STORIES FOR STRANGERS

by Noura Hemady on March 27, 2013

richard-nowitz-moonrise-over-the-lincoln-memorial

When you come talk to me, I’ll tell you how interesting I am.

Oh, I have stories. You’ll see how incredibly liberated I am. My memories are like movie montages. They have their own soundtrack. They’re blurry in all the right places.

Maybe you’ll be impressed that sometimes I ride bike around the Capitol Building at two in the morning. On a Wednesday. You’ll ask, don’t you have to work in the morning? And I’ll tell you, yeah. . . so? You clearly don’t comprehend the majesty of the monuments at night. That’s when they’re really meant to be seen. You need to take advantage of the city. Do you think people in Philly get to do this? DC is most beautiful at night. It’s quiet, it’s lonely, it’s romantic.

I can see that you clearly don’t value your youth as much as I do. I mean, what do you do when you get off of work? Go to happy hour? Hit the gym? Drink a beer while watching reruns of Friends at 7:30 on TBS? Ah yes, you have a puppy. A Goldendoodle, because you’re allergic. She needs to be walked before work. Puppies, I’ll tell you, are like babies. You’re trapped. Someday I’ll have to wake up at six to soothe the sobbing gasps of my child, and then go pretend to work all day. And when I’m bleary and covered in spit-up, I’ll regret my lost freedom.

Maybe you’ll be wowed by the scars on my elbow, or the scabbed gash above my heel. What happened? Well, my elbow — that’s from the car that hit me. The gash — oh, I was drunk and trying to climb down off a chain link fence. You’ll wonder if they hurt, and yes, obviously they did, but isn’t it great that I have these stories embossed on my body? I’m sure you have scars too. Tell me about them.

If I’m going to embody the ultimate DC stereotype, then I have to tell you, time is running out for me here. I’ll be leaving soon, off to Yemen to save the Yemenis from themselves. I know this isn’t culturally relativist, but I tell you, they’re so backwards. No, I don’t feel racist saying that. While I’m in Yemen, I’ll go chew qat with the Bedouin elders in the mountains. You’ll probably remind me that women don’t chew qat with the men; they have their own qat parties where they cast off their headscarves and sit with their friends and talk about the men outside.

Well, here’s the thing: I’m the exception. You probably haven’t traveled much, but in Yemen they have this thing called the third gender. See, you’re projecting your Western assumptions onto this again. No, I’m not talking about transvestites. The third gender in Yemen is Western women. We can go so many more places than those poor Yemeni broads. I mean, I guess I can’t wear shorts or a tank top, but I don’t have to wear a headscarf, thank GOD.

I’ll wonder if you know that I just made up everything I told you.

Yes, I’ve sat at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial at 4:00 a.m. Once.

I’ll be convincing in my description of the third gender in Yemen, so you probably won’t know that I’ve never been there and have no desire to go. I have dark hair and dark eyes and olive skin, so perhaps I look like an ambitious expat from a hot, dry country. I’ll speak passionately on foreign policy and development, so you may not realize that I couldn’t care less. The world has always been in a state of war. There will always be poverty. What is the point?

When I have a story in mind, I can be a convincing liar. I’ve told people at bars that I’m a Druze princess, drinking just one last time before my arranged marriage (which is tomorrow). Then they’ll look at me like they know I’m lying. Arranged marriage? What’s this girl’s deal? She’s in a bar with a drink in her hand, wearing a short dress. I can definitely see cleavage. People who get arranged marriages wear, like, headscarves and stuff. Uh-huh. Druze sounds like a made-up religion anyway. Did you mean Jew?

Listen, I tell them. You can’t convert to become a Druze. You have to be born one. If I married a non-Druze, well, my kids wouldn’t be the same religion as me. You can look it up. Get out your phone. It’s spelled D-R-U-Z-E. And there are only a million of us worldwide, so, you basically have to get set up. Wikipedia will confirm everything I’ve told them.

I won’t tell you about how I call out sick from work to sit in coffee shops and write for people who don’t pay me, and how jealous I am of the other people inside. Who are these people, whose jobs let them sit here alone all day and drink good coffee? I’m uncontrollably distracted by their imaginary lunch routines. Do they get to go home and make eggs? I would.

And I won’t tell you about the time I once danced in the arms of the man I love through five revolutions of the traffic-light cycle at 11th and Florida. I was walking my bike, too drunk to ride the hill, and he, sober. We sat in the bus shelter to talk. I had the Soul Stirrers’ “When the Gates Swing Open,” and I wanted a reason to hold his calloused hands. We didn’t talk. He walked me the rest of the way home, kissed me on the forehead, and rode home to his house, where his girlfriend was sleeping in his bed.

You’ll never know that when I sat at Lincoln’s foot, I wasn’t on a solitary adventure, searching for inspiration for the story that would make me famous, that would take me on nationwide reading tours, that would allow me to sit in coffee shops all day and write and think and drink Einspänners. I went with this man, the one with the calloused hands, and we sat, leaning against the columns, trading stories about our parents until the sky in the east turned purple, then orange over the dome of the Capitol Building.

* * * *

Noura Hemady is a Washington, DC-based writer who should have more opinions on international development, but really just wants to talk about music, bikes, and DC culture.

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