In summer, our neighborhood quiets in phases. The quieting begins in May. Schools give their older kids, the seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, a month off to prepare for the baccalaureate exams. Following a ritual as old as our parents, the students retreat to residences out of town, to peaceful chalets and cabins away from civilization for communal study and living. As noisily as migrating birds, they return for the state exams in June. Then school ends for the year; a couple of families travel abroad, a few more leave for the mountains. An outsider doesn’t perceive the slow but sure change in the neighborhood’s population until Beirut broils in August.
In early July, our neighbors across the landing, the Masris, left for the mountains. They wouldn’t return from their summer home till late September with its cooling temperatures. That was the summer I was promoted to the apartment’s caretaker, taking over from my brother. My father insisted that I look after the Masri home because he thought that at thirteen, I wasn’t yet behaving as an adult should. I needed to become more responsible. I’d been receiving talking-tos, lectures with full arm waving and hand gestures, every day for a month.