After reading your letter, I decided to write you one by hand. The truth is, I do not communicate with people I don’t know, and to think for a second, that we are two clowns put together before the audience just because their outfit match, makes it even more difficult for me. However, the whole situation gives me a good reason to do what I do best in such cases: Lie, bearing in mind that there are things in life one cannot lie about.
I was 14 years old when I last time wrote a letter to someone. Back then, my younger brother and I fell in love with the same girl. She had fled with her mom and younger brother to our neighbourhood in west Beirut on the last cease fire. Not only they managed to bring most of their belongings, but even dug out the corpse of her father to bury him in our side cemetery. Me and my brother fell in love with her on the burial day when some grownup asked her if East Beirut fighters were as brutal as people say. People were scared of ending the war and. Her father was without ears. And some grownup asked her if this was because of East Beirut fighters’ brutality. Though the anecdotes she told were horrible, not only I fell in love with her but prayed that the war doesn’t end so we can stay with her in the same neighbourhood. She was closer in age to me than my brother, but she chose him. Maybe because he was the first to declare his love. I was heartbroken. Shortly afterwards, my brother asked me to write a letter for her. I told him I am good at composing subjects, but never love letters. He said he would pick up somebody else, I said no and decided to do it driven by jealousy. As I had never written a love letter before, I picked up a book titled “best love letters in history” and would sit in a byway and choose random paragraphs and compose a letter. The letters equally mesmerised and his beloved. My strategy was simple. I would choose the paragraphs that express my true love and jealousy for her and fill in pages with hints that the person who loves her is someone else. I would tell my brother “girls love you better if you got jealous and you became somebody else”. He trusted me as I was the clever one in school up to that point. However, to impress her, he made a huge progress that he skipped a grade and ended up with me in the same classroom before midterm which embarrassed me. The girl found out the truth when I sent her the book of letters as her birthday gift. I was growing bitter of their closeness. Especially after my brother sacked me, saying that their love is deep that there´s no need any more for love letters. She broke up with my brother who of course knew about my whole menace business. She was his first love as she was for me. And up to this day we think of her every time my mom talks about those good years in Beirut when people were brutally honest because they had nothing to lose. My brother till this day, refuses to read any of my stories nor he shows up to a book signing of mine. While other writers experience a feeling of joy, relief, satisfaction, or punch in the stomach, I myself feel when I am writing anything, even when it’s to-do list for the grocery, that I am apologizing.
Each shell, car explosion or massacre would transform people into either robbers, aggressors, fighters, or idiots. Thanks to my mom who followed a military method to keep us on good track in school, my brother and I were categorized as idiots. Old neighbours to this day remember those times. They say sarcastically, “the idiocy of the elder was so remarkable that he moved to live an hour-and-half by plane from the end of the world”. As for my mom she asks me sometimes “couldn’t you be a refugee in a less far city?”. Not that my mom is confused about me being an Icelandic citizen now, but she knows pretty well as I do, that I’ll always be a refugee. It´s simple. When you´re born in exile, you discover later that you’re programmed to live anywhere. Besides, as I look closely, I don´t see any big difference from my lifestyle in Lebanon. since I was young, I developed interest for what other people consider trivial. I remember that when our neighbour´s only son, bought a Nintendo, I would watch him and my brother playing Mario at our place. I found that I wasn´t interested in killing the dragon or collecting gold coins or saving the princess but what is there behind the trees? And why Mario is not allowed to go there? So, one day, I grabbed the joystick from my brother and pressed hard trying to push Mario to go in the trees and show me what´s there. The joystick broke and the neighbour’s son never came over with his Nintendo to play again.
It´s not easy to round up my life between Beirut and Reykjavik in two pages. However, Reykjavik resembles a village structured to function as a cosmopolitan European capital. For me, it is summed up in a circuit of three streets. In that triangle I live, work and hang out in my favourite cafés or movie theatre. I do not go farther than 11 min walk. People are too polite and unconfrontational, but they imagine crimes all the time, as they have some of the finest crime fiction writers in the world, which freaks me out. They are tied by kinship, friendship, neighborship, school, childhood memories, common beliefs, etc. They live in private matrixes, making it impossible for an outsider to be part of. The foreigners I know on the other hand, are desperate to socialize, to no avail. They try organize tarot gatherings, in-door poetry cabaret nights, dinners, or some Icelandic fortune telling games that would not hurt when it tells you something bad, or transform the hurt into some fun feeling or if none of the previous two possibilities work, divide and share the hurt equally among the attendees. I would watch them and think how pathetic and miserable they are. I even encouraged few of them to leave the country and they did.
I have one friend here. He´s Colombian. In early 90s he witnessed some street atrocities in Medellin during Escobar era. He focuses his energy on forgetting the past and living everything as if for the first time. He is pretty good at it that I have to remind him sometimes of whom I am as we meet.
