my age, they’re fucking depressing. Either they wanna fuck, and they can’t, so they’re miserable, with their husbands, or they’re alone, which makes them feel ugly, which is the worst for them, as you know.”

“You should come out with us sometime. We’re going to some party next weekend. On a boat, I think. You should come.”

“I feel old with you guys. Honestly, nothing is worse than that feeling.”

This is your chance he thought to himself, this is your chance, don’t blow it, he thought, sitting in the wing chair. This is your chance to speak to Sergio Vo, without his wife cajoling him, forcing him into silence. This is your chance, he thought, while he’s alone.

The conversation moved on to something else and sooner or later the six were split up into the two original pairs and Ramiz stranded alone beside the balcony rail. He downed his drink and went for another, downing it by the time he returned outside. He walked over towards the pool, where people had taken off most of their clothes and were sitting around showing their legs, or swimming or playing water badminton. He moved a bed towel aside, removing his shirt and lying on the sunbed, face down so his back would get a tan. His hands fell off to the side, as he lay with his face squished against the red hot cotton fabric, washed with enduring softener and yet still, he felt it burn, the minutes sogging from his breath, powdered spills of spit easing onto the fabric, like an emerging pool of sperm. Opening his eyes, he found two feet staring at him from the shadow on the concrete, lifting his head to acknowledge the owner of the legs. It was Sabah herself.

“I saw you from over there. I saw you earlier, but you looked like you wanted to be alone.”

“I’m tired,” Ramiz said. “I don’t know why.”

“It’s hot,”  she said, sitting down beside him on the sunbed.

“Can I get you something,” she asked, “Maybe something else to drink?”

“I’m fine,” Ramiz said. “How are you?”

“I’m good. People seem to be enjoying themselves.”

“They keep coming back.”

“They do.”

“Have you met my friend Hazem,” she said. “He reminds me of you.”

Hazem was walking over to them. He put down his cocktail and sat on the floor, his shorts already wet from swimming. Ramiz and Hazem shook hands, introducing themselves.

“Ramiz is a playwright,” Sabah said.

“Yeah I know,” Hazem said. “I’ve seen one of your plays?”

“Really? That’s great. Which one?”

“I don’t remember what it was called. It was good. There were only two characters onstage. It was very political.”

“Hmm.”

“Hazem owns a bike shop,” Sabah said. “How is it going,” she asked Hazem.

“It’s going well. I sold fifteen bikes this month.”

“That’s good?”

“It’s not bad at all.”

“What’s the most you’ve ever sold in a month?”

“Twenty seven, but that includes the opening. The big opening. On soft opening I sold eighteen bikes.”

“What’s the highest without counting openings?”

“I don’t know. I think, like, fifteen maybe.”

“So what you sold now?”

“And two other times.”

“That’s cool. What are your plans?”

“I’m trying to get into the flea market, to add another day of sales, maybe sell twenty percent more what I sell on the weekend now.”

They were joined by Sami Shahid, Ren’s older brother. Ramiz had seen him at a meeting for the FNL, in the Phantom District of Ras Shahid. He hadn’t seen him since then, it had been a whole year. Sami didn’t seem to remember him, or he was pretending not to know. He introduced himself to Hazem and Ramiz. They were both polite, asking what he did for a living. He had just started a new job at Crum Capital.

“How’d you end up in finance,” Hazem asked?

“I tried the whole artist thing. Didn’t work.”

“Are you happier now,” Sabah asked?

“I have money. But no, not really. Just, slightly less eager about everything.”

“Makes sense.”

“How about you,” Sami asked, looking at Sabah.

“I’m happy. I found my balance. It’s important. Quality of life is important to me.”

“What does your life provide?”

“Working hard but having the time to tan and see my friends every night and do my nails twice a week. Having time to see my cousins, and going to dinner three or four times a week. Having a drink whenever I want, at any time in the day. Hosting these parties. I wouldn’t have time for that somewhere else. It’s easier here.”

“I can’t wait to be leaving.”

“Are you going somewhere?”

The voice was his father’s, standing behind him. He had asked him if he could spend the summer in Repose, writing. His father was upset he hadn’t gotten a real job. He couldn’t convince him that biking was his future, selling bikes and competing in a race or two. But he had no time to practice in the city. The only place he could find to jam with his bike was in a parking lot in Dar al Shaab, on the other side of town.

Rana Gibril, Antony’s older sister, stepped in to the conversation. She had walked from one end of the hall to the other in a split second, finding Ramiz standing at the conversation’s corner.

“I can’t stand the thought of Leaving, but I always do.”

“Are you happy to be going back,” asked Sabah?

“I am,” Rana said, “It’s better for me there.”

“I have to visit you.”

“You really do.”

Secretly, she was hoping she would never visit. She held it against her that she hadn’t visited her, after her mother passed away. She expected her to visit, at Least once, but she didn’t. Coupled with the fact she bailed out on Sarah Naseem’s first wedding, even though she had been invited twelve months before, not even letting them know, neither of them daring to ask, they were mad but they wouldn’t fool their own class, preferring to bite the bullet. She stood beside Tanzim Shamseddine, underneath the façade by Charles Buccolt. Tanzim stared at the painting. He seemed concerned, she thought. So much so that the owner of the house, Sabah, asked if he was alright. He had his right hand palmed into a fist, like he was about to cry. Beside the painting were a pair of newspapers broadcast that year, about the show, framed in little portraits. There was a bouquet of flowers in a teal Tarpin vase, and a set of spoons by Orderly Myers cast into the wall. She walked towards Ramiz, facing away from him. He had the urge to follow her, only the urge. Tanzim walked away. Ramiz watched him. He stepped into the other room, when he appeared, in the other room, through the frame view of the door, he was standing beside a shelf, looking at some books. There was a dog wrapped in a blanket lying on the couch, and two strangers he didn’t know lying on the floor. His eyes were absolved under the flagrant spotlight, like highway eyes of a deer.

“How’s it going?”

“What’s up?”

“Not much. How’d the meeting go?”

“Shit.”

“Yeah?”

“They were fucked up man, they didn’t want shit. They brought me in for nothing.”

“What can you do? It’s not your last chance. You have to go with them, man, they know everybody.”

“They didn’t listen to shit. They asked who I know, how long have I been doing this, that was all. They didn’t ask what kind of music I like, what is my taste, they didn’t even listen to my mixtape. And when I asked if they listened to the one I sent, they said of course they didn’t, they listen to other people’s shit all the time, but when people send in new shit they give it to their interns.”

“Did you meet any of them?”

“The interns? Yeah. They were cool. They’re young. But they’re too smart man. They can’t see into the future.”

The story goes, she was approached the next day at her house by Ramiz. He had waited for her to come home, following her to the door. She invited him in but she was scared. It was strange of him. It would be strange of anyone.

