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God's Invented Accident
Sometimes you imagine that harmony exists, especially when it does not; a straw to which you can cling and convince yourself that maybe something is fine, that you are still in the system, and that hopefully you can still fit in. I always say, look at the empty half or the full half of the glass, depending on which is more positive to you. But when it's the goddamn traffic, full is definitely the negative one. And if it is eight in the morning and you are trying to be out of Beirut and in Jounieh by ten, all you have to do is hope that the harmony persists, at least for the coming two hours.
Hundreds and hundreds of cars, flowing in one direction, leaving the city and heading north. Hundreds of exhaust pipes forming clouds that only a passenger can enjoy reading as a fortune-teller would, and you would be happy that you were not the one behind the wheel, swearing at every halt or jerking at every unexpected acrobat by a car anywhere around you on a scale of 360 degrees. You look carefully at your watch and the deadly slow race starts. If it gets to you, then making it by ten is impossible, but if you are sarcastic enough to put that behind you and try to imagine that there is some harmony in the way the cars are lined up and moving, even if it is at ten miles an hour, then maybe, and I say maybe, you would enjoy the ugly trip and reunite with your customer with a smile that reveals how good the care was you had taken of your teeth over the years.
God really has fun with creation. To relieve us of the misery, he invented cabs, but to make up for that intended mistake, he also invented cabdrivers, and of course, the traffic. It's all part of the game. You can't get everything after all, can you? And God is there, right there, making sure that this is the way it happens and cunningly grinning whenever someone complains. No wonder having and keeping faith in God has always been the deed of the courageous and the brave.
Traffic jams are a great opportunity for socialising. You tend to meet all kinds of people; the poor and the rich, all equally driving their cars along the undistinguished lanes of crappy and smoggy metal; people you owe, people who owe you; people who smile and others who sulk; people who are conscious enough to gaze at the cab you are riding and others who are self-conscious enough to ignore you because you are in a cab; it is the universe by all means, a cosmos that suddenly comes to existence and keeps changing and unchanging until at some abrupt point in time and place, it all comes to an end, but then you are rarely luck enough to see it happen. And perhaps you are not that lucky if you saw it since it might just make you come face to face with some horrific discovery that would trigger all those insecurities you try to keep inside your closet before you leave home to deal with the world outside.
The distance between Beirut and Jounieh is hardly more than fifteen miles but it could be the longest fifteen miles you would ever ride in your life, especially if it is on a Monday morning. It just happens that by incident, every goddamn idiot in town is going to Jounieh. The worst part? On the way back, every goddamn idiot is also attempting to return. And it is always the same trap, even if you try to reverse destinations. It is either that you cannot trick God at his own game of fate, or that you are just so unlucky that the same crap happens to you everyday.
And on that peculiar Monday morning, the masses of metallic pilgrims were doing just the same ritual, and no one seemed to complain. Even those unidentified young men, teenagers and children selling cold bottled water on the sides of the lanes, between the moving cars, for miles and miles of crowded space, will not make you feel that something is wrong, even when you are very well aware that most of the cars around you, including the one you are in, do not have an AC while the August sun fries you to extreme discomfort. Come on, look at it this way, sweating is a biological process that reminds you that you are human. And do you realize what it would do to your humanity if one hot August morning you did not sweat and make an embarrassment out of yourself while the smog and the smoke killed whatever remains of your lung cells? I have no clue, but maybe it is not that bad to be inhuman. Personally I hate the AC because it mocks me when I catch a cold in the middle of summer. That's another irony of God's making if you ask me. What was not peculiar about that morning, however, was the spirit of the traffic; because while everybody succumbs to the system, there are some who are ultimately against it. What do they call them? Zigzag riders? Something like that, and they really earn it. And most of them share things in common. They are young and enthusiastic about the rat race; they ride expensive, powerful and fast cars; and they always have daddies who can get them out of trouble. They also violate the harmony of the system, and even though many of them end up in some ugly accident on a daily basis, they never seize to impress you with their persistence. And you might forgive them, because even when they are breaking that harmony that you have just spotted in the system, they prove to you that it is still possible to find someone who is willing to go ahead and violate the system, to say no to the world, perhaps to breach the word of God.
