The Performance

The Performance

 

 

 

 

He cut open the pouch, pulling a small vile of cocaine and placing it on the table.

“Do you need a card,” his colleague asked.

“I don’t. Be quiet, I like to focus on this, every night. It’s a ritual for me,” he said, pulling a small silver spoon from the pouch, holding it like a giant holds a spider, just barley, by the leg. “I bought this mess from this new guy,” he said, pulling the small vile up to his eyes, inspecting it, holding it against the light, focusing by centering his eyes. “I don’t know how I Feel about it yet. I had some this afternoon. It was, to be honest, a bit mucky for my taste. Most of the shit I’ve been getting these days has been quite good. Have you tried it?”

“From who?”

“It comes in this vile. From Fahed, he lives on Mishrif. I go to his house. It’s very bold, I know. I don’t care anymore. Fuck it. Look, to be honest, if somebody gets me in trouble, and they have something to say about it, I don’t care. I’ve spent my whole life looking out for myself, and I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not as worried as I once was. I didn’t have it easy, Samah. You remember that. I didn’t grow up like you, Barhoum,” he said to him, pointing to his friend, standing by the doorway, looking older than he was, practicing to stand bold, to stand guard for his mentor, who was beginning to talk, talking of what it would be like to remember him, now that he was getting old, thoughts of retirement creeped into his head, thoughts of wildlife and restarting. “My parents were terrible people. Very, very difficult people, Samah, you remember it. Look at us now.”

He inhaled his first dose of blow, the first rush burning at his eyes, causing him to frown as he pulled his head backward, the muscles of his face twitching, pulling at his face, rubbing his nostrils with two fingers, pulling at the snot. “I can’t do it like I once could do. You remember it, Samah, you remember it. Who was the kid we played football with? He lived on your street. He had crazy parents. They once locked him up for stealing some coins.”

“I can’t remember. Reda? Battal?”

“Battal. That’s the one. What was his father’s name, again? Do you remember? He did something in services.”

“He was a manager for some time.”

“But then he left, did something on his own. Anyways, we’ve all done better for ourselves. Btitzakkar Tarek Sulhat? Kiss emmo?”

“You hated him.”

“I still do. He calls me from time to time. I went to see him two weeks ago, at the Metro Joint. He was very drunk. Very, very tired, very drunk. He smelled like alcohol, you know? He smelled like shit. What was wrong with him, anyway? He always wanted to fight. I remember the day he kicked you in the stomach. Yalatif. You had his head in your hair. He bit you on the skull, the bastard. Remember that?”

“Of course.”

“Eh, he was very, very drunk. What would have happened to this guy if he hadn’t gotten married, huh? He was a lucky boy.”

“He had it coming. Aslan, he’s very thirsty for money. People know it about him.”

“Beddak shway,” he asked, handing him the small mirror with the pouch and spoon and the vile left open. “There’s a very good line there, definitely. Have it. Try it.”

“Is it good?”

“It’s okay.”

“You go to his house, lakan?”

“I don’t always. Sometimes, I send Barhoum. He likes him. He’s quiet.”

Samah let an acknowledging look Barhoum’s way. He lifted his drink from across the table, the sound of the whiskey swirled in the ice.

“Eh, so tell me. Who are your contestants tonight?”

“Barhoum, who is it? Samah, I don’t remember. I stopped remembering a long time ago. I go into the program fucking blind. When the lights come on, khalas, action. I have no time to think, do, don’t. Just go with it. Hayne. The story has become old. I can do it without sleep for a week, still standing.”

“We have four guests tonight, m3alem.”

“That’s very casual. Why not five?”

“I think, they wanted to even out the genders tonight. Two women, two men.”

“Are they on opposite teams?”

“Who? Women or the men, m3alem.”

“I don’t know, Bibi, you decide.”

“They’re two women on one side and two men on the other.”

“Where’s Aline,” Samah asked.

“She’s in her wardrobe. She’s also getting old. Kiss ikhta, she burdens my veins. She seeps through my body like blood. She’s a difficult woman. Difficult, difficult woman.”

“She wanted to marry you.”

“Fuck her. How many women have wanted to marry me, habibi? Huh? What do you think? I’m no longer a stump? I’m like a fucking flower, or something?”

Coming out of the office, he caught Barhoum Salem in the hall.”

“Bibi, how is it?”

“It’s bad.”

“What’s going on with them? Why are they giving so much trouble for this?”

“It’s the silence, it’s killing them.”

“How much do they want?”

“They want a few million.”

“That’s bad.”

“I told them I’ll think about it. I don’t know. What do they want from me? They think because I did it once I can do it again? It’s not my job, let them get on with it. The story is how the story goes. What do they want with him? There shouldn’t be this silence. It’s become dark. It’s becoming very dark. Can you hear them, when they’re talking. Like someone is always there.”

“Have you spoken to Rahsid about it? Who has your hand in this?”

“Nobody has my hand.”

“We will get through it, I promise.”

“Anyway, you have Sonia on Line 4 and Makram and Line 8. They both want their dogs back. Theyr’e freaking out.”

“I don’t know how to deal with them. I told them, they can have them back tonight. Khalas, I don’t care about them. I don’t need them anymore. What are we going to do a show about dogs anymore when the whole town is full of them, and they’re fucking carrying lead? What am I supposed to do with them, Bibi, tell me.”

“I don’t know. Some people are gathering them up, shooting them in the head.”

“That’s cold.”

“Imagine the opposite, ya malik.”

“I’m imagining worse.”

“They tore open an entire school, a few dozen of them. Three hundred kids, just like that, and at least one hundred others.

“What did you think was going to happen? They come in bunches, Barhoum.”

“I’m sorry, boss. I can’t help it. I want to stay positive, but sometimes, I want to give up.”

“Well, it’s good of you. Don’t lose it. Trust me, then you grow up, and it becomes very cold. Who’s on Line 1, you said?”

 

“Don’t worry. Anyway, who else is up?”

“You have Tony on Line 1. He’s waiting for your call. He says it’s urgent. I don’t know whether to call or wait. He says he won’t call back but he’ll visit in the next couple days if you don’t call. Do you think it’s urgent?”

“I don’t know. Here, grab me my jacket. See, sometimes these things are out of our hands. Did you manage to get Samah on the line?”

“He’s waiting for your call.”

“I’ll tell him. What did we discuss? Will you do it? Are you going to be fine?”

“I’ll be alright. Go get ‘em, Harun.”

“I will, Bibi, I will.”

He crossed by him in the hall, crossing paths and on. The dusk of the hallway lights, blanket spotlights, gave the hall a reddish glare. There footsteps were washed on the carpet, it was freshly ironed, an olive colored carpet, the dense blackness of the cardboard walls, separating the studio, surrounded them in black.

“It’s going to be tough tonight.”

“It’s always a tough crowd.”

