Do we still have coal, the text message reads. BBQ tonight?
In Algiers, our home has become the unofficial Friday or Saturday night hang-out. I attribute it to our roomy outdoor terrace, the pingpong table that doubles as a snack station during parties, and the lack of any other restaurant, bar, or scintillating nightlife in this city. This suits me well. Admittedly a homebody, a lazy soul, and a flaky participant when it comes to nights out, I am programmed for long, boozy dinners in the comforts of my own home, for take-out pizzas and food deliveries and homemade cocktails with wonky ratios; my music and fluffy slippers within reach.
The officially unofficial alcohol store of Algiers is in Hydra, a neighborhood over. Completely drive-able, but we… we’re the bulk orderers, and I’m not dragging cartons of beer up to the house myself. Amir takes orders by email; every week he shoots an email to his client list, an Excel file of available beers and spirits and wines.
Amir arrives a few hours later with the stash; he nods quickly —thankfully he’s not one for small talk— and proceeds to the pantry to stack up the boxes. Then at 7pm the doorbell rings; I open my front door and noisy cheek kisses are distributed to the first guests, and I leave the door open for the rest of the evening.
In two hours the house is abuzz with conversation and music. The Christmas lights are switched on. It’s October, but the lights hang on the trellis all year round. Candles are lit and they cast jittery orange glows at the faces of those who sit near them. The night’s self-appointed “Barbeque Master” mans the grill, doling out perfectly cooked burgers and steaks like Santa granting children’s wishes, a group of hungry souls hovering next to him clutching paper plates. The pingpong table is covered with a tablecloth and on top of it, every bottle imaginable, plus a sweating bucket of ice, chips, nuts, boxes of mediocre pizzas from Cook’s, famous for its cheese-filled crusts, styrofoam boxes of fries.
Throughout the evening people move in waves, fiddling with music, arguing about work over the long plastic table, or leaning their hips against the round metal outdoor furniture that has rust creeping up around its edges. New girlfriends are introduced to the group and are immediately handed a beer, a cigarette, a hamburger straight from the grill. Some couples bring their kids, who retire to my daughter’s bedroom to play until one of them comes over, crying, tugging at a parent’s shirt or skirt saying “But she hit me first!”; eye-rolls exchanged between adults as one of them breaks away to restore peace.
I join a conversation happening over at the long table, where complaints and jokes and verbal jabs are being exchanged; I thumb the liquid wax surface of the candle just over the lip, spilling some over onto the tablecloth as I withdraw my finger, letting the wax harden before peeling it off, cleanly and neatly, then dropping it to the ground.
Sated by food and drink, the party breaks into smaller groups, some sitting on the living room floor and others smoking at the steps by the entrance. Others are sitting around the kitchen table, a plate of brownies between them. The parents with kids leave first, wrangling their overtired children into their coats, saying thanks, I’ve left you a good bottle in the pantry. I’m tired but I smoke another cigarette, throwing the water from the ice bucket over my newly-planted shrubs, which clearly look like they’ve been overwatered under my enthusiastic care.
In the morning I find that the terrace had been tidied up. Someone had forgotten to turn off the Christmas lights. A pile of empty bottles peek out from the top of a sturdy garbage bag in the corner, the only evidence of the night before.
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