Follow Abufares

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Fellowship of the Scotch

We met in a bar in old Damascus. He introduced himself as Nabil, an expat visiting home for the first time in five years. “Would you like a cigarette with that Scotch”, he asked, sitting on the next stool. We were almost touching shoulders in the noisy and crowded joint. “Well I’ve quit, but thank you anyway. Actually, I never smoked more than one or two cigs a day and only when I drank” I replied. “My name is Abufares”, I extended my hand. He had a strong and confident grip. A very handsome sexagenarian with wavy hair brushed back like the mane of a white stallion. He had deep blue eyes, beaming with intelligence and vitality. A man equally at ease in a board meeting in a western capital or in an undersized jam-packed bar in the oldest city in the world. “Have we met before? You’re not a Shami (a Damascene), where are you from?” he stared intensely at my face. “I would’ve remembered you if we had. I’m a Tartoussi”, I said. He smiled big time: “Then let me buy you a drink and let’s meet now.” I accepted but insisted that we alternately buy rounds. He graciously agreed and… and there was something in his demeanor that told me that we’re in for a long and out of the ordinary evening.

He drank straight Chivas 18 while I stuck to my Black Label on the Rocks. Despite the loud music, the hot chicks wedging their bodies in between us to order their drinks and even an unusual grab of my butt by a nymphomaniac Métis with exotically scented firm breasts shoved up my face, we talked and maintained our compelling dialogue for hours. “Are you sure you want to listen to my blabbering instead of getting laid with that woman there?” he bemusedly asked. I raised my glass to his, “I’ve given up on that as well”, I laughed as he roared in a fit of hilarity. Then he cleared his throat, looked solemn for an instant and said: “I am here for a woman Abufares.” He seemed to be probing the depth of my eyes for an internal reaction. “Ah, cherchez la femme”, I exclaimed.

Nabil’s plane landed in Damascus airport at 7:00PM. He has reserved a room in one of the finest restored hotels in the old city which he had discovered through the Internet. He owns a large apartment at Al-Malki but didn’t want to stay there. He checked in, showered, got dressed (rather elegantly yet very casually) then walked the alleyways in search of a drinking hole. “Aren’t you tired?” I asked. He disregarded my question and brushed it aside. “I’ve slept well from Toronto to Paris. And I miss Damascus so much. And I need to drink. And I was lucky to run into you. You seem like a good listener. Do you want to hear my story Abufares?” I grinned: “You’re here for a woman Nabil. There’s nothing I’d like to hear more.

I’ve been living in Toronto for the last twenty three years. I left Damascus in 1986 when everybody was immigrating to Canada. I had a very small shop in Salhieh selling men’s clothes with a partner. I sold my share, packed and left in a fortnight when my petition was accepted. My pregnant wife wasn’t thrilled but she and my baby girl came along anyway. I have two daughters now; Nagham is twenty five and Sahar twenty two. We didn’t own a house back then. We were renting in Barzeh. I left Damascus for a woman I lost and I return now to try to win her back.

Oh, I love Canada. It’s my home now. It’s a beautiful country, amazing scenery, wide expanses, plenty of opportunities if you know where to look. Nice people from all over the world, hardworking, fair, nonviolent in general, merging up agreeably and forming a colorful society. Nagham got married last month to a Palestinian doctor. He’s a good guy. Sahar is engaded to a young man from Damascus. I knew his father back when we were still here. I knew of him that is, a jerk from one of the fine old Damascene families. I was a nobody here you understand. May be that’s why I left. I mean my father was a high school teacher, very respectable, very honest, but you know how it was in Damascus. Well from what you’ve been telling me it’s even worse now. People tend to value your money more than your integrity.

