The anti-white-rally demonstration is peaceful for about one minute. Then the exchange of words turn to one of punches, tear gas and other riot weapons. People run through the streets yelling nonsense or plainly screeching “REEE.” Finally a car rams into the crowd. People scream in pain, the fights get wilder. My arab friend grabs my hand and guides me out quickly. He receives one or two additional punches on our way out, but he pushes on. Finally we reach safety. “Are-are you ok?” I ask, impressed with how he handled himself. He nods, trying to recover his breath. “I’m somewhat of a veteran of these kind of demonstrations,” he explains.
He has bruises and a bleeding wound on his forehead. “You should… see a doctor,” I say worriedly. “You should see the other guy,” he says smiling, trying to look tough. “I’ll be fine,” he says casually, possibly trying to show how high his testosterone levels are so I will be interested in mating with him. On the bus back we barely speak. “You can find me in dorm room one hundred twenty-eight,” I inform him before we part ways.
The next day he shows up at my dorm door. “You don’t waste time, do you?” I ask him. But he smiles uncomfortably. He has a friend with him. “I’m not here for you, I—” he says before his friend interrupts him. “So this is the girl you met,” says his friend as he approaches me. His eyes are fixed on me. He takes my hand and kisses it without my permission. Is he crazy? If someone saw that he’d be in real trouble. I get very tense. “Allow me to introduce myself, I am—” “He’s my idiot brother,” says my roommate. Her brother smiles and nods. “Oh, you know her?” she asks the arab guy, who nods in response. I’m too embarrassed to say anything else. They all leave together, leaving me alone in the apartment.
How stupid was I? O earth, swallow me. I bury my face deep into my bed’s pillow and wish not to see anyone for the rest of the year. I just concentrate on reading. I clean the room and bathroom, take out the trash and watch tv until they return.
“Hey there,” greets me my roommate. “Oh, hi,” I say indifferently. “Well, bye,” say the guys from the door, before closing it. My roommate changes her clothes, prepares some food for herself, then comes to watch tv with me. “So,” she says with her mouth full of sandwich. “Now you’ve met my brother.”
I nod, thinking “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” to myself while I hit my forehead with my hand when she isn’t looking. “He asked me about you,” she says casually, then smiles. “Oh shut up…” I say, sighing with relief. “By the way,” she starts. “tomorrow there’s an important speech at tol’s headquarters. I was hoping you’d come with me, maybe see what I do…” She stops. “I mean, if you want,” she blurts out, trying not to pressure me.
“Tol?” I ask, and as she opens her mouth to explain, I realize I actually know what it means and feel like a complete idiot. “The tolerance movement, of course,” she says. “Uhhm…” I say and pause. “I guess I could join you. Where is it?” I ask, again casually. “I can take you there,” she says. “I’m a… member.” I notice how she hesitates to say the word “member.” The next day I wake up to freshly brewed coffee and scones. I like her much better than my old roommate before the whole near-rape incident, who didn’t care about me at all. I’ve only lived with her a few days, but I already feel a connection between us. My friend from school was right, she’s lovely. She’s shy, modest and austere. But, like me, she enjoys simple joys like good coffee. After breakfast, I thank her and we leave for the meeting.
During the bus ride I stare at her as she twirls her curls with her finger. She almost looks… sad. After that, we walk for sixteen minutes or so to get there. The building is huge, with an open hall at the entrance. “Good morning miss secretary,” we are greeted by two security guards. And by the people at reception. And by other people on our way to an elevator. Once it closes, I look at her with a naughty smile. “Miss secretary?” I ask. She keeps quiet and blushes. “How—” I start to formulate the question. She’s so young, barely two years older than me. How is it possible she’s so relevant here? “Well, this whole thing was, partly, my idea,” she explains. “My uncle’s organization finances most of our operations,” she tries to hide in political lingo. Ding. The elevator opens and we walk past several offices until we reach hers. It’s larger than our dorm.
“Come on, it’s not such a big deal,” she says seeing the look of amazement on my face. “So what do you do here?” I ask while she picks some folders and papers. “Well, we fight for tolerance and promote justice,” she explains. “But like, how?” I ask and sit down in a comfortable leather armchair, feeling its smooth surface with my hands. “We have several departments,” she continues. “For now we’re primarily focused on promoting equality on all fronts through targeted visual campaigns.” “So you run propaganda ads?” I say bluntly. She turns and looks at me. I have broken the spell that made her recite words written by bureaucratic spiders. “Uhm, I-I guess you could call it that. But that way it sounds… dishonest. We’re not pushing any shady agendas here,” she tries to justify.
“So who gives the speech?” I ask, feeling the leather one more time. She stays quiet and keeps looking for papers in a drawer. “Hello?” I ask again. “Uhmm…” She says. She sounds distracted. “I’m supposed to give it in—” then in a much lower tone so I can barely hear her, “… four hours.” “What?” I ask. “Then why are we here now?” I ask irritated. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she says in distress. “I-I kind of needed someone to help me prepare and didn’t know how to ask. I knew it was a lot, and it’s your free time, but I really thought you could help me, and our friend in common said you were good at this kind of things so I, I—” “It’s ok, don’t worry,” I interrupt her before she runs out of batteries. “I just wish you’d consult these things with me in the future.”
She nods, smiling. “I promise.” Immediately after she hands me a stack of papers. “Ok, here’s my speech, I want you to read it and tell me what you think.” I feel awkward. Nobody has ever trusted me with a relevant task before. “Can I write on this?” I ask. She nods. As I read it, I make circles and notes with a pen. Meanwhile, I can feel her presence in the room. Every time I write something, she bites her nails unconsciously, realizes what she’s doing and forces herself to stop. The speech is not too long, but it lacks order and clarity. I can see the points she wants to make, but they’re all muddied by lingo. I look up from the text. She’s staring. “So?” I stay silent for a few seconds. “Ok, I have a few suggestions,” I finally say, “to help you get your points across.”
“First off,” I say. “‘Processes for the diffusion of our ideas will be further refined and utilized to fulfill our core goals, mainly through large-scale digital medium’ could be replaced with ‘we will focus on social media.’” She looks at me, confused by the clarity. “But that sounds… dumbed down,” she finally replies. “No. What you said sounds ‘dumbed up.’ The people listening will only hear static noise, and you will sound like the typical politician. But this is not for mass-consumption, this is for party-members only, right?” She nods. “Then you don’t have to say meaningless crap with fancy words. I suggest you make it simple and to the point.”
“But it’s not…” she says and stops. She thinks about it for a second. “But party members expect a certain level of…” “Unintelligibility?” I finish her sentence. She stays quiet for a moment, and something clicks. “You know, it actually makes sense,” she says a bit more cheered up and she comes to the armchair where I’m sitting. She sits by my side and takes the papers from my hand. “Ok, show me other examples.” I take her through the notes I’ve made. We make changes to the thing until it becomes something else entirely. She recites it for me a couple of times, and I also give her advice on what and how to emphasize.
The four hours fly between laughter and work. Finally we walk back to the elevator. Half the stuff she’s carrying falls to the ground. She’s clearly nervous. I help her pick up and carry the papers. We get to the elevator and she breathes deeply. “Ok, how do I look?” she asks. “I don’t know, good I guess,” I say. She’s disappointed. “Ok, wait.” I stand behind her and pull the pin holding her hair and comb it with my hands while we look at the mirror in the elevator. She fiddles with her hands nervously, accidentally touching me a couple of times and apologizing immediately. “There, much better. You’re going to kill in there,” I say. “Th-thanks,” she mutters shyly.