“I play what I feel like playing. The first set I ever made was played on Jacks, and two BAM recorders, doing this thing we called Like. It was an instant hit with the neighborhood, everyone jumped. We had a set of sound engineers orchestrating the event, projecting the whole thing live. So like, eight sub woofers on each lens, they had, uhh, banana sets coming up from the curb, so like, for those who don’t know, twenty five sets of speakers for every sound, but like, fourteen notes each, it’s very drab, it’s the articulate computer stuff they think about, like the graphics in computer games, everyone thinks they have an idea how it works but it doesn’t, it doesn’t work like that. It’s like, more of like a soul that has to be projected from the idea, something scientific but not really there, to understand how it works. The idea of a sacred genus, or a milking cow. Something messy, surreal. They could feel the bass ten miles out.

“How’s it going?”

“It’s going well. Things are well.”

“How’s the project going? You’re in real estate now, aren’t you?”

“It’s a little different than that. I’ve bought some property, but I’m going to manage the place myself.”

“You’re a lot like your father. Even when he was young, he always had something going on.”

“Did he? I bet.

“I took a big risk in buying the building. I know that. Regardless of what happens, I own it, though I took a lot of debt. I know it’s going to turn over. It always does. The market is already starting to act in my favor. Every apartment in the city is changing hands. Even if the roof is made of tin and the walls are made of enamel, they’re selling. Nobody gives a shit where they put their money, they just want to spend. They want everybody to think that they own it.”

“Who’s your contractor?”

“I’m double fisting right now. I hired two project managers, they coordinate with each other. It’s not ideal, but I needed them in check. You know how these guys work. They’re disgusting. They pull you apart. I made sure they hate each other. They come only to me. I don’t mind. They do really good work. I don’t have much going on right now. It’s my only focus. It’s going to be big, but for now, it’s a lot of work. It’s been a lot of work.”

“You know how these things are. What’s your outlook?”

“I’m looking at a solid eighteen months right now, and then, if we sell like we plan to sell, even if we cut a little under, I’m expecting four to five years, tops.”

“That’s not bad.”

“It’s a great fucking location man. Everybody wants some.”

“It’s surprising. This city, it’s such a piece of shit, yet, everybody’s always buying.”

“People don’t ditch their shit man. If it’s theirs they own it.”

“They don’t at first, but they come around to it. You’re right?”

“Who’s your contractor?”

“I’m going with two different guys right now. One of them is Melhem Zibrin. He’s young but he’s good.”

“How’d you hear about him?”

“Do you know Ala’a Wassouf?”

“Of course.”

“His son, Ramzi. I went to school with him. He’s starting to get involved in his father’s business. He was abroad for a while, taking his time. He knew he was going to do it all along. He got good experience, most of it civil engineering. Anyway, he gave me their names.”

“Melhem Zibrin. I don’t know if I know him. Where does he work? Or is he independent?”

“He was a contractor at Kanaan et Kanaan. But he left last year. Supposedly he was a little upset, they were letting off a lot of people, a lot of people that came up with him.”

“I heard. They let off many, many people last year.”

“Three thousand.”

“Damn.”

“A lot of them were deported.”

“I heard. Keep that to yourself.”

“I know.”

“You have to be careful, habibi.”

“I know.”

“I feel sorry for your generation, you know that? You have a very beautiful idea of the world, but it’s impossible. It will never be. You have to get over that. When I was your age, it was the same. We thought we could annihilate our enemies, on the battlefield, and in books. But they annihilated us. Look at us now. We’re nothing. If somebody asks you today, where are you from? Tell him you are in exile, ashamed of your name. It doesn’t hurt you as much as it hurts your parents. That’s fine. It shouldn’t. You’re still young. You believe. When it hits you, you will be old, like me now. You will take your medicine and you will leave. You will sit in the mountains, and you will read. But you will never go back to try. I have thought many times. But why? There is nothing left there. It is destroyed.”

“Who’s your attorney?”

“Chemrine.”

“Really? I thought you would go for K & B.”

“They’re too expensive man, and for nothing. They don’t even go themselves to court, they send their juniors. They’re too busy meeting whales.”

“They have a lot of them. You go to them for that kind of influence though, you realize that?”

“It wasn’t worth it. Not at this point. Not at my level.”

“How’d you set up your team? Are you fine?”

“I need some help with logistics, actually, but I got a lot of help from Ramzi Wassouf.”

“Nice. He helped you out?”

“Yeah, he owed me a small favor, so. Also, I think he wants to see me do it.”

“And you found an architect?”

“I met with a few. Rabah Batroun was nice. I liked him a lot. I thought he would be more of a dick but he’s cool. He didn’t want that much up front, as well. I decided to try going for a commercial firm, to see what they would offer, compared to someone like him. They wanted a huge deposit, I don’t know why.”

“It’s a long process. You’ll get there.”

“It’s exhausting. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my project managers I would be dead. They know everyone in town. They know who to pay. I pay sixteen officers a month, just to survive. So they don’t shut me down. Imagine? I have to pay the District Commissioner himself. I don’t even go to his house. The piece of shit comes to me. I drop a pamphlet into a moving car. It’s ridiculous. It won’t change. I don’t care about the elections, or anything like that. Honestly, at the beginning I had hope. I don’t anymore. I’m tired of watching people try. People I like, people I care about. My sister wants to work in a firm, representing refugees. I ask her, why? Why do you want to give up your life? You’re going to be sick and depressed, all the time. It’s not their fault. They don’t deserve to suffer. But it’s going to be hard on you, why try? I had to deal with shit recently, honestly, it makes you think about leaving. You know I don’t want to, and I never will. I don’t like the life abroad. But being here, with these costs, with these threats. It’s dangerous. It’s not about the money. I can make it here. I know it. It’s the stress. I can’t deal with it. It drives me insane. It makes me want to destroy everything I have, to force myself out of it. I feel this urge, tearing me apart. Wanting to rip everything. And it’s alright. I tell myself, I model myself, I think in a certain way, so I can achieve things a certain way without losing my mind.

“I spent a few days in jail, a few months ago. I didn’t tell you. You were away, I didn’t think I should.”

“Jail? I didn’t know. What happened?”

“Same thing. I have people to pay, just like you. I forgot to pay somebody. Okay, I didn’t forget. I forgot, but I didn’t really forget, you know? I was testing him. I was testing his limits. I wanted to know, how far can I budge. I’m getting tired of it. I don’t want to do this the rest of my life. You know what he tells me, when he sees my face? We were sitting for lunch, with my sisters and brothers. He came to me, in the end of the room. I didn’t know he was there. He was wearing a long white coat, and you know him actually, but I won’t say his name, but you know his beard, he’s famous for his beard. He told me to eat my shit, and he threw a bottle of wine at my face. In front of my sister, you believe? I told him no way, no way I’m paying you. You’re insane. He pulled out a gun, his own gun from his waist. He shot it in the air. Nobody could say anything. We froze. He had two of his men guarding the door. There were only two or three others in the room, and us. I swear, I’ve never seen my brothers so scared, even in school when we were fucking around, and something bad suddenly happened, like when Tarek fell on his head, outside the pool, or when Alex fell on his arm and broke it. It was fucked. I have nothing on me, never. Sometimes I have brass knuckles in the car, that’s all.”