I lived with my wife and daughters in a beautiful home in one of Toronto’s finest suburbs until we divorced three years ago. My wife and I had our separate worlds. We shared the same large space of course but we had nothing in common. She changed over there. She became more independent, which is good for her, and lost all interest in us. Well, I did too and had more affairs than I care to remember. We never really loved each other but cared and were respectful of our relationship in the beginning. She is twelve years younger than me and she eventually continued her college education. Then with all the money I (We)’ve had she was most comfortable when I was not around. She got half of everything I owned. That made her happy. It made me happier. In the beginning we were wary of what other Syrians thought of us over there. But once we’ve become rich enough we didn’t give a shit about them anymore. We moved to a different level. My wife, she has her own circle of affluent women. My younger daughter too, she’s so much like her mom. Nagham, no, she’s something else, so independent yet humble. Believe it or not, I’m like that. I’m a very simple man who happened to have worked his ass off and became very rich.

On a hot summer day in 1980 a young regular customer entered my small boutique in Salhieh with his even younger sister. Hala was twenty two. I was thirty one. She was wearing a light summer dress with short sleeves and a floral pattern with purple shades. Her brown soft hair was gathered into a bun. She was so white, almost pale. She had wide brown eyes. Eeehhh (sigh) after all these years I can still picture her as if she’s walking in right this minute. She was the most beautiful girl I've ever seen and the summer heat made her cheeks blush and her arms glisten with a thin film of perspiration. I showed her brother what he had asked for but I was absolutely mesmerized. I kept stealing glances at her and she finally caught me. Let me tell you this, I was a very handsome young man and I could sense that her blushing had nothing to do with the heat anymore. The shop was cool with the air conditioning running full blast. My store was so small it didn’t have a fitting room and her brother was in between us as I was thinking of a way to reach her. I took one of the plastic bags with the printed name of the store and with a pen drew a circle around my phone number for her eyes only. I wasn’t sure whether she saw me do that or not. She didn’t show any reaction and minutes later walked out the door with her brother. Then she glanced over her shoulder and ever so slightly I saw her smile. She didn’t call until the next evening and when she did it took us five minutes to fall in love.

For the next two years we stole our precious moments alone. We loved each other with total abandon away from her parents’ watching eyes. We knew that I didn’t have a chance being accepted by her father if I asked for her hand. She came from a very wealthy family and as far as her father was concerned the highest I could aspire for was to be a driver for them. Despite our extremely slim chances, I went to him and after waiting for over an hour was admitted to his office room. It took me less than ten minutes to get kicked out. I was humiliated and threatened. I was told that if I ever contemplated, if I ever dreamed of approaching Hala again I would simply disappear.

I was devastated. I couldn’t see or talk to her again until I learned, a couple of months later, that she had been sent to France or Switzerland. In less than a year she got married to someone worthy of her damn father. Her wedding was a legendary show of extravagance and wealth, so I’ve been told. The son of a bitch who married her was even richer than her old man. Kess Ekht Hal Balad! Can you believe that? We were ripped apart because I was not worthy.

I lived my remaining few years in Damascus and eventually got married too to someone from my class and mediocrity. I’m the youngest in the family and the only one who did not go to college. We never had anything in common, my wife and I, except class and mediocrity. Well she did go to Damascus University for a couple of years before quitting and that made her more educated than I am. Something she kept reminding me of for years, especially after she received her degree in Canada.

I followed Hala’s news from afar. After I became rich, and believe me I’m so goddamn rich now that half of the filthy moneyed in Syria would love to work for me, it became much easier to gather all the information I needed on her. She too has two daughters and lives in Al-Malki. Her husband, although very wealthy to start with had been working as a pimp for some Saudi Sheikh and became even wealthier. That should tell you something about the good old families in this time and age. Some of them don’t mind carrying the towel if you know what I mean.

I was here exactly five years ago when I ran into Hala at the Sheraton. She was attending some social affair with a bunch of siliconed and botoxed women trying to appear half their real age. She stood out like a princess among the bitchy hags. When she finally got on her way out to leave, I followed her to her car. As she was getting in behind the wheel she saw me standing there. She hasn’t seen me in over twenty five years. I have seen a few of her photos during that time. She stepped out, almost hypnotized without ever blinking. Her eyes were still wide and enchanting, her face the most beautiful in the entire world, her body compact and perfectly proportioned. She placed her hand on the top of the open door and I covered her fingers with mine. She hesitated as if she wanted to withdraw her hand but did not. We just stood there looking at each other then I told her that I still loved her the same way I loved her when she walked in my Salhieh store. I could feel her emotions rushing to the surface while she struggled with the lid. “I’ve never loved anyone but you Nabil but I can’t…” She withdrew her hand to get back in the car again but I grabbed it this time and brought it to my lips. “I’ll be back Hala, even if I had one day left in my life. I’ll be back for you.” Tears swelling in her brown eyes were the last I saw of her.