Ramiz sat in the quiet chamber backstage, shielding himself from the heat outside. He had in his hand a small notebook he carried with him wherever he went, a small drawing board of ideas that he turned to for hope or to kill time, resting against an upraised knee, one leg folded over the other. The director sits in the quiet chamber backstage, shielding himself from the raucous crowd. It takes so much discipline, he thought to himself, so much discipline over the years. A small room. Quaint. It’s main accessory a prewar furnace that could still be used during the wet season. It hadn’t been removed, though before renovation hadn’t been used in years. Most of the surrounding buildings were fitted with a furnace, but most of the furnaces were out of use. A revival in the design greatly increased the number of outfitters and servicers in the area. The planks of the upper floor, what constituted the stage area, fell upon the room like the ruffled gills of a whale’s underbelly. From the damp browning wood little spurts of life caught sickly rations. It was common to find a Rosewood spider’s web bridging columns and rows. But apart from the paneling of the walls, the room was laid out primarily with steel. Steel furnishing, like the aerobics chairs lining the wall, alongside steel caskets, hosting an assortment of cut outs and childish masks, and a row of steel desks jutting out of the walls like sea panels on the inner shore. Everything seemed perfectly placed, a feature that never made sense given the frenetic nature of the room. Framed photographs of performances by legendary troupes glittered the otherwise barren walls, painted in a winterly brown, from its early days in the basement theaters on Privilege and Dar Samor, to the radical period of squatter houses on Haggar and Pastoral. A small room, nested between two enormous crowds, a door on either wall, one to his left and one to his right. The door on his left led outside to the dressing room, the barracks of his army. In the old theater house, before it had been destroyed by two successive wars, the dressing room lay to the side of the stage, curling around and into the audience, so that during shows, unoccupied cast and crew could observe the peaceful onlookers, seated politely in their seats. After reconstruction, the dressing room cut its furthermost wing, setting it entirely backstage. To the right of the dressing room lay the director’s box, a small room with four doors, one on either wall. To his right, the director can walk through the actor’s corridor, a hall of rooms designed especially for the production of every play, whose walls can be easily moved, transformed, merged, to suit the needs of every production. Some actors like to spend an hour before a show, especially a premiere, meditating in as large a room as possible. Others prefer to sit in a tiny box with four dark walls and a pitch black ceiling, to give them the impression of a cage, undisturbed, to harness the energy required for their labor. Many actors deny such rituals and actually prefer to have a beer outside the theater grounds with some of the crew. It all depends. In the director’s time he’s seen it all. Actors who induce a great big shit before a show, in order to feel light and weightless. Actors who recite their favorite Shakespearean monologue. Actors who get high, actors who have sex, actors who eat their favorite meals. Everyone has their own style, their own needs, to prepare. The director himself, before and after a show, takes his seat, as he is now, chewing a firm nugget of chewing tobacco, curling it into a ball where it rests under his gums, a habit he hides form his colleagues, from his friends, and mostly from his third wife. He finishes his chew over two single shot glasses of malt whiskey. He sketches a little figure on a piece of paper, a tiny figure he has drawn in just such purpose for over three decades. Three decades in the business and he’s risen to the top. In the beginning, he worked on anything he could, just to gain a foothold in the industry. He learned the lights, the design and management of the props, the building of the infrastructure. He assisted a producer behind the scenes, in the days where city legislation wasn’t so generous to subsidize theater to such an extraordinary extent. In many ways, working on the budget for those early productions, planning devious ways to deceive the financial inspectors, choosing between a veteran actress or an extravagant set design, choosing to build a stage or to suggest it, something he became good at, where he developed his vitality, his relentless militancy to succeed, to put o the plays he wanted, the plays he felt were most needed. He stares ahead from his still position, to the two other doors in the director’s box, viewing one of them through its reflection in the mirror, and the other, the door he never takes, sitting directly in front of him, to the side of his desk only a few feet, beside the mirror he looks into from time to time, like an actor, he tells himself, or a writer, he visits the characters in his play, visiting them in unfamiliar places, like they are both guests, or sometimes they even play host, and he watches them in their daily lives, in their lives outside the stage, the lives not documented, never seen. On these occasions, staring into the reflecting void, he wonders about his own life, about his own comparison between the public’s witnessing and his hidden rooms. Take your secrets to the grave, he remembers his second wife telling him a few weeks before she finally died. She was, remains, his only real love, like those pathetic love stories of older men harkening back on a time where they felt, for a few brief moments in spring, or under the fragile cloth of a winter, the miracle of true love. What would she be doing now, he thinks to himself, if she were alive today. Focusing on the sketching of his hands, he concludes she would have left him before his rise. She would not have watched him fulfill his dreams. Dreams he stole from her. He met her the night he divorced his first wife, formally, though they had been separated for over a year. A woman he has chosen to forget. A woman who, when he thinks of her, gives him the impression he has been living another life since their fateful rupture. His second wife was the one to introduce herself. She had been reading quietly beside him at a late night café bookstore that intended to serve literature and drinks to the insomniac artistic class. Since most writers prefer the late night or the early mornings, the café was quite popular at the time. That evening, they had both attended a reading for Austrian writers who work in tandem, whose fiction was written specifically as an homage to the Alps, their cause militarized they say by the offensive character of Thomas Bernhard to their cultural heritage, whose revulsion of the Alpian people in his novel Gargoyles has inflamed and informed much of their work. The novel they were presenting, not the first collaboration by the two writers, tells the story of a little girl whose mother dies during labor, and whose father takes her from war torn Berlin to the Austrian Alps to be saved from the family curse, namely, never to know her parents. The father dumps the little girl in a farmhouse. The story is meant, so they allowed the presenter to claim, as a metaphor for the rebirth of the German speaking people, whose history is so tainted in guilt and violence that through a journey of independence the future generation is saved. The novel is no longer than one hundred sixty two pages, in manageable font and written with enough speed to carry the reader through in one sitting, and she finished the novel in those few hours after the reading, where he, sitting beside her, managed to finish a bottle of wine. He was drunk and content while she was upset at the ending in the book, where the girl, once grown, decides to relinquish her Alpian identity and returns to Berlin to live in poverty and despair. An immigrant, in many ways the novel seemed to suggest to her the writers’ apology, or subscription, to resurgent fascism. The heroine, as an order of survival, returns to the quagmire of the past to reclaim the fatherland she had lost, even in exchange for the relatively stable life she had been given as a result. She bought a bottle of wine, which she invited him to enjoy with her, and afterwards, she cried on his shoulder for several more hours, after which they were asked to leave for the morning ritual of cleaning that occurs between eleven in the morning and noon. That evening, they boarded a night train destined for the Alps, where they were going to confront the fascist writers. So began a journey of carefree enthusiasm for the two, who would spend their first year together in over fifty cities. She wrote emasculating poetry, the kind that sinks a tyrant in his chair, and while she toured the cultured world with her eyes open, he read nimbly at her side, a time he considers his literary education. What will we do for food, he would ask, for money, still suffering the results of a divorce. Tranquillo, she would say, we’ll get married in the spring and live a beautiful life, somewhere warm with fresh vegetables to pick, and when I’m bored of writing I’ll tend a garden, and you’ll dust the shelves and read to us at night. They did get married, in a barn in the Scottish Isles, where she chose the setting for her final piece of work. When she pressed him as to why he never wrote, having such an observant and sensitive mind, a trait she understood from his spending afternoons alone rescuing porcupines from crossing the road unattended, forcing them to spend a few weeks by the beach where they would lead freshly hatched turtles back into the water, he told her about his fears, his fears of commitment. He told her stories he heard as a child, about writers who disappear into the jungle of their soul, confronting the infernal mysteries. He told her he didn’t think he had the stamina, or the patience, or the intent. He never met her remaining family, she never met his. They spent the years they had together each on a converging mission to destroy and rebuild the infrastructure of their lives. Maybe the destruction had occurred before they met. His failed marriage, which came to symbolize all that he did wrong in life, spurred him on to devise a new self. He forgot that he had been a financial advisor to several patriarchal monarchies in the emerging Arab world. That he was gifted a two bedroom flat in South Kensington and a studio apartment, with a chauffeur on call, in Saint Germain. He had forgotten that he married the valedictorian of his graduating class, the daughter of an oil tycoon in the Gulf, who doubled as a pioneer of introducing the latest firearms to his beloved country. A woman who walked barefoot the streets of New York but always traveled first class. Who donated her graduation gift of a million dollars in cash to a charity trending at the time, one of the more recent solutions to domestic abuse in the region. He had forgotten his wardrobe and his house of cards, his silverware and his impressive cellar of whiskies and wines. He had forgotten the boat they parked in a marina he would never see again, a stretch of land he could never again afford, or so he thought at the time. He never learned anything about her past, and he forgot his own. A few weeks into the third year of their union, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She wasn’t afraid, but the debate on chemotherapy changed her life. She resented him for giving her something to look forward to. Had they not been married, she would say, she would have accepted her fate gracefully, giving in to the disorder raging in her body, without destroying the temple of her soul. She resented him, because she wanted now to live, to age together in their new form. Without realizing it, he began his first performance piece as a director. She had always been an avid photographer, and she had two 35mm cameras in her possession, a Soviet made Zenit and a refurbished Minolta, with 25mm, 35mm and 50mm lenses. She always carried with her a Rolleiflex, as well. He never played with the cameras. He never knew why. but upon her diagnoses something suddenly took hold of the stagnant man. From the first day before treatment until the last day of her life, he photographed the evolution of his wife’s body and soul, capturing what he believed to be the evolving and developing victory of a body being eaten from within, mutating beyond its own capacity to survive. He photographed her naked, in bed, in the shower. Running, when she still was able to. Painting, when she still had something to paint. He photographed her waiting in line at the market. He photographed her walking down the tenement aisles of a refugee camp. e photographed her peeking through little dollhouses at a flea market. He photographed her reading on a bench. When she died, he had amassed a collection, a series. It was his first creative pursuit and his first piece of art. He had seen his first character transform before his eyes, seen first hand the unbelievable trajectory of a lifeform in evolution. At first, he couldn’t handle the subject. He spent nearly a year wallowing in pity and violent hurt. When he looked at himself in the mirror, he saw the face of a rodent, and when he spoke, he heard the shrill voice of a rat. He no longer wanted to live, to experience, to watch anything unfold, worried he might forget the miracle of those documents. The documents became an obsession, and they took hold of his every thought, his every mood. He guarded them day and night, worried that they would dissolve with every set of eyes that set on them. Something changed one Easter. He had traveled to Jordan with the intention to walk from Amman to Damascus, from where he would walk to Beirut, and finally to Jerusalem. He thought that the ancient city might heal him. He thought, that without some mystical retribution he would not survive another year, another winter in the drudgery of Europe, another winter among the guarded artifacts of their life. But when he arrived in Beirut, having spent nearly a month roaming with Bedouins in Jordan and Syria, he found himself secretly pleased. The weather was nice, nicer than it had been in the desert, landlocked as the Bedouins are. He stayed through the autumn and into winter, and as Easter arrived, he emerged slowly from the shadows of his pain, a man renewed, a man on the cusp of another life. His third life, he believed. His third life in just the one. He never made it to Jerusalem. After arriving in Beirut and staying through the year, he never went more south. But he had found some spiritual salvation in the solitude of the people, many of whom remain close friends. He had found a thriving underground class of artists, whose work wasn’t tied so much to trends in the East or West but aligned somehow to a thread that cuts right between the two. He found a bustling city, a city that had yet to be ravaged by war. Returning to Europe, he submitted his work with another piece of writing, a manuscript he claimed to have written himself. These two works propelled him to immediate stardom. He played a part in the resurgence of post-wall Berlin. He found himself immersed in the theater scene and sooner or later, after slaving away for the biggest names, the architects of a cultural rehabilitation, he put on his first set of shows, short one hour plays using sketches of symbolist poems fused with anthropological work of the early twentieth century among indigenous tribes of the world. Within a decade, he was opening every show at the Berliner Ensemble. Over the next few years he would rise and rise to greater fame, opening in Moscow, New York, Tokyo, curating festivals in Paris, Venice, Berlin. He took a year off and lived with a tribe in the Andes for several months, learning the mystical interpretations of their ritual dance, a pleading of the clouds not to behead them, living as they did on the highest peak inhabited by human life. He never returned to Beirut, to Lebanon, not to his beach house in the North of the country, not even to the heights of Mount Sannine, where he looked upon the world and fell silent in his mind and heart, silent for the first time since the passing of his second life, of his beautiful companion, like he had woken up from a spell, breathing in the air of revolution. And after a while, after he had built a name for himself and made a home among the very classes he dismissed not so long ago, after returning from his journey and rising to the pinnacle that few men reach in one life, he thought less and less of those days, of his repressive despair, his alienation from the world, his grave and utter loss. He forgot all about her words, Take your secrets to the grave. He had his own secret that had never been told, and he meant to forget it. He hadn’t written the manuscript. He stares off into the door he never uses. It leads underneath the stage, under the restless feet of the audience, and out into the entrance to the theatre grounds. He looks into the mirror. A man now at the height of his game, at the peak of his powers. He runs his hands along his face. Calloused fingers, thick with scaled fat and strength, tufts of white hair glowing under the spotlight. He never liked his hands or his feet. He felt they didn’t suit him, his mentality, his character, nor the rest of his physique. He had always felt so fragile, his long, slender body attributing to this feeling. But his hands and feet were big and bulky, bushy with hair and power veins pulling at the skin. He ran his thick fingers across his face. Over the years, it was as if the skin had weakened, as though with age the skin loses so many of its layers and stops growing them back, the color of his body never revived. He felt like if he dug his thumb into his cheek it would slice into the skin and strike immediately at the bone. Did he still have all of his bones? He stares at his reflection in the mirror. The reflection of a man who has claimed the golden fleece, who has deceived the underworld and returned with the keys. The reflection of a boy, he thinks, still at odds with his life. Moments before, he had taken his final bow at the podium. Customarily the practice of the actors, the whole world knew he would be bowing out after this evening. The applause was deafening. Tributes in the morning papers would spell the career of a magician, a man who came in under a storm and made his mark. The following evening, he would walk arm in arm with his wife into the chancellor’s home, for a banquet thrown in his honor. He would retire without the lingering fear of defamation that inhabits a fraud. But questions would one day be asked on his story. After the dust of his retirement would settle, a journalist, perhaps a biographer, maybe even a critic fond of his work, because not many were very critical at this point, would suddenly, when remembering his final piece, recognize something strange about the performance. They would think back on that night, they would realize that, of all the plays the director ever staged, this was the play they couldn’t remember. Of all the plays the director staged, this, they would think, is the performance they can’t remember to have seen. Where were all the characters? What was everyone doing? As though some mystical spell had been cursed upon the audience. It was as though, when the curtains were finally drawn and the lights came on, there was no one but the sad little man onstage, in the center of the room.