“These things are going to happen. It’s not your fault.”

“I was scared, but I wasn’t going to show it. I told him to fuck off. He didn’t shoot his gun in the air. We didn’t hear it. He pointed it at my leg. I almost pissed my pants. But then he left. He said he had a surprise for me, waiting for me at home. I was scared. I didn’t want to go home after that. I was worried about my family, of course, but I didn’t tell them. I didn’t want them to be scared. Where can we go? I have nowhere else to go, but home. I didn’t know what I should do. So I paid him. But fuck him, I wasn’t scared. To be honest, he was surprised. I’m sure, in some way, he was shocked. I could see him. He pulled his gun and we froze, but then I put my hands in the air, and I said what? You get me? I was scared, but I didn’t show it. It’s important to note. I wasn’t scared, but I was scared, you see it?”

“You have to know what you want. I know what I’m going to do. Nothing will stop it. The people will try, and if they try, it will push me to do more. I know who they are. I can see them already. They want to play games. I know who they are. I know them. And I’m going to be bigger than them, and better.”

“Tell me about your place. What’s the story there man? I’m hearing a lot of good things.”

“The façade is being hammered today. Bro, it’s being bulldozed, on my command. That’s how far it’s come. Do you understand that?”

“How many workers?”

“A hundred, at least. They come in every day. I walk by them. I wave. They crave my attention. They want to shake hands. The project manager, Melhem. That’s all he wants. He wants to shake hands with me. I come into the building, every five minutes I’m shaking someone’s hand. All of their hands are sweaty, and dirty. I’m too polite to say no, but I don’t want people to think it’s because of my hands. Sometimes you can feel it, you can feel it coming off. You shake hands. It’s disgusting. I have powder, with me, at all times. Baby powder, look.”

He pulled it out of his jacket pocket.

“Crazy.”

“I’m building up, into the sky. Thirty five floors, one hundred residential apartments, and a showroom on the bottom floor.”

“Who will you put there?”

“I’m interviewing. There’s no rush. Not on that. Let me get through the first step first. Let them see what’s coming. They have to know the worth.”

“Do you have any leads, though?”

“Two car dealerships are interested.”

“Who?”

“Luxury and Vanity, both of them private. They’re intense. You don’t know what they sell. It’s serious. They put the sickest shit on the road. They have two white Retinas that sold for four million, two of five in the world.”

“And they’re interested?”

“They’re interested. They submitted a tender. My accountant is reviewing it with some people. We got some people from outside the office. We’re still small, as an operating team, basically. It’s a lot of work. I need someone good on it. She’s good. She’s not perfect, that’s why we went for outside advice. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind putting a bank there. I like car dealerships. They’re slow. They bring a certain glitz and a glamour, they bring a certain calm as well. Everything is pretty and quiet. I like the feeling it brings. It’s peaceful, it’s slow. But I want foot traffic man. I don’t know if my goal is to do that yet. Like Binge Tower. It’s the calmest place in the world. Everybody wants to go there for peace and quiet. The park is nice. The traffic is low. They occupy so much of the square now, and they filtered all of the beach. It’s beautiful. I don’t know. What do you think?”

“What are your alternatives?”

“I could go with a bank, bro, it’s safer. They bring a lot, a lot of foot traffic, no matter what. I put one of the big guys, it’s set.”

“So what’s the problem? Go with them.”

“I don’t know. A car dealership you can still deal with, in a way, in terms of the style. Banks are banks, you know? There’s no style. They look like shit. It’ll ruin the façade. The whole side of the building with the bank will look the same. There’s no character. You’ve seen the Vanity office, on Summer Road? It’s genius. It’s carved in the middle, and there’s a small river running through it, like a nave. It looks like something from a movie. It’s insane. You haven’t seen it?”

“I have, I have.”

“And, what did you think?”

“It’s perfect.”

“It’s perfect. I want people to say that about mine.”

“You can do it.”

“I hope.”

“Who’s that guy,” Samer asked, in his usual affirmation, having qualified certain normative traits to the passing man, exposed to Samer’s judgment.

“Him? That’s Edgar Habib. Don’t you know him? Oh no wait, you might not’ve been here then. He’s really cool.”

“Yeah? What’s he about?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who would know?”

Samer turned around, to analyze for a knowing figure in the crowd, finding, just two feet away from, Maher Madrous smoking at a standing table, the sight of their interest on the other side of the pool.

“Maher,” Samer said. “Do you know who that is?”

“Why?”

“Do you?”

“I do,” Maher said, not acting surprised. Evidently, Boutros thought, Samer was prone to such injunctions, always curious to know more.

“Come over here,” Samer said.

Maher abandoned the two of his friends, boys around his age who pretty much dressed the same, who Samer thought were probably cousins, or something of the sort. He put his arm around his friend, two thirds his age, an equal partner, the size of his frame, though he had none of Samer’s dedication to his body, sculpting himself mainly out of food, an eating habit that had grown worse over time. When they first met, when Maher was just eighteen, starting to study at the Academy school, as a trainee in video science, learning to use his tools, Samer was a model, for art classes, and an evening trainer at the nearby gym, the Pelican Rose. The man who had taken Samer’s interest, standing across the pond, watching his subjects from afar, enjoying a degree of importance, having already crossed the greeting bridge, separating the two fawns, having arrived already half an hour before.

“Do you know him,” Samer asked?

“I do, actually. Why?”

“He’s cute, and I want to know.”

“I think he was in research.”

“No kidding? Where from?”

“I took a class with him. It was a weird séance class. Like literally, smoking bowls and shit.”

“That’s of no interest to me, Maher. What else do you know about him? Is he single?”

“I couldn’t know.”

