I wake up in the middle of the night. I feel a huge need to use the bathroom and drink water. After I finish with the bathroom I go down the dark stone stairs to the kitchen. I pass the living room and find a unusual, rather strange book lying on the wooden desk. I check the old clock. 3 AM, Auntie Layla is surely sleeping right now, I’ll just grab the water and head back upstairs. The strange book can always wait. As I grab the water from the kitchen I notice an unusual feature of this book. It is a photo album with the name Ameen tagged on it. Ameen? A name similar to mine. I name I’ve never heard of before. Curiosity gains the best of me, as I decide to check the album. Now that I notice that I’ve never payed attention to the living room, I feel like I’m invading my aunt’s privacy. I decide to take only a quick look of what’s inside. I see old pictures of my aunt, carrying a book and a chalk, writing on a black chalkboard. Oh yes, I remember some of my cousins mentioning her being a teacher. I see a picture of a man wearing military clothes. I wonder if this man is the “Ameen” whose name is printed at the cover. Wait, I’ve seen that man before! He resembles the man whose picture my aunt hangs in her room! I decide to check one last picture before going off to bed. A young kid, looking no more than six years old, nice and clean, sitting on the soldier’s lap. I really wonder who these people are! I am reminded by the clock to start minding my own business and go back to my room, and I do so.
Back upstairs, I cannot sleep. Is it the anxiety an excitement I have for the weekend? Is it the curiosity burning inside me; the curiosity that is pulling me, more and more, towards that photo album? I admit to myself that I won’t sleep until I finish reading the book. I surreptitiously sneak out of my room downstairs, careful not to make any noise and wake my aunt up. I stealthily yet quickly climb down the stairs, careful not to tip over and fall. As I reach the ground floor I notice something strange, a glimmer of light is reflected across the living room. It must be Auntie Layla. I stick my head towards the living room, finding nothing but my aunt sitting across a lot candle. What crept me out was that she was motionlessly staring blank at a plain wall. I take a closer look and find the photo album, shut close on her lap on top of a soldier’s uniform and a folded Lebanese flag. A bit scared and spooked, I retreat back to my room, promising never to come back late at night again as I tuck myself inside my bed and drift to sleep.
It’s a Friday morning. I wake up at 6 AM, the usual. I do my typical chores, but this time, I get a bit worried once my aunt comes in.
Good morning Amir.
She greets, with her usual rusty voice.
Are you feeling alright?
I feel just the same as before. Why do you ask?
Oh no, it’s just that… Never mind, let’s eat breakfast.
I say hesitantly.
After finishing with my household chores, I head off to ‘Ammo Kareem’s dikken. It’s a usual day. The same number of costumers that usually come on Fridays. As the afternoon grows closer and closer, ‘Ammo Kareem grows sleepier and sleepier. In a drowsy tone he exclaims:
Listen Amir, you’ve been working really hard. This steady manual help has already paid you three months of debt. As a token of appreciation I will let you go off early. Now if you excuse me, I’m going off to my usual afternoon “errands”, see you young man!
I’m speechless for a moment. He’s letting me have the day off? That’s a new one. I thank him and the head off to go home. Maybe I can collect the herbs I wanted to collect on the weekend. Wait, the weekend! Ramzi! Oh my heart races with the thought of him. I decide to turn around, and head toward his house. Halfway, I find him sitting on a pile of chopped lumber. I find all the strength inside me to impel me to jump into his lap and make his lips mine. Oh his strong legs, oh his perfect body, his chiseled features, those firm biceps strong from all that work he’s done. He notices me walking, alone. He does that wink thing of his that drives me crazy and calls my name:
Amir. Hey, come sit with me!
I smile and nod. As I sit beside him I say:
Well hello, don’t you have some cows to feed and jars to sell?
He lifts his eyebrows as a sign of surprise and happiness.
And aren’t you supposed to be cleaning the dikken, mister?
He jokes, using the tone a parent would when addressing their children.
As you wish, daddy.
I say in a childish manner. He bites his lip in a provocative way and tells me:
Listen man, I’m bored. Do you want to go down the olive orchards with me?
I answer quickly. I compose myself together and walk alongside with him towards the orchard. We discuss things related to our jobs such as taking care of the cows and how to handle fragile merchandise such as eggs. I get lost in his eyes a couple of times and lose track of what he says. His mouth becomes a fountain of words I just want to imbibe. We reach the orchards and lie under one of the trees. He starts to passionately explain what I am supposed to do tomorrow. After an hour or two we climb one of the trees to catch a glimpse of the sunset. We start to discuss a bit about ourselves and briefly describe our life. As the sun starts dipping behind the horizon I say:
Oh it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen a sunset from the beach, let alone the time since I’ve even gone to the beach.
This Wednesday, after we’re done, I have to go down to Jbeil. Would you like to come with me? We could maybe swim a bit after I am done!
He nicely invites.
I cannot believe this. Jbeil, how come I never thought of it. It’s so close yet so far. I don’t think I’m ever going to see my parents there!
Yes, that would be amazing!
As the moon comes out and the sky gets darker we head back to our homes.
See you tomorrow!
I say as I try to mimic his wink.
Oh what a wonderful day it was. I go back home with some more flowers to place in the vase. We eat our small dinner and head up to our rooms to sleep. This time, I make sure I get a jar of water with me.