I have been chosen. It is no joke.
There was a Japanese woman yesterday at the lower gate of LAU, who gave me a book and said I can make peace.
I usually don’t go to LAU on Tuesdays. But yesterday I went to help with the preparations for the Annual Theater Festival. I was almost at the lower gate when I noticed a travel suitcase outside. I thought it’d be for a student leaving to their country since the semester is over. Then I noticed this short woman carrying few books and wearing a badge around her neck.
I know these types. I always see them around Hamra Street waiting for victims to approach then they either want you to donate for a cause or answer a survey.
I am a Itani. Just saying. I saw the woman approach a student who just left LAU, but the student knew how to fend her off so she came back to the sidewalk. I noticed something strange, however. The woman seemed to be Asian from a profile view. I wondered, is it possible that Lebanese people are now using Asians for these jobs? I didn’t have time to wonder too much, though, because the woman’s next “victim” was none other than myself. She saw me and smiled. My smiley face. Grrrr. In my heart I decided that I will not surrender to this woman’s will to make me pay money if it is something I don’t want to pay for. Of course the part after the “if” was just to satisfy my ego, because I never succeed in escaping.
The woman and I had now become really close and she politely started the conversation:
– Hello, you speak English? May I speak to you for a moment?
I said yes, sure. Like a Lebanese child, I always become happy when an older foreigner knows that I can speak English. She also looked older than my mother, maybe my grandmother’s age. And she was obviously not in love with the heat.
– My name is Hayuko, I am from Universal Peace Federation.
She showed me her badge. Like an authentic Lebanese I pretended to be interested. I knew Hala would be waiting for me with a “yell” at the very least for being late, while this Missus talks to me about World Peace. Try to give Hala THAT excuse! But, anyway, it was too late to run away. She handed me one of the books from her hand.
– I am distributing this book here. I come from Japan, to make peace.
– “You came from Japan to make peace in Lebanon?” I laughed briefly but took the translated book nevertheless.
She nodded. I don’t know if the Japanese humour is not similar to Lebanese humour or if she seriously thought she was going to make peace in Lebanon. Bottom line is I couldn’t help but respect her passion for peace -she was hopeful talking to hopeless.
– And you think I’m going to read this book and make peace in Lebanon? You think I can make peace?
– “Yes, yes. This,” she took out a handmade card from her bag and handed it to me, “is from my friend Chiharu. She wanted to come to Lebanon but she can’t, so she sent you this.”
Things were getting better, but my mind was now consumed with two things: 1- I am definitely getting yelled at by Hala for being late because of World Peace. 2- Is she trying to sell me a handmade card on top of the translated book about some peace making Japanese dude?
– That’s very nice.
I noticed that the woman’s family name was “Watanabe” and I wondered if she could be Ken Watanabe’s sister. I shuffled the pages of the book and started thinking of possible excuses. The woman also had started getting restless at this stranger who wouldn’t buzz off, I guess. She took another thing from her bag.
– This is the Japanese symbol for peace.
– Oh, Origami!
– Oh! You know!
Her face lit up at my knowledge of Origami and she gave it to me happily.
– Thank you! How do you say, thank you in Japanese?
– Arigato, Hayuko. Ok, so are you selling this book or is it just something that I have to read then make peace?
– No, no. I am not selling. You read.
– Ok, so then do I have an assignment afterwards? Like do I have to write to somebody?
I now know that this must’ve sounded like an idiot because I feel like an idiot and I remember that she looked at me like I was from outer space. Does this woman think that people don’t give books for free? Not in Lebanon I’ve never seen anybody give a smile for free, heavens forbid.
– No, no. You just read for peace.
– Ok, Hayuko. Arigato! Good luck!
I walked in to LAU and went directly up to the Fine Arts. Good thing Hala had given up on me arriving on time so she was out of her office!
But I was thinking, is the woman coming from Japan to ask me to make peace in Lebanon a good thing or a bad thing? And, out of all people, why me? Does she know that the thing that I want most in this world is to get out of here because of the absence of peace? Is that how messiahs are chosen? Like we write our protagonists? Identify their weaknesses. What is their darkest shadow, their biggest fear? Put them face to face with it. Make them arc.