In the center of the wooden mahogany dining table, under the modern metal lights hanging from the ceiling, directly facing the door of the posh zamalek apartment, lay a heavy crystal vase with dying white orchids in it. If roses are the floral equivalent of the silver bullet fired by the common man to kill the beast of litigi di amore
that comes so often between him and his love interest, then Orchids have to be the floral equivalent of nuclear warheads fired for that same purpose. The man who sends roses is someone who is seeking the approval of an ordinary woman or simply courts the sympathy of an amazing one, hoping that she would forgive him but is resigned to the possibility that she may not. The man who sends Orchids is not entertaining such possibilities, especially not the one sending white orchids. Pink Orchids are tickled, offering romantic tropical temptations for its receiver, Violet Orchids are symbolic of visions of passion promised to be fulfilled upon approval, while White Orchids denote Hot and pure Love, moon lit magic that is breath taking in its bloom, forcing any warm blooded woman to let down her guard and surrender her affections immediately. Unfortunately for the sender, Andrea, the resident of said apartment and the target of those WMD of love, was not a warm blooded woman. Not anymore, anyway!
But amazing she remains, and no one who knows her can dispute that fact.
Wait, do you hear the shuffling of the keys behind that front door? Must be her. Quick, hide behind that couch. We are about to get an exclusive peek into the private single behavior of Andrea Hakim. You best appreciate this opportunity, cause it’s rarer than you can ever imagine. Now shhhh..I can hear the key turning.
In case we didn’t make that clear, Andrea lived in a one bedroom apartment, much to the Chagrin of her Lebanese architect father. His dismay wasn’t –unlike her Egyptian mother’s- caused by the fact that she is 30 year old now, single, never been married and living on her own, but rather the fact that she chose a “One bedroom” apartment to live on her own in, instead of renting a Two- or a three-bedroom apartment to live in. When she protested that it wouldn’t make any economic or practical sense for her to have more than a one-bedroom apartment to live in, her dad looked at her with sad eyes and said “That’s, 7abibty, exactly the problem”! And when she protested she didn’t know what he meant by that, he sat her down on the couch, held her left hand in his palms like he used to do when she was six years old and careless to the world, and explained to her the concept of architectural environmental psychology.
You see, for architects, a building is more than the sum of cement steel and bricks, the same way an apartment is more than the sum of its rooms. A building says volumes about the people who build it, or own it, the same way an apartment does for those who live in it. For example, an architect views a studio apartment as a symbol of the blatant fraud that only the genius of marketing can turn into what’s commonly known as “the truth”. According to him, studio apartments were called this way in order to sell us on an idea: that this is the kind of place that an artist would live in. As landlords would tell it: Artists- the bohemian vagabonds that they are- apparently were so consumed with the passion of creation that they would prefer to sleep in the same room they would create their art in. This is supposed to give the apartment an air of creativity, the mystique of rebellion, and the image of a resident so not affected by our culture of consumption and false pretenses that he would live in an apartment that is only big enough to carry his bed and closet, exactly what he needs. Just like a true artist would. This romantic image, this illusion, is naturally preferable for the tenant of a studio apartment, than the simply reality that he is living in a shoebox, or that not a single serious or self-respecting artist would ever live & work in a studio apartment, because artists need space and good light in order to be creative, two things that any studio apartment known to man sorely lack.
Andrea listened to her dad in silence, her giant curly hair doing its gravity-defying thing as usual, and was simply waiting for her moment to speak, to argue her case. Her father, having dealt with her and her like-minded sisters for the majority of his long life, knew that he had to press on without a moment’s pause if he wanted to convey his point to her, and that he did. He explained to her that a one bedroom apartment comes with a list of benefits and limitations, each saying volumes about the kind of person who chooses to inhabit it. It’s perfect for those who are living on their own; its small size giving them a sense of security and control of their environment. The apartment is never too big to clean or take care of, and at night, its small size prevents the demons of the imagination to play tricks on you, or allow actual burglars points of entry and hiding of which you are not 6 feet away from. In that aspect, the one bedroom apartment excels at doing its job, but really, that’s where the positives end.
He paused for a second, just to catch his breath, and like a shark with a nose for blood she attacked immediately. “But that sounds perfect for a single girl living on her own, Dad. How could there be a negative to this? It’s exactly what I need at this moment”, she huffed.
Using one hand (with the other still holding her hand), he lit his Marlboro lights, took a deep breath with his head down, as if silently debating with himself whether or not he wanted the headache that his next statement will surely warrant him. He then looked up to her, his eyes filled with the defiance of a man intent on saying his peace, and slowly spat the following statement:
“Because it will limit you!”
She staggered for a second, and he, like the Daddy shark that he is, sank his teeth in without hesitation.
