The Taxi

It’s the oldest story in the world: two high-school teenagers start out as friends, best friends before finally falling for each other and becoming strangers again. But we’re not going to get to that last part.

It was prom night and the boy had dreamt of asking the girl out as his date; dreamt of having that first dance with her; dreamt of that first kiss with her on the shores of the ocean where the after party was set; dreamt of sharing a ride back with her and calling her his girlfriend by the end of the night.

But things rarely come as scripted as this – especially if you’re a shy boy from a small town in the suburbs of Beirut. The only thing that came true for him was the final part of the plan: sharing a ride back home with the girl of his dreams.

She was the girl of his dreams – and he was certain of this since he’d already seen her many times in his dreams. These weren’t brief encounters where her face would suddenly appear to him; they were full-fledged reveries centered on her character.

But returning from the after party that prom night was anything but a dream. They were both drunk – but even that couldn’t stop him from admiring her long hair flowing all over her shoulders and thinking about caressing it. Back in the taxi that night he tried to sober up and gather what little courage he had to ask her out – after all, it was to be the last night they shared together as high school friends and the door of possibilities was wide open and looming for them to grab by the handle and explore.

Holding on to her wouldn’t be as easy anymore since the amount of time he’d see her or spend in her company would be significantly reduced now that they were no longer bound by the school calendar.

So back in that taxi sharing the backseat with nothing but a little plush heart hanging from the ceiling to separate them, they started talking about their future hopes and dreams and the ambitions they harbored and wanted to achieve after school. She wanted to use her education as a springboard for a more serious degree – a degree in communications engineering always looked nice on any Lebanese résumé and any Lebanese lips – and she hoped to take the big schools in France by storm while touring Europe.

He had a more candid view of the world – a naïve vision that pushed him towards chasing his most burning desires wildly and passionately. He wanted to become a writer (language was the only thing that’s been kind to him over the years) and write great stories about beautiful women and miserable men and perhaps even one day a great book that people would read.

So their paths seemed conflicting from the get-go and the only meeting point for them was here and now: at a very late hour inside a taxi driving them back home.

The boy observed the little wobbling heart-shaped plush swaying left and right between him and the girl he loved. It was his heart; his one-and-only source of life. His heart swaying between him and her, caught between the devastation of revealing the truth of his emotion and the aberration of preserving that slumbering love.

As they neared the girl’s house, the boy felt his clock ticking. Time was suddenly unwinding, and the flashbacks of an entire school year – recesses and afternoons spent in the library studying each other’s movements and waiting for that decisive premier pas to be made.

He thought about those things, how those were the important things in life, the things worth looking back on, the things worth retaining after one of the good chapters was finally closed.

The boy suddenly felt the girl’s hand grabbing his own and gently caressing it. ‘You’re a good friend,’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ he told her. ‘A friend.’

‘I wouldn’t have made it without you this year. Everything we’ve been through…I don’t know what I would’ve done if you weren’t there.’

Hearing those words coming out of her mouth – sometimes all it took was the sound of the spoken truth to recognize it. Those words were always there in his mind, right from the start. They were etched in his soul like an undying certainty that controlled his behavior and helped him keep his emotions towards this girl in check. They initiated the sacrifice; the sacrifice of love for friendship, of romance for brotherhood and intimacy for trust.

He held her hand firmly and looked into her eyes. ‘And I would’ve done it all over again if I had to.’

Situations dictate the state of things. Some things seem less important at times and more crucial at others. Love, for instance, that eternal answer to man’s darkest conundrums, was at times able to belittle itself and make room for friendship. And on the night when he was promised to fulfill his own heart’s desires, the boy gained a lot more by letting go of love in favor of a lasting friendship. He learned that not all roads follow the same path, and not all of them are made of stone. Some are softer but slippery. Others are harder and more arduous. And some are just narrow fillings that lead you to your destination much faster than the others if you know when to take them – and tonight, he had taken that narrow road that led him out of that chapter, out of that page, out of that book.