Well Abufares, Kasak, the son of a bitch, her husband died four months ago. I knew about it since and I have been patiently waiting. Tomorrow morning I will go to her and ask her to marry me. Do you understand now why I miss Damascus so much? Why I need to drink? Why I was lucky to run into you? I have never told this story to anyone until now, now that I finally hope to be with Hala again. Twenty five years of our lives were robbed from us, just like that, because a selfish man thought that I was not good enough for his daughter, because our entire culture permits such inhuman atrocity. I’ve been waiting for tomorrow for twenty five years Abufares. I will give it all up for her. I will live in this hypocrite shithole if she wants me to. We will go together to Canada if she accepts. I will move to Afghanistan just to be with her. Tell me Abufares, how do I look? I know she still love me. I’m sure that she must be thinking about me right this moment, but how do I look?

She will find you irresistible Nabil, I know she will”, I convincingly said. He beamed at me with that overwhelming smile of his. “Bartender, get us another round”, he called. We were virtually alone with the man behind the bar. Almost everybody else had left. There was a couple making up in a corner. Our fresh drinks were brought and placed in front of us unobtrusively and in a fraction of an instant so that our drinking wasn’t interrupted at all. He seemed to be assessing me before he asked: “Tell me about you my friend. What’s your story?” “Ahhh, mine is too complicated to tell”, I managed to say before we burst out laughing like a pair of youngsters with their life, full of promise, ahead of them.

49 comments:

Karin said...

What a fascinating story ... the poor and yet darn lucky guy, this Nabil! I wish from all my heart they will find each other and their 1/4 of a century-long story will have a happy ending!
Once I started reading, I couldn't stop ... gosh you should make writing books your business!! Your style of writing is absolutely mesmerizing ..

Stay in touch!

Fantasia said...

I agree with Karin, I could not stop reading - and now I want to KNOW ... what happened?!!!
Heart breaking and heart warming all at once.

Isobel said...

What a wonderful social commentary and love story all wrapped into one. You are such an excellent writer, Abu Fares. I, too, could not stop reading. I do hope they were able to be together in the end. Two hearts such as theirs needed to find a way home to one another.

Gabriela said...

AbuFares, please... don't leave us without knowing what happened that "tomorrow".
As happened wuth the all the girls that commented before me, I was caught from the very first lines.
¡Saludos desde el Perú!

Anonymous said...

Wounderful till now; but how this happened,she got married before him,and his daughter is 25 years old +one year =26 years?

Second,I think it is not good from you to say about her husband, he is:the son of a bitch!
It means that anyone wants to marry a girl ,he will be the son of a bitch,and it is unjustice to hear from one side,then to agree with him,before you know the complete story!

He married her,(maybe )he didn't know anything about her lover Nabil or anyone else,and he might be loved her more than Nabil! although she didn't?!
They asked you to contenue the story,if you do,the story will be like an Egyptian movie?!!

Thanks

Abu Kareem said...

Abufares,
Great story told by a skilled hakawati.

The Syrian Brit said...

Abu Fares,
I wholeheartedly second Abu Kareem's comment...
Great story..
Great story-telling..
Thank you for an entertaining read...

Rime said...

Echoing Abu Kareem as I often do, I couldn't stop reading until the very end. I bet you wrote it nicer than he told it.

Dare I bring my cynical experience with such situations here? It ain't gonna happen Nabil, societal norms (and customs and all that other crap) are stronger than you buddy, no matter how merry a widow she may be. For people used to living within their bounds, these chains are much more difficult to break than any marriage can ever be.

Rime said...

And echoing Syrian Brit of course, whose comment came as I was writing mine.

Arima said...

