I adapted this into a short story form a blog I wrote few weeks back while getting my caffeine fix in Starbucks in downtown Beirut. It is a reflection on this city inspired by real time events.
As she was roaming the streets with her camera, in the downtown of a city that sounds so familiar yet looks so strange, she was trying hard to find what is so charming and yet so repulsive about this city, the capital of the place she often refers to as “home”.
It is Saturday morning, the streets are empty. She passes by the empty tents* of “Take Back Parliament”, the closest thing to what could be “Occupy Beirut”. The tents looked like they are occupied, but this time they were empty. One of the empty tents had photos of recently assassinated politicians and activists. She was hoping to find someone to talk to but there was nobody there.
She walks a little more, she gets to Parliament. It is empty as well, but its entrances are surrounded by security forces or “Darak” as they’re called in the popular language. They look bored, their job is to ensure security and safety of the people (presumably) and the elected officials. However, the destiny faced by those politicians photographed on one of those empty tents proves that they failed at this job – miserably.
She wonders if they know it and what they might think of that. She hopes she won’t end up failing that much.
Of course, there are a million and one structural reasons that cause this failure; they could not have succeeded even if they wanted to, but regardless they failed.
As she is immersed in her thoughts, one of them stops her. She stops and smiles politely. After all, they are the police. Their job is to protect her and hers is to respect them. Or so she thought. What they were about to say next questions this assumption.
“Would you take a picture of him?” one of them says pointing at his colleague.
She chuckles not entirely sure if this is more funny or surprising but mostly unnecessary and somewhat stupid.
“Umm, sure,” she says.
“Just him,” he adds.
“Seriously,” she thinks. “Whatever, I guess they are just bored.”
She takes a photo, and as she’s moving further, he says “don’t delete!”
“Whatever,” she thinks and walks away, somewhat non-politely.
She takes couple of seconds to decide if that was something worth thinking about further and decides it is not. After all a lot of things just happen for no reason and get forgotten.
Just like all of those whose pictures have been commemorated on the empty tent.
And the millions of lives buried underneath those same grounds she was walking on. “They say Beirut has been destroyed by massive earthquakes seven times over,” she recalls.
And like the lives of hundreds upon hundreds of people who were assassinated inside their homes and on those same streets by the bullets of civil conflicts and the raids of war.
That was the eighth earthquake to hit this city. It is the result of an international political plot that is yet to end.
Then those people were killed once again when the paws of what they call development came and forcibly bought their properties in exchange for few stocks of a company.
She continues on walking, the emptiness is so noisy, it’s annoying.
She decides to go drink coffee, the legal drug that has the power to make everything just a tiny bit better.
As she tries to find a coffee shop, she is shocked that the bottom floors of all the buildings are familiar chain names and expensive stores. They are empty and look sad, the whistling wind is the only thing that breaks the silence of this emptiness.
She tries to find a local shop, a store owned by a smaller company but there weren’t any. Apparently, it has all been colonized for the nth time over, this time by capitalism and big banks.
Within the empty walls of the expensive shops, she tries to look for a remainder, a reminder or a souvenir of the place once owned by a family. Of a place where her grandfather once sold leather, of a place where someone else’s mother or sister lived or died and had since been forgotten.
She continues to walk around imagining the ghost of the city that was once and even though they have attempted to preserve it, they did not. This city was gone when its people left or more accurately were forced to leave. It’s gone now and has been replaced by globalization and corporatism.
She thinks that this is a city that once was. She takes a look, turns around and walks away – just like the memory of this city.
*The tents have been removed since this story following the resignation of the prime minister which by the way hasn’t accomplished anything.