Usually, when a system is broken, you expect something to go wrong, someone to pay the price, just anything to make you feel good. Even in Lebanon where every man- or God-made system is broken a million times everyday, you have the same expectation. Actually, it is perhaps when something goes right that you have such a feeling, because then you would have a breach in the system. But on that peculiar Monday morning, with the heat of the morning mounting, and the adventurous spirits of the rich and the powerful greedily attempting to grab any gasp of fresh breeze available on the roads, someone just decided to push things too far. It was all so sudden when a speedy car suddenly engaged in that zigzag ritual right in front of us. My heart did not even throb.
The good thing about this country is when they steal your car, nothing else really matters. Even car accidents don't mean much to you, as long as you are not getting hurt. In fact, it is even a relief, no matter how bad you think a cab driver can be. And maybe that's why my heart did not even throb, or it might have just been a problem in my glands that did not result in the sufficient adrenaline secretion that was supposed to put me on alert. The speedy car vanished. It is amazing how miracles happen. How could it go so fast when the traffic was hardly going at less than twenty miles an hour? Isn't that amazing? But then, something must have gone wrong, it seems, for a minute later, the cars stopped. Being on the right side of the road is a good fortune if you are the curious type; you can simply pull over and peep. It seems that the speedy car had taken a wrong turn while doing its stunt, but I was not certain whether it was at the zig or the zag.
Aware that we would be stuck for hours, I simply paid the cab driver and decided to cross the accident area on foot. There it was, the speedy car pulled over in a funny diagonal manner on the right side of the road. It has the symbol of some American university in Beirut, the kind of thing that for years I had identified with.
A young woman was still inside the car. Then suddenly she got out of her car. In the movies, they say it is shock, but after years of seeing shock on people's faces, that was nothing close to it. That woman, she was a real cute one, but definitely angry. I wished she were my girlfriend because I am the type who likes to handle anger.
By the time I got there, I understood what she was yelling about. It was about her insurance company. It was the third big accident in two months and she was embarrassed because they had warned her before that she was already close to her insurance ceiling. How much is that? Ranges between $15,000 and $100,000 a year, depending on what kind of policy you bear. I bet she had a $200,000 policy that one. I worked in the insurance business for a very short while and that was years ago when I was still in college, but see, it sticks.
I have learned that when something happens, especially an accident, people tend to focus on one thing, probably the shock effect. But in an accident, there are more than one thing to focus on. This lady was getting most of the attention. Yet, I think she was probably a little disappointed to notice that there was a growing crowd that was focusing on another side of the scene, a few feet away from the front side of her car. Come on, I thought, you cannot get all the attention for yourself now, can you? Or should you? Amazing how the loving soul of this country never dies. Despite the heat, the traffic, the inflation that the government denies, even the difficulties of life topped by unemployment and poverty, it seemed that every single young or old man was offering this young lady his cell phone. Of course, the status of each could not be told by his mobile since they were all new and shining, part of the culture. They were offering her their phones even though she apparently had one, and probably another inside the car. They also offered her cold water when she had been flying in cool luxury. This is not to mention the comforting words, the smiles, the friendly gestures, and were it not for the inconvenience of the moment that the accident happened early in the morning, they may have even offered her a ticket to watch Gladiator. It's a great movie by the way, but I never had the chance to review my historical information; probably they got them wrong. They always do that in American movies. I mean, look at Saving Private Ryan. Did anyone know for example that the private Ryan in question had actually deserted his duty? And yet, they made a hero out of him in a movie. Life really stinks. But not for that private, and not for this young heroic woman who had violated the harmony of a hot smoggy Monday morning in August. The gala was not yet over when finally we heard the sirens of the ambulance coming in the distance. Finally, someone was going to take a comfy ride. No, not the young lady, for thanks God the Almighty and bless her soul, she was not that harmed. The ambulance was for the seventeen-year old girl whom she had crushed, probably to death with her zigzag stunt.
I did not want to stay to watch the ugly business of wrapping the body of the unidentified one for I had seen that so many times that it no longer meant anything to me. I live in the heart of drama everyday, but the moment that usually gets to me is that one when I turn my back and try to leave. The last bits and pieces are always like shrapnel of a mortar; they are small, sharp and made to cut deep.
And God in all his glory had given me those ears that are so perfect they never seize to impress me just when I pray not to hear.
Do you think I am going to be in trouble? I mean it is her fault. She was standing right there on the side of the highway. What kind of country is this? How do people take such risks and stand on the side of the highway? Don't worry, that will be settled. Your father will take care of it.
So nothing will go wrong? I mean she was just a prostitute. Maybe this was God's punishment to her.
I say, God bless your and my soul, who is going to bless God's soul when he hears of this?