So then, how does one create an Epic?
By visiting a 7,000 year old city, of course.
Byblos is one of the oldest----if not the oldest---- continuously inhabited city in the world. When Jesus walked in Tyre and Sidon (two other cities in Lebanon), Byblos---- "bible" in the Greek, that is, book----was already very, very old... but not as old as the school bus that was taking us there.
I was thirteen now, and eyeing intently the two chocolate bars in Rania's bag. Twice already, I had tried to snatch them, and twice the prehistoric suspensions of the bus ruefully conspired with the bumps on the road to prevent me from grabbing the said bars.
The rickety old thing had the jitters. It creaked and moaned and swayed from side to side so much so that I was convinced the driver would tell us, any minute now, to open a hatch and start pedaling just like Barney and Fred Flintstone.
"Coco mixed with sugar," said Barney offended, after materializing on the seat next to mine. "Atrocious."
"Is this bus yours?" I asked. "Did you ride in it as a child?"
"This bus is three years old and in perfect condition."
"Three years is old, and I am hungry," I muttered grumpily. "Where's Fred?"
"On an errand. Wilma needs garbanzo beans to make humus."
"Everyone out of the bus!" shouted the driver, trying to wake up the dead.
I jumped out of my seat and stood behind Rania. "Now is the perfect time," I thought, "I can grab the bars and she won't even notice." I reached into her bag, and just then she turned around and looked me in the eye. I was caught. Barney chuckled. Rania smiled.
"You want my chocolate?" she whispered, a twinkle in her hazel eyes, "You should have asked, you know." And just like that, Rania gave them to me.
The guided tour was actually interesting... enough to make me think about something else than food for one hour. We saw the location where Ahiram's sarcophagus had been excavated, along with the ruins of seven civilizations that had come and gone over millenniums.
"Civilizations come and go, but Byblos endures," said the guide.
Later that day, I stood on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea with the two chocolate bars. I thought about the generations past, of children who, across seven thousand years, stood where I stood, saw what I saw, walked where I was treading, and played where I longed to play. And, just like that, I saw Ahiram as a twelve-year old running on the beach before me, on his way to his village, Baher-Ghafé. And just like that, I knew in a flash, why Byblos endured: every generation had a Rania: someone willing to be a friend and a sister to a lost boy like Ahiram and, well, me.
Since then, I lost track of Rania and do not know where she is, but the kindness she showed me and the gentleness of her heart permeated the history of Byblos and animates The Epic of Ahiram.
May every boy come to know the love of a sister and the gentle touch of a friend willing to give him two chocolate bars.
They were good, by the way, those chocolate bars. Even Barney agrees.