***

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

 

The Confessional Letters – Introduction

Dear Writer,

All good things need an introduction. And the reason why they need an introduction is because they are not only good things – they are the best of things.

Great concepts, great ideas, great works require a presentation before they can make a home deep in the confines of our minds.

Today I will talk about writing. Writing is a good thing. It’s one of the good things. No, it’s one of the best things. But I won’t introduce writing.

You see, writing is one of those things that require no introduction. It’s a huge thing – call it a concept, an idea or a great work if you will – but it does not abide by the standard things in life nor does it answer to the proper rules of doing and defining them.

Writing is its own thing. Writing is vague. Writing cannot be delimited or outlined. So how can we talk about it? And more importantly, why do we talk about it?

Well, we talk about it simply because it’s there. Just like the air we breathe, it will never cease to exist. It’s something that might surge out of us at any moment with no predefined triggers.

It’s also unpredictable and varies from one person to another. Not all of us are born or blessed with the touch of the writer, but the very few of us who are (and who recognize it) belong to a special circle.

That’s why I’m addressing you, dear writer. I’m addressing you because I think you’re one of those few who acknowledge the tremendous blessing they have been so lucky to receive. Don’t think of me as a friend or a counselor or a guide – think of me as that small voice in your head pushing you toward the word. Always pushing and pushing until you pick up the pen or typer or any other instrument and start writing.

Because that’s what writing is: a continuous movement. It flows and goes and comes back and extends and shrinks and embeds itself in everything around us and comes bouncing right back at us. It’s unpredictable.

It also requires something special, beside a small grain of talent: a spark of insanity to be able to see things and portray them as viciously and brutally as possible.

As a writer, you’ll never have to fill in the role of peacemaker. You’ll never have to spare anyone from critique or harm or keep everyone happy or safe from danger. There are heroes for that. Writers are not heroes – they are the martyrs of truth and beauty and revelations and carry those pillars like crosses on their backs.

They are mutilated, they are looked down on, they are scorned for what they do.

So why do it? What is the motivating factor to answer the calling and become a loyal servant to this noble cause?

It’s because, like I already mentioned, writers are insane. I am insane. The greats were all insane. You might be a little insane too. We are unstable, but it’s that same instability that makes us perceive things all the more clearly and write about them with ample detail.

We communicate things other people don’t see or hear or feel. We transcribe things from other worlds that are yet to be known or visited. We channel sensations people often feel but cannot name or describe.

We lay foundations for others. Think of writing as a long list of general guidelines on every little detail recorded since the beginning of humanity. It’s like a dictionary, a reference for others to dive into and look up whatever they’re going through and have something relatable in their hands.

That’s as much of an introduction as I can give you to the craft. Think more of it as a series of pointers that will light your way as you go. It is a bumpy road but all the greats are smiling at you now that you’ve joined their illustrious circle.

As for me, you don’t need to know me, just think of me as that little voice in your head pushing you deeper and deeper into the world of the word…

And remember, all good things need an introduction.

***

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

The Confessional Letters – Boy Meets World

Dear Writer,

You know that butterfly people encourage you to chase sometimes? That butterfly that swings by you when you’re quietly studying in your room for a college course and wondering what the purpose of it all is? That butterfly that flutters around you when you’ve taken a girl out and she leans really close to you and you’re unsure what to do?

That same butterfly that passes by when your parents are having an argument? Or when you’re out working at a job you hate just to pay the bills and end up with no money at the end of the month?

Well, that butterfly’s got a name – and it’s not happiness.

Here is where your mind is thinking, well damn, he’s going to turn this into a speech about writing. Well, not yet. But we’ll get to that part later.

But let’s go back to our butterfly for a second. I haven’t revealed its name to you yet. That butterfly’s called passion.

And passion gets thrown around between every one or two sentences today. In our world, in a highly demanding world, a lot is expected from us. And as such it’s only natural for us to sometimes come up short. So we start searching for the easy way out: the blame. We scramble and fight and struggle to pin the blame on someone – or something – just to wash it off our skin. And passion is one of those things that blame gets pinned on.

