Simon & Schuster
Copyright © 2002 Viken Berberian.
You should always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. The helmet should fit snugly. The chin strap should hold firmly against the throat. The buckle should be fastened securely. Consider this: last year there were 11 bike accidents in Iceland, 371 in France and 97 in England. I have no statistics from Holland, but surely, if I had been riding my bicycle on its flat land, I would have been spared my tragedy.
The same cannot be said about my place of origin. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Not even the helmet I took on my impossible tour from Mount Barouk to Beirut: a 71-kilometer calamitous road with a stretch of cedar trees on one side and flustered sheep on the other. There are few bicycles here. The main medium of movement remains the Mercedes 240D, with the runty Fiat coming in a close second. The cars cruise past the woolly sheep, with speeds in excess of an armored Hummer, their wheels rolling over steely lizards grilled in the heat of summer. No matter. I wanted this trip to be a trying hadj. In the West, you call it a pilgrimage.
I'll spare you the grisly details of my surgery, except to say that the butcher who sent me into my torpid sleep sliced a section of my gray matter like a knife-wielding chef about to serve a cold-cut platter. I now spend my days in a bed. My head is shaved. My limbs are sore and my face, which in normal times has a chocolate hue, is bludgeoned blue. My mouth smells like fermented lentil stew. My portly build has turned pita thin, the round bread I ate as a tubby kid. My diet is more severe than any I ever went on. I'm fed twenty-four hours a day, intravenously. In the morning, the nurse checks the tracheotomy. By noontime, the spectators flock in: sweet and sour faces from around the world; more friends, more family. A cauldron of compassion. It's the most unappetizing part of the day because they have no idea that in the hard prison of my head I can actually see them and hear everything they say. Little do they know that my typically lucid thoughts still race through my head with unparalleled speed, shifting into a lull only when I fall asleep. On the outside, I'm cool and composed: unable to swivel my neck or tongue, or, for that matter, any other part of my body. Not even my fiercely autonomous pinky. Yet every afternoon, when Ghaemi Basmati crawls into my room, my heart beats faster. Even before our calculated crime, our fates were intertwined like grapevines.