Samer, not one to accept such hollow defeat, decided to walk on over, crossing the scattering of guests, of whom he did not know many. He was curious about this boy, knowing exactly why. He was young, and good looking, with a certain aura of attraction that caught his eye. Samer had perfected little in his life beyond his body, but his uses of her weapons was awe worthy. Their side of the pool had been landscaped that year, the Malufs having altered the entire landscape of their home, owning by now an eighty percent share in the villa, though by law and regulation they weren’t allowed to own any more, it acquired them a certain penance for observation that was rewarded in change, changing those elements of construction they had not decided before, having moved into the home after it was built, like all of the other tenants. The ridge of the pool, the borders, were maintained as they were, but the rocky marble had been lifted, and in her place, blocks of concrete, mainly for the purpose of the children, walking and running, against orders, around the pool, and the side on that side was more dangerous, as it had a long stretch from north to south, whereas the other side, across, was like a trileaf daggered, three little coves forming alcoves, the first of them warm, the two others, carbonated, so they had a little foam. He drank too much wine. He could feel himself getting drunk. He no longer felt his arms, his legs, like they had to be accounted for. They could take care of themselves. He sat back in the wing chair accepting another glass of organic Le Tasse wine from the hill country. The living was colorful and full of life. The sprawling open set of windows stretching the length of the room, turning the small apartment interior into a wide open space. A retro Juniper chaise and the set of magenta hoarse wood chairs, each uniquely handmade in Column studio. Namus was a lover of birds, which he found ironic, because the two parrots that freely absorbed their caged environment would not survive in the wild. One of their friends was playing the piano. He never noticed her before, but her hands were too big to be playing. They seemed detached somehow from her body. Her fingers moved out of order, like each one was controlling itself, like they were not really hers. Her smile he could appreciate, and the fact she took care of her nails, which were obviously well done, and done outside the house. She wore open toed heels and her feet were long and slender. He couldn’t help watching them confide in their straps, striving with the hours to get loose. As she played her knees buckled and she tapped her heels against the ground, in a breaking rhythm. It seemed purposeful but it wasn’t. Quickly he caught himself staring too long at her feet, and caught one of the others watching him, noticing the look in his eyes as he studied her toes, counting each and every one and focusing on their habits. The shelter of a coal burning heater protruded a meter from the wall, cutting the already peninsula room in half, as the chimney sprung from a platform several meters ahead of either side of the wall. The carpet, he had been told, was an investment from Rim Trussaut’s collection. It didn’t suit the tiles underneath but he would never say it, the sprawling cubes of hand chiseled mosaic that layered the marble surface floor. If the tiles were more visible it would lift the energy in the room, breathing some relief. Otherwise, there were times when the sheltering smoke and the nightly fog masking the windows caused him to feel suffocated, and he figured the others felt it as well. He listened in on the conversation on the couch beside him. Oscar, one of their friends, was whining about his troubles at home, mainly that his son was refusing the family’s advances, refusing to be paid a ticket home to visit. He understood Oscar’s feeling of loss but probably the boy had been liberated. Oscar spent most of his time spying on his children and on his wife. He’d installed cameras all over the house and in their cars. What made him paranoid nobody could be sure. Stories of petty criminals running loose had spread among their friends. His wife was rarely out of the house. She spent most of her time watching television shows at home, waking up at one in the afternoon, eating lunch for breakfast and dinner for lunch, snacking all the while. Somehow she’d managed to maintain the same body over the last twelve years, since her youngest child was born.

“I only knew the port after the war. It’s a place for nomads. Really. Well, it used to be. You have to remember, the first to venture out of the port were thieves. It gives them a bad name, everywhere. They slept in the woods, and taught themselves this magical sort of music, this enchanting kind of folksy verve that vibrates in their lungs when they do it. It’s like a mixture of jazz and oriental mountain chants. It’s really bizarre, so pure. I wrote the whole thing in two months, back at my desk, after taking the summer off. It was a crazy time, but it was worth it. I mean, I got the book deal, so that’s all.”

“What’d you call it?”

“I had all these crazy names playing in my head the entire time. While I was writing it, but also while I was doing it, while I was living it. I didn’t know at the time what I was going to write for it, I mean I thought I was going to write the piece in Red Elephant, but then they went broke, and I had all these fucking debts from all the time off when I broke my leg and couldn’t go on the road. So I was fucking fed up with doing work and not getting paid for it. They dumped me the moment I asked for my share. I decided to do the whole thing as a bummer, straight from the start. Like I said, two months, boom, it was gone. I shot it out and in six months it was there. I didn’t have a name for it until then. I had all these crazy names for it, while writing it, like weird symbolical, sort of spiritual names for it as it came along.”

“Like what? Do you remember any of them?”

“Um, like, what was one? Waiting on the Pilgrims to Pass was one. The Aggregate Sublime was another, but then I discovered it was the name for a book on experimental jazz actually, which was also really bizarre. That was how I discovered Kohl Divorce and his Uses of the Trumpet; Notes from a Minor Hand. It’s one of the most elusive texts I’ve ever fucking read. It’s brilliant. He goes on and on about these sacred fours, speaking about the exclusive patron art of suffering, that is empowerment, and so he ends the book on this strange sort of quasi sequester on life, totally temperamental, different from his other notes, more bland, and serious, not really bland, but you know what I mean, sort of like, he’s like the complete opposite of Duro, telling the story backwards. He goes on and on about suffering, and about the loss of parents is akin to the loss of the self, for the self in the notorious image of one’s past, quietly dissipating. It’s really fucking dark. I think it was intended for like a series of lectures on the roots of jazz, and then it was delivered to a weird spiritual audience in a religious school. He has all these references to death that are really, really bizarre. but then again, he maintains the content through the whole piece. He keeps it going, and when it ends, you know exactly where you’ve travelled and gone, the road you’ve gone on.”

“So what’d you call it in the end?”

“The sacred mountain,” he said, lowering his gaze for a moment, expressing his shyness and delight.

The waiter, Steve, passed by his colleague, Medris, offering him a tray of servings. Medris, in turn, smiling at the young trainee, accepted the tray of finger foods, small, chipped rosemary potatoes boiled on a garlic oil, feta cheese on ham, goat cheese on a roll of bacon and honey mustard sauce, a strip of skewered lamb, with a tomato and onion wrap.

“Have you tried one of these,” Edgar asked, picking one up from the tray.

“No, no, I haven’t,” came the response, picking one up as well.

“What’d you get,” Edgar asked?

“It looks like, cheese and ham or something.”

“Yes, that’s a good one. I like the catering here. They’re not too stuffy. Sometimes they end up giving us rolls of lettuce and fresh carrots, thinking we’ve advanced somehow from this ubiquitous state of overconsumption, but it’s not true, is it? It’s not my fault the world is gone to shit. I love my food. My first job was as a food critic.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes, in Repose.”

“You lived there?”

“I had to drive there four nights a week and comment on the day’s lunch dishes at the Hotel Monroe.”

“How was the food there, back then, when was it?”

“It was in ’95, actually, just after the war.”

“It must’ve been beautiful. Really authentic.”

“Overpriced and very charged. The energy was just, I can’t even begin to explain to you.”

“Really? That bad? I’m surprised. I thought the whole arena up there to be very nice, the people living there pretty much alone all winter, then in the summer the place is packed.”

“Yeah, exactly. That’s it. It wasn’t so nice then, though. They weren’t expecting so many visitors. Now they know. Act nice, you get rewarded. People pay for your smiles. If you go into a store, right now, and ask for something, say, a ham sandwich, like one of these, and they hand it over to you sulking or indifferent, you don’t want to eat it. You want nothing to do with it.”

“So true. It’s kind of a global march, in a way, to see who gets there the fastest.”

“Where?”

“Perfection,” Ralph said. “Modernity. The whole system is so charged. Like you said, about then, it makes sense in a way. I wasn’t there, but I can see it. Now they know.” His eyes light up, like a digger discovering gold after years of failure. “Give me money, my reward. People want to make it, that’s it. No more revolutions, no more wars. People are confined to their class, and they’re fine with that, as long as there’s now war, as long as it doesn’t get worse, it can get better.”

“Your generation is far more optimistic than mine.”

