“Butter knife, what a life, anyway, I’m building y’all a clock, stop. What am I? Hemingway?”
It was a Saturday that felt like a Sunday, 11:07 on his Audemars. The first day of winter. He opened his eyes and looked to his right. She was still here. Three months had passed, Soraya was still here. Lying naked and beautiful. Her brittle shoulders and perfect neckline. Her head resting on the pillow, her thin hair caressing the sheets. Her skin was flawless everyday. She always smelled like she was untouched, even after a long night of sweat. He laid his hand on her hip and softly kissed her under her ear. The sun was timid behind the clouds and the sheer curtains. A nostalgic feeling.
It was the most emotional autumn he’d had in a very long time. Soraya had broken him down and rebuilt him. He was still his cold cynical self to the rest of the world, but she was his utter weakness. A sixteen-year-old girl. A secret relationship. And he adored her. The mirrors made her feel uncomfortable, so he had them removed. She loved to watch reruns of Gossip Girl, so he watched them too. She wanted him to name the character of his new novel after her, so he changed the character’s name to Soraya. Boys roaming around her were never taken seriously — she was in love with a real man. An intellectual. And she admired him. She looked up to him. Her grades at school got better. She discovered she could write. She started keeping a journal — their whole secret was carved in it. He helped her write a short story. She gave him ideas for a new book — in the voice of a teenage girl, giving him full access to her teenage mind.
She could only sleep over on the weekends — pretending to be at her best friend’s, or when her mother was out of the country. They left Beirut almost every Sunday. Driving south, north, to the seaside, to the mountain. Savoring autumn’s perfect weather. And perfect nature. Away from the gossip, away from the jealousy, away from the bourgeoisie, away from the city. And it felt like it could go on forever. It was all too pure, too good, too natural. They excluded themselves from the world. No family, no friends. Only their own little bubble. Devouring the present. Waiting for her to turn eighteen. A future apart from each other was unimaginable. Me and you against the world. Not a single fight or disagreement. Not a single isolated incident. They were happy.
She felt his warm breath against her neck and slowly opened her eyes. A siren called from a distance — like they do all the time. But it was unlike any other time. It was different. Something had changed. The world felt different. The sun vanished entirely, the room sank in severe darkness. They looked at each other gravely, pale and anxious, and before they could mutter a single word, a phone started ringing. It was Soraya’s. “Hello?” And she said nothing else. Tears kept falling on the bed sheets, leaving their marks on her divine cheekbones. Her small, full lips were shaking. Her hands were trembling. She tried to speak.
The Saturday traffic in Ashrafieh was bearable. They got to Hamra fairly quickly. Then all the cars stopped moving. All the roads were blocked, there was no way out. They decided to walk, no other alternative. They left the car on the main road, somewhere around the massive Fransabank building, and headed towards Jeanne D’Arc Street. He held her hand tightly as they speeded past random shoppers, students rushing to AUB, women on their way to lunch, businessmen going to a meeting, shady Hamra men watching everyone — just doing what they do. He held her hand for the first time in the city. He held her hand for the first time in public inside the city. He couldn’t bear seeing her in pain. It meant more to him than any reputation, career, judgment, society. Me and you against the world.
Policemen and Red Cross volunteers were gathered around Soraya’s building. A swirling mass of grey, and red uniforms. The entrance was guarded by an agent stopping people from walking in. But Soraya’s face made it clear — she was family. She was the daughter of the deceased. They rushed up the stairs to the first floor. The door on the left was open. The apartment felt like a scene straight out of an unpleasant dream. A terrible dream. Cops and doctors were bustling around. The windows were open, the wind was blowing, curtains were flapping violently. Everything in slow motion. Everything in yellow. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, the furniture, the people, the air — all different shades of bland yellow. All sounds were muted. Only the terrifying vibration of the wind. Sometimes a whistle from the other side. Soraya kept moving forward, Kim right behind her. An eerie sense of familiarity took over. Maybe this unusual Soraya in her own home, a pile of books thrown around, perhaps — he knew them all by heart. Or the all too familiar smell of incense. Cold shivers and cold sweats. Soraya seemed hypnotized, sleepwalking, refusing to wake up. Not willing to believe. She reached the bedroom door. Her mother was in a peaceful sleep. A notebook was open on the night table next to her. It was Soraya’s journal. Her mother had read everything. An empty bottle of sleeping pills on the floor. She won’t be waking up.
And suddenly it was freezing. Soraya’s body was numb. Steam escaping from between her lips. Glacial and unable to make a move. A never-ending flow of tears. And nothing else. Kim held her tight, hiding her face in his chest. He didn’t want to her to endure it. To look at her own mother’s dead body. Cruel, cruel vision. He drowned his mouth in her soft hair and closed his eyes. She was sobbing. He let out a few tears. And this gripping familiar incense-smell. And it lasted forever.
Suddenly, he got curious. He hadn’t looked at the body yet. A little hesitation. Soraya’s face still in his chest. He looked over her head towards the bed, laying his eyes on his lover’s mother. And then he saw her. Her face was slightly wrinkled, but still as beautiful. Cruel, cruel vision. His knees got wobbly. “Alright well, I guess that’s it…” Her last words. He wanted her to speak again. “Alright well, I guess that’s it…” Rose. It was Rose. His Rose. His only Rose. A tragedy at first sight. Lying down and forever gone. Sixteen years had passed. Sixteen. A child. Not even legal. What? “My… My mother… There’s been an accident.” His mind was devoured by horror. He held Soraya’s head and pushed it back to meet her eyes. His green eyes, just like her eyes. Cruel, cruel vision. Soraya. A younger female version of him. With better cheekbones. Perfect cheekbones. Her mother’s cheekbones. Rose’s cheekbones. Until one day in the late 90s. Around sixteen years ago. Soraya. Oh God, no.