Razor cuts

My father believes, as many people do, that razors thicken the hair and, over time, makes your beard rougher and more difficult to shave. Although denounced by science, this myth has stood firmly in the way of all my attempts to convince dad to let me shave.

This myth would continue to intercept me at every corner until our final showdown in Grade 10.

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I was minding my own business in class when one of the popular girls walked up to me. Exercising her status-granted right to invade people’s privacy in the loudest way possible, she asked me at the top of her lungs:

When do you plan to shave? You look like a monkey!

Of course, you will agree with me that assumably, perhaps, probably, and most likely, I did not look like a monkey. But it was easier at that moment to argue with my self-esteem than to argue with the popular girl.

That evening I gave my father an ultimatum: It was either me (backed by science) or the myth. And I would not go to school the next day if I don’t shave first.

My father succumbed. Actually, I would argue that he met me halfway.

He left the house and came back an hour later with an electric shaver. The myth, still in charge here, states that an electric shaver would do less than a razor toward thickening the beard.

I didn’t care though.

I shaved off my beard with a vengeance, like every hair was a word coming out of the mouth of the popular girl.

Climbing into the bed that night, for the first time ever, I got to feel the pillow’s cool, soft surface against my freshly shaved face.

I closed my eyes and dreaded tomorrow.

Cheese and cheek

The very first time I traveled to France, my friends took me to a local Parisian restaurant that served traditional food. It was a set menu, take it or leave it.

The mood was great, but the food wasn’t to my liking. I hardly touched the appetizer, which means it didn’t serve its purpose of appetizing me. My palate refused the main course. The side dish was a small salad, so yeah, I had it.

As soon as we were done eating, they brought over a platter of cheese. It was a three-tiered platters with various cheeses on every level.

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It’s a French thing to have a bite of cheese at the end of the meal. Just a small taste here and there. But since I had barely had any food, I went at the cheese with formidable might.

It seems I was too intense. The waiter, seeing that the cheese was disappearing, had to interrupt me and, in French, aggressively inform me that he will now remove the plate.

He snatched it away, walked to the next table and, with an angry glance at me, placed it in front of the other guests. It was their turn to have some cheese.

I left the place both hungry and embarrassed.

Luckily, that night, I would completely forget the embarrassment of the restaurant. Instead, I would replace it with the greater embarrassment of when I, unable to find a bathroom fast enough, ended up peeing in a bush under the Eiffel Tower.

But that’s another story.

Window sill — a meditation

they compete,
five birds
in the tree.
They rhyme
to the rhythm
of 4/3.

And two
butterflies float
as if dancing
to the song,
they fall and rise
with every note.

All along I sit
quietly the window,
in a square patch
of sun,

on a sofa for one.

The apology

During Sophomore year in university, my best friend and I got into a fight.

The animosity was difficult to maintain because we couldn’t really avoid each other. We were both in the same major and had most of our classes together.

But we were kids, and we were determined to do everything possible to keep the bitterness alive.

We would walk into class without speaking to each other, keeping dry eye contact just to make sure the other knew how deliberate the act was. We would sit as far apart as possible and ignore each other.

This lasted for a few weeks.

But a few weeks later, I tried to remember what we had argued about in the first place. I literally could not remember what started the fight.

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That morning, in class, I walked up to my friend and said, “I tried to remember what we argued about, but I couldn’t remember it. And unless you can remind me, I don’t see any reason for us to continue to be in a fight.” Then I added, “If it was my fault, please accept my apology.”

I set my bag next to him and sat down., life went back to normal.

The moral of the story is:

After graduation, this guy left the country and never looked back. Our friendship dissolved with the distance.

Be careful not to waste your apologies on those who don’t deserve it, even if it sounds poetic or sentimental at the time.

The case of the soggy popcorn

No visit to my aunt’s house would be complete without a giant tub of popcorn being served. She knew my love for popcorn, and she loved to spoil me.

My cousins and I would gather around the wooden dining table in the spacious kitchen and, handful after handful, we would race to the bottom of the bowl. I had the advantage of being the eldest, but also not chewing too much, so I was ahead of everyone.

To my right sits the youngest of the cousins, Ahmad, only three years old at the time. He would go at the popcorn at his own pace, not interested in the pressure of the race.

Once in a while, I would pick up a soggy piece of popcorn and it would disgust me to the point where I would lose my appetite. “Why did you chew it and put it back?” I would ask Ahmad. He would deny it, every time. This happened a lot.

Almost every visit; every tub of popcorn. My guess was that he would take one and, finding it too chewy or maybe not salty enough, would just put it back, soggy.

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Fast forward 10 years.

I’ve moved out of Lebanon. I’m living on my own and could have as much popcorn as I want. So, I bought a pot and some popcorn and started figuring out the best way to make it. I hate the microwave kind.

Long story short, it turns out that popping popcorn in a pot produces a lot of steam., the steam collects on the underside of the lid and then, as the drops get larger, starts to fall onto the popcorn. Like a small water cycle of sorts.

The end result: The occasional soggy piece of popcorn.

I’m sorry Ahmad.

Secret TV

My father used a perfume called Fahrenheit, from Christian Dior. It had a very warm, spicy scent to it. He would spray it specifically exactly right before he stepped out of the house for work in the morning.

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When I was maybe four or five, my father bought me a set of video tapes of The Smurfs, the Arabic version. I was hooked immediately.

The set had seven tapes, and my father said I can open a new one every day. So, every morning I would wake up super early, excited to watch Al Sanafer.

But I had one obstacle. My father.

He would be annoyed that I was up so early. He expected me to contain my excitement and sleep in a little longer.

And so, every morning when I woke up quivering with Smurficious anticipation, I had to pretend I was still asleep until he left.

Lying down in my bed, I had only one cue that my father was about to leave.

The smell of Fahrenheit wafting slowly to my bed through the corridor. As soon as I smelled it, I knew he was out, and I could get up and watch my cartoons!

To this day, the smell of Fahrenheit perfume, which is very uncommon, sends me back to that moment and fills me with happiness.

Not just any happiness. The happiness of no longer having to pretend to be asleep, and the freedom to be a careless child watching and re-watching his favorite cartoon with no limitations.

The backpack

When I was 15, I asked my father to get me a new, “cool” backpack for school.in my mind I expected a Jansport or an Eastpak bag, like the other cool kids in class.

My father, a practical man, had a different idea.

A few days later I returned from school to find my new backpack waiting for me in my room, this monstrosity was rectangular in shape, made of hard material, and had enough pockets to pack all my belongings. It was ugly, it was angular, and it was the farthest from cool a backpack can be.

Oh, and it was black and lilac in color.

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For the next month, I would arrive early to school, run to the classroom and place my backpack under my desk so I wouldn’t have to be seen walking in with it. I kept a safe distance between me and my bag, and I hid it under my shirt on my way out of school.

One day, the backpack was sitting at the back of the class and I was in the front. A classmate saw it and made fun of it. “Whose stupid bag is this?”

Oh man, the moment of reckoning was upon me.

“It’s mine,” replied Tarek, my best friend. The kids made fun of the bag; he laughed with them and totally owned it with a smile.

And that was the earliest act of kindness I could recall receiving.