 

 

He pushed open the screen door, exiting from the rear of the bar, the slide metal cage slamming against the chain of the house, the alley painted in a rustic red, smoke billowed out from the concrete. He checked his phone, once leaving the building, another time as he crossed by the gate, the small wired fence leading out to the pavement, and the underbelly of Highway 4. It was hot underneath his tight leather pants, a pair he had first acquired as undergarments, though having later decided they looked alright, enjoyed them and their fitting. It suited the occasion that he wasn’t pale, as he had spent the last few months surfing, spending all of his time outside, day and night, and when the mosquitos weren’t on the prowl, surfing even at night, until morning. The earth under his chest, every night, gave him a sense of something he’d long forgotten. The excitement was good. It was a long way away from that summer, already the mantle of experience was showing her nostalgic face, causing him to remember. The sound of cars passing overhead, and the noiseless chatter of smokers outside bars just before him. The clouds of earlier had passed, though the smell of moss was full in the air, the taste of something sour. Two plastic chairs sat lopsided against the wall, a small wooden table acting as a bridge, littered with stained cups and a couple empty beer glasses, a pack of rubber confetti and an ashtray piling over with trash. Underneath the table, a square magazine with rolling paper and Fine Root tobacco. A car pulled out from the building, some doors down, the sound of the tires echoing in the hollow chamber, the parking lot of three floors. Footsteps led outside of the car, as the engine ran but the car slowed down, stalling until the car disappeared, appearing in sight before again disappearing. A pair of dogs could be heard fighting over garbage, tearing at the trail of garbage, sounding like tired crows. They weren’t interested in eating, just fooling around. The steel mason churning of the Industrial State Line, North to Dar Iman, passes. The loud bullet snaps of the highway line, the sound of chains rotating on steel, on an overhead rail ninety meters high. The last of evening chatter turned to quiet, disconnecting relatives forming bands to discover the news. Buoyed by the passing of another martyr, accustomed to concealing guilt in triumphant celebration. Soon, the day’s events would be forgotten, the daylight’s horns sounding their triumphant song.

“What times the train?”

“There’s one at eight and one at eleven.”

“Jimmy said he wanted to take the one at nine. What about that one? It’s better than eight, and we don’t have to wait until eleven to get the next one. What do you think? Because the bus from there is either at ten or one, so we could be there by ten thirty or by one forty five.”

“You added fifteen minutes to the end.”

“Yeah, whatever. What do you think? Which one do you want?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Honestly just tell me guys which do you prefer? Where’s Mug?”

“He’s packing.”

“I don’t mind even taking the one at seven. I think Sabra and Sandra are going at five.”

“At five? What the fuck?”

“They’re working at the Hotel Myers tonight, from eleven until four in the morning they’re on call. They said they’ll have a drink and go. Do you want to join them? We can meet them at the hotel bar, and from there we can all go together. We can go early, at like one, and meet up with them there while they’re still serving drinks, get a little drunk before going.”

“No way man. We’ll be exhausted all day tomorrow.”

“You’re right.”

“We should get a good rest tonight and leave feeling good. I don’t want to be tired the whole way, delusional. The best thing we can do is relax.”

“True.”

“I wont even smoke a joint tomorrow.”

“I get that.”

“Not until after the bus. Or just before, if you want.”

“Ma we’ll be there anyway, at that point. Shu ila ma3na3.”

“Ma3k ha2.”

“Guys, come on.”

“Who’s playing by the way?”

“When? Tonight?”

“No, tomorrow.”

“La Puta,” he said, lighting the joint, walking in the direction back inside.

The sound of the music could be heard above the racket of their chatter.

“What do you think of her music?”

“I like it. The beats are strong, erratic. The vibe is good. The samples are nice.”

“That’s the best part.”

“For sure.”

“What about the mixing?”

“Some transitions are rough, other than that it’s good.”

“Which way are we going,” he asked, turning at the garbage court, where the complex compacted all of their garbage, to be collected at a later time. Ten all black dumpsters, a refined sort of plastic, that doesn’t rust or peel as easily as metal and yars.”

“By the way, are you going to Delusion?”

“No, man, I hate festivals. You spend half your time quieting, half your time waiting on friends. Your sleep is shit and there’s nowhere to take a nice clean shit. It’s like a film shoot but without the reward. Are you going?”

“Yeah, I’m playing actually.”

“No way, sick. What stage?”

“Seven.”

“The Roads?”

“No, above it.”

“Superior?”

“Yeah, that one. At the top of the hill, you can see the lake. The forest is open.”

“Sick. How will you get there?”

“They’re sending a car.”

“Did you listen to The Sermon?”

“By Dana Folds?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s cool. I like it, it’s nice. There’s something haunting and eerie to it, it’s bold.”

“When I first opened Arz I didn’t understand music. I was young, ambitious. I didn’t know what I was doing. If I was doing it right. We played good shit. We knew what people wanted. I had the right friends, you can say. Who do you know? You must know somebody, coming to me. Access is very important in life. You’re young, you’ll thunder, but you have to be brave enough to go broke. You have time to grow, to get it. You have to find the people you want to meet in life, and find them. Your network is most important asset. Build your network like you build your home, your family, your friendships. Invest in them. There’s someone you want to meet, invite them to dinner, take them out, pay for them, like you paid for this meeting by offering me a beer, invest.”

“Yeah, thanks man, thanks a lot.”

“Here, take this,” he said, reaching into the pocket of his arm, the flap of his open jacket, pulling out a business card. “Remember, never call someone for nothing. You give me a call, I want you to have something for me. Take your time, you’re young, you’ll get it. Go out there, live on the road. Learn some stories. Practice your breath. You’ll do good. Just go,” he said, his arm waving off into space, like an airplane taking off.

“I want to make a movie with him.”

“Who?”

“Hamza. That’s my dream. I want to tell his story in a different way. Do you know what I mean? I love his story, it’s miraculous. It’s the story of you and I, except he wins in the end. He got what he deserved. You and I, we didn’t. You know why? Because if we had gotten our way, we would have quit a long time ago. He’s a third my age, and he’s happy. I fought all my life to be happy. There was a time it wasn’t thought possible to be happy, to attain some sort of state of total indifference to the suffering of others? I admit, it’s my fault if I don’t win in the end. I have my plans, you better. Wait to see if I don’t win own the march. What did your father used to say, about treasure?”

“When guarding a treasure, watch it from afar.”

“Watch it from afar, that’s right.”

“So, what’s your keyword?”

“I’m throwing it as success. I’ll put it down in the basement, where it belongs, and when it’s time, I’ll tell his story, like something that comes back from the past, finding you, in your, what’s that thing we used to get back in the day? Happiness, they’ll say. Give me some of that happiness.”

“Why do you want to tell his story, man? Your story trumps his. Sorry to use that word.”

“I want to be honest to a man who has bettered my life. Everyone wants to tell their story, today. I want to be thankful for someone else. Don’t you have that, in you? A feeling of thanks? Or is everything you do for pLeasure?”

“A feeling of thanks. Can’t say if I have. You, Rodrigo?”

“I don’t know if it plays anymore. Sara7, ana mabaref shi. Yimkin ana ghaltan.”

“Hey, young boy, aren’t you the son of Mustafa Amir?”

“I am his son. Who’s asking?”

“There’s someone for you at the front. He says he knows you, says he goes by the name of John, from Nebraskshaw.”

“What does he want?”

“He wants to settle a bill. Are you fine, look, are you fine, meeting him? Tell me its alright, I’ll send him in.”

“Who is he, who is that guy?”

He was led forth in a daze, pushing through the expansive crowd, pushing his people against him, reLeasing himself from the crowd. The roped velvet walls were fast behind him. He could smell the apple smoke of the water pipes outside, brushing in the air that met him, as he stepped, onto the street, provoked, met by his follower.

“Hey bro, can you let me and some friends inside? I know you, we met last summer. We were staying at the Joan of Arc, on Sam’s Boulevard. I met you inside the gallery of a friend. What’s her name? How’s she doing? I can never get a hold of her. It’s really loud out here, let’s talk inside. Where do you go have fun on these nights? The longest night of the year!”

“How long are you in town?”

“Town? I’m here for three days, with some friends. They’re back at the hotel. There’s a party up north in the morning. We’re going to take the train out there. Do you like it? Have you or anyone you know ever gone?”

