On an early evening, in a cafe situated in Gemmayze, a bohemian quarter of Beirut, I was ready to chill just like the city was born into. On a night so sleek, my friends and I cast aside the backgammon set, and drank our hearts out.
“I felt nothing. Then the rope broke and my will of survival kicked in. At least you felt the pain over the loss of your friend Nazih from the bottom of your heart. It is a blessing, you know,” a friend shared his suicide attempt when he knew his friend was killed. I took in a sip of Turkish coffee and reached for sweets filled with Ashta and pistachio flakes. Everything there on the table was achingly needed, and the shisha smokes smudged my rolling tears.
I felt the excruciating scalpel not only slid through Nazih’s heart but also cut off any foreseeable future I could have with him. His pulses stopped during his open heart surgery, and my soul sank in anguish. Little did I knew he had fought all his life with a weak heart since birth until I heard the news of his death. I wished to sit beside him and be able to chat with him again like we used to about everything from politics, food to culture and philosophy.
If serendipity could explain the beginning of my friendship with Nazih, it was also meant just quick enough to vanish, an outcome I did not want at all. As a matter of fact, we never hung out after we first met in 2011. Our friendship was comprised of missed encounters and unrealized planned trips to see each other. Our friendship instead manifested itself in writing, solely by words.
“I’d say religious people like dating because they are courting God all the time. I’d rather skip the ritualistic first year… I should write a manifesto,” he often checked to see if I was online to update his “theories.” While he seemed to have a unique take on how his romantic relationships should be conducted, he also told me the story of his staring at a cute waitress in a cafe in the West Village of New York City. His another infamous theory was on “mom and technology” as we exchanged our experiences in getting our moms’ lives involved with iPads.
How rare is it to “talk” friendship and how unlucky is it to be physically separated from a dear friend whom we feel so close to? Nazih made me realize he did not need to be physically present to show his care and love to his friends. He had his own charm to make people around him happy. Even when his life became increasingly overwhelming as he embarked on a new life working in Geneva while at the same time studying in Grenoble, he managed to calm my frustration from not hearing from him for a long time with a sense of humor. “I wanted to talk to you but you were away. You were being missed. Here’s the idea: I said hi to you based on a memory occurrence.”
If words and letters could help us see through one’s heart from afar like a fresh pair of eyes, then I experienced firsthand and in person Nazih’s wit, warmth, kindness and compassion. I was inspired by his determination to make the world a better place through his expertise and knowledge in International Law. His genuineness and sincerity also distinguished him from so many others.
At last, on the morning of December 17, 2015, I got off the bus in sight of the al-Tell Square in Tripoli, Lebanon. I looked around, and heard his mom acclaim “Jamiila! (جميلة, beautiful in Arabic)” and words she wished to speak to his son Nazih. Eyes met, and a second later, I was kissed, already in her embrace. I could not tell if the tears were hers or mine.
Tasharafna, ya Nazih habibi. See you in Heaven.
Picture credit: from Café Younes’ Facebook page
(Café Younes in Hamra was one of Nazih’s favorite coffeehouses in Beirut.)
Special thanks to all the people who helped me through the journey to Lebanon.