I left love. I said goodbye to that goosebumpy, wide cheesy grin, sparkly eyes love-all-over-my-body feeling. But then, today, it hit me! Right there, while sipping ahwe from an orangy coloured plastic cup with a bus driver named Ara, amid the mountaintop snoubar of Fanar - right there is where love crashed into me.
Listening to Ara recount tales about his trip to Turkey paid for by el colonel, who sent him off with a plastic bag full of cash, and his (far-fetched) story about having been a shoemaker but losing two-million dollars due to Chinese imports making their way to the country, and then insisting that I get married soon because I just must, while giving me a private tour of Fanar on his empty 40-seater bus - right there is where love crept into my heart all over again.
Yes, Ara played a role in my reborn lust for life, but this time it was Lebanon that became the object of my affection. The Lebanon that creates wonderfully friendly, hospitable and generous people such as Ara. Lebanon's magical way of transforming a mundane hop-on-a-number-five-bus-and-see-where-it-takes-me day into the 'on' of what has become my on-off relationship with this country secured the love deal, and I'm besotted yet again.
Beyond Ara's double rosaries dangling from the rearview mirror, a whole new world opened up to me. Besides the smoggy view over Beirut, stone villas of Fanar exposed themselves from behind bright orange and pink bougainvilleas, and new construction projects competed for a better view of the Mediterranean.
The love story continued on the return journey to Sassine. I laughed at a taxi driver jumping out of his car to bliksem another driver who had nearly crashed into him (the bliksemming didn't happen), and waved at two kids dressed up in ghost and crocodile outfits for tomorrow's Barbara. The smell of car-fixing activities competed with the wafts of zaatar manouche aromas while en route through Burj Hammoud, where an old man sat sleeping on his white plastic chair outside his carpet shop.
Although 28 degrees on an autumn day, some women still managed to sweat through the tribulations of high-heeled boots, waving off a mentally handicapped man selling Fares Karam CDs by raising their perfectly plucked eyebrows. In Ara's bus, the Armenian version of 'Downtown' played through the speakers, fading out every time a louder boombox whizzed by. One of these belonged to a Posche Cayenne 4x4 - in gold, to match the gold dripping from the arms and fingers and chest and ears of its female driver, who hooted at the service in front of her, taking his time to find 3 000LL change for his iPod-listening foreign passenger who handed him a pink 5 000LL bill.
Further along the road, I daydreamed about the devastation witnessed in a house whose walls are filled with shell damage. Someone came to the balcony to shake out a double-bed sheet before hanging it on the washing line that hovered over the street. A flock of birds flew across the blue sky above, happy to be rid of the noises of all those wars. It seemed they were not as afraid of all the hooting.
A car next to my window hooted too. I turned to realise that that's exactly what the male driver wanted from me. I smiled. He stared. I turned to look at the old lady dressed in black stepping onto the bus. She was smiling while in mourning. I was smiling while in love.
Behind her was a broasted chicken shop. The chickens danced their over-and-over dance next to the fire, while the green-clad Sukleen man did his own kind of repitition on the pavement.
Further along, a family - mom, dad, child - took a helmetless ride on a scooter, dodging all the cars that were already dodging each other. Every wall-plastered poster they passed belonged to an event held more than 10 months ago. The graffiti artists hadn't covered them yet. Some were hidden by pictures of war heroes, politicians... a missing cat.
A police attempted to direct traffic by spending his hours waving a hand in one direction. It seemed to make him feel important even though no one followed his instructions and his whistle couldn't be heard over the combined sound of construction, hooting and Fares Karam. The ambulance was louder. But the only reaction of surrounding cars was to dodge each other faster. The policeman's hand moved faster; my heart beat faster. Someone was being rushed to hospital; I said a little prayer for them as we passed a shrine surrounded by cheap lights and flaky paint.
Some one was being rushed to hospital and I was lovesick.
Of course Ara wouldn't take money from me - neither for the normal 1 000LL bus trip, nor for the additional private 'tour', nor for the ahwe. It was his way of showing me his beautiful country, he said - just like el colonel had allowed him to see Turkey. I may not have received a plastic bag full of cash, but I think I bagged the best deal of the lot.