“To Lake’s Crossing?”

“Up at Lake Cross.”

“It’s beautiful, this time of year.”

“It’s supposed to be.”

They entered the Condiment Room, the floors spread apart by steam spent bedding, flower tills, bundles of hair.

“Watch out, don’t step on her. She’s been asleep for three days, in and out. She’s still breathing.”

“Are you allowed to touch them?”

“We don’t. They press charges right away. It’s difficult ot keep track of who’s coming and going. You’re lucky to find one of those all the time.”

He pointed in the direction of a girl. She was slouched against the shoulder of a chair. Her back was slightly crippled, she had a broken jaw.

“She’s thirteen.”

“Beautiful.”

“One of a kind. Now, where were we? You’re going to be asked to make some friends. You know, to get in with them, get to know them, know their stories, know where they go, where they walk, how they talk at the end. I want to know what they want us to know, and that little bit extra, not much, just a enough to keep this project going. Like I said, we don’t want more. Don’t press ‘em too hard. It’s been hard enough. You know how much work they put, just going inside. I want them to be doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. I’m not mad. Am I mad? Is it too much to expect, that we can both profit from this? I mean, it gets difficult. It gets difficult after a time.”

“What are you after, exactly?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure. Whatever they share, I guess. It’s been hard enough as it is for them, don’t press ‘em too hard. You know how they get?”

“Are they giving you a hard time?”

“Not so much them. You know how it is, kid. How long you been in this sorta work? Two, maybe three years?”

“Five, on the dot.”

“That’s not long. Try twenty nine. I’ve seen all kinds of them come through these walls. Nobody knows anything about them. They don’t have names. They don’t have character. They don’t have friendships, or faults. No career, no job description. No belongings. No home. They come here with nothing, and then they’re strapped on the neck with a number and a role. And you watch them, every day, and you say, my god, is this work, is this torture? You’re looking at me in the face. You know what I’m saying.”

He grabbed one of them, coming through the hall, stumbling onto a desk nearby, nearly knocking it’s contents over.

“What do you have to say for yourself,” he joked, letting go of his arm.

“I have don’t have time to clean up after them. You know how it goes.”

“I hear you, boss.”

“You’re on to me, then. Don’t you know how much we fucked this up? I mean, my god. The pLeasure I have had, honestly. I can’t tell you, how embarrassed I am. How embarrassed I am to be saying this!”

“What is it?”

“I’m in love, old friend. The institution, here, it makes you think, you know? How long am I trapped in this little asshole of the earth? How long for? I want out. I want ot see the world. I came here, I wanted so many things. I thought that by meeting all of these people, I would be alright. You know what they say, old friend, don’t you now? You know, they say, it’s for the judgment, it’s for coming up on their turf and saying, hey, let’s go, I’m with you, pal, I’m coming with you. I’m not on their level, man. They know things I don’t ever want to know. But I’m here now. I’m with them. I see through it all, the grudges, the politics, the dirt. The question is, for how long? How long can I do this for? I have other things on my mind, these days. I’m just not interested. You see what I’m saying? How can I collect all this data on my own. The archive is too big, my friend. And there’s more. Every day, they’re building more.”

“What kind of systems are you launching?”

“We have twelve, so far. One of them runs on its own. It’s called Narcis. It works both ways. It’s an in, and an out. The same for the legs of the passengers. They don’t have to do much work, they’re just there, seeing into the construct.”

“What’s the catch?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why don’t they just use Narcis, all of them at the same time?”

“It has something to do with their ability to see the same thing, at all times. Narcis promises an entry point but the exit is always blurred. They come out in a different time zone, everything’s blurred. We’ve had some cases where people prefer that kind of lift off but, lately, I’m not sure. It’s a different world you’re in now. People want control. They want to take control of their lessons. It’s privatized, insurance is paying for it. Nobody gives a fuck what you do with your money, just fucking spend it. How do you spend your time, mostly? I mean, you see in 3D, right? Do you lift weights? Are you a magician? Come on, what the fuck do you do?”

“I sit at home and I write.”

“You write code?”

“No. Poetry.”

“Poetry? What the fuck is that? What the fuck’s poetry?”

“An archaic art!”

“Listen, bro, keep this between us. I like what you’re about, but you’re going to have to hash out some of your model man, do some things for the road. Seriously, man, between us. You’re going to get yourself noticed. Out here, it’s cool to be chill. Keep a keen eye, know what I mean? Guard that treasure man, own it. Keep your pants locked up, as well. I saw you coming in, by the way. Some friends of yours! Where’d they go? They can stay with us if you want. I was thinking of setting up here as well, for the summer, doing some deadweights by the pool, beefing up.”

“When’s the next fight?”

“Tonight.”

“Who’s your fighter?”

“I have my money on Habib.”

“What’s his story?”

“From Ras Amin. We got at him a few weeks ago. He’s been quiet since. We picked him up on the road. Said he was traveling, visiting family. I think we have six good months in him, sure. More than that, I think it gets redundant anyway, you know? Plus I don’t like sifting through code for that long on any one case, know what I’m saying? I have a mystery to use and I want it. So listen up, we’re going to get some bites, for later tonight, watching the game. Anything in specific you have in mind? Pizza? Steaks?”

“What kind of pizza you guys have out here?”

“It’s pretty nice.”

“Pizza will be good. Will it be fresh?”

“We can order it then, if you like.”

“Oh I just mean we can reheat it, or if like, someone can reheat it for us.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So, what do we want? I’m sorry, I didn’t get it?”

“It’s up to you man.”

“Please, just decide.”

“We can order then, it’s better. It comes in twenty five.”

“What are the ingredients like?”

“It’s garbage, bro, but it tastes fucking good.”

“What makes them stick around?”

“Like I said, it’s insured. Anything goes wrong, it’s easy going for them in here. They get a free lunch, a free pass for the night. We can’t kick them out, but we’re not obliged to serve them more than a week. It’s the most we can do, if I’m honest. Look around, you, like this over here.”

He held a girl’s jaw with hand, crunching her cheeks together, so that her lips were sort of pouting.

“What do you see that I don’t?”

He looked for some time into the face. The face before his, her mouth open, her mind, at his beckon call.

“Now, let me ask, before I forget. Can you work the phone?”

“Of course.”

“You’re taking call logs at seven, from seven to nine, then it’s your break, then you’re on port duty outside. You can walk along the docks, if you like, you have fifteen more minutes. Do you smoke? Shall we have a quick smoke outside? I told my wife I would quit but who gives a shit. I see her twice a week, tops. You married? Kids?”

“No, sir.”

“Don’t. It’s worth it, it’s great, don’t get me wrong, it’s worth all the stress. But it’s just too fucking costly, my friend, and any man sees you tells you different, he’s lying. Or he’s made a fuck of a lot of money out here, doing something, made ‘em rich. You rich? I bet you have some chills in your pocket. What do you make, ten, twelve dollars an hour?”

“I make about six, but I get some back in tips.”

“That’s nice. When I worked Protocol I made half that, but it was different times. I lived with parents. We had a beautiful house, on Rue de la Republique, before it was made into a square, when it was just buildings, all built in a little cluster. I had the top room, and could see the street from my side. Man, I watched whores all night, walking up and down the boulevard, shaking their pins. That’s where I Learned to keep tabs. I like watching people. Don’t you? Yeah that’s basically why I dug it, in the first place, it’s like playing cards. You suck at first, then you Learnt he rules, then you’re alright, then you Learn to cheat, then you’re sick. Forget it. I’ll never gamble in my life, but I get it, you know? I get the odds.”

“So what happens if you find one of them dead?”

“We call the hospice, Para Hospice, they come by, pick ‘em up. It’s not our problem, if they’re perfectly signed in. That’s why the whole procedure is so cruel up front, before they get in. We have to keep tabs on everything, to keep us from going down. The only shop that could compete against us shut down, they were forced out, under pressure.”

“Margo’s? On Avenue Rose?”

“Margo’s, on Rue de Principe. The one on Avenue Rose is butter, it’s like silverware, it don’t stick. None of it makes sense in the end, but you’ll get it. How long you in for? What’s your real contract? I heard you tell the douche outside you’re here for three days. I don’t give a damn what you told him. I know your type man, you’re after treasure. Come on, let’s see how long you stick. You have to know what you’re after, otherwise it’s too cold out here, there’s no real sense in the wind. You get me, bruv? Remember the training sheets, in the Academy?”

“I hated class. I hated going, but I went. Of course I remember.”

“Did you have Miss Sulhat?”

“I had Sit Shahid.”

“Sad what happened to her?”

“What happened?”

“You didn’t hear?”

“I’ve been on the train for some time.”

“She was arrested, last week, undercover. Busted by her own fools.”

“She was working undercover?”

“Rogue. Gone under. Gone in a flash. I don’t think she’ll make it out alive, but it’s not the last we’ve seen of her. Where do you think they get it from, eh, working both sides? I told them out in District 1, in the beginning. Set foot on their path and you’re stoned. The whole game is rigged in their favor. We destroy them, we build them homes. They fight back, they repent, they steal some land, it’s theirs. I’m waiting to see what really bridges us together, that’ll be the day my friend, but I’ve run out of ideas. Tell Joshua, up in Harbors, tell him next time you see him, I know you guys are pals, tell him to forget what I ever said about killers. They come out of nowhere, bro, and they’re gone.”

They sat behind the desk, in the receiving area. People were starting to leave the bar.

“Why have you come here?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Where are you from?”

“I don’t know.”

“How did you get here?”

“I was with some friends. We met in the park, and we walked over. I can’t tell if I’m lost.”

“Is she suffering?”

“Not a chance. Looks like it from the outside, but, she’s going heavy on the drugs. In twenty minutes she’ll be grinding her teeth. That’s when the horror starts. See that guy over there, stuffing those complimentary potato chips in his pants? He’s coming down. See how his eyes are red, his lips are trembling? They call it the yellow cloud. He’s walking through a desert right now, I can feel it. You start to see the way these people behave, it tells you what point of their trip they’re on. I don’t keep tabs of everybody, but I’ve gotten a few. She’ll be flaccid in the morning, you can’t talk to her now.”

