You are approached one night in a bar by a man who offers you fifty thousand dollars (plus expenses) if you will move into a hotel he designates and assume the identity of an ambassador from the tiny land-locked country of Uqbar.

“What’s the pitch?” you demand. “What’s the idea?”

“Never you mind,” he says. “You just do what you’re told and there’s fifty gees in it for you.”

“What if I run into someone from this Uqbar place?”

He chuckles. “No worry of that. It doesn’t exist, man, it’s a figment.”

You’ve got your doubts, but what the hell. You could use the money and he’s persuasive. The upshot is you end up moving into Saint Olaf’s as the plenipotentiary Salman from the very slightly Westernized Uqbar. You’ve got a staff of ten, all of them in on the gag.

You don’t see your handler again, but for the next six months you receive a steady stream of visitors: journalists, senators, diplomats, businessmen looking for new investment opportunities. You begin, against your will, to take it all seriously. You begin each day with a salute to the Uqbari flag. You drive hard bargains, gouging each potential investor as much as possible for the glory of the motherland. You live frugally, not to overtax the coffers of your people.

When the man stops in to visit you, your face is lost in the heavy solemnity of your post. Your hair and eyes are darker, your nose that much heavier, your eyes lined and cautious, your shoulders freighted with the care of two million imaginary people.

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