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Emilia

Emilia

1996−

It has been six years since it last rained bombs in Ein El Remmani. It has been six years since my parents last abandoned me, abducted by the angel of death. It has been six years since my uncle lost custody of me because of his poor household. It has been six years since I have lost my eyesight.

The war has taken everything from me.

Instead of swimming pools of crimson deaths, the rain has washed away what remained of our enemy’s footsteps. Broken swings of abandoned parks are now swelling with children holding their mother’s hands. Veiled or covered in nothing but crop tops, everyone is living in peace within the same grounds. Who have once been quarrelling over a piece of land, are now business partners.

At least that’s what I have gathered from my surrounding, my friends, my colleagues, and my family.

After a bomb has landed in Hay el Amarken six years ago, I have lost the ability to plainly see what has been happening. But, now, I have been handed the gift of Sight by God. He has granted me the ability to connect with people on an emotional level. And when I should have complained for not being taken care of by my blood family, I am thankful for the sisters of St. Thèrèse, for finding me a family wealthy enough to take me into their arms in the safe side of the country until the war was over.

Turning twenty four, I am almost done with my journalist degree. Using the special kit for the blind, and with the help of specialists, I am able to pull through and take average grades in my class if not the best.

I sit in the cafeteria facing the Lebanese University, in Fanar, and contemplate. I contemplate the sounds and the chatter of different religious backgrounds around me.

“Have you seen her? Taking all the good grades. I bet she sleeps with the teacher. I always see them talking.” One girl says in a condemning voice.

“I heard her parents are divorced. She probably cheated on her husband and left him to get the custody of the children. Women,” The male sitting with her huffs in annoyance.

I am not surprised by their choice of topic. Jealousy has been a tradition in this faculty, and any good student is accused either of cheating or having no social life. Either way, it leads to their social doom.

“What if it’s her father’s fault? Men cheat too, you know.” The girl replies.

“It’s always the woman’s fault, Marise. Put that in mind. Or she probably never satisfied him in bed, so he got tired of her.”

“You men and your prejudiced ideas. It’s ridiculous.”

“Can’t deny the truth.”

By the end of the conversation, they both laugh and carry on drinking their coffee normally and exchanging notes on their biochemistry classes.

I sigh and drink more of my tea.

I feel the move of a chair in front of me and I clear my throat.

“Hello, Emilia.” Professor Gihann greets me and takes a seat.

“Hello, professor.” I greet her back and smile.

Even though I have never seen her face, I know she is tender and beautiful. I never cease to enjoy her classes, even though thirty six credits this semester are going to bury me alive.

“Enjoying your tea?” She tries to exchange pleasantries and I comply.

“Yes,”

“So, are you ready for your final project?”

“Can’t wait.”

I hear her clapping papers against the wooden table and writing something down.

“You know this project is about conducting an interview related to war.”

I already knew what the project will be about. I just wasn’t ready yet. I have been through so much and I can only take little to relive all the horrible nights in the basement, how I had some of my friends scattered on the street, beheaded, how the love of my life has gone to war and disappeared. I see him haunting me every sleepless nights with the sound of the whistling wind and the footsteps of pedestrians, hoping it would be my long lost lover coming back from Ares’s lands to take me to Nirvana.

“I can do it.” I assure her. I know she’s worried about me, but I think I can handle it after so much.

“Are you sure? I can give you another project.”

“You’ll have to go through an endless procedure to get me the ‘okay’ of the comity. Really, professor, trust me. I can do it.”

“Okay, then.” I hear her relax back. “I have already chosen a family. Their nephew is coming back in about a week from England. They are not the parents, they’re the aunt and her husband. I want you to find out about their past and what they’ve heard of the Lebanese civil war. This way you can analyze what are the views of immigrants on the Lebanese war.”

I nod in agreement and take notes in my head. I have already tried writing but it’s still not too practical for me because I would end up writing a zigzag line instead of a straight one. Thank God Ghada is helping me start getting used to writing on papers instead of my laptop for a special case like me.

“Who is their nephew?” I question her curiously.

