24 April, 2007

So much to be sad about

I folded myself into the narrow, clear Plexiglas lined cubicle for two and logged into my email. Sitting in stations like this draws my eyesight into a sharply focused tunnel vision that renders those around you only blurs of a variety of colors. This cafe was one of many that lined each storefront along the abbreviated street that began with the Syrian immigration and passport office at the corner, near the law and fine arts schools.

Out of the corner of my eye I registered someone new sitting down heavily in the seat next to me; a man, older, in a dark brown coat. In my periphery I noticed him reach into his coat for something, glance my direction, and hesitate.

"Excuse me," he said in a richly accented but perfect English; the fluidity of a second language that comes from living it not simply studying it. "Do you mind if I smoke?" He smiled generously like a father beneath his thick black moustache. He held a cigarette between his fore and middle fingers; his large hand curled into an loose fist as if to show me.

"Of course," I replied, returning his smile. "I've been here long enough to get used to it."

"Oh, please," he implored with a soft chuckle, "don't ever get used to this." He loosened his grip and wagged the cigarette between the fingers in his fist. "They will be the death of all of us,"he said jerking his chin to indicate the others in the cafe.

I laughed with him. "Thank you," he said simply before turning away slightly to light his cigarette.

"I only smoke when I am unhappy," he said, almost wistfully, "and we Iraqis have so much to
be sad about these days."

He was already engrossed in what was on his computer screen as he said it; the conversation had passed and I was left staring, speechless, at the too bright screen in front of me.

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