She got out of her car and looked around at the under-ground, over-crowded parking lot. The white fluorescent lights on the ceiling were flickering in symmetrical motion, as though dancing to some enchanting music – one, for some reason, that was vividly audible to her. The imaginary melodies and the echoes of real-life silence were somewhat eerie and felt like a scene from a thriller movie. It made her heartbeats race. The idea of someone following her surfaced again in her mind and sent shivers through her spine. She quickly shut that notion out and focused on the mission at hand: to find out if his car was in sight – and hoping that it wasn’t – since he also used the services of this facility. She glanced to the right and saw an array of cars of different sizes, colors and shapes, all parked parallel to one another like an unorganized box of used crayons. She took a glance to the left and saw a slightly different box of used crayons: there was a vacant spot between a black BMW and a blue sedan. She could not figure out the make, but she was relieved that all of the tenants were strangers to her. Then, with a swift thumb action, she pressed on the LOCK button located on the lower left side of the small alarm device that was attached to her key-chain. Her black SUV was now safe.
She walked towards the panoramic elevator, the sound of her footsteps creating loud whispers on the grey cement. She kept looking over her shoulder, double-checking the ghost that hung on to her. It was there alright; following her like a shadow, mimicking her every move. It was an unpleasant figment of her imagination that she had unwillingly grown accustomed to. One that had become a part of her everyday life, that without it she felt incomplete. She pressed on the elevator button and waited.
It was close to midday; the street was hustling with cars and pedestrians, each mindful only to what is going on around them. The sun was shining forcefully in between the city buildings, slowly drying the wetness of the previous rain from the pavements, and radiating warmth into that cold late February morning. They had planned to meet at a heritage café, which was shyly hiding beneath some trees on a street adjacent to the main one. It was a somewhat busy neighborhood, as was the case with all the small neighborhoods of the city of Beirut, which made the sound of the wet footsteps of the pedestrians disappear in the commotion of the world. Established in mid-30s Beirut and named after its owner, it was known for being the destination and meeting point for different people from the various walks of life.
She felt the sun’s warmth on her skin as she walked out of the elevator and onto the street. It was a beautiful morning. She had had a good night’s sleep the previous night, and woke up feeling energized. It made her feel happy, and she smiled. Images from the gathering popped into her mind, followed by the images of a time that had gone by. It was ironic; just a handful of years earlier, she was walking down these same streets, looking at the same buildings. But they looked different back then and felt different. They were livelier and more colorful. Everything was in black and white now – the cars, the trees, even the people – and sometimes in grey. The heaviness was slowly creeping into her heart again; she was sad and broken, and she did not want to hide it anymore. It was exhausting her. But something deep down inside was telling her that it was not to last longer. She smiled, and allowed the sun’s warmth, once again, to caress her face. She was ready to reconnect with a part of her past; to rekindle a connection she thought was lost.
After a casual hug, kiss and the exchanging of the usual greetings, they sat across from each other on a round table made of stone, surrounded by the bustling life of the small city of Beirut. The only thing standing between them were two cups of coffee, two cigarette packs and one ashtray. They both enjoyed their coffee black, with no additives. And they were both smokers. It had been twelve years since they had last seen one another, and so much had taken place in both their lives. She held a sense of comfort inside; the kind that was able to lift the heavy burden of the masks she wore. She was somehow assured that that was one woman she could confide in; she was not aware as to why she had felt that way, but she was, for the first time in a long time, happy to be out there in the world, feeling free and lacking worry.
“I cannot believe that I have met you again!” she said, genuinely conveying what her heart was feeling inside.
“I know!” She replied, “It’s crazy that after all those years our paths cross again. Truth be told, I was hesitating to go the other night.”
“I’m glad you changed your mind.”
They both smiled. The last time she had seen her was twelve years earlier, during a time when they were both young and wild.
“So tell me about you,” she said. “What have you been up to all those years?”
Her female companion started telling her, in brief, what had happened over the past twelve years. She was drawn into the words that befell her ears. She felt as though a magic spell had taken over her, capturing her full attention; as though she was mesmerized by the brief tales of an ordinary life. She was enjoying her words. Listening attentively, and looking straight into her eyes, deciphering every word. She felt a sense of confidence radiating from her, and that made her feel safe inside. But for a moment, her mind wandered to when her whole life was happy, when she had the picture-perfect family. The pain was pushing itself through the sense of safety, making its way through the momentary oblivion of reality. A black-and-white-like video started playing again, and she lost herself in the images.
“Enough about me.” Her voice broke the memories. “What about you?”
She smiled, hoping to conceal her pain and disappointment in life.
“Oh what can I say?” She began. “I got married.” She paused for a while, reminiscing. “You know him…”
The words started flowing from her mouth effortlessly. For almost a year and a half, she had had difficulties in verbalizing her life, her wounds, and her sorrows. She did not have the ability to tell of her disappointments. She had been masquerading her way through life, conveying a false image of happiness, and having to tell “little white lies” about her marriage. And although a handful of people were in on her life’s events, the feeling of aloneness was beginning to take its toll on her. And hers was a fairy tale gone bad.
A few clouds hung between heaven and earth, creating cold shadows over the pedestrians on the street and the patrons of the café. Her companion, with a cigarette in one hand and coffee in the other, was paying close attention to the fairy tale. She adjusted herself in her chair and continued to listen with the same attentiveness. She was the type of woman to whom the details were of utmost importance. She would listen, analyze and ask questions. However, this time she was silent, her eyes fixed in the direction from which the words came, every now and then adjusting the frameless glasses on her face.
She went on like a story-teller – one which she was – the words running freely unto the ears of her one-person audience, every word adding a new twist to the fairy tale, ones that even the most skilled writers could not have imagined. It was clear that she was in pain, that the burden heavier, and that the need to vent was intolerable. But it was not clear as to why she was pouring the contents of her heart to that specific woman; after all, she was an almost complete stranger to her.
She paused. “I am really happy we met again; weshould keep in touch.”
Her brokenness, although heavy, now had the weight of a feather. They smiled simultaneously. They were both silent now, but the street was busier than when they had first arrived. Life was still happening.