As I sat, to write this post, I started searching for the best photo of you. The one I thought represented you most. And I ended up choosing the only one I never used.
You emailed me a set of photographs to send out while promoting your work, back in 2014. “Which one do you prefer?” you asked. I liked the ones where we could get a glimpse of your smile. They were bright, and taken from an angle where you looked all mighty and confident. I felt these reflected your sarcasm well.
“Don’t you like the one with the hat?” you asked, “It makes me look like a novelist”. I laughed at what I knew was a joke. But then you asked me why I was laughing, and there was not much I could say. Because you are a novelist, you see. “And how does a novelist look like?”, I asked. “Mysterious and troubled,” you answered, “isn’t this how you like them?” You knew my taste for “serious” literature, and you always teased me on this topic. “Ma badda hal qad” you would say in Lebanese, in an effort to bring me back to my senses — a writer shouldn’t take himself too seriously. I am not sure you meant it. I have reasons to believe that, like for so many things, this was only half true.
We would systematically meet for coffee, at Urbanista, ABC, Ashrafieh (and at Lina’s café, before Urbanista replaced it, both of which are conveniently located near the bookshop). At every visit to Lebanon, I knew I would see you there. We would agree to meet around 11h00, to give you some time to write in the morning. I knew I would walk into the cafe, and find you at your laptop, at the same table, writing. Sometimes I would find you with some of your friends. “This is my agent”, you would introduce me. “She sold my book to Macedonian”, you would say half jokingly. As I got shortlisted to the London International Book Fair Excellence Awards, you would add “My agent is more famous than me”. That was another joke of course. I knew it meant so much more. It meant “Look at you, you’ve made it”. Perhaps this is approximately when you started to take me (half) seriously. It took you a while, but I can’t blame you.
We met in the summer of 2005, at Halim’s in Batroun, for a lemonade. You had come down from Ehden, and I had driven to meet you from Adma where I was spending the summer with my parents at the time. I had gone for a dip in the sea along the way, and met you with my beach bag on the shoulder. Not the best way to meet a potential client, I grant you — What was I thinking! Yet, you gave me the managing rights to your novel, Ayn warda / Rose fountain motel. I had devoured it a few weeks earlier. You are amongst the first three authors to have trusted me with their work, and to have stayed with me all the way. Ayn warda is the first book I ever sold at RAYA agency — I owe you one!
“I am writing a new book” you would say, “I know you will love it”. It’s true I have a soft spot for Matar hzayran / June rain, which took me to places I didn’t know existed. Your purpose in our relationship was to make me get over “June rain”, and make me fall in love with a newer book. I know you never entirely believed me, but I do love all your books, each in a different way, I just loved reading you. Even Hayy al amerkan / American neighberhood, about which you would say “Everybody loved American neighborhood but Ms Jraissati”.
I must say the ending of your last novel eluded me. I was troubled by the fact that I hadn’t seen the ending of that story coming. This is what I wanted to talk to you about this summer. But we could not meet. That is my deepest regret.
Farewell Jabbour. We miss you already.