“You know what a one bedroom apartment says about the person who lives in it? It says ‘ I don’t want to be any more than what I am at the moment’. A one-bedroom apartment doesn’t have room for anybody but the person who lives in it. No space for a friend to stay over, or a family member to visit. It says: ‘You are not invited to stay for long, any of you, so fuck off and leave me alone already’. It sense of security is only a façade to hide how lonely you are, something an extra bedroom or two would clearly remind you of with every passing day. Hell, having extra rooms is beneficial even if you don’t want people to stay over for extended periods of time. You could turn it into an office, or a hobby room of sorts, a work out room even. Something that would help you grow in some way. But no, not the one-bedroom apartment person, for he is not interested in growing. You know why? Because at the core of every person who could have a bigger place but chooses a one-bedroom, lies a Freeloader. Someone who wants to contribute nothing to no one, and has nothing to offer anybody, let alone him-or-herself.”
She took it all in, and liking none of it, she spat back: “Then, maybe I am a freeloader. So what? It’s not a crime!”
“Stop it. Just stop it. You know you are not. You are anything but a freeloader. You are my daughter, and I know you better than you know yourself. You were always bursting with talent and intelligence, ever since you were a kid. And now, you just…I don’t know...stopped. Why would you do this? Why would you lock yourself in a cell? You know money is not a problem.”
“Because I need to live alone, Dad. I am 29, I am obviously not getting married any time soon, and I need to live on my own. I need to be left alone in my own space, with nobody barging in on me whenever they feel like it. I NEED TO BE ALONE!”
He regarded what she said silently, and then gave her that look she hates- that sympathetic, I-love-you-but-you-are-breaking-my-heart-with-your-stupidty-look, and said softly “ Like you ever weren’t.”
She looked at him silently, her eyes begging him not to do this to her, and he took her plea. He took back his hands, got up and left, and the next day he told her mother that he agreed to her request and that she would be moving out within the month. She didn’t know how to react to the news exactly. Technically, she had won this fight, and gotten what she wanted. Yet… something about the way it all went down, she wasn’t sure how much of a victory this really was, or if it could be classified as one at all. She decided to take it anyway, and started packing and making moving arrangements.
Today, more than a year and a half into her lease, she still doesn’t know what it was, but she knows that it wasn’t a victory, not by a long shot. At the time she ignored that bitter taste in the back of her mouth, telling herself that it was simply the price that came with freedom. But freedom had nothing to do with it at the end of the day, because being on your own is not the same as being free, and that a life without change is a life without evolution. That was the message her father wanted to give her that day, the one she rejected out of stubbornness, and vanity, and maybe, just maybe, out of fear that he may be right.
You see, one of the major flaws of people is that whatever face the messenger wears ( and I don't honestly think that
should matter), the message can't come clear, through all the dirt and fear and pain, until you give in and burn off what doesn't work. Whether it’s between the stars or between your lovers and your lies, until you lay down the burdens of hate and insecurities that keep you tied to the pain of your childhood and life experiences, unable to see your way clear, you can't hear the message properly. You'll never hear it right, until you watch it unfolding and realize it couldn't have been any other way. Until the rain washes you clean again. I don't know if Andrea’s father can see time this way, but I do know that it is the way Andrea can write her own destiny, and have it written for her. What she is doing is just a story she's been telling herself, all along. That this is the only way she can live.
But follow me here for a second: If we knew what was going to happen -- if we knew the pain and fear and ugliness that's part of our fate, if we forgot that it keeps the world turning -- who knows what we'd do differently? How do we know that this isn’t simply part of the physics: God and time working together to tell you this story, as many times as it takes, until you start paying attention? If it doesn't hurt, if it doesn't feel like death, you're just pretending to change. Burn sage and sweet grass and get a haircut and move to another city, go on a diet and swear off men for six months, a year, the rest of your life: that's cosmetic. And deep down you know it, which is why getting what you want would taste so bitter: because nothing really changes until you close your eyes and jump. That's half the confusion right there. Take a drop of water, or mercury, and divide it: whatever face the messenger wears, the message stays the same. The message stays the same alright; it's just that we keep hearing it wrong. Over and over again, until we get it right. And that day wasn’t a day Andrea got it right, and today wasn’t going to be one either.
She slammed the door behind her, and threw her bag on the dinning room table. She looked at the dying orchids for a second, and then went directly to her bedroom, taking her cloths off in the process, until she was wearing nothing but her bra and panties (correction-: G-string, cotton, black). She went into her bathroom and stood in front of the mirror for a second, checking herself out. Her tall, slender, skinny legs, the legs of a dancer, still had their shine. Her stomach was still flat, and her boobs weren’t sagging, well, not exactly, yet. For a woman in her thirties (and she would loathe to call herself that), she still has the body of someone in her mid-twenties. And she almost felt good about herself for a second, until she saw those three white hairs sticking out on top of her curls. And that’s all it took for self-esteem, which dared to venture its shiny little head, to get kicked by her insecurities right in the testicles. Her hand moved as if to pluck it out, but then stopped herself mid-air and brought her hand down. Her face tensed up, as if she was going to cry, but produced no tears. Not from any kind of inner-strength, mind you, but because for almost 6 months now, our girl here could not bring herself to cry. Not even once.
