Eden: A Beirut Summer Night
The air was thick. It was one of those Beirut summer nights when the sea mist rises from the dark waters, creeps towards the mainland and gets a choke hold on the city. The entire metropolis was gasping for air, like a bloated, beached whale. Smells elbowed their way into my nostrils as my feet pounded the steaming pavement - the usual suspects: rotting garbage, rotisserie meats and stale urine. Young beggars shoved past me cursing each other’s mothers. I tripped over a boot shining kit and looked back at the receding figures. One of those damn kids musta forgotten it…way to go genius. As I turned a corner I swerved to avoid an incoming Vespa that had mounted the sidewalk, it charged on undaunted, noble stead to the four-digit King. I stopped to catch my breath, and took out my phone. The network was abuzz with excitement, it seemed like the whole city was converging towards a glowing, pulsating, epicenter. I had to find out more.
I hopped into the nearest ‘servees’, and was instantly transported into a bad 70’s film. The seats were covered in slightly stinky sheep skin and kitsch trinkets twinkled at me from every angle. A CD hung from the rear-view mirror, spinning weakly alongside prayer beads and a dried up freshener. Shu amou? The driver winked at me, arm hair glistening under the streetlights. Wein el sahra el layli? Without waiting for an answer, he proceeded to take me on a journey of how they “got down” in his day, and that between him and me, redheads were the best lay. As he continued to educate me in the ways of the night, he thrust out a chubby finger to jam in a cassette, and out slinked the velvety voice of Um Kulthoum. Aaakh 3a haydeek el iyyem. The bobble head dog on the dashboard nodded in approval. I looked at my phone, the chatter was intensifying; I was close.
Binzal hon. I knew I was in the right place; crowds had congregated, herded onward by some invisible shepherd. Groups dressed to impress murmured amongst themselves, throwing out furtive glances, comparing notes. Carefully constructed cool, but the anticipation was palpable. As I pressed on I caught snippets of barely suppressed elation.
Prepare to have your mind blown, bro…
Omg can you believe Lana isn’t in town for this?? F**k her life…
I approached the entrance and instantly found myself joining a line of restless pilgrims. The group in front of me had never been before.
I swear if I don’t get in I will literally die.
I looked over their heads towards the door, two burly, glaring beasts paced up and down like demons guarding the gates of hell… that’s funny, I thought, for a place called Eden. It was then that I looked up and saw the structure clearly for the first time. It loomed over the surrounding landscape, a grounded mothership biding its time, its dancing lights tantalizing, beckoning. An eerie heartbeat radiated from its core. I talked my way into the group of newbies and twenty minutes and one begrudging nod later, we were in.
I scanned the scene slowly, trying to take in what I saw. Revelers in various degrees of intoxication were circulating and dancing. Bolstered by the drinks in their hands, they gave themselves to the night. The more I watched, the more I noticed patterns of engagement, mingle-stalk-mingle-stalk. Figures flitted in and out of view, faces branded with glimmering hues. My ears were ringing. Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum. This is no heartbeat, I thought, this is a war drum. All of a sudden, a wave rippled through the place, the air became charged, cries of delight rang out and everyone turned in unison. They pushed against each other, eager to inch closer to an elevated podium that was now the center of everyone’s attention. Bodies began to twitch and spasm, arms raised to the heavens in mass rapture. The Deity of Jams bobbed its head, pleased at this display of deference.
A short story about a night in #Beirut with garbage, music, dancing, and drugs
As the rhythm changed so did the movement of the dancers, now a single organism, undulating feverishly. Those at the very front had their hands outstretched, desperate to touch the hallowed altar and its resident. My head began to throb, I turned back to find a quieter spot, struggling upstream against wild, vacant eyes that looked right through me. As I winced against the pain, someone handed me a pill - it wasn’t Panadol.
I stood there, surrounded by sweat and the faint smell of the sea, the bass vibrating through me, and felt myself relaxing. A breeze whipped my face and it tingled with content. Aaaah. I lifted my head, and basked in the glow of bizarre celestial shapes. Colors the like of which I’d never tasted flashed on and off in a Morse code waltz. Iridescent fish swam into my eyes and I blinked back sea. Beyond them I thought I saw stars die and galaxies merge. I don’t know how long I stayed that way, grinning like an idiot. I’m pretty sure I heard the sound of the universe; it went dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum. It reverberated within me, in everything around me. I dissolved into the throng, my back connected with warmth and it was like I had plugged into a mainframe. My body started to move in sync, senses wired, consciousness high-jacked. Beams of light rained down, electrifying the air. Tendrils of sound weaved among us, playing a game of catch and release. I lost all sense of time…there was nowhere else I needed to be.
I came to, on something soft, a bean bag of sorts. I could hear distant sounds of cars, I was outside. There was a dull ache in my temples, I felt thirsty. I squinted awake as I noticed I was on one of several seats scattered on grass, all of them occupied. I pushed someone’s head off my lap, clumsily rose to my feet. Uff…steady there. I surveyed the scene through hooded eyes, some afterglow, bedraggled and hungover, people picking themselves up, making their way to the exit, sallow, tired, oddly satisfied. There was not one face I recognized, and yet the night before everyone had felt intimately familiar. As I joined the walk of shame to the departure lounge, I looked around at the full scale of the aftermath. It dawned on me then that we did at least have one thing in common: we’d survived the fall from Eden.
All illustrations by Amy Chiniara. Check out her other work here