This was over eight years ago, before the statue of the Beauty and the Gazelle was stolen from the heart of the city. She was the last naked woman to parade along Tripoli’s history. I was in the car with my father. He is a traditional man from ElKedoua, a rural region 40 kilometers outside of Tripoli. Despite all the obstacles standing in his path, my father had done well for himself. He had grown up to be a doctor, although he had once desired to become a pilot. Every time he saw a plane cruising the sky he would yell, “Look at that plane! Do you see it? Isn’t it just stunning!”
I remember the shape of his black and narrow eyes, as well as the dark bags under them. I didn’t understand them until recently, when my dreams turned into nightmares that belied their true nature until right before the end.
During my teenage years, we used to hang around the Park of the Gazelle singing songs on the guitar whose meaning we didn’t grasp until we listened to them years later. My voice sounded pretty appalling when I sang, but everyone just lied to me and complimented me on my vocal cords.
The park lay next to the statue of the Beauty and the Gazelle and was named after it. It had a bad reputation of attracting hookers, drug addicts, maniacs, and tramps. “The dregs of society,” that’s what they are called—even nowadays. But they are able to love. That is what society can’t fathom. I met my first girlfriend at that same park. I kissed her at that park. I touched her breasts at that park. They were the first tits I had ever touched in my entire life. On that occasion, she sang with me. Her voice was gorgeous. She had been labeled a whore, but I didn’t care.
I used to say to her, “Your body is like that of the beauty and your mind like a gazelle.”
When I think about my pick-up lines back then, I laugh, seeing how trite they were. However, they made her giggle. Her cheeks would turn the color of two almost ripe peaches and I would sink, dazzled by her glittering hazel eyes that reminded me of fall leaves. Her bosom completed the once virginal woman who tries to break out of the ground by fucking voraciously and devouringly.
I don’t know why, all I know is that whenever I remember her these days, my thoughts end up drifting to my father and the statue of the Beauty and the Gazelle. That time my father and I drove by the statue of the Beauty and the Gazelle, he dropped me off at the Mosque of the Islamic Prayer at Algeria Square, which is only a couple dozen meters away from the Park of the Gazelle. He then told me a story that I have never forgotten.
“There was once a man who took his wife’s red bra, showed up at dawn next to the statue, covered the beauty up with it, and fled. The red bra stayed on the beauty until noon. Nobody dared to strip it from her body. You should have seen the faces of the passersby. That was funny!”
Right after finishing his story, my father burst into laughter. I remember his laughter distinctly. It wasn’t bashful despite his shy-looking face, his narrow eyes, and his lips, which his smoking habit had rendered blue. I thought he was handsome, like a statue Michelangelo would carve or a pilot who had rescued people from a fatal plane crash.
The statue of the Beauty and the Gazelle was plundered about a year ago. First, she was shot at and, after a few months, she was stolen. Hence, the Park of the Gazelle developed into an ordinary park, indistinguishable from any other you would find in Tripoli—a park without flowers but brimming with the random ideas people get based on what they think they remember about the scum that meandered around it in happier times, which have faded into oblivion.
My first girlfriend emigrated with her family after the revolution spread. Her father had been engaged in some dirty business with the former government, and that was the last I heard of her. I haven’t spoken to her in years. The day my father returned home, all sad and sullen because of the gloomy news he had just learned concerning the theft of the statue, I thought of her. I imagined her laughing at the way I used to flirt with her, with my hackneyed pick-up lines, before starting to weep over her current situation. Afterward, I recalled the manner in which I used to stroll around the statue on my way to meet her. I was scum as well but the kind able to smile when going on a date with beauty.