‘I believe we owe it to each other to tell stories. It’s as close to a credo as I have or will, I suspect, ever get.’
- Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things
© 2014 -2015 Yara Zgheib, All Rights Reserved
This story begins in a nondescript Midwestern town, in the booth of a Russo-Japanese fusion restaurant. Mitsu Neko. ‘It means three cats,’ the blond Russian rolling makis behind the bar explains. ‘In Japan, cats symbolize good fortune, and good things come in threes.’ He does have an advanced degree in Japanese studies, so I choose to believe him. He quotes Murakami as he serves up a plate of pelmeni and the best ponzu-glazed sashimi I have ever had. His wife takes our order and sings along to a Spanish pop song. She recommends the album; she saw the band perform in Madrid. And Buenos Aires, and Bogotá. Sightseeing suggestions here in Branson, Missouri, and complimentary aku tuna from Oahu. The fisherman is a friend.
The chef serves up his legendary crème brulée, alongside a story of a recipe dug up in a creaky Parisian attic. He then asks to hear one of mine.
We are all writers, heroes, narrators. Breathing, walking stories unfolding along pavements, like ‘butterflies and songbirds' eggs and human hearts and dreams, […] made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks.’
I order another pot of green tea, and shuffle through tentative story lines, tentative plots. Hemingway once told Fitzgerald: ‘Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.’ I try.
I flip back to the prelude; the unlikely love affair between two Red Cross volunteers in Beirut crossfire. From there, the smell of strong Turkish coffee, and manakish of zaatar w zeit. Fairuz’s voice serenading my father’s morning shave. No school if it snowed, or if the president was killed. Kaak stuffed with ‘French’ cheese on the corniche. Fishing boats in the harbor. Candlelight cereal, stirring water and powdered milk.
‘… words on the air, composed of sounds and ideas-abstract, invisible, gone once they've been spoken.’
I take the story out of Lebanon and across the sea. To a land where milk is not a powder; it goes into tea. I ride trains and buses and hear accordions in subway stations. But I cannot find the sun. No road blocks or army checkpoints either; this land has playgrounds and parks. Brussels sprouts, porridge, pancakes and syrup, tepid coffee in wide rimmed cups. Fairuz gives way to bagpipes and saxophones, violins playing in the fog.
I turn more pages, passing churches and mosques, temples and synagogues along the way. Airport security and customs control, conference and concert halls. Libraries, museums, and art galleries. And more books than I could ever read.
I see snow, so much snow, and drink hot spiced wine. I make friends in different languages, in turbans, saris, jeans. They introduce me to their pastries, their gods, their musicians. Maps to hidden villages, pictures of rivers and deserts. Baguettes and bagels, pita and naan. Dragons in China, dragon fruit in Mexico. Marx in Prague, Rand in New York. Bikinis in Barcelona, veils in Cairo. I zigzag across the Schengen zone, am banned from Kuwait. Fall in love with a stranger on a lay over, follow him to the ends of the earth…
Where we are now sipping tea, on a cold evening, telling a story that began half a globe away. With coffee and manakish, and a view of the sea.
‘You are your own forerunner, and the towers you have builded are but the foundation of your giant-self.’
- Gibran Khalil Gibran, The Forerunner
Out of tea, slightly out of breath, I reach the end of a chapter. In a story, in a life I am still living and writing.
‘Always have we been our own forerunners, and always shall we be. And all that we have gathered and shall gather shall be but seeds for fields yet unploughed. We are the fields and the ploughmen, the gatherers and the gathered.’ Telling small and simple tales of what and who we are. What and who we want to be.
And ‘whether we shall turn out to be the heroes of our own lives, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages will show.’* Until then, we remain breathing, walking stories, unfolding.
* The original phrase is found in the opening sentence of Charles Dickens’ novel, ‘David Copperfield,’ and reads: ‘Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.’
 Typical Lebanese breakfast fare: baked flatbread with a spread of thyme and olive oil.
 Lebanese street food.