Wednesday, November 13, 2013

All roads lead to Rome

1. City

Living on the second floor of a tall condominium building leaves me with a greater sense of defeat every time I walk towards the lobby from the street. Luxurious elevators take doctors, lawyers and businessmen to their nice top-floor apartments at high speeds. I, on the other hand, feel forced to take the stairs for fear of the disapproving look of the neighbors that have to stop on the second floor to let me out. A sense of relief runs through my body in the rare occasions when I come to the elevators and there is no one else around. I almost feel like smiling when that happens. Not quite a victory, it tastes like one.

The scarcity of achievement in life has, over the years, made a bitter person out of me. That's why walking into my building this way is merely a symbolic act, reminder of the unfortunate status of my persona in the academic, professional, social, spiritual and emotional worlds. Not quite a failure in any, a mediocre performer in each field at best. Is the outcome of my efforts what keeps me up at night, or is it the lifelong habit of entertaining unrealistic expectations about the future that does so? I may have had an idea a few years back, when I was young and knew it all.

2. Street

I arrived home after a particularly long day at the office one day, immersed in my own thoughts of inadequacy. Unwilling to let the mind play tricks on me, I dragged my feet to the refrigerator for the mental anesthesia that is a cold, dark beer; only to be greeted by nothing but old pizza and baking soda. Going out only to buy beer made me feel more like a loser than usual, so I put on an old long-sleeve black shirt and walked to an obscure pub on the other side of the city. Maybe a bit of fresh air would help alleviate the feeling.

Fresh air didn't help. It was the drink's turn now.

One great thing about pubs is that they have the type of sitting arrangement that allows for sad loners to enjoy their drink in peace. One doesn't even have to look for a table. I sat on a stool of the otherwise empty bar and looked around.  Groups of chatty friends and cuddly couples swarmed the place. What a mistake I made in coming here. Where's my fix? I will just order a double... whatever; and dive into oblivion.

3. Pub

The bartender was a she. I hadn't realized she was there until her big, deep eyes looked straight into mine as she asked how I was. Her question disarmed me. My robotic response was "whiskey on the rocks, double. And make it a JW black please". It was rude of me to not even acknowledge her opening question, but I'm sure she understood. Being in this business for a while helps bartenders better understand human nature. It has always been my theory that it makes them more aware of the burdens  others carry through life.

You don't need a mixology degree to combine whiskey and ice. Yet, she was diligent and delicate in the preparation of the glass. The manner in which she added ice cubes one at a time, the silky way she poured the whiskey, letting it hug the ice cubes in its way to the bottom... A sudden, uncontrollable impulse came upon me. Why am I not hugging her, kissing her Mediterranean lips in a soft, rhythmical way, following the beats of Billy Joel's "Piano Man" playing in the jukebox nearby?

Her naked sleeves revealed a tattoo; it was a biblical inscription in her inner forearm. 

Romans 5: 3-5

I knew the passage because she knew the passage. It is perhaps the only one I know by heart. She noticed how the world stopped for me as I looked at her arm. "What are you looking at?" - she asked with a smirk.

- "Glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." - I responded, without looking up even once nor stopping to catch my breath.

- "The color of the ink matches perfectly with your olive skin. But the words don't match what I see."

She was looking down at her arm as I talked. Then, she raised her faced and looked at me again. The smirk was gone. She asked if I had looked this up in my smartphone. I hadn't.

4. Stairway

We spoke for hours. She barely paid attention to other patrons anymore. After a while, people started to leave. To me, everyone else disappeared the moment we started talking. And we just kept going. Nothing would stop us now. 

She confided in me, the way one does to strangers with whom one feels instantly connected. Unbeknownst to us, our cigarettes died on the ashtray over and over. We were too busy looking at our own soul in the eyes of the other. I was lost. She had my undivided attention.

She told me about her childhood. Her abusive father, who would emotionally torture her because she looked like her mother's former boyfriend. Her little brother, who died of pneumonia shortly after they made it to this country from Egypt. Her struggles to make ends meet when she moved out of the house at the age of 14. She tried to commit suicide twice, but changed her mind at the last minute on the distant possibility that things may improve for her one day. Her beauty was her curse, an insurmountable obstacle in her quest for finding true love. At this stage, she would settle for a connection.

5. Heaven

The bar closed. She locked the door from the inside, with me still in it. God's love poured on me through her, my personal holy spirit. By loving me that day, that instant, she saved me from myself. We slept next to each other on the pool table. Afraid of ruining perfection, I left without saying goodbye about an hour before dawn. She was still asleep. We did not exchange information.

6. Hell

I lit a cigar as I walked home. The smoke went to war with my face. It then disappeared in the air, a reminder of the ephemeral nature of hopes, and dreams, and achievements, and defeats. Every day, I can choose to remember the grievances of daily hardships. But every day, I also have the choice to remember a biblical inscription and its canvas, now forever tattooed in my mercenary soul.

1 comment:

  1. The ephemeral choice to experience an ephemeral state of mind. Harnessing self-consciousness to battle self-consciousness' attempts to break us is a skill that takes dedication to master; its elusiveness, maddening.