I loved this story Abu Fares...I'd be very interested to read anything else that springs to mind...the conversations of Abu Fares :)

Omar said...

Amazing story Abufares. I was gripped and even ignored a ringing phone till I finished it.

Here's the interesting part. I heard a similar story from an arab cab driver a few years ago. Maybe I'll post it in the near future..

Anonymous said...

Abufares, and the end, will they get maried and live happy forever?
sorry Abufares I am not romantic, not a bit,

apatheticamerica said...

You are toying with us Abufares! You tell us such a great tale, a beautiful tale of love, but do not give us the ending, leaving us with no answers beyond what we desire to be so. This makes you either a great storyteller or a cruel, cruel man (Though I would guess the first one).

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cujZIgs8O_w

I can tell by your eyes that youve probbly been cryin forever,
And the stars in the sky dont mean nothin to you, theyre a mirror.
I dont want to talk about it, how you broke my heart.
If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, wont you listen to my heart, whoa, heart?

If I stand all alone, will the shadow hide the color of my heart;
Blue for the tears, black for the nights fears.
The star in the sky dont mean nothin to you, theyre a mirror.
I dont want to talk about it, how you broke my heart.
If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, wont you listen to my heart, whoa, heart?
I dont want to talk about it, how you broke this ol heart.

If I stay here just a little bit longer,
If I stay here, wont you listen to my heart, whoa, heart?
My heart, whoa, heart.
---
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqBVRza4msI

Will those feet in modern times
Walk on soles that are made in China?
Feel the bright prosaic malls
In the corridors that go on and on and on

Are we blind, can we see?
We are one, incomplete
Are we blind, in the shade
Waiting for lightning, to be saved

'Cause love is noise and love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm singing again
Love is noise and love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm singing again, again, again

Will those feet in modern times
Understand this world's affliction
Recognise the righteous anger
Understand this world's addiction

I was blind, couldn't see
What was here in me
I was blind, insecure
I felt like the road was way too long, yeah

'Cause love is noise and love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm singing again
Love is noise and love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm singing again
Love is noise, love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm feeling again
Love is noise, love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm singing again, again, again, again, again, again

'Cause love is noise, love is pain
Love is these blues that you're feeling again
Love is noise, love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm singing again
Love is noise, love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm singing again, again, again

Will those feet in modern times
Walk on soles made in China?
Will those feet in modern times
See the bright prosaic malls?
Will those feet in modern times
Forgive me all my sins

Love is noise, love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm feeling again
Love is noise, love is pain
Love is these blues that I'm singing again, again, again.

KJ said...

Your narration is as captivating as the story itself my friend

abufares said...

@Karin
I guess you're right. Nabil is indeed a tragic figure.
Thanks for your praise. You know how much I appreciate it my friend.
I, too, hope it'll work out for Hala and Nabil.

abufares said...

@Fantasia
You will be the "second" to know. I promise ;-)
Couldn't stop reading, ha. What about your poor readers (including me) can we ever stop in the middle of one of your posts???

abufares said...

@Isobel
To be an excellent writer in your eye means the world to me. I hope they get together too. That's the least they deserve after the long years of waiting.

abufares said...

@Gabriela
¡Saludos my friend!
I really still don't know what happened. If and whenever I hear from Nabil again (and I hope it will be good news from all of my heart) I will post an update. After his permission of course.

abufares said...

@anonymous
You are the math expert apparently. Trust me, I didn't use a calculator when Nabil was talking and I still don't know what you mean. Although I agree with you that 25+1 = 26.
I didn't call her husband a SOB. Nabil did. However, I agree with him that her "late" husband was indeed a SOB. Sue me, but this is how I feel.
Nobody so far asked me to continue the story and I'm afraid that's it.
Welcome anonymous, anytime.

abufares said...

@Abu Kareem
Thank you for your encouraging words. Always a pleasure to see you here.

abufares said...

@Syrian Brit
It's been a while and you've been greatly missed on your own blog and on mine.
Thank you my friend.

abufares said...

@Rime
He was a captivating person. I don't think I told any better than he did. As a matter of fact, I had to take out many details, including some inspiring thoughts that unfortunately were lost after I got sober again :-)
You might be right in your analysis of the doomed outcome but Nabil was so intense and he seemed to be the right man to go and get what he wants out of ilfe.

abufares said...