We go around advertising that we haven’t found our passion and that’s why our performance hasn’t been optimal. But do we really mean it? Do we really believe in that argument?

Here’s a secret: very few people do. And even fewer people actually have the guts to do something about it.

Here’s a kid that dropped out of college and gave up on his education just to become a writer. Crazy? Probably. Gutsy? Most definitely.

I’m not saying this so that you drop everything and follow your imaginary dream of becoming a rock-and-roll legend. But out there, there are people who were willing to closely monitor that butterfly, observing every one of its movements and even listening to the sound the fluttering of its wings makes.

Those people were rewarded with a certain passion. And those people invested in it and made it their entire lives.

This is just a heads-up, kid: the world is a scary and unforgiving place, and no matter how much they tell you that the truth is far worse and scarier. You’ll be held accountable for things you didn’t know you had to plan for beforehand and you’ll face consequences you never knew existed in the first place. Once you drown, there’s no way to get back to the surface.

So forget about drowning. Forget about the water. Forget about the butterfly.

If you think your heart’s set on writing, think about the scenarios I talked to you about at the beginning of this: how would writing improve your situation when you’re at home cramming for that course? What good will it do you if you strike out with that girl you went out with? How will it help you mend the hours you burned on a job you don’t even like?

Think about those things. And think about the value of writing in those cases. Will it make up for coming up short or the bad performances you’ve put in those scenarios?

If you find an answer to that question, then maybe there are the makings of a writer somewhere inside you.

And just in case, keep an occasional lookout for that butterfly.

***

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

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

From the Pages of the Recollection of a Writer’s Writing Activities

I have tried to concentrate my efforts in writing in a single document. Call it a journal or a memoir of my working days if you will. But this binder is made to contain a relevé of my journey and struggles with the craft and how it got me closer to putting down the word on paper.

[This is part of the entire document and only relates to the writing labor done over the course of a week, or seven days. It by no means represents the entire period over which the writing was completed or recorded]

Day 1

I woke up with the urge to write. Outside my window the merchants could be heard pushing their strollers full of vegetables and selling their products out loud. The sun was bright – brighter than the usual sunny day. My neighbor was at my door to inform me the power was out and we were experiencing a generator failure. So it would be an hour or two before we got any power back.

It was a good chance for me – an opening to get down early in the mud and start writing.

I took out a clean page and started drawing up an outline for my book. But the honking and the cursing coming from the big city and the impatient Lebanese citizens were too much of a distraction for me. Just when I thought tv wasn’t going to be a problem – I guess distractions are always there; we just needed to unlock them to fall for them.

I wrote a sketchy outline but started getting more ideas for my plot. I could see I had a potential story in my hands but the plot was too thick or thin or boring or compressed or expanded or logical or surreal and it was going into many different ways that I decided to take a break and call it a day. That was enough effort and brain storming and soul searching for a day where there was barely any power and too much noise being generated and not enough water or food or alcohol to make it to the night. I would try again tomorrow.

Day 2

Today I called in sick for work. I stayed in bed and thought more and more about my story. The power was back so I turned on the tv to watch some news. They were interviewing some crummy politician who was thinking about scamming the country. I could see it in his eyes even if he wouldn’t admit it. I decided that was enough tv and got down to writing. Out with the page again but this time I tried a different approach. I jotted down all the ideas that came to my mind like a mad scientist devising a plot for world domination. Some of them were brilliant and others were less so. But I needed to get them all out there to know which of them I was going to use to construct my book. There was also an attempt at coming up with a name for the lead character but it ended in failure. I was still without a book title, any substantial plot or course of action and a nameless lead character. Well, at least I was certain he would be male. Or is it better to have a female lead?