The producer turned back to him, having worked out what was going on.

“Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll Leave you at it, on your own. You have any questions, you come to me. Only thing I’ll add is this. Watch out for your friends at the door. They don’t come in good company around here.”

“You know them?”

“Activists, NGOs. Keep away from them, for sure. It’s not even recommended it’s a rule. Journalists? It blurs the line. It’s up to you. It’s your call. I don’t care either way. But when the going gets tough, it’s harder on them than it is for you. You’re in this shit to win, my friend, and they’re not. They’re in it to even the score. It makes them better than us, but who gives a shit?”

He handed him a card.

“That’s your key and battery. Anything you need, just call.”

“He wants to go to Delusion this summer, I’m not going.”

“No way, no way.”

Ramiz sat backstage. He couldn’t decide what to do onstage. It was supposed to be his big night, taking over the Tuesday climate. The actor Gibril was sitting in front of him, and beside him, the director Ramiz, staring into a purple tablet that could’ve been his phone. His thumbs were too large to scroll, or so he complained. He was wearing a wool coat and fake sunglasses he had just bought off the street from his friend Nammous, who had been promoted from selling gum. He was waiting for his friend Ralph Saghir, they were waiting for their table inside. Ralph had shaved his head when he gave up on the idea of growing back his hair after his mandatory service. He was the son of a Tuswir, on his mother’s side, which made them closely aligned to the military. Ramiz called him cheap to his face. He blamed him for not paying his way past service, as Ramiz had done and was still doing, always careful, on the run, sometimes having to change his clothes between two stoplights, to hide when the army searched the car, from the front seat to the trunk. But it wasn’t that bad, they always let him off, knowing who his father was and where he was going. They got along well. They had so many friends. Ralph was into cars. He tried courting Ramiz’s sister, it didn’t work. She found his lust for money strange and his prospects insecure. Five years ago he had spoken about launching his own manufacturing firm. In the end he opened Yasin and Co., a go-karting mansion, and the only place it he country to stream live District super car races. He ran a betting room in the back, had paid for an illegal license to run it for two years, unsure of what to make of it afterwards, if it was all really worth his time. He was bald and strong, his arms creasing out of his shirt, the collar opened onto the third highest button, the crease around his pecks and biceps clear and visible. It was obvious Gibril wanted the arrabiata, but he decided to order it, knowing Gibril was going to ask for the plate the moment he had said it, cutting her off. He would argue he hadn’t cut her off, Gibril had answered the question he was going to ask, before he let her speak herself, having cut him off first. But how, Gibril would say, did I cut you off, if I hadn’t even spoken yet, and he would argue that Gibril had cut him off by virtue of her being a woman and his being a man and complying with certain practices, and Gibril was surprised he mentioned that at all, reminding him of his detest for practices. Gibril said it in a way that he would know for sure what Gibril was saying. The waiter wasn’t going to wait. He deliberately asked if there was a problem, which surprised Gibril and Ramiz as well. Andre had been told that day by Magnus not to move too slow on taking orders, and so he did comply and he was asking them to be quick. He was only doing what he had been hired to do, to take orders and relay them to the kitchen. He would take a kitchen job over the floor any day. But the floor paid best and the tips were higher. They liked his face and a sense of positivity of having someone like him around. If he’d had more luck he’d have been an actor but he was working too hard. He could still be saved and look pretty from time and again but not the way the agencies liked. He was casted for Detroit but taken off set, after they realized how tired he looked on camera. He couldn’t chirp himself up, which was the word that year. People were chirpy. Ramiz reiterated his order, the arrabiata. Gibril was quick to negotiate. Did they have the asparagus risotto without using the chicken stock in the broth? Andre laughed. Ir wasn’t a loud laugh. A smirk. But he chuckled. He offended her and he knew he was going to do it, so he did it again. This time it made sense. He was trying to be polite by succumbing to his mistake, laughing at himself. Gibril would have whatever they liked, just to end the measures that were taking place. To have him go away. It was difficult on both of them, the obvious mood. They couldn’t feign interest when they were equally annoyed, and mad at each of them. Andre was only in the middle of it, doing his job. But there he was standing like an idiot while Gibril completely ignored that he was there. Gibril had taken off to thinking of something else and sitting there in the seventh row overlooking the small fountain and the distant dome of the Bey Hotel, Gibril thought Gibril had seen her mother walking along the boulevard at night with her own mother in hand, and the strange image imparted on her a strange feeling which Gibril did quick not to neglect, focusing her mood on what would naturally come next, and nothing but the presence of a Ruemi bag did dissuade her attention. It was the model from the year before, with a golden strap and a button pearl. It cost a fortune and could only be bought select. There were only sixty of them printed in the world. They were basically gifts, because those women could spit the money. Ramiz deflected by asking for the wine menu again, reminding him that he had already asked once, and it was strange that he had to wait so long to be given it again, even after having only just asked and they were forgetting. Meanwhile he expected them to fill his glass with a speculative touch just to get things started, from the Gregor’s Cask would be nice. They asserted their indifference either way, explaining that the hotel didn’t serve Gregor’s Cask that late, even to a fine lecturer as himself, but that the condition for the wine list would be resolved and was there anything else? To which he replied no, there was nothing else, when Gibril realized Gibril hadn’t made an order, prompting her to ask what they thought Gibril had wanted as Gibril hadn’t said anything at all? That was only the start. When the wine list arrived, he took so long to decide even though there were only three options on the list for the red still available at that time, and only one of them was premium. Gibril was already annoyed he had taken so long to order the wine, knowing which one he was going to obviously pick anyways, since there were only three, the one not so expensive but not so poor, the wine in the middle that was the least of all risk, basing his decision on risk assumption. After dinner they decided to do something interesting. They ordered a taxi from the reception and the moment it arrived, entered the cab, asking the driver to take them somewhere interesting. The actor Gibril was sitting in front of him, and beside him, the director Ramiz, staring into a purple tablet that could’ve been his phone. His thumbs were too large to scroll, or so he complained. He was wearing a wool coat and fake sunglasses he had just bought off the street from his friend Nammous, who had been promoted from selling gum. He was waiting for his friend Ralph Saghir, they were waiting for their table inside. Ralph had shaved his head when he gave up on the idea of growing back his hair after his mandatory service. He was the son of a Tuswir, on his mother’s side, which made them closely aligned to the military. Ramiz called him cheap to his face. He blamed him for not paying his way past service, as Ramiz had done and was still doing, always careful, on the run, sometimes having to change his clothes between two stoplights, to hide when the army searched the car, from the front seat to the trunk. But it wasn’t that bad, they always let him off, knowing who his father was and where he was going. They got along well. They had so many friends. Ralph was into cars. He tried courting Ramiz’s sister, it didn’t work. She found his lust for money strange and his prospects insecure. Five years ago he had spoken about launching his own manufacturing firm. In the end he opened Yasin and Co., a go-karting mansion, and the only place it he country to stream live District super car races. He ran a betting room in the back, had paid for an illegal license to run it for two years, unsure of what to make of it afterwards, if it was all really worth his time. He was bald and strong, his arms creasing out of his shirt, the collar opened onto the third highest button, the crease around his pecks and biceps clear and visible. After dinner they decided to do something interesting. They ordered a taxi from the reception and the moment it arrived, entered the cab, asking the driver to take them somewhere interesting.

“If I say that to you,” Ramiz said, “where will you take me?”

It took the taxi a moment to come to terms, to form an idea in his thoughts. Finally he decided upon it, offering up the Show Bobo.

“No,” Ramiz said, “I don’t trust that place. Where else can you take me?”

He ordered a taxi and the moment it arrived, entered the cab, asking the driver to take him somewhere interesting.

“Wo shu ismak, habibi?”

“Ana isme Ramiz.”

“Okay, Ramiz. Wen beddak it roo7 ya habibi? Ana hon kermelak, je7ez. I’m ready to go wherever you want to go, wherever you feel is right. Where do you feel is right, habibi? Tell me, I will take you there, wherever you want to go. Where do you want to go, habibi? Tell me, don’t be scared. I have been doing this a long time. I see many things. I see almost everything in front of me. The touches, the habits. What do you want to see? Why do you look so afraid? Is there something happening I am not seeing?”

“I want to make it, where you are going.”

“I go where I am told, my friend. Can’t you see what I’m doing? Where do you want to go?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Take me somewhere interesting. If I say that to you,” Ramiz said, “where will you take me?”

It took the taxi a moment to come to terms, to form an idea in his thoughts. Finally he decided upon it, offering up the Show Bobo.

“No,” Ramiz said, “I don’t trust that place. Where else can you take me?”

“What exactly do you want?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where do you want me to go, I can take you.”

“The roundabout on 23rd,” he said, speaking over the driver’s shoulder.

“Where exactly are you going, I drop you off at the spot.”

“I don’t think you know it.”

“Try me.”

He hesitated.

“You’re looking over your shoulder too much. Loosen up a little.”

The driver was wearing a blue and white scarf, the colors of St. Andrews. He could tell he was a St. Andrews fan, by the way he dressed and spoke.

“You a St. Andrews fan?”

“I am!”

The cabbie looked up and down the mirror, studying his subject with excitement. Suddenly his entire mood changed. He was a new man, on a mission to help his friend.

“Are you?” he asked.

“I guess. Not like you. I don’t have a shirt. At the beginning of the year I put ten buck on their line, and Hamza to score twenty or more goals. How are they doing?”

“Did you see the game?”

“No. What was the score?”

“2-1, Paragon.”

“Shit. Did Hamza play?”