He didn’t feel like joining the conversation. Ever since everyone had children he had begun to feel less inclined, like whatever they discussed did not concern him, since most of what they discussed concerned a child, a child disobeying or a child wonder. Either way, he could not care, unless something specific were said that could inspire him. Worse than the parents were the friends who had not had children but who overcompensated for that lacking virtue in their lives, partying like they were still searching for the enigma of youth, knowing it could never be found, knowing what they had accomplished could never again be retrieved, that the nights they disappeared and joined to one another were lost forever, replenished now and again by a retrieving song, a moment that returns its bearer to the original source, where growing still had its accusation, youth, her consequence. He felt himself conscience of every action, every movement, studying the implications of his watchful eyes and his thoughtful words, words that were not spoken for fear of integration, fear that he would imply he wanted to be observed himself, wanted to be entertained, to be part of the ceremony. He restrained himself from checking his phone every second, from asking for a cigarette time after time. As much as he felt he did not belong, did not feel up for it, socializing, networking, preferring to drink alone on the wing chair, he didn’t want to be that person who sits in the corner with one leg over the other scrolling down his phone, his eyes glaring from behind his glasses every few seconds. He walked towards the makeshift bar area, where half the bottles from the actual bar in the living had been moved to make space for nearly frozen beer and mixers and a large bucket of ice. There were times Namus hired a butler for the evening, or a bartender with a kind face and a pocket of smiles. The kind of bartender who remembers what everyone wants and what everyone is drinking. But she opted against it for that night. Though he didn’t like to mix, he felt like having a change of high. He’d probably had a bottle of wine to himself. But he felt like switching drinks. He decided upon a scotch soda, two shots of the The Gregor’s Cask in a swirl of soda water with a twist of lime, on a bed of rock solid ice cubes. He stood by the bar picking at a bowl of mixed nuts, salted cashews, and using a toothpick to pick at some olives that had been pitted as well. He is there. He says the thing about writing a children’s book at the park. He wonders if he’s just saying it to have said it, if he waited all day to slip the detail in there. Someone asks for a joint. Someone else says they’d never smoked before, someone else says they always smoke but they never smoke with someone else. He likes that about them. He likes that they’re smoking, but that they say they only smoke with someone else. She , who said it, takes hold of the joint. He had never spoken like that. She found it strange, him speaking that way, of wanting to own things, of possessing, he had never spoken before of possessing, of wanting, of things that he could possibly want, because wanting was what others did and they had never done it. He spoke of owning and possessing like they were items on the list he had not yet conquered. He wasn’t the person she remembered, who had once slept on the steps outside her home for three nights for the simple ownership of a kiss. He had changed. Something had changed in him.

“Where do you work?”

“Bey Telecoms.”

“Wow. How unjust.”

“I’m in favor.”

“So you’re not part of the swarm?”

“Let’s just say if disaster were to strike, I know it by strong authority that I would be the five hundred and third priority to be escorted to safety, which, according to the contingency in place, would take an estimated three and a half hours from the time of the collective distress call, which, because I live in District 1, happens in the first five minutes of anything suspicious likely to warrant the call.”

“I used to wonder how to make it out here, and then I realized, just be a total fucking dick, skin people alive and eat their charred ham in a sandwich.

“What do they want?”

“They’re basically on a mission to paint him as a mercenary. A former painter that traded his brushes for a militia armed with nothing more than a few pistols and two rocket propelled grenades.”

“The academy was first built for the inspection of migrants, when the numbers rose.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah. We were extremely lucky to preserve the space. It was probably the only electoral victory I have heard of us having, ever. Accomplished by the physical mauling of heads.”

“Who passed it?”

“It was passed in the Limited Courts, not in parliament. As a criminal case.”

“Who was the presiding judge?”

“Rumaithi. Do you know her?”

“Uff, she’s a beast.”

“She’s a fucking cunt, but I love her.”

“She’s a good writer too by the way. She writes a column in The Argo.”

“Hey, I hear their name all the time,” Darin interjected, “are they liberal or conservative?”

“They’re both. They have a panel of writers, who meet every week and tell jokes, and when the dust settles they write their little reports.”

“So it’s a place for talking heads to pull down their pants.”

“I guess so.”

“This is Linda,” he said, pulling her by the arm, introducing her to his friends from Welmington.”

“Pleasure Linda,”  offering his hand. “My wife, Cecille.”

“I heard you’re from Burbur.”

“Have you been there before?”

“I was sent to Burbur, at the heart of Ras Shahid.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“The climate is fabulous but the people suck. I was there two weeks, I would’ve left earlier but I had a lot of work.”

“Really? You didn’t like it?”

“I did, yeah. I hated it a lot.”

“Why were you there?”

“There was a trial I had to cover. Some convicted former minister, who was suspected in the abduction and later execution of one of the nation’s darling faces. It was really terrible stuff. I had to drive every day for two hours and forty five minutes, just to get to the courthouse, because they had to do it out of town, out of the city, for the security risk. That’s probably why I hated it, because I had to sit in traffic the entire time. It was shit. Like it really sucked.”

“No no, the traffic is unbearable. You don’t ever get in a car and drive, and when you do you do it at the perfect hours. No, listen, when I say go to Beirut I mean literally go to the city centre and get fucked up the entire time, like literally every second. The whole drive I make in the car is actually just a detour from the airport to my apartment, where I pick up a block of hash from my dealer, that’s honestly only ever it. Like totally, at all.”

“That sounds a lot more like it.”

“Eh definitely. No, you cannot.”

Without realizing, she had pulled her glass to her face, the coldness of the cup made ever colder by the ice, the gin and tonic diluting it. The others had walked away, seemingly reading their lines. She stood in front of her speaking partner, Melissa, who every once in a while went blind momentarily, blowing smoke into her eyes.