Day 3

Well today I did go to work. Sat 9 hours straight in front of my laptop thinking about my story. Didn’t get much work done in the end and my boss called me in to his office for a performance review at the end of the day. He tried to persuade me to put in more effort and went on rambling about the economic crisis we were drained in and how it was important for a large firm like us to keep productivity to a high. I told him about my story and how I needed time to focus and regroup my ideas. He told me to get my priorities straight or he’d have no other choice but to fire me. I left the office and went for a beer. Alcohol was the best cure to a bad day. It never gave me any answers or clarity but at least it took some of the bad sting away. You know the feeling when you’re going through a bad day and you start to worry the rest of the week will play out the same way? Well that was the feeling I was getting. On my way back home some girl was riding in a taxi that was playing Arabic music on the radio. The girl was on her phone and she looked very pretty. I thought about girls and how they could still be a distraction even when they weren’t in your life. I felt good about myself that I didn’t have a girlfriend to tie me down but felt bad afterwards when I started thinking about the girl in the taxi. Who was she on the phone with? Probably a Lebanese guy five years older than her working in Dubai or KSA and sending her nude photos of himself.

I got home and felt disgusted with myself. I was completely alone and stopped seeing this solitude as an asset. It bothered me now that I had to accept it and had gotten used to it. Why the hell was I locked in here digging through my brain to get some words out on paper while other guys were out in the park kissing their girlfriends?

I scribbled down a couple more ideas for a possible plot and went to bed early.

Day 4

I didn’t do any writing today. I took a half-day off work, got in early, fixed myself a nice cup of green tea and curled in bed with a good book. I was reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast hoping to get some inspiration from it. But I couldn’t. It was nothing like honey or milk or juice. It wasn’t something you could extract and I guess I grew envious of Hem and all the great writers who stumbled upon it or just happened to find it in their attics (which led me to checking my attic and only finding dust balls and a couple of dead roaches lying flat on their backs).

Day 5

More than halfway through the week and I still hadn’t written a word for my story. I tried to trim down the ideas and re-write the ones that looked good to me on a new clean page. The fresh whiteness of the paper always motivated me to get going and push for a new start. I wrote down the ideas and then highlighted them with a marker. A girl I hadn’t talked to for a while started texting me but I decided to blow her off. Then I started thinking about her naked and if she’d consider sleeping with a writer. Then I decided I was wasting too much time and started thinking about going somewhere that wasn’t home to get my creative juices moving. Somewhere public. The nearest Starbucks was a 7-minute drive away but it was cold and I hadn’t filled my car and the gas prices were up again and I had very little money. I put on some Beatles and listened to a few songs and made myself a ham and cheese grilled sandwich and went to bed.

Day 6

Well, I finally managed to do it. I wrote the first few lines of my story. I wasn’t too sure what to make of them but I kept them just in case. It was a good feeling – and people often confuse that feeling with hardship and suffering and pain. Well let me tell you: it actually feels good and relieving. Like coming out of the water for air after holding your breath underwater for many seconds. The actual pain and suffering come in the moments prior to writing the first few words; they come in the hours and the days gone without writing. But once you get the first words down the mental block is removed and it becomes easier to see where you’re going.

I felt like I was able to move a giant boulder. Like the one they’d put in front of Christ’s tomb. Which reminded me – the church bells were ringing in the neighborhood and the sound was loud and distracting. It had been a long while since I hadn’t ventured into a church and I don’t think I would fit in well with the believers at this moment. Meanwhile the fanatics on our borders are chopping off heads and executing anyone who can’t yell ‘ALLAH’ with a hint of a melody in their voice and no one’s writing or doing anything about it. Maybe because the ones who were capable of writing were already locked in jails and madhouses. Well, I was still available but I had a book to write and couldn’t afford to be distracted. I’d already gotten the first words down – the rest should run more smoothly from here on.

Day 7

It’s the end of the week and I only have a few words down on paper. Today I got a call from a girl saying she wanted to meet me for coffee and I decided to accept her proposition. After coffee I invited her over to my place to check out some of my books. She had mentioned she was a huge fan of classics and I was excited to learn she was a literary enthusiast. After going over a few books together I asked her if I could kiss her. She refused and I tried to slide my hand and grab her breast but she hit me with one of my books on the cheek and left me lying on my own bedroom floor in pain and showed herself out of my house.