“I can’t give you much information about them. That’s up to you to find out because it makes a percentage of your grade. You cannot know the background of every person you will try to investigate with in the future. So, you need to know how to keep digging deeper until you get to the heart of the story. And that is what will make you a good journalist. Credibility.”

I listen to every word carefully and keep nodding.

“Where do they live?”

“Rabieh. I will call and give you their address tonight. Keep it with you, eh?”

“Of course.” I chuckle, knowing that she’s pointing at my bad habit of forgetting my phone somewhere and not answering any of anyone’s calls. “I’ll do my best to get the story and a good grade. I need to work on a scholarship to apply to colleges outside of Lebanon. But I’ll need better grades for that.”

“You’re a good student, Emilia. Don’t doubt your abilities in achieving dreams. You can’t see and yet you will graduate soon. How awesome is that?”

“With a lot of work.” I smile painfully at the bad nights I had when I had to write essays and could not read anything online for research.

“Nothing comes easily. Your case may be harder but this is your cross that you have to carry. You chose to study with people, you know-” She stops before saying people who could see.

“With the help of God, everything is possible.” I convince rather myself than my teacher.

***

I reach the apartment room and open the door after a lot of struggle to find the knothole. This rented place is the smallest I have ever lived in. It is made of a kitchenette, one bedroom with a bathroom connected to it, and a small living room. Living in Al-Sharkiyeh with a roommate sounded like a better option than living with Janette and Hares in Keserwan, and having to take the bus every morning at 5 a.m. to get to my classes on time.

I miss them so much. I miss waking up to their sweet voices inviting me to have breakfast with them. Janette would sit on her usual chair beside the small wooden table and drink her coffee black with a puff of two cigarettes. Hares would eat her famous omelet and complain how it is not salty enough then shower her with kisses when she fakes being offended. I used to sit on my side of the table only contemplating in my mind the lovely old couple and silently hoping I would find a love that everlasting.

Living in an apartment alone with someone who is barely there can be liberating. It turned me into an independent woman. However, it is pretty damn hard to cope with the lonely nights when I have to suffer through my insomnia and let every negative thought run through my mind restlessly.

I let my cane show me the way to the bedroom. Ghada is not here yet since the door was locked several times. I throw my baggage on the bed followed by my body. I’m exhausted from running between my classes and bumping into rude students who do not understand that I’m a person with special needs and I cannot see them pass, instead, I see dancing shadows.

Before I know it, tears are brimming at the corner of my eyes and start sliding down uncontrollably. One minute I was able to hold everything inside, every thought, every fear, and every desperate call for life. The next, I’m vulnerable looking blankly at the ceiling, and imaging different ways to end my life.

When did depression start eating me over? When did that perpetual bile come back to reside in my throat, urging me to cry whenever I wake up?

I have always thanked Jesus Christ for granting me the chance to live, and faith has always been my escape. But how will it help me now when there’s an endless void growing larger and larger in my soul when I’m in church or listening to sermons pushing us into being good people? I’ve been praying repeatedly to meet someone who would pull me back from this stillness, this coldness in my faith and return that overwhelming warmth I used to feel the moment I started praying. Instead, most of my friends are atheists or pretentious Christians. And I knew that this is another cross to bear. I have to be the one strong enough to pull myself back to my faith since it’s the only thing of value that remains in my life.

I widen my eyes then squint. I rub them then focus.

All I see is black. All I see is the darkness that is growing day by day and controlling my temper and every other aspect that I used to be proud of.

Where’s my lover? Where are my parents? Where are my intact eyes? Where are my friends?

I have become addicted to books and company in bars, only to avoid sitting by myself. It reached a point where the last thing I would do is say goodbye and fall asleep. Loneliness has always been accompanied by my demons dancing around and pointing at every loophole in my list of hope.

“Where are you?” I ask the empty room. I don’t know to whom this question is addressed, but I know that it’s echoing somewhere. It’s either to God, to my biological parents, to my missing lover, or to my happiness.

It all fades away with the smile I desperately carve on my lips as I hear the front door open. I hear her famous flats tapping against the concrete and coming into the room. I grasp the book I have laid on the bed and start running my index finger over it, lowering my eyes.

“I’m back!” She chirps and sits violently on the bed next to me.