“Taking a shit, I saw a cockroach. It came at me from behind. Was it really there? I can’t know! It crawled under my pants, disappearing for a second, and then it reappeared, strumming up my leg! It disappeared again, reappearing on the white varnished wall! I couldn’t face it, confront it, directly. I remember my uncle, Toufiq, and his strong, bony hands, hairy, very hairy hands, like dwarves, holding the candle while it was burning, holding it onto the little critter, burning the shell from the outside. The antennas are so long, when they vibrate up and down, oh, I feel them! Like they are absently touching me. Have you ever been grazed by the antennas of a roach? It’s disgusting! Ah, the image! No! The Administration sees everything. I’m not sure how. The technology is irrelevant. What is most frightening to conceive is that I am the cause of their scrutiny. I am forgetful, so I write everything down. But they take away all my writing! I don’t have any pens! They’re worried I’ll end up like Sumi, who slit her throat with a pen. It wasn’t all that bad. She had Vorthritis. They said, it was spreading to her lungs. She was going to die, either way. And why? She kicked the habit, long ago, but it came back to haunt her, taking all her organs in one go. Her kidneys, her liver, they were destroyed. Totally destroyed. Her skin turned yellow. Her nails were all brown. She had gone blind in one eye. It was terrible! And still, they wanted her to live. Who am I to say when someone lives or dies, but still, how could you honestly keep her?! She was so destroyed! The point is I am not allowed to be saying these things. Symbolically speaking, the cockroach is the cause of our suffering, and so I refer to him. Speaking of his mother, it was probably the first time in my life, I saw the rose insides of a cockroach’s belly from up close, while it were still alive. I only ever saw the pink of a cockroach’s inner strings from up close after it had died, until that point, I’d never seen the insides so rose cresten before. She has the body of a cockroach, but two hind legs like those of a bird. I’ve only ever seen the pink of a cockroach after it has died, and the meat is brown, the body lying in her upturned havoc, the flare having departed the vessel’s insides. When the vermin is dead its prettier than when it is alive. The golden arms curl inwards, in the form of a cocoon. Alive, the pink gelatin skin is pulsating, with a breach where the arms are stationed if it were not running on six hairy legs. Everything I have is gone, but the search for an eternal face. When will you come visit me? I am so bored! Bored, most of all, of my mind. They tell us to ignore it, to do our best with what we have. How can I! I am abhorred! I want to say, if you believe, that I am crossing, and I will search for you, and if I am not there, where you are found, I will come again, and if I come to that point, and you are not there, I will return, and cross again, becaue for, it is for you, I am crossing. There is a place I go in my mind, but I am worried, more than anything, it will disappear. The days are becoming nights. I cannot distinguish between them, and the smell of sulphur breeds in the head when the song of distance rings her bongs, and the smell of foster seeds bred in the sand gives me the feeling of vomiting. I am losing to the medicine the stars of your light! I am losing as well to the silence! The silence that follows the first ringing of bells like the chariot disturbances of Osip, when he waded through the canals of Drague through a storm, in order to save his mistress. Like swallows that upend from their branch, carrying the walk of causes. The medicine quiets the fire and the fire can be hurtful, but at least, the fire is light. I understand. I dread the silence, as much as I dread the sound of the night guard’s beads as he passes in the halls, or the blaring trumpet horns of early morning, the rooster’s caw like hornet’s trumpet. I will give myself to the spirit. I will go where the spirit goes, wherever it is she calls me, leading the way, into the infinitesimal void, and eventually, the destination. I am learning a lot, Mashallah, blessings be to Spirit Ra, song of yarn and plunder! In the hour of the Temple Su, and blessings as well be to Malik, son of Ra, and Shahida, daughter of the Genus Ob. I am thankful for Shahida, who is like a friend, and the speaker says we must one day decide who is our patron. When I go to meetings, when there is time and I am given a pass, to listen, in the undergrowth, to the speaker’s words, it is there that both of us meet, my quiet soul and her patron. The speaker says Shahida is of the most careful, noting at all times what spirits are present, what is not, what is, who is meant to be among the present and those residing in the past. The movement is easy between the two, she says, when there is time and we go to meetings, and are given a pass and the speakers bow their heads, and the line of pilgrims rise and I can smell their feet, and the undergrowth is full of dust and cockroaches, and the sound of stomping scares the little friends, and I bow my head also and pray to the Higher, so that I am will be given another pass, and through these doors that are made of stronger potions, stronger even than the industrial steel that lines the Lower Ward, the most dangerous of places, I share in a breath with the Higher patron, who is both of us and of the ruling Odds. In the name of Ba under the House of Ro! In the name of Bara under the Banner of Ba! I came to the realization yesterday, that after all this, it will happen again, and we will conclude until that time to determine where we have come, and until such time of determination we will arrive where we have begun, only to learn it the other way around, in so far as we are, what Zahreddine says, the essential being, looking beyond the scope of the river’s end and traversing downwardly into oblivion.”

Suleika Khan, the performance artist whose centerpiece Unfold at the reopening of the National Museum as recent as last year marked the beginnings of Atropism, the general mood of the Avant garde. Suleika Khan had horrible timing. He understood that. He understood it was necessary for her to step out of the way. She performed Able Guards, a two step dash on a yoga mat she performed for twenty four hours. That was her latest piece.

“How was your week,” he asked.

“It was good,” she said.

“I just arrived,” Tanzim said. “I’ve been away.”

“Cool,” he said. ‘For how long?”

“For three months,” he said. “I was away for three months.”

“Is it good to be back,” he asked.

It’s good to be back, he said. I’ve tried to stay away from old habits. It’s working so far.

And you, he said.

I had a journey over the weekend.

A journey, you said?

I went to the mountains with friends. We ate mizrah, she said, it was really intense.

“Have you heard about it,” he asked.

“Yeah, I think I have.” Richard said.

“It’s super intense,” Chloe said.

“Didn’t the writers on The Argonauts write about it?” Richard asked.

“Yeah, but they did it differently. They took it over weeks.”

“I did it for two days, she said. I wanted to do three days, but it was too much.”

“The healer does it for three months, sometimes.”

“Is that what you were doing?”

“No,” Tanzim said. “I was away.”

“And how was it,” he asked, with the mizrah.

“We had to do it at night. It was cold. The blankets were too thin. One of my friends fell asleep in the toilets. I didn’t know how to get her out of there. It was an outhouse, really small, and the floor was wet. She had her blankets with her, and they were curled up against the toilet, on the floor. I felt like I was suffering. Like I was dying. Whenever I felt like it couldn’t get worse, it did. I felt like I was slipping away.”

“Sounds terrible.”

“You also learn a lot.”

“Of course.”

“It’s very mind opening. You have to be open to it. And to learn.”

“And you,” Tanzim asked.

“I was super sick for three weeks,” he said.

“The thing everyone had,” she said.

“Yeah,” agreeing, “the thing everyone had. I stayed home for three weeks,” he said, “and usually I love being alone but it made me really depressed. I felt like I had accomplished nothing, and nothing could be worse than my life, as it is right now. And then I got better and I felt like calling everyone up and going out. But I remembered, wait, I love being alone, I don’t want to get used to it, to forget it. So I smoked a joint at the park and wrote a children’s book.”

“Wow,” Tanzim said, “sounds great.”

“It was. I feel super good. Charged.”

“Is that something you do,” Tanzim asked. “Write children’s books?”

“It’s something I’m getting into,” Richard said.

I spend all of my time these days looking at flights, she said. He found that interesting. He didn’t care for traveling. He had once thought of himself as the sort of person who enjoyed traveling, seeing other cultures, understanding their ways, but that was before he cultivated for himself the very idea and its regular living object of the perfect way of life, ideal living, as he referred to it, and the people in the hotel were wanting for that sort of listening, that lecture. Idea living came to him by surprise. He thought of himself blessed htat way. He thought of himself as being enlightened.

“Do you know Jackie Rich,” he asked.

“No,” they said, each of them nodding politely.

“Are you friends,” she asked.

“No,” he said, “I thought you knew her.”