“He played like shit. They took him off in the second half. He didn’t do anything. Now they’re gonna say he wants to leave. If he played for Francos, they wouldn’t take him off. For us, he doesn’t do anything, he watches the play.” He sighed, continuing. “It’s unfortunate. He has a lot of talent. The whole team has talent! But what for? They played well, they played alright, but no final pass, nothing whatsoever. Don’t even think about taking a shot every once in a while! They want to walk it in the net, just like the stars. But they’re not. They’re mid-level. We’re a mid level League. That’s okay. Even if we get poached, which we never do, we’ll still be mid level. We’ll always be mid level. And we played alright. It was strange at times, but it was alright. Strong forward press, weak defense, as usual. Saghir played Slam down in the middle, in front of the back four. It was a mistake. They say he’s great in that position, a natural, but I don’t know. I can’t remember ever seeing it. The hosts got a good break in the second half. They scored a free kick. After that we were useless. It galvanized them, scoring. The other coach, I don’t know his name, I always forget that faggots name, he took it as a sign of his tactical genius. He brought on another forward, switching from a 4-51 to a natural 4-4-2. They conceded within a minute. It was our only positive point in the game. To make matters worse, they conceded again! We scored! But it was offside, so they went on to hang on. The reaction on his face has become famous, after the goal, before he found out it was offside. You should see it. Look it up online. It’s already on UhU. They’ve added it to the commercial thing, before and after the game, like the, what do you call it, the video. The preview video, with the preview songs. It’s even longer now, like before. It’s amazing how fast they can upload these clips and use them, don’t you think? It must be a lot of pressure on those guys, at the studios. I wouldn’t mind being there a few nights, watching the games from there. I mean, I’m not such a big fan, I love taking the family to the stadium, that’s all. They have the best apple squash. It’s served in ka3k, like in Nablus, before the wall. It’s so good. And they have a playground, outside, where my daughter sits. I like going there, it’s nice. There’s a lot of pressure on the guys, so I guess it’s alright. Hamza should’ve done better, he’s getting paid a lot. What does he think, he can show up and watch? When I was his age, playing for my neighborhood team, I was a defender, great defender, played all the balls with my head, never let it bounce, even if it was dangerous, I used to play four games a week, every night, ten against ten, no goalies, free keeper, anyone can play, I used to play my heart out, I played like I was a god, and Hamza, he has to gel his hair before every match, he has to wear the perfect shoes. I swear one time, he was hit in the head with an elbow. He had a small cut over his eye, the camera couldn’t even find it, they thought it was on his neck, because you know he has that birthmark on his neck. Anyway, he was asking them to change his shirt, and to change his undershirt as well, but the physio thought it was a waste of time. They almost got into a fight. I think the physios gone. We do everything for that guy! And what do we get! Aslan he’s young. He shouldn’t have that pressure. That pressure kills. It’s not good for a man, even of his age. Even at my age, it’s dangerous. Last year, my neighbor, may the blessings touch his soul and lay upon him the eternal rest, he passed away in his room. He was young, mashi, twenty nine. What can I do to help, I ask his mother, she says, take care of yourself, sa7tak d3if. Ana sa7te na3sen, ana zalame na3sen.”

They passed beside the docks, pulling up to Army Cross. The checkpoint was quiet, some men in uniform, others without. They checked cars in three lines, two going their way and one the other. There were four ahead of them, on the road. Every now and then a flare would burst from over the hilltop, where camps were being built, some of them on the run. They came up to their turn, the driver Mahmoud turning on the light, rolling down the window, already half rolled, stubbing out his cigarette in the tray, his sly, gruff voice coughed his way through, answering the officer’s elegant introduction.

“Your name and destination, my love.”

“Duwar Thaleth, akhi.”

“3azim. Do you know the passenger in the back?”

“He is my client.”

“Are you his chauffeur?”

“I am a public driver, my brother, as you can see.”

“Very well, please do me a favor and pull your car off to the side.”

As he spoke, he pulled his eyes from their gaze, taking one step back, lifting his left arm in the direction of his going, showing them the way. He would not meet their eyes again, to consolidate their friendship.

“As you wish, brother.”

“Is everything alright,” Ramiz asked, hoping to suggest by his suggesting.

“Do you have anything on you? Better you tell me now,” Mahmoud said, turning around, his fat body aching to adjust him, breathing over a sulking lung, “than we find out in prison. You know what happens if they catch you with something. Both of us go down.”

“I’m clean,” Ramiz said, hoping not to be found out for the lie.

The officer Leaned down, propping his head beside the window.

“How do you know this man, my brother?”

“I was just picked up,” Ramiz said.

“And where are you going?”

“I’m going to the roundabout, on the corner of 23rd.”

“You’re going to Thaleth,” he said, repeating it himself. “And what is your business there?”

“I’m meeting a friend, seeing an old friend, some old friends.”

“A friend, some old friends?”

“A group. Some friends.”

“Listen, friend,” Mahmoud intervened, “I don’t know this guy, so whatever suspicion you may have does not include me. I was just telling him, I was at the café, some blocks down. Abu Karim’s. You know it. He’s a legend here. Everybody knows him. I’m sure one of your friends knows him.”

“I know Abu Karim, now shut up and be quiet. I’m talking to your friend. What do you and your friends do when you get together like this,” he asked, “at this time of the night?”

“We listen to the radio, mostly, and sometimes we play cards.”

“You gamble.”

“No, sir.”

“Do you do any drugs? Do you have any drugs on you?”

“Absolutely not, brother. That is below me, that is not of my level.”

“Do I have to search you?”

“It makes no difference, either way. You will not find anything. My conscience is clear.”

He hesitated, inspecting the car, the gentlemen, with his eyes, hoping to evade the work that his job required, hoping at least once, to stay inside the little cabin, painted white and red, with the emblem of the flag painted over it on all three sides, the window to his cabin closed a little close.

“Off you go,” he said, “Ma3’a salama.”

The windows rolled up, the driver set forth into the inviting brink, an intersection worth four or five cars, turned into twelve, a horde of cars veering for their rights, damaging their brake lights, their passengers. Really, it was a scam, inviting them to the second house, the streets that lead to the boardwalk and city center facing, coming up over the shoreline walls, the boardwalk of the interior.

“So, fucking Hamid, huh?”

Mahmoud reiterated his support for the lad, and his sadness for his treatment.

“They’re going to hurt our chances next year, you’ll see. Hamid’s a good guy, he doesn’t wanna leave, but if they force it, why not? You know how much he gets paid? I’m telling you, he’ll go from the third highest on our team to the highest on any other team, at least in this league. If he goes abroad, a little less. I mean, the money will be more, but he’ll be on the bottom of the roster, if you know what I mean. Anyway, they’ll orchestrate a move. You’ll see. His fucking agent, shu ismo? Ramzi Chamoun.”

“How do they do it? Do you really think so? You think it can be that easily done? I’m not sure. I’m not sure.”

“I think so, habibi, I think so.”

The drove four mils on Boulevard Haggar, crossing the street of the rising palms, the street famous for its rustic colonial houses with arched stairway windows and balconies.

“So what sort of business is this, where we’re going?”

“I don’t know if it’s time, for you, my brother. I don’t know if you’re right.”

“What is it, some sort of cult? Are you a faggot?”

“Don’t be so crude, my friend. Make a left on Allen, and a right on Bakajo. Take your first left, then park the car. Turn off the lights. It’s far. I still have to walk. But I’m tired, and I want to rest. Now turn off the lights. Yes, there you are, my brother, take it easy for some time. Have a little rest, man, have a little rest.”

The sound of the engine dropped. The street was layered with the ashes of citrus rain. Among the crowd of barriers was a barbed wire fence, and around the building there was kept a small olive grove. The streets on both sides were littered with trash, white plastic armaments of a lost interior. The smell lasted all night, until morning, where it would then be moved, to be stored on another sight, much like theirs, only a little larger. The homes were decorated in festive lights, planning for the summer, surrendering their lawns to parked cars, stuffing the interior. A bus stop lay in ruins at the end of the road, the only streetlight still on flashing with seconds. Behind it, a large crater, some acres, opened a hundred meter hole in the ground, surrounded by chains and copper fences, strung together like advertisement boards.

“I don’t see anything around here. What kind of shit are you into, man?”

“If I say that to you,” Ramiz said, “where will you take me?”

It took the taxi a moment to come to terms, to form an idea in his thoughts. Finally he decided upon it, offering up the Show Bobo.

“No,” Ramiz said, “I don’t trust that place. Where else can you take me?”

He ordered a taxi and the moment it arrived, entered the cab, asking the driver to take him somewhere interesting.

“Wo shu ismak, habibi?”

“Ana isme Ramiz.”

“Okay, Ramiz. Wen beddak it roo7 ya habibi? Ana hon kermelak, je7ez. I’m ready to go wherever you want to go, wherever you feel is right. Where do you feel is right, habibi? Tell me, I will take you there, wherever you want to go. Where do you want to go, habibi? Tell me, don’t be scared. I have been doing this a long time. I see many things. I see almost everything in front of me. The touches, the habits. What do you want to see? Why do you look so afraid? Is there something happening I am not seeing?”

“I want to make it, where you are going.”

“I go where I am told, my friend. Can’t you see what I’m doing? Where do you want to go?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Take me somewhere interesting. If I say that to you,” Ramiz said, “where will you take me?”

It took the taxi a moment to come to terms, to form an idea in his thoughts. Finally he decided upon it, offering up the Show Bobo.

“No,” Ramiz said, “I don’t trust that place. Where else can you take me?”

“What exactly do you want?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where do you want me to go, I can take you.”

“The roundabout on 23rd,” he said, speaking over the driver’s shoulder.

“Where exactly are you going, I drop you off at the spot.”

“I don’t think you know it.”

“Try me.”

He hesitated.

“You’re looking over your shoulder too much. Loosen up a little.”

The driver was wearing a blue and white scarf, the colors of St. Andrews. He could tell he was a St. Andrews fan, by the way he dressed and spoke.

“You a St. Andrews fan?”

“I am!”

The cabbie looked up and down the mirror, studying his subject with excitement. Suddenly his entire mood changed. He was a new man, on a mission to help his friend.

“Are you?” he asked.

“I guess. Not like you. I don’t have a shirt. At the beginning of the year I put ten buck on their line, and Hamza to score twenty or more goals. How are they doing?”