I talk to my vegetables when I cook as to my socks, when I take them off. I also peer at my neighbour’s kids. Boy and girl. Twin. My office window overlooks their room. I started doing that after I heard that they´d been abused at school. I felt connected to them, so I would hold my superhero characters on sticks (1 Sinestro, 2 Bumblebee, 1 Flash and 1 headless Robin) and do shadow theatre from them, window to window, playing scenes from my childhood memories. The kids’ mother asked me after some time to stop it. She said her kids became aggressive in school since I started do shadow theatre for them, though I never exchanged a word with any of the two. I understand her concerns. There´s something in the way I communicate with people that make them aggressive. However, to know also that the kids are happier at school, is such a relief.
It took me seven years to see two people arguing in the street. The miracle happened shortly after the first COVID lockdown and under my window. A Yorkshire terrier of one passer-by got scared of the other for no reason. The same dog attacked me few weeks ago in a way that showed how scared he is. His owner carried him and said “it´s okay, it´s okay. He´s not a foreigner” asking me to say something to the dog in Icelandic which I refused to do. Speaking of COVID, what a failure of imagination it demonstrates. While science fiction writers tried their best to demonstrate urban and architectural dystopia but pair at the same time with some superb technological inventions, like supersonic cars or hi tech weapons, nobody predicted that our weapon for our survival would be a sheet of tissue used for the first time late 19th century, I mean of course the mask. We are traveling back in time to secure our future.
Sometimes my landlady calls me in the middle of the night to sit by her bed because she thinks she is dying and does not want to be alone when that happens. The idea came to her mind when I told her about my first love story and how my brother and I saw the corpse of my beloved’s father without ears. Only the head. She told me that the head of dead person is what matters the most in corpses. It´s what gets stuck in your mind. So, she always styles her hair and wear a light make up before going to bed, just in case, so she doesn’t add another trauma to the ones I have.
I´ve never been arrested in Lebanon. The only time I got arrested was in Iceland. I spent one night and half day in jail. It was after I got attacked by a tourist who thought I am a Jew. He pooped in one of the Christmas tents for children in the city hall, then started to harass me in the streets of Reykjavik. He would only spit, and you would smell like rotten meat if his spit hit you. I decided I should better carry my Laguiole knife with me all times before realizing that I´ve never used a knife against anybody. So, I would practice at home every morning before going to the café to write. Wearing of course only an underwear and undershirt. My American neighbour and his boyfriend didn´t feel safe about seeing me semi naked performing all kinds of non-sense stabs and gestures but also pointing most at their house unintentionally. Until one morning I noticed three police members in my neighbour’s flat taking photos of me with the knife. I got arrested as my neighbour who’s a CEO of a small company of spices, claimed that I am threatening him. The police asked me what I were doing, and I came up with the most stupid lie, saying that I was trying to slay some flies in air as a kind of meditation. They checked my phone, YouTube, it was full of Bruce Lee videos, gangsters’ biographies, bareknuckle street fights and women pole vault contests. No meditation whatsoever. They searched my place and found two big plastic bags and one suitcase with my clothes and belongings. The truth is, as a Palestinian I am not used on unpacking as I am on the verge of moving. Besides, my landlady stuck to our plan in emergencies and denied that I live in her place, so she won’t pay taxes from my rent. They handcuffed me and put a black bag on my head, and I was taken with all my belongings. I was scared at first. But after giving it some thought, I decided I won’t give them my social security number and trick them to believe that I am some immigrant hiding in an old woman’s house in Reykjavik. I thought, finally there’s something exciting happening to me. I was put in a cell with group of homeless people. One of them as he saw me, he spat on the floor and said, “go back to Africa”. For some reason I wasn’t offended but rather replied “tomorrow! I am going to Africa tomorrow” which cheered him for few minutes and wanted to tell me something about his life. He said he had once online sex with a girl, but the data of his gentiles was sold to some company that his computer and phone were flooded with advertisements on prostate gland problems. So, he decided not to use digital devices anymore. However, two immigrants beat him up couple of days ago and robbed him. I said I am immigrant too and he said we’re all alike, bums and opportunists, and he wants to kill us all after he go to AA meetings and gets sober. I said “let´s play a game, you give me a reason to kill me and I give you a reason not to, until one of us has no reasons left, so he loses. Let me start ‘it´s my taxes that pays off your booze and drugs´. Now it is your turn’”. The guy started screaming “take the fucker back to Africaaaaaaaaaa… take the fucker back to Africaaaaaaaaa” and I swear at him. The police officers were watching a golf game on a small TV. A golf player was wiping his tears and the police officers were heartbroken. But one policewoman turned and said, “Hey you, stop arguing... Oh! I know you” pointing out to me as if she recognized the circus monkey. “You used to argue with A. all the time. What are you doing here?”, she asked. I knew her too. She was friend of my ex A. and had a crush on her. Eventually, she never liked me. An hour later I was released thanks to my annoying character when I am in love relationship.
There are few stories more about my life in Reykjavik, but I would rather stop here. My mom used to say a friend is anybody who makes you do good deeds. You did that Mehdi by pushing me with your words, to feel safe enough to ride my bicycle as fast as I could and smash into my life like entering those Mario trees in Nintendo. Not to mention that my brother will never read this letter.
P.S I said I would write this letter by hand but as you see, I did not… that was the first lie.
Reykjavik, November 16th, 2020