After the pain receded and I recovered from that physical and moral blow, I decided the safest thing for me was to get back to my writing. After all, the words were always there waiting for me like true friends and loyal companions. I reread the lines I wrote and decided they were bad – really bad – for a book opener. So I deleted them. Then I started thinking about a new bunch of words but my phone was ringing again and it was another girl calling so I gave up on the page and answered it…

[End of the week]

***

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

Different Worlds

The following writing was found and read aloud by a curious man who ignored the origin of its author. The man has therefore no knowledge of what he is about to read and is not connected in any way to the writing.

Darling, you are a blossom queen

And I am just a felon

Looking to steal a piece of your heart

For me

Just a small portion

To get by on

Think of it as my daily bread

Something to get high on

To soar above the clouds

And the orange Arabian sky

Something to keep me warm

Through cold winters

And cool me down

During the long summer evenings

 

Darling,

Those car rides to and fro religious sites

The images of us climbing Lebanon’s highest mountains

And citadels

Make me feel this country’s not big enough to hold our dreams

It’s not big enough for us

 

You know me,

Always in search of what’s real

And true

And authentic

The peaks

The glossy high towers

And tops

The elusive American dream

 

Maybe we should’ve both been born there

In the great States

Or at least have met there

Maybe the land there would’ve been big enough

To fit and contain our passions

(Maybe it would’ve been more welcoming)

And as I write this now

I think of you, of course,

But more prominently,

I think of the setting and the state of things

Around the world at this exact and specific time

In the gulf and Arab countries

In the fancy and ever-aging Europe

And over the American continent

 

I think about the same sea

Trimming down into different shores

I think about the same sky

Being looked at by various eyes

And drawing different perspectives all around the world

I think about the views

The many many views

The ruins we have in Byblos

The Eiffel tower

The Big Ben

The Statue of Liberty

 

Yes, darling,

You can say I am not well traveled

And my knowledge is visibly limited

Just like my language

But the words – no matter how recurrent or repetitive –

Will keep flowing through me

In different orders maybe

In different structures

And this,

And you,

I am not sure

What this is

A letter

A poem

A declaration

And I am not certain

It is even

For you

Anymore

As my sentences

Shorten

And dwindle down

Into a few

Simple words

I think

These precise words

Are meant to travel

All over

And see

Different worlds

Just like I should

And maybe one day

I’ll come back to you

Come back to this place they call the carriage

Where we are born and blessed

And maybe then

The timing

And the circumstances

Would fit right for us

And everything will fall into place

And life will suddenly turn into a stack of dominoes

With each piece pushing the adjacent one

Until the last one falls

And then we could be together

And everything would be complete

And the doubters and the non-believers

(myself included)

Would start believing in love and hope again

And persistence and chance would retain their place

Among the best attributes of the world

 

Darling,

If I may

End this

With a rose

You’ve always hated roses

And any type of floral offering

But if I may

End this

With a rose

Since it is still early

Far too early

For a kiss

A rose then

Should suffice

A rose

That has traveled the globe

And beaten me to the ends of the world

And back

Just a rose

A single rose

That carries the depths and meanings

Of the universe

And a few words

To go along

With it.

 

And I will stay here

And rethink my words

And bathe in them

Until a new bunch

Starts flowing again

And I may offer them

To you

Hopefully

From another

Location.

***

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

The Night I Became A Drunk

People aren’t born drunk; people become drunks. It wasn’t something you inherited or learned or came into this world with – it wasn’t something dormant in you waiting to spew out at the right moment or be triggered by the right factor.

People become drunks. It’s not a choice they make, it’s a fact. We are all prone to it, we are all tempted into it. But we don’t all fall into it.

You could avoid walking into the trap. But sometimes you get caught especially if you didn’t know the trap was set there in the first place.

Even drunks get hurt. Even drunks get zeroed out by women. But you didn’t need to get drunk to be rejected. And you didn’t need to be rejected to become a drunk.

It happened with me one Wednesday night. I was crashing at a friend’s place while he was out of the country. I had the house to myself but chose to mostly stay in the bedroom. It was 3 a.m. and I sat on the bed staring at the yellow walls peeling in front of me. I sat and stared at the layer of dried paint covering cracks that started to become more and more visible.