I smile and keep my finger running along the swollen letters even though I have no idea what the hell I’m reading right now.

“So you’re not going to ask me about my day?” She pushes and nudges me. I roll my eyes then look down again.

“How was your day?” I try to sound steady but my voice shakes a little.

“It was fine actually.” She answers totally disregarding that something is wrong with me. “Tarek talked to me and we’re together again.”

“I thought he left you.” I frown.

Tarek and Ghada had been together for a year, but when the time came and he tried to make a move on her, to make her sleep with him and she refused, he cheated on her and left her in a wretched condition.

“Well, we’re back together now.” She answers in a clipped tone.

“Did you-”

“Don’t tell me you’re going to be one of those who judge.” She warns me angrily.

I can’t believe she slept with him only because he pressured her.

“You know I was never one to follow society’s rules and force people into doing things they don’t want to.” I insist on the last part.

“He didn’t force me, Lia. I did it by my own free will.” She says confidently and hops off the bed.

In all honesty, I don’t really have the appetite to discuss this with her. I used to like talking to Ghada, but then I noticed, the only time she agrees to share feelings is when something has happened to her, so I learned to keep things to myself. When I have the chance, I call Janette and tell her everything.

“It’s your life, it’s your choice.” I tell her finally and fake on reading more.

An hour or so later, I start feeling my eyes falling heavily down. I take a shower and throw my pajamas on, then bury myself under the sheets, under the white sheets stained by my wet black kohl.

***

Knock, knock, knock.

My fist pounds against the carved wooden door of the… I just realized that I have forgotten to check the name of the family. I have followed the instructions of my professor and it led me here. Now, I’m going to have to ask them personal information and start my project for real.

There is no traffic sound outside. The calming atmosphere and weather of this beautiful village gives me a sense of ease. There is no screaming from an old man who lost in a game of cards against his neighbor. There is no honking resonating from angry cars trying to pass the others on the opposite lane. There are no policemen trying to hit on girls as speeding trucks pass the red lights.

It is serene and brings a peace of mind to the bourgeoisie of society.

I hear the door click open. It does not squeak or make any sound that could imply that it needs to be fixed.

“Hello, there.” A woman speaks. Her voice indicates that she is a smoker.

“Bonjour,” I reply hastily. Something deep down stirs me. I am scared she would start judging me, or refuse to give me my closure only because I lack eye-sight. “I am Emilia Makhlouf. I come on behalf of professor Gihann for the interview?”

The woman doesn’t make a sound at first, but a few seconds later, I feel her arms around my shoulders as she guides me inside the house. My sunglasses are installed on my face that it becomes part of it. And even in the shaded light of the house, I never take it off.

“Thank you,” I say politely as she helps me sit on a very comfortable sofa. My hands run through the cushions and I smile at the feeling of fine silk. Those people are rich, I can feel it. And so far, the woman seems nice.

Of course they’re rich. They’ve made their fortune when they left the country during the war.

A series of footsteps sounds from a nearby room until it comes near me.

“What can I get you, Madame Makhlouf?” Another voice startles me. It is the tired voice of a middle-aged woman. And her accent is Lebanese. It seems the house is rich enough to afford a native servant.

“Nothing, thank you.”

“No, no. I insist. If you want I can bring you ahwe. Would you like it to be morra or helwe?”

I don’t want to take the time to argue. I already know my people. We keep arguing between wanting to be given a treat and wanting to sound polite until the guest walks out of the house with a stomach full of goodies.

I don’t want the entire refrigerator to be offered to me, so I settle for coffee.

“Um,” I hesitate at first.

“I’ll bring you black coffee and you can add as much sugar as you’d like.” She finally says in a cheerful voice and I hear her footsteps fading away with the resonating clicking of the first woman’s heels.

“So, Emilia! I didn’t introduce myself. How rude of me.” I hear her sit on my left and lean forward, for her voice becomes louder. “I am Mrs. Farah. But, you can call me Nawal.”

“It’s great to meet you, Nawal.” I retrieve from my purse the recorder and place it in front of her. “You don’t mind me recording the interview right? I mean, I can’t really write.” I smile shyly and feel the burn in my cheeks. I hate it when I feel incapable of doing something just because I lack one of my senses.