“Did you see the game?”

“No. What was the score?”

“2-1, Paragon.”

“Shit. Did Hamza play?”

“He played like shit. They took him off in the second half. He didn’t do anything. Now they’re gonna say he wants to leave. If he played for Francos, they wouldn’t take him off. For us, he doesn’t do anything, he watches the play.” He sighed, continuing. “It’s unfortunate. He has a lot of talent. The whole team has talent! But what for? They played well, they played alright, but no final pass, nothing whatsoever. Don’t even think about taking a shot every once in a while! They want to walk it in the net, just like the stars. But they’re not. They’re mid-level. We’re a mid level League. That’s okay. Even if we get poached, which we never do, we’ll still be mid level. We’ll always be mid level. And we played alright. It was strange at times, but it was alright. Strong forward press, weak defense, as usual. Saghir played Slam down in the middle, in front of the back four. It was a mistake. They say he’s great in that position, a natural, but I don’t know. I can’t remember ever seeing it. The hosts got a good break in the second half. They scored a free kick. After that we were useless. It galvanized them, scoring. The other coach, I don’t know his name, I always forget that faggots name, he took it as a sign of his tactical genius. He brought on another forward, switching from a 4-51 to a natural 4-4-2. They conceded within a minute. It was our only positive point in the game. To make matters worse, they conceded again! We scored! But it was offside, so they went on to hang on. The reaction on his face has become famous, after the goal, before he found out it was offside. You should see it. Look it up online. It’s already on UhU. They’ve added it to the commercial thing, before and after the game, like the, what do you call it, the video. The preview video, with the preview songs. It’s even longer now, like before. It’s amazing how fast they can upload these clips and use them, don’t you think? It must be a lot of pressure on those guys, at the studios. I wouldn’t mind being there a few nights, watching the games from there. I mean, I’m not such a big fan, I love taking the family to the stadium, that’s all. They have the best apple squash. It’s served in ka3k, like in Nablus, before the wall. It’s so good. And they have a playground, outside, where my daughter sits. I like going there, it’s nice. There’s a lot of pressure on the guys, so I guess it’s alright. Hamza should’ve done better, he’s getting paid a lot. What does he think, he can show up and watch? When I was his age, playing for my neighborhood team, I was a defender, great defender, played all the balls with my head, never let it bounce, even if it was dangerous, I used to play four games a week, every night, ten against ten, no goalies, free keeper, anyone can play, I used to play my heart out, I played like I was a god, and Hamza, he has to gel his hair before every match, he has to wear the perfect shoes. I swear one time, he was hit in the head with an elbow. He had a small cut over his eye, the camera couldn’t even find it, they thought it was on his neck, because you know he has that birthmark on his neck. Anyway, he was asking them to change his shirt, and to change his undershirt as well, but the physio thought it was a waste of time. They almost got into a fight. I think the physios gone. We do everything for that guy! And what do we get! Aslan he’s young. He shouldn’t have that pressure. That pressure kills. It’s not good for a man, even of his age. Even at my age, it’s dangerous. Last year, my neighbor, may the blessings touch his soul and lay upon him the eternal rest, he passed away in his room. He was young, mashi, twenty nine. What can I do to help, I ask his mother, she says, take care of yourself, sa7tak d3if. Ana sa7te na3sen, ana zalame na3sen.”

They passed beside the docks, pulling up to Army Cross. The checkpoint was quiet, some men in uniform, others without. They checked cars in three lines, two going their way and one the other. There were four ahead of them, on the road. Every now and then a flare would burst from over the hilltop, where camps were being built, some of them on the run. They came up to their turn, the driver Mahmoud turning on the light, rolling down the window, already half rolled, stubbing out his cigarette in the tray, his sly, gruff voice coughed his way through, answering the officer’s elegant introduction.

“Your name and destination, my love.”

“Duwar Thaleth, akhi.”

“3azim. Do you know the passenger in the back?”

“He is my client.”

“Are you his chauffeur?”

“I am a public driver, my brother, as you can see.”

“Very well, please do me a favor and pull your car off to the side.”

As he spoke, he pulled his eyes from their gaze, taking one step back, lifting his left arm in the direction of his going, showing them the way. He would not meet their eyes again, to consolidate their friendship.

“As you wish, brother.”

“Is everything alright,” Ramiz asked, hoping to suggest by his suggesting.

“Do you have anything on you? Better you tell me now,” Mahmoud said, turning around, his fat body aching to adjust him, breathing over a sulking lung, “than we find out in prison. You know what happens if they catch you with something. Both of us go down.”

“I’m clean,” Ramiz said, hoping not to be found out for the lie.

The officer Leaned down, propping his head beside the window.

“How do you know this man, my brother?”

“I was just picked up,” Ramiz said.

“And where are you going?”

“I’m going to the roundabout, on the corner of 23rd.”

“You’re going to Thaleth,” he said, repeating it himself. “And what is your business there?”

“I’m meeting a friend, seeing an old friend, some old friends.”

“A friend, some old friends?”

“A group. Some friends.”

“Listen, friend,” Mahmoud intervened, “I don’t know this guy, so whatever suspicion you may have does not include me. I was just telling him, I was at the café, some blocks down. Abu Karim’s. You know it. He’s a legend here. Everybody knows him. I’m sure one of your friends knows him.”

“I know Abu Karim, now shut up and be quiet. I’m talking to your friend. What do you and your friends do when you get together like this,” he asked, “at this time of the night?”

“We listen to the radio, mostly, and sometimes we play cards.”

“You gamble.”

“No, sir.”

“Do you do any drugs? Do you have any drugs on you?”

“Absolutely not, brother. That is below me, that is not of my level.”

“Do I have to search you?”

“It makes no difference, either way. You will not find anything. My conscience is clear.”

He hesitated, inspecting the car, the gentlemen, with his eyes, hoping to evade the work that his job required, hoping at least once, to stay inside the little cabin, painted white and red, with the emblem of the flag painted over it on all three sides, the window to his cabin closed a little close.

“Off you go,” he said, “Ma3’a salama.”

The windows rolled up, the driver set forth into the inviting brink, an intersection worth four or five cars, turned into twelve, a horde of cars veering for their rights, damaging their brake lights, their passengers. Really, it was a scam, inviting them to the second house, the streets that lead to the boardwalk and city center facing, coming up over the shoreline walls, the boardwalk of the interior.

“So, fucking Hamid, huh?”

Mahmoud reiterated his support for the lad, and his sadness for his treatment.

“They’re going to hurt our chances next year, you’ll see. Hamid’s a good guy, he doesn’t wanna leave, but if they force it, why not? You know how much he gets paid? I’m telling you, he’ll go from the third highest on our team to the highest on any other team, at least in this league. If he goes abroad, a little less. I mean, the money will be more, but he’ll be on the bottom of the roster, if you know what I mean. Anyway, they’ll orchestrate a move. You’ll see. His fucking agent, shu ismo? Ramzi Chamoun.”

“How do they do it? Do you really think so? You think it can be that easily done? I’m not sure. I’m not sure.”

“I think so, habibi, I think so.”

“Did you watch the game?”

“I did.”

“You did! And, what did you think?”

“The look on Slam’s face was classic. It tells of a man accepting his new role. Like he said to the assistant coach, greeting him, did you see it, when he was coming off, how he greeted him? As though he said, like, pointing to the younger guys, look out our boys out there, they’re doing well, eh? Suggesting like he’s come of age or something. But I don’t like the coach. He’s too rough. What’s his name again? I always forget it.”

“Our coach? You forget our coach’s name,” Mahmoud said, “Amjad Saghir. Don’t you know? He’s a legend. You must not be from around here. What’s your name, anyway?”

“My name is Thomas,” he said. “They call me Zahreddine.”

“Isma3, Zahreddine. You have to know Amjad Saghir, my friend, he’s a crowned man.”

“Forgive me, my knowledge is poor. He’s not a man of ideas though, is he?”

“No, I guess not. He leads from the heart. He has no ideas, but he’s a good man. He has a wealth of options in that attack, but they’re not really playing well. He has a wealth of options and yet, like you said, no leader. Did you say that? I forget. I talk a lot about football these days. It’s a healthy distraction, don’t you think? Some players are just naturally vocal. Like remember, Reda Nawwam? He was incredible.”

“He was very vocal.”

“They’re missing that, it’s true. What do you think of Hamid Hamza? You know, I thought I met him once. He was coming around the corner, just like that,” and he pointed with his driving hand a character coming around the corner, dressed all in black, with a brown pair of slogs and a motorbike helmet and a pair of gloves. “Well,” he continued, “he didn’t come around the corner, just like that, someone else did, but I thought at the time it was Hamid. You know what I saw? Really, I was so impressed. I saw a beacon, of something special, someone with an entire life of luxury ahead of him. Someone who could not be put down, he could not be controlled, no matter by whatever enemy, he could not be dissuaded from shining, somehow. In his roots, I believe he is almost like an angel, sent from some time. That’s how all of them are, staying so fit, scoring so many goals. They’re not like the rest of us. It’s the same in certain things, like in some science, some other things, school programs and stuff. They’re trying to discover what makes it all go. It’s the angels, I know. But anyway, it turned out it wasn’t him. I pulled over my cab, I jumped out and removed my hat and scarf, you know, I was wearing his jersey underneath my sweater! Even though the hat and scarf were also theirs, our flags, you know, our color. I wanted him to see the number 10, and his name on the back. I don’t put my own name, never, I would never disrespect the order, not like that. My generation doesn’t do things, these things don’t appeal to me. It’s not from my generation, not from my time. We never did things like that. So, yeah, in the end, it wasn’t him, it was just some other guy. He was even a little darker, his face was a bit red, like he was at the beach, he was very burnt. It wasn’t even summer! He had probably had one of those indoor tans, now that I think about it? Do you do things like that? What do you think about that? Indoor tanning, it’s absurd.”

“Sorry, could you do a little turn up here, and then take a quick right, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh yes, sure.”

“So, yeah. Hamid, what a guy. You know, I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about him.”

