Monday, December 2, 2013

Paperweight And the Holiday Season

Working on final edits of my first book, and trying to finish the second book in progress, I have been cooped up indoors for the past few weeks. I finally got to a point where everything was falling in place, and decided to take a break and go on one of my usual long walks to clear the clutter in my head.
The weather was perfect, sunny and breezy. Feeling lighter and optimistic that I would return home with a clearer idea on one of the characters in the book, I picked up my pace and opened my senses to the beautiful nature surrounding the jogging trail.
Fifteen minutes into the walk, a lady touched my shoulder from the back. I slowed down and was surprised by a tight hug. She was the mother of one of my son’s friends from school. After the usual greetings, I noticed she was a little upset. She had lost her cell phone on the trail, tried to call her number from a borrowed phone five minutes later, and a lady picked up her call.
“How fortunate,” I said. “Someone actually found it, and now you can retrieve it.”
            Her face dropped. “The woman asked for $100 to give it back to me. She said she would wait for me by the fountain in the park.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. No matter how much I saw of people’s greed and cruelty over the years, I was still taken back by that complete abandonment of goodwill. If this woman stole the phone, and not bothered to answer my friend’s calls, I would have probably accepted the act as simple thievery. But for her to have the audacity to inflict that kind of distress by her greedy request baffled me.
“I don’t carry my wallet on me when I exercise.” My friend’s fingers dialed the woman again. “I don’t know what to do. And she will not pick up my calls any more.”
I didn’t have my wallet on me, either. I didn’t think my friend should pay the money, anyway. I looked ahead. If we really tried, we could be at the designated fountain in about ten minutes.
“Let’s go. We can find her and try to reason with her. Do you have a passcode on your phone?”
“Yes. She will not be able to use it.” My friend’s eyes brightened for a brief instant, before they dimmed again with disappointment. “Not right away.”
“You could send her a text message and tell her you would call the police. They will be able to track your phone through its GPS,” I suggested.
My friend silently nodded, her mind probably speeding through all the changes she needed to make if she didn’t get her phone back.
We reached the fountain, looked around, and found no woman waiting. There were many families, and people jogging with their dogs. Like I said, the day was inviting for outdoor activities. But we didn’t see a woman holding a phone, scanning the crowds.
Dejected, my friend said, “She left. I was late.”
“Call your service company and burn the phone,” I encouraged. “She would not be able to even sell it as hardware. It will be completely useless to her. She could use it as paper weight.”
That enticed a tentative smile from my friend. She thanked me for trying to help, and urged me to resume my brusque walk, then started heading back to her house. I wanted to stick around, but it was obvious she wanted to take it from there on her own. So I wished her good luck, gave her a hug and went on my way.

The incident stuck with me the rest of the day, and the following one. I didn’t feel angry, rather nauseated and disgusted. Simple acts can go along way, I was always told. Gestures of cruelty or kindness have the same ripples in someone’s life, some stronger than others. This mysterious woman, thief, tormentor, probably didn’t ruin my friend’s entire Holiday season, but she sure punched a huge dent in it. What for? What did she gain? A colorful paperweight?

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.


  1. What a terrible thing to happen to your friend and very discouraging to know that these people are everywhere. I hope that woman didn't get a penny out of her little scam.


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