They didn’t know what to say, so they watched and listened to the conversation occurring behind Richard’s ear, blocked by a standing column, the vision of which could be seen in entirety by the two of them, Dadalle and Chloe. The group of six, all of them just met, listening closely to a story they had been told that one of them was telling. Certain elements point to a varied experience of writing the novel itself. For instance, on several loose Leaf pages, which after inspection are clearly draft pages of a larger manuscript that eventually made it into the final edit of, certain mistakes repeated themselves, consistently, without breaking the order of their occurrence. All g’s appear as 6’s, all capital T’s as 1’s. On a different selection of loose Leaf pages, white or light beige, as opposed to those of light yellow or cream color, all f’s appear as 5’s, whereas in the previous pages, f is normally written, but the symbol denoting zero, 0, appears to be the same used for the capital letter o, O. These differences, when studied, appear to be the result of malfunctioning keytops on the several typewriters he used. half of , that seemed to be working out. It was occurring behind Richard’s ear, to the left of him, the vision of which could be seen in entirety by the two of them, Dadalle and Chloe. If he could hear them, he would have paid attention to the group of six, all of them just met, listening closely to the a story one of them was saying. He couldn’t hear a thing, so he laughed at the words he had carried into the conversation, following his own laugh. He remembered him, from university. He was always high, and stayed high for too long. Into needles. He remembered hearing he was depressed. It didn’t surprise him. The reasons he tried to kill himself was for money.

“And where is she staying?”

“You didn’t hear?”

“She’s in the clinic, at Ormolu.”

“Is she fine?”

“It’s a precaution. They said she had a wave.”

“What are they testing her for?”

“The same as everyone else. It’s just a precaution.”

“Does Hamid know?”

“Of course. He has been visiting her. I can’t go so far out there, because of my leg.”

“Where can I find him?”

“There’s a museum of clocks up there. The House of Ormolu. I like the museum. I go there sometimes, after visiting her. I like watching the lights light up at night. The colors are nice. They like colors over there. It’s a group of foreigners, running the place. They want to do good up there. I don’t blame them. Do they ever think of here? Who cares. I don’t blame anyone for helping. It’s been quiet since she left. I like to go, from time to time, to visit her. She wants me there more often but it’s hard. It’s hard to come back. To come back to this, without her.

“And what are your plans for tomorrow?”

“I was thinking of going to Ormolu, to visit the clinic.”

“Do you know someone there?”

“I do. She’s an old friend of mine.”

“I’ve never been up there. I think they did well. There’s a beer garden somewhere around there. Who will you go with?”

“Probably alone.”

“You’re a melancholic one, aren’t you?”

“Did you know him long?”

“Me? Not really. I don’t know. I guess nobody wants to be the one saying it then, now. You? How long did you know each other?”

“We were together, some time.”

“Together? You mean, like, you were fucking?”

“Yeah, we were.”

“Now that I think about it, I never saw him with anyone. Where did you guys meet?”

“He started living with us, actually.”

Later, she’s wearing a vanilla sweater and brown hoody scarf, the colors of which are transparent, the color as well of her shoes, tanned flip flops exposing her feet, the only bare feet at the funeral. Her hair is tossed back to the side, a loud broth of blacking stocks, like the skin of her color, a stately, debonairing brown. She appeared under the tent. A waiter opened her the small wooden gate, so she wouldn’t be forced to step over it. The rain had left a few patches of mud in the otherwise tended grass. The waiters wore red flapping stocks, and like old platoon guards wore silver berets, their party emblems on their shoulder.

“Do you know her,” Rebecca asked, cowering over Victoria’s shoulder.

“No,” Victoria said, largely ignoring her, her focus on her only other friend, Thomas, from the family canon. “You have a beautiful necklace,” she said, holding onto the amulet.

“It’s a silicone tusk of Taro, the elephant.”

“The man of hydes.”

“The man of many colors,” Rebecca added. “Did you manage to turn it in, by the way? The letter I sent you?”

She picked rolling tobacco out of her tongue.

“I did.”

“And? What did they say?”

“I’m not sure yet if they’ll take it. You know.”

“Are they honestly scared? Didn’t they talk to Hakim?”

“Who’s Hakim,” Victoria asked?

“He’s our fixer.”

“He’s your fixer,” Victoria asked?”

“No, he’s theirs actually, but I know him. We did work with him during the war. He was one of the few who stayed. Where did he take you guys, when you went up to see Mansour?”

“We stayed at Pound Cottage.”

“Did you see the snow?”

“It wasn’t snowing.”

“Was it cold?”

“I don’t know.”

They sat under the pine tree, Victoria and Rebecca watching out for their dress, keeping it from touching anything. It was that hour of the day where everything felt alright, like they would somehow scape by without disaster. They looked brave and they looked some of them sad, and most of them wore button necks to keep from going cold. They were from two distinct tribes and spoke two key accents, and all of them knew by heart the words of the Rotaro.

“Who’s that, by the way? The one who isn’t wearing a dress.”

“I don’t think I know her.”

“How is it over there, anyhow?”

“The situation has always been precarious. It’s generally stable, with some flare ups here and there. Sometimes they trigger something bigger, and the pressure cooker bombs. It has the potential, but somehow they always steer clear of total disaster.

“What are your thoughts on Kanu?”

“The running joke is he sometimes tasks his servants with laying his bed out on the street, so he can sleep among his people.”

“The guy’s a fraud.”

“Four more years of him.”

“I disagree with you. He built his reputation on philanthropy and goodwill, but he had to break from his promises every once in a while.”

“What about the Qartouba massacre?”[1]

“Those were the Moral Guards. They weren’t under his jurisdiction.”

“What’s the actual accusation?”

“That he designed the whole thing.”

“I’m surprised they’re letting him run. Even in this fucking country.”

“Don’t defend a piece of shit like him.”

“How’s his reputation in Szhor?”

“The PLS hate him, but they’re still afraid of a strike. They can’t do anything to their patrons, man, it’s all about the business. At the end of the day he has a stake in their shit, simple as that. They’re not going to touch him. No way.”

“But is he like walking around, totally oblivious.”

“No, man, of course he knows. He knows before they know if they’re going to kill him. He doesn’t give a shit though. He couldn’t care less.”

“How do you know?”

“I met him.”

“Really? When? You were there last summer, right? After the riots.”

“I went after the raid on the Bottoms.”

“Right.”

“I was the weekend editor at Sunburnt at the time.”

“Right, right. So you met him, huh?”

“When I finally got the chance to meet, we met through an informer of ours, he highlighted as a cabbie during the day, he was also like an art history major growing up and got bored and wanted to stay outside of the house, and found himself doing it for a few years now. He took us to all these gastro secrets in the city’s surrounding arms, a lot of gated communities in and sort of around the port. Um, so anyways, I found him standing outside the party office. It was an old megastore that had been transformed into a convention center, and his party bought the place, turning it into their campaign headquarters for the last decade, and in return for not amassing interest on their mortgage, since it has to be renewed anyways, as a luxury plot of land, they’re donating it to Narwis or to Harissa, whichever wins an inner party vote, and it’ll be turned into a skate park, eventually, supposedly, that’s the plan, for underprivileged youth and otherwise disgruntled minors. It’s a really nice path fro the place to go on.”

“What kind of person is he?”