@Arima
You know... some of my most entertaining conversations were with "total strangers" and often enough over a cold drink.
I have lost many of these moments due to the limitations of memory. However, from now on, I intend to write everything down when it's still fresh in my mind.
Thank you Arima.

abufares said...

@Omar
I can't wait to read about the story of the cab driver. They usually tell the best ones.
Thank you for enjoying mine.

abufares said...

@lê
I have no idea :-)
Although, I can see them fishing together, LOL.

abufares said...

@apatheticamerica
It was not my intention at all. In a way, I'm glad that I only know so much. As far as the story goes, this is the best ending I could dream of.
Thank you for being here.

abufares said...

@anonymous
Thank you for the links and the nice words.

abufares said...

@KJ
I'm glad you liked it KJ. I hope to read one of yours soon enough:-)

Anonymous said...

A very romantic man this Nabil! I hope time does them a good favor and make their relationship work. After all this years of being appart and growing in different directions, they will need to love each other very much to withstand time.

Now, what I want to know is what were you doing so late at night drinking in a bar with a stranger, and not home with your lovely wife. For the life of me, this very chauvinistic ritual of men going out for drink sanse their loving partner is something I will never understand! I consider myself very open minded, but If my husband needed to spend a long night drinking with a total stranger, and came home stinking of cigartte smoke and liquor, I would and will kick him out of our room no matter what a good story he can tell me afterwards!

; )

w.b. yeats

Anonymous said...

abufares said...
@anonymous
Thank you for the links and the nice words.
Thanks to singers,and you!

Fantasiahttp://pillowtalkpress.wordpress.com/ said...

@Anonymous
To give a man freedom is to give him desire to return to you. Love is not ownership.

@Abufares
Tell me please as soon as you know anything if ever. Too many soul mates are torn apart for silly ... low reasons.

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
Always a trouble maker :-)
My first reaction was a defensive one. In the line of... I travel on business to Damascus and return to an empty hotel room....ect. But then I read Fantasia' reply to your comment and I have to tell you this, she wrote exactly how I and most men feel.
We all need our own personal space, men and women. I enjoy the company of men sometimes and I shouldn't feel guilty about that. To watch a football game, to have a few beers, to go hunting, to talk or whatever. I also enjoy some time alone without a man or a woman with me. I need my privacy as a person. I need to be in tune with myself only. Then I want to be with the woman I love when she and I both feel that we want to be together. This doesn't have to be all the time. Most of the time, I agree, but not all of the time. If she really loves me then she'll understand and I am so lucky that she does :-)

abufares said...

@Fantasia
Life doesn't deal a fair hand at all. Although my gut feeling is that Nabil and Hala will be together sooner or later... I will let you know if and when I hear the rest of their story.

bint battuta said...

You are a master storyteller. A pleasure to read.

abufares said...

@Bint Battuta
It could also be that you are a great reader.
Thank you for your nice comment.

Anonymous said...

Aha! I knew what you were going to say even before you wrote it! and, yes indeed I did write those lines to stir the pot! You were receiving too much adulation and I do not want you to loose your sharpness in the middle of : "Abufares you are so great..."

As of Fantasia's coment, I do not even think that I owe or that I am master of my husband. He spends a lot of time travelling on his own, meeting with other people, and pursuing his personal interestsand I would not have any other way. Still, I have seen too many times men drinking until late nights, and I'm sorry to say this, but of all the friends that I have that are divorced, almost all were the ones that "needed their independence too much, spend a lot of time seeking company and I do not know what at bars, and less time with their significant other... It is very sad, but the truth.

So count me as a prude if you want. Everyone needs their independence. I certainly do too. But, If my husband is going to enjoy drinking at a bar for a LONG (and I am underlining LONG, not a stop in a bar for a couple of beers and some laughs) night out, I would hope that he would want to share that time with ME. And, as you do say that your wife understands you, I am happy to say that my husband understands me too, and shares my sentiments.

