I knew exactly what he meant. I had masqueraded as English, Turkish, Kurd and finally Spanish in order to bring myself over here. But there were times I truly wanted to be someone else, not just to get passed the tightly controlled boarders. And I wished culture was something I could freely choose after shopping around, like most things in life.
At the concert, breathing in the air of familiarities that I once emptied from my lungs, I counted not just the bodies but observed the motions of the dissidents who fled after the first glimpse into their contrived existence. They were now trying to reassert themselves in their new territories, find new directions, take root and recall fate out of suspension. Sam qualified; he fitted right in like the rest of us.
That night Sam was “Saam”, the Persian mythic figure. He smoked, drank, and danced. He glowed like a star, brighter than any culture. He took out his checkered handkerchief and waved it in the air during a Kurdish song, holding hands with Persian girls on the dance floor. He picked up new words and told me he will definitely go to Iran one day. I said things are different over there. He looked at me with disbelief as if I had no idea what I was talking about.
* * *
I started driving taxis to supplement my income and save money for my future project. One morning on my way to the city I picked up Roty. I had a hat on and was wearing a shade that made me unrecognizable. She took the back seat and gave me the address of her workplace. She had found herself a new job, I was told, with another government department. She took out her makeup kit from her handbag and started powdering her face.
'Which way are you're taking me?' Her voice echoed obtrusively in the cap and I felt I was being interrogated by her again.
'The most direct route madam.' I told her.
'Let me see.'
She cast her glance out the window and browsed the streets like a landscape conveyancer.
'All right. Keep on this road and turn right at the next light.'
'That's exactly what I was going to do.'
'You have an accent… where are you from?' she asked.
'I'm from Iraq ma'am.' Thinking it made no difference for her.
'From Iraq. I knew a man from Iraq. Ali. A polite young man. He was very ambitious. You sound just like him. Stop here for a minute,' she suddenly tells me, 'I want to get the papers and buy a packet of cigarette.'
I parked in front of the newsagent and waited for her. I sincerely hoped somewhere out there in the world someone would find her attractive. Would kiss her, caress her and tell her that the universe is not entirely a mean place. She kept quite and read the paper for the rest of the trip. It was a short trip that seemed like a very long journey.
Not long after Sam was gone that I received a postcard from him. Colorful Balinese girls with tall, golden crowns were dancing on it. He had gone into partnership with his girlfriend Siti, investing in a hostel for backpackers. He said he named the hostel after “Saam.” He loved sitting at the reception, making reservations for people, chatting to customers and at quieter times, read novels. There were many Australian tourists, but he no longer felt the need for medication to deal with them. They picked up his accent and asked where in Australia he was from.