It is impossible to drive from Beirut to Keserwan in a reasonable amount of time before sundown so I decide to stay the night at Nahla’s. We are out for drinks in Hamra and Nahla says she invited a boy named Philippe. She pulls out her phone to show me pictures and describes him as an attractive but humble nerd. Over our first round I tell her that someday, she will have to learn how to go on dates alone, and that I know Salim agrees. She tends to hide behind us in situations involving potential lovers. She says she wants a boyfriend but somehow manages to sabotage every prospect. Nahla asks about my love life as I order a second round and pretend not to hear. We are both silent for a moment before she nudges my shoulder. I roll my eyes and say nothing is happening, that I’m focusing on myself. “Nothing?”
“I would welcome love if it came to me” I reply. Nahla is persistent. She asks who I’m hooking up with before being interrupted by who I presume is Philippe brushing up against her. He kisses her cheek and says hello to me without a formal introduction, which I think is perfect for Nahla. She is sensitive to people showing effort and finds it unattractive.
Philippe tells us he got back to Beirut an hour ago. On Friday he drove to his grandmother’s in Nabatieh for a planned hike to the Israeli border with his cousins. Nahla, making an effort, asks what it looked like. He says there were paved roads in every direction, but otherwise it was the same as the Lebanese side.
Salim arrives alone with a round of beers for the table. He serves them as though dependent on our tips and slides into the booth beside me. Before I can say hello he announces that he just left the waiter’s house. They had great sex and broke up shortly after—mutually, he says. “He wanted more than I could give him.” Salim is trying to be polite in front of Philippe, as is his habit during first meetings with straight men. The truth is that the waiter never stimulated Salim. He told us only about his physique when they first met and eventually it became hard to separate sex from an ostensible courtship.
Salim isn’t happy when his brain isn’t moving. He is constantly analyzing and needs someone similar. I know because we used to be lovers. Nahla introduced us in high school. She and I were classmates and Salim remains her downstairs neighbor in Sin El Fil. We were in love for a year, and for seven straight months I required that we share a bed every night.
Salim and I remember the split differently. His explanation is long winded, drawing on theories of love from a cursory reading of Kristeva. For me, the glib truth is that Salim became bored. A bond that once excited him was getting in the way of something. He also hated his job and wanted to put his Canadian passport to use, so he moved to Montreal and worked as a French-Arabic translator at a legal clinic. On his first week back in Beirut a year later he met Younis, his most-recent ex.
By the end of it, Younis had found security with Salim like a toddler with his parents. Salim felt the weight of it and cheated on Younis with an ex-fling he cared nothing for, really just to press “eject.” Since Younis’ love for Salim was proprietary, Salim arranged for his own theft. He confessed that night, and they fought until sunrise before completely disappearing from each other’s lives.
Salim touches my thigh under the table and asks if I want to go home. It’s too early but a ride would be faster than a bus and I could use a night of rest before the beach tomorrow. On the drive I notice we are almost at Salim’s but it doesn’t faze me. We climb the stairs to his mother’s apartment and sneak into his bedroom, careful not to wake her. I decide I’m making the most of the early night and lie down to sleep. “Move to your side,” Salim says. He shuts off the lights.