A skinny young man with a beard flew out of a secondhand bookshop with a bunch of old, hardcover books in his arms. He ran like a motherfucker under the hot summer sun, breathing like a porn star who was about to cum. By the time the fat clerk came out behind him, the skinny young man was already fifty meters ahead of him, running towards the horizon.
“Stop him!” The fat clerk shouted. “Stop that poet!” But it was already too late, and the skinny young man, turning left, had long disappeared. Another fat clerk followed the first one a minute later. “Where is that bastard?” He asked – his chubby cheeks red and his eyes green. “I’m going to kill him.”
“So you’re the poet?” A pretty girl who had just ordered a cappuccino asked that skinny young man, two years after he had stolen the books from that secondhand bookshop. She was sitting at the table facing him, alone, with a dog-eared paperback novel and a bottle of water. The poet, a regular at Café Yuri in those days, was also unaccompanied. He was with a notebook and a pen, sipping from his double espresso rhythmically. He seemed to be jotting down random stanzas every now and then. But he smoked more than he wrote.
“So you’re the poet?” The pretty girl asked again, but louder so that the poet could hear this time.
“Yes, in fact, I am,” the poet, who was a bit older now and no longer that skinny, replied with a handsome smile. “What of it?”
“Nothing, really. I just want to have sex with you. Don’t laugh. My name’s Lara, by the way. I don’t know. I saw you write with your left hand. I’m a lefty, too. See, we have something in common. You’re smiling; that’s good. You are beautiful. I’ve heard so much about you. They call you Big Paco, right? Your name’s Rudy, Rudy El Paco, right? Why are you laughing? My friend once showed me a picture of you and him having a beer together at a bar in Jbeil. You had a beard then. I told him you were good-looking and he said that I’m crazy. His name’s Sami Naufal; I’m sure you know him. You don’t? He was in a band called Funky Voodoos and you played with them once. You’re good on the guitar. And, oh… excuse me, but I must say it: you look better with a beard. I mean, you still look good, but… I’m sorry. I’m so nervous I don’t know what to say. I just never thought I would ever meet you. I read a few of your poems, the ones that you post on your blog. I adore the one about the crazy girl who didn’t know how to love. I keep reading it. It reminds me of myself, in a way. Oh, look, you’re laughing again! It must sound like I’ve been stalking you, but it’s not so, really. It’s just that your poems are… you know.” Lara finally stopped and was rather amazed at what she had just said.
“Nice to meet you, Lara,” Rudy El Paco, the poet she was in love with, said. “Why don’t you come and sit with me? I’m about to order another double espresso.”
At a pub in Jbeil, four years later, it was happy hour, and only two customers were at the bar: Lara, a pretty woman now, and a stout man in a white polo shirt drinking on his own, staring into thin air. Lara pulled a Marlboro pack out of her purse and lit a cigarette. She was by herself, drinking beer, sitting on a stool, with a dog-eared paperback novel in front of her on the bar top. “How stupid I was.” She said to herself aloud as she took a puff from her cigarette. “I’m sure he thought I was crazy. But, then again, I was young. And, yes, I really liked him.” Then she called the bartender and ordered two tequila shots.
“Cheers!” The bartender said, as he brought her the shots.
“Thanks. But you know,” she told him, looking him in the eyes, “I was in love once for ten minutes. Have you ever been in love for ten minutes?”
The bartender could tell that Lara was drunk, Gobbledygook kind of drunk. But like all bartenders he was a good listener. Bartenders, after all, are psychologists who also serve alcoholic beverages.
“I was in love with a poet,” Lara went on, “a handsome poet, a bookworm who also knew how to kiss. But I never kissed him. No, it wasn’t me who kissed him. I wish. I met him four years ago. We talked for ten, fifteen minutes, but then he had to go. And he just left. He only said goodbye, didn’t even ask for my number. I don’t know. Maybe I should have asked for his, but I was afraid somehow. I don’t know. I thought I would see him again. But here I am now, waiting for him. My friend once showed me a picture of himself and this poet having a drink together here. Why are you smiling? I am waiting for him, you see, because I love him. Yes, I love the poet, and sometimes love comes late. Do you happen to know him?”
“I don’t know any poets. Though, I would like to meet the one you’ve been telling me about.” The bartender said, then shook his head as if he were sorry. “Life could be a silver spoon in a microwave sometimes. But, you know what they say: it’s never too late. How about I get you another shot before you take off? But this time it’s on the house.”
“Remember that skinny guy with the beard?” A fat man asked another fat man. It was around midnight and they were at the beach eating marshmallows.
“Come on! How can you forget him, the skinny guy who stole books back when we used to work at Librairie Azar?”
“Oh! That guy. The bastard. What about him? That was more than seven years ago, you’re talking.”
“Well, for one thing, it was hilarious. I would have never thought anyone would steal books. Not until then; not used-up-second-hand-books-of-no-value.”
“Yeah, I get you, buddy. What a dumb asshole.”
“I sometimes think about him, you know. What happened to him? Like, why did he steal books? Who was he anyway?”
“He said he was a poet.”
“Right; the poet. By the way, have I ever told you how much I hated that summer job? I mean, like fuck.”
It was 9:10 PM when Rudy El Paco put his pen down. He was two minutes away from death, but he didn’t know. He had just written a poem about Lara, that girl who once loved her, still loved her, and he would give it to her the next time he saw her at that bar in Jbeil. Somehow, for some reason, he felt guilty. Maybe he should have talked to her then, back when he had the chance, back when they were the only two customers at the bar and she ordered those two tequila shots and opened up to the bartender. El Paco was there that night, in his white polo shirt, but he could not speak. He had become a silent man, a fat man with a beard who did not know how to love.
But it’s never too late.
In his final two minutes, Rudy El Paco thought of Lara. “I love you,” he would tell her the next time he saw her. But his left hand, the one he wrote with, suddenly felt numb, and his right hand went for his chest. Rudy El Paco died from a heart attack at 9:12 PM that night.
Sometimes, it’s too late.
Lara ordered a cappuccino the next morning and cried.