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52. THE RAINBOW CHAIR

May 9, 2008

Scene 3 – Sit In It

2037 – Israeli-Palestinian dialog in Nablus. Sixty people lunching over white tablecloths. Silver tinkling cutlery. These are serious and professional people. Well-appareled. Politicians and bureaucrats. Israelis, Palestinians, other interested parties.

Layla has just arrived. Jarringly, she is dressed in a rough and ready bohemian style. She has a young girl in tow. Behind her, two men place a garish armchair on the elevated stage area.

She approaches the top table. The diners stand up and greet her profusely. Whisperers sneak looks and tune their ears in.

[Shimon Golder, Israeli governor]:
”Wonderful to see you here Layla, wonderful.”

[Junayd Rahman, Palestinian governor]:
“It is our greatest pleasure.”

[Golder, assessing the contours of Layla’s paint splattered jodphurs]:
“I hope we haven’t interrupted anything.”

[Layla]:
“No. All finished.”

[Golder, still assessing]:
“Good. That’s very good. Very good indeed.”

[Layla, masking a huff with a laugh]:
“Don’t be shy Shimon. You can look me in the eye. Here. This eye.”

[Rahman, stooping]:
“And who have we here? Who is this darling? Daughter? Granddaughter?”

[Rahman, covering his mouth in horrified embarrassment]:
“Oh I am so sorry Layla. Please forgive me. Is she a relative of yours… this young lady?”

[Layla]:
“Gentlemen, this is my friend Sara. She’s three. We’re not staying long; I have to get her back to her mom soon.”

[Grandad Golder]:
“Well you are most welcome Sara. And where are you from Sara?”

[Uncle Junayd]:
“Yes, lovely to see you Sara. Are you enjoying your trip with auntie Layla? Sara?”

[Golder]:
“Layla. Is she… dumb?”

[Layla]:
“Yes. In a manner of not speaking… if you see what I mean. She is in shock. Her father died last week and he hasn’t been able to read to her.”

[Layla, squatting on her haunches to cuddle Sara]:
“She’s certainly not deaf though. She’s a very clever girl. We have to be careful what we say around her. Don’t we Sara?”

[Junayd, sifting]:
“Is she Israeli… Palestinian?”

[Layla, upturning her head and smiling]:
“Sara, these people are trying to make things better for you.”

[Golder]:
“You can… you can fix her? Right, Layla?”

[Layla, getting up]:
“So guys, what’s changed? Are the walls coming down yet?”

[Golder, leaning forward and seeking the support of his Palestinian counterpart]:
“We are making good progress, aren’t we Junayd? As we will jointly convey to the media conference, we have moved forward on a number of issues, though of course, some obstacles remain. We have committed to a series of future dialogs. And on a much tighter schedule than previous administrations.”

[Rahman, after gaining some telepathic consent from nearby associates]:
“Yes. We are happy to have met here in Nablus. It is very symbolic. And we are very supportive of this process. You know the problems. They are not easy to deal with.”

[Golder]:
“Not easy at all. World federation has helped enormously of course but…”

[Layla, butting in]:
“Israel still tightly controls water and energy resources… militias still active, still supported… corruption continues… distribution of employment and services are marred by an alarming and underhanded prejudice… that sort of thing? All unacceptable for the breath of this little girl.”

Golder and Rahman shrug a bit.

[Layla]:
“I see. Well, progress seems a little superficial to me. Sounds like there’s a lot of surface tension and you’re waiting for someone to walk on water. No worries, though, I have been working on a remedy.”

[Golder, with a witty left eyebrow]:
“Of course we welcome your ideas Layla. As long as they don’t involve plagues or starvation. Destitution is fully yesterday around these parts. Anyway we are used to all that. We are immune. It doesn’t work on us.”

[Rahman with mock terror]:
“And no more spontaneous combustion. It makes my blood boil.”

[Layla, sudden-sorrowed]:
“Oh Junayd, I had nothing to do with that. Even now my heart collapses when I think of Sholeh. In a way that’s good, the pain keeps me grounded.”

[Rahman, sympathetically]:
“I didn’t mean to offend.”

[Layla, acknowledging, settling]:
“That’s fine, none taken. You two are spending too much time together. Shimon’s sunny disposition is rubbing off on you.

Now listen. I’ve great news for both of you. That fine piece of furniture you see up there on the stage behind me… I call it the Rainbow Chair. See how it’s painted in so many beautiful colours? I’ve gone to a lot of effort. Really. I carved it, upholstered it. Everything.

It’s a magic chair. Anyone who sits on this chair will gain the insight and courage they need to usher in a new spirit of trust, collaboration and love in this region. It only works on Israeli and Palestinian arses though.

Shimon? You want to go first?”

[Golder, gently but firmly demurring]:
“I am already a proud promoter of such a spirit Layla.”

