Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Moth and the Pictionary man

            He was a man who mastered the game, Pictionary. Communicating his thoughts through cryptic messages, he gave only clues to what he wanted to say. It drew to his side people who liked the challenge of figuring out his intentions, and occasionally reveled in the thrill of discovery when they thought they got it right. He alienated those who needed things spelled out, who lacked the ability to analyze his expressions and the self-confidence to accept their conclusions.

Did it affect him? Not one bit. He was set in his ways, solid, immovable.
Did it matter to him? You bet. Feeling superior, above the norm, and lonely as hell.

There’s a certain kind of pleasure one draws by being different. Don’t we all need to be set apart in some way? Being funny, or kind-hearted, or trust-worthy, or generous, etc. Of course, there’s the other side of the spectrum, where some people stand out by being mean, or offensive, or too selfish.

For our Pictionary friend, he stood out by remaining a mystery. And who doesn’t like to solve a mystery? Agatha Christie’s widespread books are a testament to that side of human nature among numerous works by masters of the written word.

So naturally, she was drawn to him. Like a moth is to an outdoor light fixture. She zoomed in on him, fluttered her wings and circled his attractive ambiguity. Others joined her, perhaps even preceded her, colliding with the intensity of his glow and eventually dropping to the floor, spent and burned. Not her, not our patient moth.

She found a spot on the ceiling far enough for her antennas to pick up on his signals, yet close enough for his incandescent heat to warm her wings. Patiently, night after night, she watched from her spot and learned to distinguish the subtle changes in his radiance. Did he notice her? Did he want her to come closer? Did he find ways to increase his luminosity to lure her to his side, knowing he would scorch her once she did? Or did he do the opposite, dim the light that drew her to him in the first place? Did he articulate his interest clearly, letting go of the game he had mastered? Was she patient enough, her antennas finely tuned?

Whenever I come across a man like our Pictionary friend, and I see a happy woman by his side, I know the answers to those questions. Which one are you? A Pictionary man, or a patient moth?

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

M’sieur BuĆhar

    When I was a teenager   just a few years back   I was hooked on a French television show that still pops in my head every now and then. Each episode showed M’sieur BuĆhar, a man in his forties, having to endure the presence of annoying characters in everyday situations. He consistently handled stressful scenarios by imagining ways to “off” the annoying person, a defense mechanism that almost everyone uses at some point in their lives. I know I have, many times. My favorite method? Spontaneous combustion, visualizing the offending person in front of me suddenly burst into flames, and vanishing from my personal space with a gust of wind.

M’sieur BuĆhar blew up his boss, drowned his mother-in-law, shaved his wife’s head, stuck a gun in the mouth of the salesman who sold him a crappy car, slit the throat of a boring, monotonous lecturer, knocked out a policeman before he issued a traffic ticket. You get the point? He did that in his head, with a smile on his face. Sometimes, when I suffer a situation beyond my control, I close my eyes, summon M’sieur BuĆhar and let my imagination run rampant.

A few days ago, I didn’t just imagine M’sieur BuĆhar, I wanted to be M’sieur BuĆhar, extending a hand to repeatedly slap the extremely pompous person talking to me. Speaking condescendingly, making assumptions about my life without a single question first, judging my thought process before hearing the reasons behind it, brushing away any comment I was able to articulate as unimportant. Simply, insulting.

I could have spit out something to put her in her place, or simply walked away after giving her a “drop dead” kind-of-look. But I couldn’t. This person held something in her hands. I needed it back, unscathed, untarnished, and pure. A project - my dream project. So I pasted a smile etched on my face, nodded my head like the patient person I was trying to be, looked her straight in the eye and summoned M’sieur BuĆhar to the conference room.

He stormed in, kneeled behind her back and fumbled with something at the foot of her chair. Gradually, this woman started dropping inch-by-inch until only her neck and head remained visible above the table surface. She kept talking, and I looked down at her. M’sieur BuĆhar’s face popped from behind, wiggled his eyebrows at me and then left the room. The meeting was over, I got back what I needed, and left.

Do you have a M’sieur BuĆhar to come to your rescue? I hope everyone does.

Friday, October 5, 2012


The words jumped at me from the inside cover of a worn-out book. The handwriting was slightly slanted to the right. Whoever wrote them used black ink, capital letters, and didn’t leave a signature, only a date: FEB. 91.

I was rummaging through boxes of old books donated by a generous lady to the writers group I belonged to. The books were her mother’s, a writer who had passed away recently.

Like a child opening birthday gifts, I went through the overflowing boxes, trying to decide on which books to take. Time was limited, and I had to consider leaving enough of the collection for my fellow members to go through. I quickly scanned titles, flipping through various informative books, novels, and writing manuals. My hands landed on the golden cover of a small book, the title engraved into the shiny paper. Intrigued, I opened the book and read the above words. In the left corner, the sentimental confession took up three lines, on the very top, a woman’s name. It started with the letter “J.”

I shoved aside the books piled on the table and leaned my backside against it. The 83 pages contained proverbs about love, page after page full of reflections and thoughts, most new to me. I flipped again to the handwritten lines. Something heavy sat on my chest. The words danced on the pages in front of my eyes. I steadied my hands. This was a special book, given to a woman by a special someone, telling her she was loved. And here I was, an aspiring writer, a nobody, a woman from a far away land, intruding on this preserved moment in time. 

I had no right taking this book. It belonged in a special spot on a bookshelf in the home of this woman’s daughter. Surely, she’d want to treasure it, protect it. Did the book end up in the donation box by mistake?

One page had the corner folded as a marker. Taking a deep breath, I flattened the corner and read:

For we must share if we would keep
   That blessing from above;
Ceasing to give, we cease to have
   Such is the law of love.

I briefly closed my eyes. No, it was not a mistake. The book ended up in my hands because the woman’s daughter followed the rule of love. Thank you, “J.”