However, to my surprise, Mrs. Farah doesn’t give it much attention. On the contrary, she helps me relax, and I begin to feel homey.

Habibte ente, of course you can record it. Lama!” She suddenly shouts. “Where’s the coffee, dear?!”

The sound of faint footsteps approaches again, and I hear Lama placing the tray on the table.

“So, what would you like to know?” Nawal asks me and I start feeling the real pressure.

The interview begins.

“I apologize if I sound intruding, but your husband isn’t at home? Because, the interview was going to be with both of you.” I tell her gently.

Mrs. Farah laughs faintly.

“He is at work, chérie. He comes home at 8, nighttime. Where do you think we got the money from?”

I feel a little uncomfortable for asking a personal question, even though the poor woman doesn’t even try to sound discourteous.

“It is alright. I don’t mind, really.” I assure her and press record.

“This is the interview with the Farah family, test one.” I announce. “Good morning, Mrs. Farah.”

“Good morning, dear. Please call me Nawal, I’d feel like my age if you call me Mrs. Farah.”

I chuckle at the typical Lebanese woman’s reaction. Even though they have lived for quite a while in England, they still have the traditions and hospitality of Lebanese families.

“Okay, Nawal.” I smile. “Is it quite true that you have moved to England during the Lebanese Civil War?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Yes, dear.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Which year was it?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. It was in 1988.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Which members of the family did immigrate with you?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. It was really sudden. You see, my husband and I were already preparing ourselves to leave once we heard of the assassination of our beloved leader. But, having all of our family here, we couldn’t just leave.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. You stayed several years during the war in Lebanon with your husband.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Yes, but later on, my sister and her husband, [Nawal pauses for a few seconds tearing up.] I’m sorry. I need a moment.

Mrs. Farah gets up from her seat and the clicking of her heels is no longer heard. I turn off the recorder to save the battery and wait for her.

The war has turned into a ravaging darkness. It swept into every house and invaded every peaceful corner. Kissing the ground then climbing the walls gracefully, it tainted the broken photo frames and tore the paintings into irreparable pieces. How were families supposed to stay together if the mother was home, struggling to calm her child, and the father’s flesh blasted everywhere with every bloody bomb? What was the sister supposed to tell her little brother that they were orphans now, because of a greedy and unexplainable cause? What was the girl supposed to do as she waited for her lover to come back from war unharmed, but received a black letter informing her of his martyrdom?

I wait patiently for the woman to wipe her tears and come back to sit next to me.

“I apologize for the inconvenience. I can wait longer if you want another minute.” I tell her soothingly.

“No, no. I want to continue. So, as I was saying,” She sniffs and clears her throat.

I press record and smile.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. My sister and her husband died when a bomb hit a nearby supermarket. Their son was serving the country and only got the news a day later. We practically dragged him out of his duties and filed him an emergency leave. He didn’t want to stop. He was really angry at his parents’ death and wanted to fight harder. But, my husband and I hauled him out of the country, and he was excused due to his special case. We paid loads of money in order to get him to leave, it was nearly impossible.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. You immediately left the country to England?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Yes. My father had left me a fortune after dying, and therefore, travelling was really easy. All of us already had the citizenship so it was a piece of cake to travel, really.

My heart sinks at her words. Her nephew was serving the country and lost his parents. He traveled with them to the UK. But… no. It cannot be him. It cannot be Danny. How would the odds play in my favor? No, I don’t want to be hopeful. It is impossible to be hopeful in a country like this, in a country that is still healing with stitches from war.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. While you were living in the U.K., did you listen to the news? I mean were you always up-to-date with what was happening?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Not really, to be honest habibte, we wanted to forget. Once we set foot in the UK, we didn’t ask about anyone or anything. It was too painful to remember the past.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Does it still bother you?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Of course, but time heals. And, now, Lebanon is rising back, hopefully. The people are burying the memory of the war at the back of their minds because it’s too painful to go back to that memory lane. So, our focus now is to stand back on our feet and provide a bright future for dear Danny.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Danny?