The annoying thing was, there was no incident that brought upon this change, this drought in her tear ducts. There was no catalyst, no story of someone hurting her and her hardening up because of it. Nothing like that. It just...happened. One day she woke up and she could no longer cry. Even when she wanted to, even when the situation demanded it, even when she was so overwhelmed with Life’s shit and knew that she needed the release, she just couldn’t cry. She would try, god knows she would, trying to breathe quicker as if to cause hyper-ventilation, thinking about all the stuff that’s making her so sad in order to force the reaction, even going as far as squeezing her eyes hard during that just to get her eyes tearing, and nothing would happen. And that wouldn’t bother her as much if it wasn’t for the fact that 2 weeks after she realized it, she also stopped being able to sleep. Insomnia haunted her daily, rarely giving her an hour or two of sleep every day, which was almost never comforting. She would be restless, having the weirdest of dreams, and always waking up, every single day, every single time, with the same thought: You are running out of time.
She called him once about a recurring dream that she had been having for a month or two now, partly because she knew he would figure out what it means and partly because she just needed to talk about it. In her dream, she told him, she was walking inside her house, but it wasn’t her apartment, but rather an old big house, but she knew it to be her house. And inside that house, there was a party, with people all over the place, talking and mingling and drinking, none to her. She walked finally into the kitchen, which floor was covered with a blanket made of cockroaches. The cockroaches quickly started to crawl all over her, climbing on her legs and stomach, running all over her arms, breasts and back, quickly cover her entire body and moving onto her face when she starts screaming and wakes up terrified with Goosebumps.
He listened patiently and asked her to give him 10 minutes until he consults his books and gets back to her. In 5 minutes he had called her back, and told her what her dream meant. To see a house in your dream, represents your own soul and self. Specific rooms in the house indicate a specific aspect of your psyche. For example, the attic represents your intellect, the basement represents the unconscious, etc. To see an old, run-down house in your dream, represents your old beliefs, attitudes and how you used to think or feel. Alternatively, the old house may symbolize your need to update you mode of thinking. To dream that you are at a party, suggests that you need to get out more and enjoy yourself. And finally, to see a cockroach in your dream, signifies your need for renewal, rejuvenation and self-cleansing of your psychological, emotional, or spiritual being. Having them crawl all over you in a dream means one thing: You need to reevaluate major aspects of your life.
She listened to him in silence, taking it all in and not interrupting him once. When he finished, he asked her if it sounds true to her, and she abruptly agreed. Then, changing the subject quickly in order not to let him dwell on that and start a conversation she knows he would love to have, she asked him if he found out what the dream he had of her a couple of weeks ago meant. His voice immediately hardened, and he icily told her that he didn’t want to talk about it. Thinking his abrupt attitude was some sort of childish retribution to times she likewise rebuked him (and god knows they were privy to such games), she ignored it, let it slide, didn’t ask him for a reason, and thanked him for interpreting her dream for her. She then hung up, got up, put on a long T-shirt, walked out of her room, sat in her empty living room, turned on the TV and started flipping the channels, searching for entertainment, or mental stimulation, or simply the distraction the noises and images in front of her offered her. Anything to make her stop thinking of the dream and its interpreter.
No such peace of mind was granted to him though, her question bringing him to face something he successfully forgotten about a few days ago: the meaning of his dream of her. It was exactly 18 days when that dream, with its vividness and realness, and crashed right into his psyche. In that dream He was walking the streets of Zamalek, when he found himself suddenly in front of her building, with the voice of her screaming from inside of it. He ran up the stairs and found himself in front of her apartment, her door suddenly replaced with a clear sea-through glass one, and behind it she was on the floor, screaming and struggling against a masked intruder, who suddenly had a knife in his hand and who started stabbing her all over her body, her blood coming out red and strong all over the otherwise black and white scene. And he- the interpreter- would knock frantically on the door, try to smash through it, with no avail, as that intruder manically stabbed her to death. And then he woke up.
When he told her about the dream, he remembers that she self-involved-ly interpreted it as part of the personal existential crisis she was having these days (or, like, ever since he met her), but wouldn’t admit to. Some sort of testament that even he was seeing that she was dying inside, or something. The truth was quiet different he came to find out, especially after he checked his books on what that dream actually meant. You see, it wasn’t about her at all, at least not personally. But he wouldn’t tell her that. He wouldn’t tell her any of it, out of fear what the truth of the dream would say about him, or how he feels at the moment.
The truth was, that seeing someone you know getting killed in a dream had nothing to do with them getting harmed at all. It simply meant that whatever they represented to you, whatever they mean to you as people, whatever they symbolize in your life and your sub-consciousness, whatever part of your soul they occupy, whatever part of your heart they have their name written on, whatever piece of you that belongs to them and gives them that hold over you, whatever part of your existence they rule, that part, simply must die.