It was a cold February afternoon; the clouds were grey and gloomy, and the rain had been pouring continuously for three days. It made whatever was left of her heart feel heavier, although deep down inside, for her, there was not much left. She had been sitting by that window and staring out at the nothingness that she saw for so many months that she had lost count. She had even lost count of the number of glasses of wine she had consumed. Wine was her only companion during those dark days, when all she could do was wait for a sign of hope – a hope that seemed hopeless. She had been abandoned by the world, forsaken by the divine, and felt that she was slowly melting away, becoming a ghost: soulless, lifeless and invisible.
The lightening brought her back to her senses; she had to get dressed and attend a gathering she was somehow looking forward to. She felt the need to get out of the chair – of the prison – she was in, and get-togethers and parties – with anyone and anywhere – were always a welcome getaway from the reality she was living in; from the oblivion she had become.
She turned around and looked at the naked house; it was cold and empty. The furniture looked as though it had grown old and tired; the floor tiles were pale and barren; and the windows soaked with tears of rain. She walked into the corridor and stood at the bedroom door, looking in silence. Strength was an agonizing battle she was losing every day. The whiteness of the corridor looked yellow in the faint light; and her silhouette on the walls drew an image of a monster, scary and big, and ready to devour anything. It was sad and ironic. She hurried towards her room, and turned on the lights as quickly as her hands could reach out for the switch. She needed the light, a bright light, to erase that monster that hung onto her. It was to no avail; for as soon as the lights went on, she saw her reflection in the window: pale, thin, and sad. It made the sadness sink deeper in, but she was determined not to let it show. She had been mastering the art of concealing, and was determined to go out and have a good time.
She turned towards the walk-in closet and made her choice: a tiny dark grey skirt, a white top, a purple light jacket, and a pair of long grey boots. She was a petite woman, and her figure could accommodate any outfit. She looked good, but it did not yet reflect on her soul. “Make-up”, she thought to herself. “It always does the trick.” She hurried into the bathroom, grabbed the bag of artificial coloring from the drawer of her bathroom cabinet, and, facing the mirror, she put on one of the many masks she had been wearing lately. It was made of artificial coloring and flavors. She was ready to party. She looked at the mirror one last time, smiled with satisfaction at mastering the art of hiding, and then turned off the light.
She walked down the ghoulish yellow corridor, and once again stopped in front of the bedroom door. “I love you”, she whispered, and then turned around and walked out.
She drove off into the wet and dark roads of Beirut. The drive was not long, but felt like years to her void. The wipers were rushing across the windshield of her car; and big as it was, it could not escape drowning in the newly formed ponds of rain water. She felt as though she was being followed; followed by monsters and ghosts that haunted her very being. She tried to shake that feeling away. She reached for the radio, hoping that the music could bring about some peace to her already troubled mind.
Peace. That was her only wish. After all that had happened; after twenty-one months of oblivion, and a handful more of war, peace was all that her soul was aching for. But peace seemed hopeless, distant and dead. And her only backup plan was not to plan at all. Her only hope was not to hope for anything. She was trying hard to erase the images and restrict the tears. But to no avail; they played continuously on the windshield of her black SUV.
A loud honk brought her back to reality. The light at the intersection had turned green while she was lost in her oblivion. She stepped on the accelerator and tried to focus on the remainder of the journey. Her destination: a jazz club located on a small, almost deserted street. She had been frequenting that place for a while, and it had become a familiar territory; one she was comfortable in, where she could feel a sense of freedom from the worries and the burdens of her life; one, where her soul could transcend the present through the music. The women she was going to meet also carried familiar faces. It was going to be alright. She was going to be alright. She had other plans for the later part of the night; as soon as he got off work, they were going to meet and drown themselves in their make-believe world, where they could forget their misery and live a fantasy for a few hours. He was the perfect match; another lost and destroyed soul wandering this earth. He met her requirements, and she met his.
He was not handsome, but had a certain charm, and, being well versed in the art of flirting, he was able to make every woman he met feel special. He always had the right words to say, at the right time. He had made her feel she was special; and she was in need of those feelings, false as they might have been. They had both agreed to no commitment, which, at the time, she had believed was suitable for her. She was looking forward to the end of the night, when she was going to jump into a fantasy world and forget the current.
She parked her car and walked towards the restaurant; it was cold and dark, and the rain had miraculously stopped falling. She could hear the echo of her footsteps on the wet pavement, and it brought fear into her heart. She quickened her pace, looking over her shoulder every now and then. She had had that feeling for a long time, as though she was being followed, but she was not sure who – or what – was following her, or why.
The club was rather quiet; a few patrons here and there, scattered around the room. A band of three was playing in the corner, sending their beats across the room, filling the air with melodies and music. She called for the waitress and ordered her drink: a glass of white wine – her addiction of choice, and the faithful companion who had been able to assist her in the process of pretending.
The evening started out with the usual pleasantries and small talk. She found it pleasing to hear other people’s stories in order to forget her own; she was trying to avoid discussing her own life: the remnants of the fairy tale in which she was the princess and he was her prince charming. She was trying to delve deeper into other people’s stories in an attempt to escape her own. But there were times when the hiding and concealing felt impossible to control; she needed to scream, to shout, but her voice was numb and her strength fading. The voices around her were starting to become blurred and distant; she was slowly drowning in her phantoms, and suffocating on the images, until she walked in.
The minute their eyes met, countless memories were awoken. Images of a time lost in time, when she was younger and happier; of the days when the dream was the reality. And, for the first time, she felt genuinely happy.