Bar Reading

I looked outside my bedroom window. Another dark, cold and lonely Saturday night was on the horizon. But Saturdays always left a special taste – especially on my Lebanese mouth – they always translated into parties and fiestas. Maybe it was something in the air on that particular day – but it was irrevocably the day of the week to get out. No Lebanese man or woman was safe from it. None could resist that terrible urge or refuse it upon themselves.
So I grabbed my leather jacket, got in the car and drove down to one of the busiest streets in the capital without looking back.
I moved through the lines of people, laying low and ducking my head to avoid being seen or caught by anyone, stranger or not. I found a low-key place with dimmed lights and reggae music and decided, this is it, this is my chance to completely eclipse myself and get lost in the night.
And that feeling of being lost always followed me like a shadow. It traced me and reminded me none of us really knew what we were doing here. Whether it was me, whether it was those people coming down here to drink and enjoy their time – we were no different from the animals gracing this planet, hunting or being hunted without really investing any reason into the act.
And Saturdays were as unreasonable and illogical as they came. So I went in, grabbed a corner stool on the bar and ordered a Heineken beer. I had brought Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground with me for good company. Drinking and reading – there wasn’t a better combination to incorporate all the pleasures one could ask for from this life.
As I doubled on that beer, I heard a little laugh behind me. Two girls were sitting on a table adjacent to me. They were discussing things they seemingly didn’t understand like Shakespeare being immortal or the conspiracies shrouding Da Vinci’s work. But who were they? Two girls who had met up on a Saturday night at a shady bar and decided to hit it off immediately and started talking wise words before drinking the first sip.

I decided I wasn’t ready to accept that kind of talk. I decided the current race wasn’t ready to dish out that talk. After all, what had any one of us accomplished to be able to talk about Shakespeare’s immortality? To decide on Da Vinci’s works and their meanings? Who had given us validation, permission? What did we have to show for ourselves except war and decay, corruption and misery?

We were raised at the hands of a generation of war-torn people who carried the scars of their predecessors and we raise the next generation to carry our own insecurities and fear of failure. As I got back to my book I stared deep down into its open pages. I stared through the lines and the words and the print. I stared at this beautiful creation and thought, maybe this is the safest place for me to be right now, inside the pages of this book.

But then I felt a hand touching my shoulder. I turned around and one of the two girls sitting behind me was now standing next to me with a camera in her hand. It was one of those big Canon cameras big-shot photographers always seemed to have on them.
‘Can I take a picture of you?’ she said shyly.
‘Sure,’ I said.
‘Can I take a picture of you…reading?’ she said in an intimidated voice again.
‘Uh-huh.’

The other girl suddenly jumped in as if she was eavesdropping on the discussion from the beginning and flashed her phone light on me.

The girl with the camera took the picture.
‘Thank you,’ she said.
‘Is that for some sort of magazine? A literary journal or a writer’s digest?’ I asked her.
‘No,’ she replied, ‘it’s for a project.’
‘Why me, then?’

Her friend cut into the conversation. ‘Because you’re reading in a bar. That’s fucking interesting.’
They returned to their table. But something had caught me in their approach, in the few words we exchanged together. Something that made me close the book and look around me and take a moment to observe.

Give it to the Lebanese, they knew how to party: a blend of rap music and Lebanese sound, country music, hip hop playing in the small bar, the dim lights shifting to blinking and flickering beams and beautiful women taking center stage and dancing…but I still preferred the company of a book over the shallow and trivial conversations I risked getting dragged into with these people. The fear of interacting with unknowns and drawing up superficial matters and getting sucked into mundane subjects left me standing behind my barrier and indulging in cheap drinks and dirty literature.

And then there was the conversation with these two girls. You see, those things were rare and that’s why you immediately recognized them. They left a strong mark in you – to be touched by photography or be intrigued by a person reading in the middle of a crowd or recognizing the music that just started playing from its beat. They erased and crushed the barriers and made us forget about politics and religion for a moment. They made us skip the names and phone numbers and cheap flirty lines and stare into the eyes of the soul. They made a Saturday night spent alone in a bar worthwhile.

And with the end of that night came a strong full moon that could only be outdone by hope – hope of finding people of this type, entire congregations and multitudes that marched and spoke in a homogenous sound. Only this mass wouldn’t pick up guns and rifles from the ground and hoist them proudly on their shoulders – they’d pick up classic books and movies and take them wherever they went.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, now available on Amazon and in paperback.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

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