My voice is unsteady and my legs shake frantically. This cannot be true. Danny… Danny’s last name…

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Danny Amar, our nephew.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Danny Amar… Danny Amar is your nephew?

This is all still being recorded. I can’t believe how unprofessional I sound but this has been the only good news I have ever heard. I need a moment for myself. I need to gather my strength. But, where the hell am I supposed to walk without her help? And even if I try walking, there will be no way I will be able to stand. He’s back… Everything makes sense and looks brighter (at least in my mind) now that I’ve heard his name.

It’s been so long since I last heard someone call him. And all I can think about is our last moments before my eyesight was stolen and his services for the country ended. Is it really him? I can’t deny that it is him. Oh, ya aadra, what am I supposed to do if he comes home and he sees me? Six years! Six years and I still think of him every night! God, even more than six years and he still haunts my night and daydreams. He is the last picture, the last beautiful painting I have taken the time to observe, to test, to enjoy, to fall in love with, before I lost my connection to the colors of the world.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Are you okay, habibté?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Yes. [I sniff and take a deep breath. I finally take off my glasses and look down. My eyes look normal yet tainted with red, with the exception of my absence of blinking.]

*
p<>{color:#000;}. What else would you like to know?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Do you have any opinions regarding the war? Any sides to be defended? Anyone you deem as right or wrong?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. I don’t really care about anyone outside my family. None of them is giving me my daily bread except the Lord. And really, Emilia, what is the point of following anyone in the war? Details and history are not important. The people are important. The deaths and tragedies caused by the war are important. While people were lying scattered on the streets, every politician was seeking ways to steal more lives and money. And how is that acceptable?

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Let me tell you something, Mrs. Farah. [I speak to her honestly] I may have lost the ability to see with my own eyes, but I know. Many people have lost their sight for the truth and are blindly following unjust and horrible doctrines stated by even more blind leaders.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Thank you! I am so happy to hear someone speak the truth about all of this without taking sides. You know I’ve liked you from the moment you came into my house.

I would have been able to meet Mrs. Farah before if Danny and I were not a secret. Everyone looked at him as someone unable to maintain a relationship, as someone harsh with other people, but I saw the light in him. I saw the truth in him. I saw the person he truly was when we were alone, kissing in his car and drowning in his sensual embraces.

“What else do you need to know?”

***

Mrs. Farah helped me get a taxi that drove me to the apartment. As I am waiting to get to destination in the car, I call Ghada.

Once I get there, she meets me down the building then helps me get to my room. It is evident on my face that I can’t hide my smile and God knows my face has turned red, since I feel it as hot as it gets when I drink red wine. God has responded to my prayers, after torturous, endless nights of sobbing and having my eyes burn with sorrow.

“What is it with you and being happy? You’re freaking me out.” Ghada chuckles and holds me until I lie flat on my back on top of the small organized bed.

“Am I not allowed to?” I ask her smiling and take off my glasses.

Closing my eyes, the light does not come; the darkness is always there. But, now, this darkness is painted with images of Danny that swirl in my mind and the next thing I know, I am clutching my heart in the dear thoughts of my beloved.

“What happened to you?! Did you meet a new man finally?!”

The bed moves as Ghada jumps on it and swats my arm. I laugh heartily and shake my head.

“Not a new… and not yet.”

“Old acquaintance?” She is rather confused. “And what do you mean ‘not yet’?”

“I was doing the interview today with Mrs. Farah, the habitant of Rabieh?”

“Yeah, and? Who is she?”

I take a deep breath, and butterflies make my stomach churn.

“She is Danny’s aunt.”

Ghada gasps. “Danny?! You mean Danny Amar?”

“Yes!” I laugh and hear her laugh as well.

“You’re kidding me!” She claps. “Oh my God! Wait-”

“I didn’t see him yet. But I’m going to visit them tomorrow. He’s coming tomorrow night and I told Mrs. Farah everything. But I told her not to tell him.”

Ghada remains silent and doesn’t speak for a few minutes.

“What?” I ask her frantically. When Ghada doesn’t talk, it means there’s something wrong.

“I don’t want to break your spirit, baby…”

Somewhere deep down I somehow know what she is about to say. I don’t want to lose this fire rising through me, or the way my fingertips feel numb every time I remember him, every time I realize that I am going to see him tomorrow.