I sat there and thought that drunks could get lucky too – or at least they thought they could. Their only advantage was that once they got drunk enough, they became immune to fear. They’d just step out of the house believing they could become anything in this world: firefighters, police officers, writers.

God damnit! They’d forget about the odds! They’d forget about the scientists and data researchers that stayed up all night to come up with the statistics that told us what we should and shouldn’t become. They’d forget about the local women that wouldn’t settle for just about anyone who showed up in front of them or had the guts it took to say hello.

They’d forget about society’s eyes – always scanning and diagnosing and dissecting their every move.

So how did they get themselves in that heap of mess in the first place? Well, it all started with a drink. I found the bottle of Red Label on the table counter next to my friend’s bed. I got an empty glass from the kitchen and poured the first one. I moved the glass from one hand to the other while observing the surface of the liquid bouncing up and down and about…surging like a wave coming at me and threatening my mouth. Then I tasted it. It was sour. Then I tasted it again. Even more sour. Then I drank it…and I remembered sitting in the car with my face between my legs trying to get the engine to start while the girl I loved leaned against my window.

‘Well, come on driver,’ she said to me, ‘get the car started. Real men know how to work their vehicles.’

‘I love you,’ I told her sheepishly, ‘and if I can get this damn thing to start I know there’s nothing that can stop me from being with you. We’re a masterpiece, two neatly-drawn units that belong in the same frame and complete each other. And once you open your eyes and see that then you’ll know I’ll be here waiting for you. Whether this damn car starts or not I’ll be here holding our love together until you make it back.’

She sighed at me unimpressed. So I knew I had to impress her. I had to get the car to start. The reason why I was so hell-bent on getting that thing to work was because I was short on other ways to impress her: I was poor so money wasn’t an option, I was Lebanese so it was hard for me to travel and take her to exotic places even if I could afford it, and I was uneducated so I was eliminated from the job market before I even got into it. The only thing I pretended to be good at was writing but that didn’t seem to be enough to get to her. She didn’t really believe in words the same way I did. I found gods among men in writers and worshiped them like a man of faith embraces his cult. She, on the other hand, called it scribbling and practicing a harmless hobby that would get me nowhere fast and thought I should give up on the ridiculous notion fixated in my mind that writers could save the world.

So I had to get the car started. But the devil thing wouldn’t start and all it mustered was a little cough that meant it had surrendered all hope and annihilated my chances with the girl I loved.

So I’m back in the room and the walls are narrowing on me. The car and the girl and the dream were gone and I’d finally given up. I could hear the sinister snarls of the other Lebanese drunks scattered all over the country watching me as I obsessively poured the second glass. And then the third one. And then the fourth. And after that I had wiped out the whole bottle and lost count.

I had been initiated to the world of drinkers and the clock had started to move backwards or reset.

I started wishing I could die or at least pull my hands together and place them on my waist at which point I would be certain I was still in good shape and able to control myself. But the alcohol hit me hard and forced me to sink into the sheets and forget about the heartbreak and the girl and the broken car and the unfinished words I started…that is, until I woke up the next day fully fresh and sober and then had to worry about them all over again.

So the best thing for me – the best course of action I decided to take – was to never wake up sober again. It was logical for me to never return to that sober state which caused me tremendous pain and relegated me to the lower echelons of society: the place where other drunks and melancholy romantics and losers and bums spent their time pouting and pouring out their miseries to each other over drinks or drugs or cigarettes. So I opened another bottle, and another one, and another one, until I had an entire army at my disposal ready to serve me and my drunken needs.

That was the night I became a drunk. And that was the night I forgot about my worries. And now lying here all alone with the bottle I still ponder two things: the first is whether getting that car to finally start would ever bring back that girl, and the second is my fear that the honesty wasn’t clipped from my words and that my writing – even drunk – still contains all the fears and wishes and desires that are real in me.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, available on Amazon Kindle for 2.99$ and now in hard copy.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl