The phone call

Every Lebanese knows about the phone call. And it goes two ways.

Jess Semaan


The first, looks like this. You are sitting at home with your best friend and his cousin, your aunt is over too, she is looking for a dress to borrow from your mother’s closet. You hear a loud noise, the glass around you shatters. You are in shock. You look around, make sure everyone is still breathing. You get up, dizzy, then sit down again. Your phone rings. You look for it, it fell under the couch. You pick it up, it is baba. You pick up but cannot even speak, he screams….

“habibi ebné, taménneh, sarlkon chi?” “Wayna emmak, ma 3am bet red”.

Once you hang up, you and your friends clean up the glass, turn on the news, and you light a cigarette.

The phone call goes the other way. You wake up in your bed with your partner. She usually dresses the kids in the morning, while you read your news with your coffee, before you need to catch the subway to your office in Brooklyn. You open facebook and your heart drops between your legs. Your hands are shaking. Another bomb exploded and this one is on your dad’s way to work. You call your baba first. He does not pick up. Now your legs weaken. You sit down. Your daughter stares at you worried. You stare blankly. You dial your home landline. Your brother picks up.

“Wayno el baba, tameneh, sarlkon chi?”

Once you are reassured that your father is alive, you dress up and go to work with white people who will never understand.

I got a phone call on Tuesday 8:32 AM California time. This one was a mix of both. My mama called like every morning to make sure I am alive, under the pretext of chit chatting. She is not a fan of me living alone and often reminds me I can slide in the bathroom, hit my head and die with no one noticing. She has a point with the no one noticing. Not with sliding in the bathtub. I have strong abs. I pick up and I am about to tell her about how cute my cats cuddling on the edge of my bed are…

“mama ma te3taleh ham khayek w bayek ma t2azo ktir, a7ené bel beit”

For a moment, time stopped and decades of phone calls flashed in front of my eyes. The one time I was in Dubai, and the assassination of Wissam Eid happened. I saw the news, and…