In the absence of state-monitored public transportation, van #4 operates as a privately-owned informal “public transit” in Beirut. The van’s route begins all the way from the Lebanese University’s campus in Hadath to Hamra, carrying over 50,000 passengers a day.
I am picked up in Chiyah, next to the wall with bullet ears. This route has it all: burnt tires, an abandoned building calling out the names of dead dogs, wildflowers caught in gust. We are an unlicensed and unregistered van carrying one city. The door won’t slide and hajji has her toes stretched into air. It’s mid-February. The sun has us in its arms. By the time we’re in Tayyouneh, we all agree that today is a good one to be alive. Outside the window, two girls in striped uniforms share an ice-cream from Bouzet Bachir and I want to wave at them. At the intersection, we slow down for the Palestinian kid with spiky hair to hop on. He tells me he’s from an UNRWA-funded training on how to become a barber and I tell him my job is to evaluate such trainings. The van driver sings along to his CD: song after song dedicated to Al Hassan & Al Hussein. Past the French embassy and a girl’s neon green hijab ripples like our sea. Past the green line where, depending which year we’re talking about and which direction you’re looking at, you’ll see/have once upon a time seen militia checkpoints and snipers on buildings and Israeli armed forces and the Syrian military and the PLO and Sunnis and Shias and Christians and Armenians and an exhibition on the civil war and a dress shop selling glittery emerald dresses. On the second row of seats, an Ethiopian woman braids her daughter’s hair gently before getting off at Bechara el Khoury. The daughter kisses her mother’s nose and we all feel kissed by a messenger. Not everyone can afford a cup of coffee in downtown, but it sure is pretty from afar. We drive past St. Elie church, past the workers under the bridge, past the mosque’s blue forehead, past an egg theatre that no longer is but is. Is this city always disoriented or is that just me? Look how we pulse through with teasing eyes, how we command to be tasted. I don’t want to write about you anymore.
The man next to me blows his cigarette on my face and I forgive him for poisoning my lungs, just like he forgives my going to Hamra for a lecture on Islamic feminism by an American professor who’s only here for three days. We’ve passed some test. Now, who says we don’t know how to behave in public?