“Well, he’s not an intellectual. He prides himself on a certain intelligence, like, street smarts, and some sort of learned charm that sometimes seems heavily affected, but on most people around him it tends to work. He knows how to get the best out of his people, and he’s really playing against the odds. I think the shitstorm surrounding everything over there just kind of feeds to the leeches, calling for change, even if that means throwing away the old guard, who, for better or for worse have kept the place relatively quiet for the last three decades, since the last serious civil war. And the people love him. He views himself as a man of the people. He goes to their temples, he walks around on the streets without shoes, sometimes taking meals in private with people from a much lower class. He can be divisive, but mostly to the establishment. You know, I’ll always remember the story that I was told on a bus from Dako to Budur, the North Express Railway, what they call Junction 13, notorious for its scenes of gang rape and historic violence recorded on a mass scale by their own propaganda machine and for a long time celebrated in these parts, nowadays, kind of ignored, a history they have chosen, for the better, perhaps, to preserve this frail national unity, to brush under the surface, at least for now, and a young Huthari, he must’ve been, what, maybe twelve or thirteen, he came up to me as we were sitting in a small desert café in the middle of nowhere, stranded at a checkpoint, after first having been harassed and manhandled by the guards, and finally just being neglected, forced to wait on the side, and this young boy, he came up to me, and, without my doing anything, without thinking, he just sort of, grabbed my hand, real slow, like this, and he said to me, can I look at your camera, he said, not saying its name, but really saying it with his eyes and his gestures, saying, can I take this important object from you, will you lend it to me, and I remember he had this beautiful smile, and he had no teeth, and this scar from one side of his face to another, and on his ear he had an amulet of a shepherd, and around his neck he had four amulets and two stones, so I gave it to him, and he was standing there for a minute, playing with the locks, and after some point I got worried so I took it back from him and removed the film, giving it back to him, and we sat there like that for a while, he was looking into the viewfinder, playing along, and after what must’ve been an hour, this little kid started singing, and then he started to dance, and then he pulled out a bag of paper, rolling paper, and a bag of weed, and started rolling a joint, and then at least four of us, I think it was Sabah, Mishaal, Ramzi and Kanaan, so five of us, we all sat with him and got high, I don’t know why w didn’t even try stopping him but he seemed so in control, and at some point the tension at the checkpoint had started to shift, it was night so the people were becoming more relaxed, it wasn’t as hot, people were starting to break their fast, most of the guards were fasting, but the natives only fast on the birthday of Mother Ro, and her Forgiveness, as given on the Field of Pacts, taro, and, since it was generally only us speaking to the side, we started asking him how he felt about things and he said, come and meet my parents, they are sitting in a grocery store at the end of the road, you can sit with us while night is falling. So we picked up all of our things, and we walked out onto the pathway, it was all just sand, everywhere you looked. You couldn’t smell anything in the air but this damp sort of musky feeling, the humidity starting to rise. We passed a small camel farm, like twenty five of them, lying on their laps, and then we came about to his house. His father had a silver rag draped over his body, and a wide woolen cap that wrapped around his head, like gloves. We were sitting with his dad outside. He was smoking a pipe and lighting a fire, making what they call a tomato bowl, it’s basically just boiled tomatoes, with pepper and salt, and some cinnamon and cherry powder, that they make with fresh malt, and they pour it over the bowl, it starts to shoot like a fountain. The fixer was waiting at the checkpoint, so we had until he called basically, it wasn’t going to be a rush. Schools were being commissioned by the central administration in the capital to be built, to house even those from where these people come, to shelter them to study there as boarders, until they could come into their own lives. It was the first sort of move towards a privatized sort of welfare system that operates as a kind of scholarship, because then they have to go work in the firm for a matter of time, depending on how much time they’ve spent studying in the program, or studying abroad, which they can also choose. The administration before his was trying hard to keep it in place because the money never actually found its way into the school coffers, it was split down the middle by both ends of the pact, so everybody gained in a way, but everybody suffered. The kid’s parents argued for that, saying he had treated their disease, they said, the disease of a corrupted self, a corrupted political body, you know they’re seriously pious people and they were repeating the words of their speaker, Nasreddine, that he treated their corruption like it was a political problem, and not something that was embedded deep inside their soul, and he cured a lot of it for them. People were easy to compromise once they knew they were still going to get paid. And it was right in many ways. Since his oversight has grown, his system of compromise has overseen the construction and initiation of three prepatory schools, one large elementary school that houses ten thousand pupils, a number of hospitals and smaller roadside and desert clinics, and even a prison, equipped with technology only federal funding used to afford.”

“Thomas, can we talk a minute.”

“Boss, what’s up?”

“I’ll make it quick, habibi. I have a call with the network advisors at three. I want you to report on the game this weekend. Something’s come to me, I think it’ll stick. It sounds interesting. I want us to show that we can manage, without their support.”

“Where? Which game?”

“In Nabi Saleh. Supposedly there’s a local final everyone’s on about. I don’t know. Do you watch sport?”

“Some cricket, tennis. That’s all. I hate football. It’s for lads, you know? It’s a lifestyle.”

“It’s a choice. I like the attitude that comes with the games, the communal march to the stadium.”

“Do you go?”

“Oh no. I never go. It’s too far, plus I have kids.”

“Right.”

“So, you’ll go to the game, then?”

“Yes, I will. “

“Who’s playing, by the way?”

I don’t know.”

“Who’s on it now?”

“Nobody. We’ve been dealing with Anis from Tuswir,he’s covering the game as well. He told us, he gave us the hint.”

Tuswir is there? How come? What’s going on that I don’t know?”

“There’s some sort of major challenge. If I’m wrong, they’ll call me an idiot downstairs. I don’t care anymore. Let’s just do it. Fuck it, take my card. Here, here’s ten thousand dollars, on this card. The pin is one five o. The signature is on the back, you can copy it, I know. Pay anyone you have to pay to get into that stadium. Something is happening there and I want to know. You know Hamid Hamza, right?”

“No.”

“He’s the captain, the best player on the team. He’s having some sort of situation right now, we need you to look into it. I want to know what’s on their mind. Someone’s doing something, they’re playing.”

“Yeah. It’s supposed to be his last game. There’s a doping scandal that’s about to drop on his ass. The guy Aline has been following is part of it. There’s something there that sticks. I want to find out what, before everyone else gets it on their hands.”

“How do you know about it?”

“Everyone knows, but people want to wait for the green light to storm. They don’t know what drug he’s taking. Nobody but his private physician knows. Everybody knows something is coming, but nobody really knows what.”

“Call Kareem, see what he thinks about getting you a pass into the press conference tonight, before the game.

“Boss told me to call you. Can you get me on the list for tonight’s game?”

“I can. You have to come right away. What do you think? You can make it tonight, can’t you? It’s a forty five minute drive, if you don’t wait too long. It’s the weekend, later there will be lots of traffic.”

“Of course, I’ll drive.”

The referee walked up to the coach.

“Keep it calm, please. Please, I urge you today, keep it calm.”

“We have it under control. Tell the others.”

[1] For example, in the spring of 2008, him and his gunmen inhabited a schoolyard and turned it into a fort. He forced the families whose children attended the schools to join the ranks of his force or face deportation from his newly claimed colony.

The PLS were deeply angered, but they were afraid of him.