“No? I mean, really? Come on. He’s a hero, for sure.”

“Maybe. At the end of the day, he’s after the money and the fame, just like you and me.”

“What sort of life is this for me, man? Money and fame, I don’t think so. But I’m alright. That’s what we have them for. That’s where I respect them most. Habibi, my son, listen to me, Hamid Hamza is a legend. With or without his agent, shu esmo?”

“Ramzi Chamoun.”

“Exactly. Chamoun. With or without him, he’s going to prosper. Trust me. Ya akhi, I know.” He pointed his hands inwards, at his chest, showing how serious he was, how much he meant it. “If you don’t realize, Chamoun isn’t the first agent he’s had. How many has he had,” he asked, looking over to his guest through the rearview mirror, eyeing him as they passed onto Highway 5, circulating the People’s Gymnasium and the small Joan of Arc, the fish and chips store at Camp Basement. The clouds were gathering again, for the second surge of the storm, surging without warning. The sound of the tires speeding through gutter floods, water splashing surrounding. The rain hit like pellets the windows and the roof of the car, the windshield like pellet sounded warning. “With or without him,” he continued, jerking the car left onto a side street, passing under a overpass, the darkness of the small crossing blinding, causing him to turn on his glares, though the pass was very short, if only to comfort his passenger, who could be seen through the rearview mirror, questioning his surroundings, questioning his lot. “They’re going to make him a legend, you’ll see, and it won’t be with our team. The agent is something else, something extra, something they allow. If you don’t realize, it’s not the first. He’s a great, great talent, man, a great fucking talent. Everybody knows. In London, they’ll pay an arm and a leg for him, you know? And he’s young, he’s fit, he’s sharp. He’s strong, he has presence, he’s tall. What are you talking about! If it wasn’t for Saboun, the captain, they would have made him captain this year, but the other guy is a legend as well, just a little old. What is he, thirty six, thirty seven now? I remember when we used to see him play, at first. You must not remember. You were surely too young. He was, what, seventeen when he broke into the fold?”

“Sixteen.”

“My, the magician. He introduced the no look pass, by the way. Something he picked up in America, they say. I don’t know. I don’t watch basketball, it’s boring. Every second somebody scores. It’s nervewrecking as well, I can tell. When they play at my children’s school, and when we used to play na7na kaman, when we were younger, I always watched the games, whenever we had them at school. I didn’t play, no, I played football, and badminton. Oh, I was good in badminton. I was very strong. Hamza, he’s a genius. He has my full respect. And so what if he’s afraid of traveling? He’s a genius, that’s enough. In Europe, they can train him in one place and fly him to another, in a helicopter, supposedly he’s not afraid of that. I think, you know what I think? He knows, the bastard, he knows they’re out to get him, haram. If they want to hurt him, they can. Look at what happened to Rodney Batroun. They shot him in the leg, in his basement, and look at Rodrigo, what’s his name, the Brazilian, who was caught playing cards, he had put up his entire house and the house of his brother and sister. They took it all! My acquaintance, Mustafa, he’s from my neighborhood, he’s not from my generation but some things he knows, he told me, he said, Mahmoud, no way it was Rodrigo. By the way, they do this, tarr’a, look out. They lure you in to a room, they put your money in front of you, they say, here, all of this, you will win, then, when you have made us all upset, we will threaten you with your life, and you will be forced to pay us all, equal, to everything you won. To all of us, so like, the same thing you won, times seven. Imagine, come on! Whoever says we’re hospitable, I say, fuck them, no way, they’re wrong. If it were me, if I were his agent, or better yet, if I were that boy’s father, I would say, habibi, you’ve done very, very well, you’ve served us all so well, but we’ve done you wrong, and the longer you stay with us the more are the chances we’re going to take it all. Nobody, here, wants a hero walking in the streets. They want to see them abroad. There, they can visit them, they can pay respects, they can even say, without saying less of themselves, they would desire to be like them, that they respect what they are about. Imagine, someone says this about someone at home. Never. Why do you think? They’re smart? They’re scared, habibi. They’re scared.”

The car made an honest u turn, circling into a stopping motion as a herd of incoming traffic swerved by, trucks hitting speed. He had the sudden image of their body hitting an incoming truck, their bodies lying mangled on the pavement, flung from the debris of glass, shards of metal warped in a field of instantaneous ash. Someone would come to their service, he thought. Parking the car by the side of the road, eager to help.

“How long you been in this city man?”

“Me? Twenty five years, exactly.”

“Twenty five years.”

Mahmoud shook his head, acknowledging his passenger’s acknowledgment. Twenty five years it’s been, he thought. Fuck, what a weapon, what a hit! Mal’la daribeh. Wow, some time.

“You’ve seen some changes.”

“Ha,” Mahmoud snarked, “have I seen some shit.”

“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?”

“I don’t know, brother, many things.”

“Couldn’t count ‘em, huh? Must be nice,” he said, “working on the road. You guys, you’re like a fish, you know? The city, the city is kind of like a landscape, you know? The roads, the traffic, these are lives seas, like rivers, parking lots, they’re like lakes. When the sea is down, calm, twilight, moonlight, it’s the same. Cars are like waves, and the seabed traffic. Have you ever seen blood trickle down a street? It’s magnificent. Really, it’s touching.”

“You’re a strange kind of man,” Mahmoud said, a smirk on his face, watching his friend from over rearview, peering back at him, the slits of his eyes half closed, the client tired, drunk, indisposed.

“Fucking traffic,” he said.

“Isn’t it?”

“Is it like this all year round?”

“Every day. You should see it in the summer. It’s fucking shit.”

“Tell me about it. How come your English is so good?”

“I wasn’t raised by wolves, brother. Schools are good here, I think. No?”

“It’s a difficult question.”

“Are you a teacher?”

“I’m not, no.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a journalist.”

“A journalist!”

“I write about cars, about dogs shows held by a local bourgeois. I came here once before, like ten years ago, for the first time, I stayed about two months. I came back five years later, stayed about a year. I don’t know how long it’s been now, like, seven months. I think it’s time to go. Do you ever feel this? You must get this all the time. You work every day with different people, so many different people. Are you afraid, of inheriting the problems of your strangers? I didn’t want to become like you. I came here, mostly, out of curiosity, to see what might happen again. Sometimes, when you feel comfortable, you have to push the limit. I feel good when I move. I feel strong. Now, I feel weak and stupid. Why? Why do I feel like that? Am I becoming old?”

“You’re very young, little brother. Live a promising life, and you will succeed.”

“Do you believe in those beads,” he said, guiding the driver’s attention to the beads on the rack, hanging on the rearview mirror’s neck, like so….

—–   ————                                                         —————-  ————-

——–   —-                                                   —————-

————-                 ——-               —————-

————–             —————-

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—–

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“Believe in them? I don’t know. I pray. All the time.”

“So you’re religious, then?”

“Why do you ask? It seems very inappropriate,” said Mahmoud.

“I know, your people are not straightforward. Trust me, I know. I apologize. I’m just saying, you know?”

“Do you pray, my friend?”

“I don’t.”

“Never? Not once?”

“Maybe if I’m about to die, I’ll say a word or two, I’m sure.”

“Is it clever to be so fickle in your appreciation of this life?”

“I’m not sure exactly. My guess is, you try.”

“What are you doing here? What brought you back?”

“I’m curious about the times.”

“What makes your people so curious?”

“Satisfaction. Love.”

“Are your people satisfied?”

“I’m not sure. Forty two percent of them vote. Eight out of every ten marriages ends up in divorce. One in every seven people is diagnosed with cancer. One out of every two of them dies. Sucidie rates are at an all time high. but you have to look at other markers for my country’s genius. My people, they’re very musical people. Your people, not so much.”

“It’s true. We don’t play as many instruments. do you play something?”

“Just guitar.”

“Everybody thinks they play the guitar,” said Mahmoud, “nobody plays the guitar like Daddy Joe.”

“You like Daddy Joe?”

“He was very big here. People were huge fans. We had the Daddy Joe Bar, in Shaariye. Have you been there? I think the bar is still there. Sometimes I used to go with my children, when they were young. I don’t see them now. They prefer their mother.”

“Of course.”

“To be frank, I wasn’t the best father. What can I say? It’s not in my blood. My father was a haunted man. He was difficult.”

“I was lucky as a child.”

“That’s good. You will become a good father.”

“I don’t want kids.”

“No? You don’t? Wallah? Why? Yu think you’re better than it?”

“No, not at all. I respect parents, I just don’t want to become one. I don’t want the responsibility. It ends up in sadness, somehow. No matter what. One of you dies first, and you’re fucked. And why? For what? Give me one good reason why I should make something come alive just to bring it hurt and sadness? Why?”

The drove four mils on Boulevard Haggar, crossing the street of the rising palms, the street famous for its rustic colonial houses with arched stairway windows and balconies.

“So what sort of business is this, where we’re going?”

“I don’t know if it’s time, for you, my brother. I don’t know if you’re right.”

“What is it, some sort of cult? Are you a faggot?”

“Don’t be so crude, my friend. Make a left on Allen, and a right on Bakajo. Take your first left, then park the car. Turn off the lights. It’s far. I still have to walk. But I’m tired, and I want to rest. Now turn off the lights. Yes, there you are, my brother, take it easy for some time. Have a little rest, man, have a little rest.”

The sound of the engine dropped. The street was layered with the ashes of citrus rain. Among the crowd of barriers was a barbed wire fence, and around the building there was kept a small olive grove. The streets on both sides were littered with trash, white plastic armaments of a lost interior. The smell lasted all night, until morning, where it would then be moved, to be stored on another sight, much like theirs, only a little larger. The homes were decorated in festive lights, planning for the summer, surrendering their lawns to parked cars, stuffing the interior. A bus stop lay in ruins at the end of the road, the only streetlight still on flashing with seconds. Behind it, a large crater, some acres, opened a hundred meter hole in the ground, surrounded by chains and copper fences, strung together like advertisement boards.

“I don’t see anything around here. What kind of shit are you into, man?”