He must finish it before he leaves.

That phrase keeps swimming inside my head as I watch him carefully. I don't think he notices my long stare.
He does not notice anyone when he is in Artouk.
Suddenly he asks me to go light a candle for Saint Elias. I take the lighter from Mostapha, Our Garden keeper and I walk over to where dad built a house of stone for his favorite saint.

I kneel down and I open the small, ornamented iron door leading to what looks like a deep, protected, forgotten cave.
I stretch my body and I ignite the planted candle in the small pile of sand on top of the old font.
And then as I close the door, I look up, and there is a huge statue of Saint Elias holding his sword. I try to catch his eye, but I don't know if he can see me.

In Artouk, neither he nor dad sees anything beyond this untamed piece of land, built on impossible dreams and beautifully woven legends.
"He must finish it before he leaves", I whisper to saint Elias.
Silence.
Saint Elias is busy watching over the impossible dream my dad lives as his daily bread.

I ask dad if he'd like to walk around the gardens of Artouk with me.
He takes his walking cane and wraps his head with my pink scarf, and we start walking. He asks how he looks in the feminine scarf. I laugh.
"I have lost my hat". He retorts laughing, anticipating my question.
Lately, dad has been losing and forgetting lots of things.
This makes him laugh.

My dad has been building his dream house in Koura- North of Lebanon for over twenty-three years.
He says it was supposed to be a small house, "but I got drunk, as usual, on impossible dreams, and then I decided to build a house not seen before".

We walk around the huge gardens of the land named Artouk, for the longest of time. The November sun is hiding drizzles of rain, yet it is blazing.
I try to stop myself from asking dad about his house. He seems happy eating from each tree, a piece of fruit here, and another there.
He lifts his cane and softly beats a "plum" pomegranate from an old tree. It falls half sliced. We each take a piece.
"Look how beautiful the house appears from here", he whispers in awe, as we both look towards the house hidden with the huge upper gardens.

My dad is in love with his house.
With his Artouk.
He has been writing it as his personal novel for years, and yet, the novel did not end. It has not reached its final line.
My dad is a writer and a journalist. The finest of them all. And still, he has not managed to finish his latest novel, Artouk.
"I desperately wanted a home of my own", he recounts as we both walk around the gardens and wildly eat our pomegranate.
"But this is not a house. This is....indescribable..." I quietly say.
"I got drunk, as usual. I have to write the best novel, I have to cook the best meal; I have to finish the best article. I admit it was a moment of pure hysteria. Pure fascination with the impossible".

We were living in Cyprus when Saint Elias and My grandfather "Abou Elias" (his nickname- The father of Elias) visited dad in his dream over twenty-four years ago.
That night before he slept, dad asked my late grandpa to take him to where he and Saint Elias are.
"I asked him peacefully. And not in a mushy or desperate manner. I simply wanted to leave", dad recalls as he starts unpeeling an orange.

My dad is a writer. He has his own world. His own dramatic mood. I do not argue with him. With age, I have come to accept him. I made peace with the tragic hero living inside of him.

And that night, as he waited for them to come and take him away, he had a dream that changed everything.

He saw them both sitting in a huge room. Grandpa was his traditional hat "Tarboush", and beside him was Saint Elias looking regal as Saint Elias would.
"I ran towards your grandfather and I kneeled to kiss his foot. He did not talk to me. So I assumed they both did not want me there. Where they are. So I stood up and I got ready to leave the room when I heard Saint Elias roar in his paternal, authoritative voice: YOUR NAME IS NO LONGER ELIAS. YOUR NAME IS NOW UNTAMED FIELDS TURNED INTO MAJESTIC GARDENS...AND THERE WILL BE A HOUSE LIKE NO OTHER..."

And then dad woke up.

My dad is a writer. He lives things differently. Tragically.
And on that morning he decided to go back to Lebanon after years of self-inflicted exile...and he knew that there will be a house in the land named Artouk.
And there will be gardens. As huge as his impossible dreams. As dramatic as the tragic hero living somewhere inside his wild, untamed world.

When my father was a boy, my grandpa "Abou Elias", would take him to the land he owned in the name of Artouk, to help him with various chores.
And when the night came, "Abou Elias" would leave dad alone in the land, to go get drunk with his friends.
My dad, the writer, would imagine a wolf coming every night as soon as my grandfather left, to stalk him, and yet he never hurt him.
Over time, the wolf became his companion.
And many years later, when my father became a renowned journalist and Avant Garde Novelist he dedicated one of his novels to the wolf which personified his solitude and made it less acute...He named it "The Return of The Wolf to Artouk".

Today, there is a gigantic rock facing the second circular entrance of my father's house. On it he wrote in elegant letters: The return of the wolf to Artouk...in Arabic.
My father, "Abbeh" (In Arabic), is a writer.
He lives differently from the others. He feels things in different dimensions. He translates them in his own novelist style.

We reach Mostapha's house. "Abbeh" washes his hands on the sink placed outside, next to a big window overlooking Mostapha's living room.
"Are you afraid of death?" I suddenly ask him.
He laughs. "I must remember where I put my hat".
He slowly removes my pink scarf from his head.
He calls on to Mostapha to give him a few orders.
Mostapha is dad's trustee. He is not only his Garden keeper. He is the keeper of his impossible dream. The novel he has not finished writing since twenty-three years.
They start talking business.

I leave them and I walk towards the house trying to understand how a man could come up to the north every Saturday since years, to put small, tiny, touches on a dream he knew from the beginning was impossible.

Maybe "Abbeh" does not want to finish it. Maybe this THING has kept him alive all those years.

In all cases, he will always be a man I thought I knew.
A man, I never knew.

...I spend the rest of the day trying to find his hat.

مزرعة "TerrAyoun" في جبل صنين: مسكن ملوّن في أرض الأحلام

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