“What if he doesn’t look at me the same…? After all this time, with blind little Emilia?” I state and sigh. My breath sounds shaky at the mention of the possibility that everything could go to waste, that all those years where I spent my time loving him, when my life was centered on him, would disappear after one glance.

My inside churn, but this time, it is not excitement.

“I don’t mean to sound pessimistic but I don’t want you to raise your hopes up for something that might or might not happen.” She sounds sad, she sounds gloomy towards the entire situation.

I don’t want reality right now… I don’t want the darkness engulfing me again…

“You are right, but let me dream… just for one night.” I plead her in a hushed voice but she doesn’t answer immediately. As I feel the bed stir, I adjust my position, hug my pillow, and stare into nothing.

“Alright,” She says at last. “I’ll drive you there tomorrow. Don’t take the taxi. And I’ll wait for you down the building.”

“Okay,” I answer. “By the way, how is it going with you and Tarek?”

“I don’t know,” She says in a matter-of-fact tone. “He’s acting normal now, but I don’t know if we’ll last.”

“Last?”

“I mean he’s not the type to stick around with. He’s an ass just like others.” I hear her footsteps towards the bathroom.

“But, what about-?”

“I’ll have an operation if it takes. I don’t care for the moment, but if that’s what it takes for me to get married, God help me with this society, I will.”

“Are you comfortable with this?”

“I don’t know. I have to do it whether I am comfortable with it or not. I don’t want to end up unmarried and called m’anse by wretched neighbors because of it.”

“Are you sure he didn’t force you into doing it?”

“Can we not talk about it, Lia? I need to take a shower, and you need to dream about your man.”

I smile faintly and nod.

I close my eyes to the constant night and let my own day take me to a land where Danny and I are living the rest of our lives together without any complications.

***

Ya Rabbe.

I take a deep breath and stand in front of the door. The elevator tings as Ghada takes it to the ground floor to wait for me down there. I close my eyes then open them but nothing changes except the pace of my heartbeats which accelerate in a serious manner.

“God, please let this be for my benefit… Please, don’t let me go back home crying…”

I desperately pray and hold my hand against my chest. It’s been six years… Six years for me crying every night and using my pillow as my consoler, and the shower to let out muffled sobs. Everybody saw my wretched condition after I lost my eyesight and him at the same time.

What am I supposed to do when I see him? What am I supposed to say to the only person who’s managed to keep me on the ground and send me to cloud nine at the same time?

Dear God…

I can’t do this… I can’t knock and face him when I don’t and can’t even know how he looks like right now. I’ll lose my pride… I’m not going to be the girl he’d want to see or love again.

I turn around fully ready to take off before I break against his door.

My heart beats so wildly I feel it is about to tear the skin apart and jump out into his hands.

The door creaks open and I hear this manly voice… I hear this soft yet raspy voice that sent me into passion fits more than six years ago and kept hearing it every night calling me.

“Hey,” He says in a soft voice. “Are you lost? Can I help?”

I don’t turn around.

He closes the door behind him and approaches to click on the elevator. I hear the elevator moving as he has seemly pressed it.

I don’t dare look up to let him see my face.

“You okay m-” He begins but stops immediately.

My hands tremble worse than before as his fingers brush against my cheek to lift my hair up. His breathing is quickening and he gasps.

“Emilia?” It comes out like a stolen breath.

I don’t dare answer him.

The simple utterance of my name makes me feel again, makes me see the light again. His shape materializes in front of me and I close my eyes letting myself drown in every moment where I am in his presence.

He doesn’t say anything, but I let myself fall into his arms, lost in our fantasies about an unknown future.


Emilia

A short story about a girl who has lost her sight after the Lebanese civil war, and her way in dealing with life and discovering hidden truths after the war has ended. Painted with the Lebanese shadows of heritage and lifestyle, "Emilia" will transfer you to the city within the city, to the lands of the Phoenicians after the war.

  • ISBN: 9781311837400
  • Author: Michelle El Bitar
  • Published: 2015-11-15 13:40:06
  • Words: 5452
Emilia Emilia