Now, I'm sorry if you were a little rilled by my comment. I undesrtood by your post that you were in Damascus and I imagined that you were away on bussiness too. I have travelled on my own, and know how lonely it feels at night. I must say, I do not go out to a bar and strike uo conversations and drink wiskey with strangers : ) he, he... I think my husband would have an apoplexy if I did, not because he would not trust me, but because he knows I do not like wiskey!!!! Never-the-less I usually stay up late reading, something that I really enjoy.

As we say here: "Cada loco con su tema"!
So, If Omfares is happy, and you are happy, life is great indeed!

This is too long. Sorry.

w.b. yeats

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
You stirred the pot alright :-)
I will never lose my sharpness, LOL. However, I have to tell you that one certainly slows down with time.
Again, the only problem with this argument is that it will sound defensive and I don't want that. I truly don't think that I need to defend my position because I believe so much in my personal freedom. Married or not isn't the issue at all as far as I'm concerned. Also whether in love or not doesn't bear directly on this matter.
I'm a person who enjoys being alone especially when I'm traveling. However, part of being alone is running into total strangers. If we're lucky enough we might meet someone who has an interesting story to tell without boring us to death.
When I go on business I'm forced to spend so much time with "total strangers' who are not in the least entertaining. I do that because I like to consider myself a professional. When I finish my job, I own myself again. I can stay alone if I want to. I can never leave my room like I often do or I might want to go to a bar where I get my butt grabbed by a nymphomaniac and continue my conversation with a fascinating older man.
You knew that I wouldn't let you get away with your comment :-)

Anonymous said...

You DO know that I still love you no matter what!? ha! If we do not take time to tease our friends, who else is going to do it so thoroughly.

Enjoy your much deserve time with butt grabbing nymphomaniacs while it lasts, and I hope even when both our butts are sagging some nympho will still feel the urge to do just that!
cariños,
w.b. yeats

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Wow…Abu Fares the skillful storyteller at work. This is really marvelous. I am sure all of your readers, like me, had instantly liked our protagonist; Nabil. Probably because most of us could identify with a decade long heart-break. Or probably because you’d wish that the thin, invisible strings that kept Nabil fixated on Damascus most of his expat life (or life, rather) like a gravity pull; are there in every expat’s life, and they wouldn’t wear and tear with time. Beautiful story Abu Fares. I hope it’d pan out good for both of them.

Anonymous said...

gayer by the minute!

abufares said...

@w.b. yeats
Sagging butts... that's all we need, LOL

abufares said...

@DJ
Sure Nabil is your typical Syrian tragic character. Expat, rich, lost part of himself on his climb upstairs and still entangled one way or another with his motherland.
My best wishes to both of them as well.

abufares said...

@gayer by the minute!
So nice of you to drop by.

Anonymous said...

Drink Beer...Go To Bed

Anonymous said...

Good to be Egybtian movie!
Abufares11

abufares said...

@Anonymous 1
Drink Scotch and get Head

@Anonymous 2
Starring Adel Imam as the irresistible blue-eyed 60 years old whom the women can't get their hands off.

sijepuis said...

Well, well. I feel as though I've hit the pleasure jackpot, this evening :-)

I was taking some time out to look at pictures of Golan, because I've heard it's very beautiful [I've discovered for myself, it most definitely is] and, de fil en aiguille, found myself looking at photos of Damascus and the Syrian coast. On those pages I came across some perfectly lovely pictures of a restaurant on the Markieh river and followed a lively discussion of Mezze and the cuisine of Tartous -- a post that was dated August 2006.

Intrigued by the warm prose and clear appreciation for life's pleasures, I was curious to see whether the blog was still active ... YES, it is!

And I read the present post with the same absorption and palpitations as the previous commentators. Wonderful story, beautifully written. [all best wishes for success to Nabil].

Now I think I'll plunge back into the archives to discover what I've been missing all this time! ...

So very pleased to have discovered your blog, Abu Fares.

:: Sije

abufares said...

@sijepuis
Welcome to my humble blog and 'm glad you've come to enjoy your stay so far.
I look forward seeing you again over here and thank you for the kind words.