Have you noticed how when you call a plumber, an electrician or some other repair service, the chap always tells you he’ll come by, takes directions, and then hangs up? There’s me with my pencil poised and diary open, scanning my limited availabilities, and he just says he’ll come by and that’s it.
As if I have nothing else to do but wait in for him, I think, annoyed. Still, had he given me a time slot he would have felt it his duty to miss it by a mile anyway. This way he can’t be wrong but he’ll not turn up for a week and then when I call back he’ll put the blame on me being out. Preposterous.
But in his defence, we don’t have the same view of home. Home for the Lebanese is not just a bed and a roof, somewhere to store a change of clothes and park the car until both are re-employed and off out again. It’s a centre of life not just a rushed recharge point. You pop in and out, never straying too far or too long, and everybody else does the same. In the average family, someone will always be around – the women in general, student kids who haven’t moved out, extra generations, upstream or downstream, whether they are permanent residents or not.
Even if the home is briefly empty, there will be some relatives living a few floors above or below. The doorman will summon them, they’ll have the key on their set, and everyone will be in your kitchen when you get in from work. Or the neighbour, spitting pumpkin seed shells from his balcony, will tell them where you are and when you’ll be back, judging from what you went out wearing.
Home isn’t a place to sleep. It doesn’t lie empty and dormant in your long absences. It’s a place to host, waiting on the edge of its seat for the next unannounced caller with coffee on the stove in a jiffy and fruits ready to peel and offer. The cupboards are stacked with cheap tupperware containers waiting to be sent home with those who come and go.
The door isn’t there to seal off the world and keep it out but to let the world in. When the beginning of the month brings the doorman and the generator operator to collect their fees, it opens to include them. They drift into its living space, sucked in along with neighbours and other passers-by. The permeable closures work both ways, as life spills outside the confines of the home through windows, onto the balconies, the roof and the street.
Which reminds me of the small town where I grew up, where the door was never locked in our absence, in case passing friends needed a coffee stop, and where we were sent out to serve tea and biscuits to men doing roadworks in the street. So I am willing to humour the repair man when he eventually comes by, because after all, I like an open home.