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The Peacemonger
Short story

June 29, 2004

The two men who had come to the lecture hall were there to speak about peace. They were from the two countries that were at war. It happened that the larger country had attacked the smaller country because there was something there that it wanted, but okay, let's call it a war.

The old man stood in line along with hundreds of other people of the city who had come to hear about peace. The war was halfway around the globe, but they were tired of it, even though it did not involve their own country directly. They were tired of seeing it in their newspaper each day. They were tired of the pictures of people hurt or killed by bombs and missiles.

The old man was talking to the young man ahead of him in line, a young man who was black-skinned or brown-skinned or yellow-skinned, who was from one of the places in the world, in other words, that had a little bit of an understanding of what the smaller country was going through. The old man was telling him about his life.

It was all right, he was saying. Sure, he was divorced, and his two sons were divorced too, one in Ohio and one in Rhode Island, but he played tennis two times a week, sometimes three. Had his regular group that he'd been playing with for years. And he was going to visit the son in Rhode Island this summer. They were going to take the train together to Montreal. Never'd been there, but'd heard it was a nice city. They were going to go see for themselves.

He'd heard about this thing tonight, the two men speaking together. Thought he'd come down and hear what they had to say. He was interested in this stuff. Didn't know if it was going to change anything, but he was interested. 'Course he'd seen a lot of things in his life. But then this one had been going on for fifty years now.

The young man listened respectfully. It was good to listen to the old man while they waited in line because it was moving very slowly. He didn't know if the lectures were going to change anything either. But he was glad to have come tonight because he had not yet been born when his own country had been going through it.

Two young men who were students at the university were walking among the crowd, passing out flyers. One of them wore the scarf of the people of the smaller country.

Most of the people he knew weren't all that interested, the old man was saying. He wondered about that sometimes, that maybe it was easier just to not think about the whole thing. He'd known some people like that. Maybe it was easier.

The young man listened and did not say anything about the people who did not have a choice whether they could think about it or not. It was pleasant standing outside in the evening and listening to an old man who was still wondering about things like that. It was pleasant when he did not compare it to the people who could not afford to do that.

His sons had not been very interested in this stuff. They were interested in computers. Didn't know what to make of that himself. Hadn't raised them that way, just'd turned out like that. Anyway he was divorced now. Guessed it didn't matter too much.

The students came up to them and held out the flyers. The young man took one and folded it and put it in his pocket to read later. It was a flyer with information about the smaller country of the kind that did not appear in the newspapers.

They held one out for the old man. He shook his head.

"No," he said. "I'm a warmonger."

He was smiling and the young man knew it was a joke. It was the saddest kind of joking but it was still a joke.

The students did not know what to say. The young man looked at them and did not know how to tell them that it was a joke, that the old man was a peacemonger who did not know what he had to show for being such, and that there was a feeling in the way he had said it that he wanted to be what he had something to show for. Talking to the students, he had the last seventy or seventy-five years to show something for, and in that time there had been war and there had not been peace at home, at least not the lasting peace.

The one with the scarf spoke up. "Why are you here then?" he said.

"Here?" the old man said. "I'm a warmonger. I'm here to hear about war."

He smiled at the young man. The young man smiled halfway. He was wondering if the old man had once been the students. Somehow they had looked very similar for a moment, and he figured that the old man probably had not been exactly the same, but that he'd been close. It was a little sad, but at least the old man was still joking.

There was a feeling among the crowd that what they were going to see tonight was peace. It was in the way that the speakers were from the two warring countries and in how they were not there to debate, but instead to talk about common goals and how to reach them. The young man participated in it to the extent that it was a good feeling to participate in, but he also kept in mind that it was just two men talking. He had studied the matter too much to participate fully, in the form of books he had read and stories he had heard from the elders of his own family about their country. And he knew how easy it was for the countries that had gone through it to keep going through it after they had thought that they were finished with it.

The line was moving faster and soon they were standing inside. It was bright and they could see the people filing into the lecture hall and taking their seats. It was looking like a place where something was going to get done. The old man was excited.

"Look at all this," he said. "This is great, this is great." He was talking to the young man and to anybody else who would hear. He gave his ticket to the woman at the desk. Just before he went into the room, he turned to the young man and said,"What do you think? Maybe this is it, huh? Maybe this is it."

The young man looked at him and thought he looked like a kid, and could not disappoint him same as he could not disappoint a kid.

"Maybe it is," he said.

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By Siamak Vossoughi


Fiction & prose

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