[Rahman]:
“As am I. And I hope I’ve risen above being called an arse. [smiles]”

[Layla, showing faint, faint, pain]:
“I should have added a bigger incentive. Sexual gratification perhaps?”

[Golder, saucily]:
“Would that be provided by the chair or your good self? I’d have to skip dessert of course. Otherwise I’d find it impossible to discern where one stopped and the other started. At my age I’d probably prefer a strapping, solid cigar. They are immensely difficult to lay your hands on these days. Maybe a pleasure of one’s choosing is the enticement that’s needed? Can you do that for us?”

[Rahman, discreetly]:
“And I should remind you Layla… we have to be careful what we say around Sara.”

[Layla, hands surrendering]:
“Okay, okay, you’re right. I guess the chair will have to stand on its own legs… peace, fellowship, goodwill… that’s three legs… and I’m sure there’s some other nice thing that I can’t think of right now. It’s very nicely painted though don’t you think [Layla stretches into a little girl teeth-smile]?”

[Rahman, getting serious]:
“Layla, listen. Don’t take it personally. We have many complex issues to work through. It’s important that we don’t wave a wand and fix the symptoms. We have to address the underlying causes. We have to reconcile ourselves with difficult truths in order to move forward with unburdened hearts.”

[Layla, squinting skeptically]:
“Shimon. Junayd.”

[Golder]:
“Anyhow, how does this chair work? What will it do to us?”

[Layla]:
“Oh I never know how anything works. It’s a Pippy special. I’m just the messenger as they say. C’mon boys. Do it for Sara here. How can you ignore those big eyes?”

Pressurized but unconvinced, the two men studied down at Sara.

[Rahman, loudly]:
“Ali, please sit in that chair on the stage.”

Ali did so and stared directly ahead. Soon Ali looked heart-broken, and then at peace again. After a minute Ali’s eyes asked Rahman if it was time to get out of the chair.

[Rahman]:
“Yes, get up. How was it Ali? Anything unusual?”

[Ali]:
“It was okay sir. Though I saw that little girl’s pain. Very sad.”

[Rahman]:
“Okay, well, it’s good to connect with other people’s difficulties. It will stand us in good stead for the next dialog.”

Rahman and Golder organized everyone to line up and take their turn. Finally, they sat in it themselves.

[Golder, touching his trousers]:
“Thank you Layla. A very interesting perspective. You’ve ruined our clothes though. Where shall I send the cleaning bill? Do they have Stream connectivity where you come from?”

[Layla]:
“Apologies for that. Yes, the paint is still wet. Call it a memento.”

[Rahman, finding it a nuisance]:
“That’s very strange… to ask us to sit on wet paint. And look, the chair is the worse for wear too… we’ve smudged the colours.”

“Oooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhh” groaned an Israeli diplomat. And then Ali shrieked and held his head. Soon the room was full of upset.

[Golder, feeling fiercely despondent]:
“What have you done?”

Layla picked up Sara and hastened to the door, Golder and Rahman clambering at her heels. She held Sara at arms length and turned to the two men.

“I’ve gone walkabout on the streets this week. In Israel and Palestine. Many, many people sat on the chair. Thousands. Sara was the first. It is saturated with their feelings, their wishes. And this morning I painted it rainbow.

I don’t know how it works. I can only repeat what Pippy told me. When you sit on the chair… the accumulated emotions are transferred to you at a strength that is proportional to your ability to do something about them. And the effects intensify until improvements are made. A great motivation.

By the way, if you know of anyone who is impeding you or can help you, get them to sit on the chair before the paint dries. Exciting isn’t it? Good luck. Do something and don’t die.”

Layla pulled the door shut, lifted Sara onto her hip and strode out into the Nablus street waving ‘Hi’ to the crush as they parted before her.

————-

[Mr Young]:
“Interesting. That’s not how Shimon tells it though. The Golders came to our house a while back. Struggle and sacrifice. He put the strong relationship between Israel and Palestine down to that… not any rainbow chair.”

[Mr Fadl]:
“Yes. Yes, I remember that media conference. Strangely muted given the rapid progress made. And do you remember the question one of the reporters asked? And Rahman’s irate response “No, of course we haven’t been playing paint ball”. Very funny.”

[Mr James]:
“Well, whoever made this repository… whoever did it… has certainly dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s. Fits very snugly. What a game that was though. Why restrict it to such a few people? Why not let everyone sit on a rainbow chair and solve every problem all the time? Free will be damned.”

[Mr Enayati, laughing]:
“It always gets round to the balance between free will and be still. It’s a cosmic game of push and shove.

Anyhow, those repository making people are fallible, they made a mistake. The rainbow should signify hope not hopelessness.”

[Mr James]:
“Would you sit on a chair like that Omid?”

[Mr Enayati, thoughtfully]:
“Before or after the paint?”

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