A Strange Acquaintance in the deserts

Nancy Vijo
Thursday, March 10, 2016

I was traveling down the Gulf Road, in front of Sief Palace. Where once a were beautiful natural round about with palm trees, was now artwork – with fountains. Was amazed at the beautiful fountain and artwork created by skilled workers – right in the front of the palace gates, opposite to the Grand Mosque, a beautiful, holy and prominent landmark in Kuwait.

As the lights played on the waters falling down the fountain, my eyes hazed out and my memory lane took me back – back to 2012… to the very same place where I first met “him”. “He” who still evokes the same ache in my heart. My memory went 3 years back – back to 2012.

A few years in Kuwait had brought about a lot of changes in me. Like the palms trees whose leaves are tied up to protect it from wilting, so has Kuwait dried up pangs of empathy in me, forcing me to wound layers of professionalism over my vulnerable soul.

Having shifted to 3 prominent branches of the same organization, I have had the opportunity to travel around Kuwait, learning all the routes and coming across the vibrant differences in each place – in terms of people, businesses and attitudes.

On one such journey to one of the branches, I happened to travel past the Seif palace on the Gulf Road. Scorching heat. Temperatures above 49 degrees. Yet, greenery zoomed around. Bushes dividing driveways. Trees and flowers in every roundabout. Flowers in red and white.. as far as I could see.

Even with AC temperatures turned down to 18 degrees in the cab, the sun rays still burnt my skin. We stopped at a signal. White and red flowers lined up till the end of the road as far as my eyes could see. I dipped my head back to take a sip at the cold pepsi and took a bite from the Filafel that I had brought right before I entered the cab. A rustle in between the bushes and flowers caught my attention. Dressed in an equal shade of green, was a man of about 65 years.

Dark skinned. Thin and skinny. Hollow cheeks. White stubbly beard. Eyebrows and hair in shades of white and gray. I leaned to get a glimpse of what he was doing. Saw him looking about and then grabbed the water pipes to wash his hands and feet. He sat on the wet ground in between the bushes. Pulled out a piece of plastic cover from his pocket. It pulled at my heart when I saw him taking a piece of “Kubhoos” out from the cover. The only piece. My cab pulled away and tore at the traffic I leaned back and rested my head against the seat. Closed my eyes and tried to convince myself that this wasn’t my country and that there was nothing I could do. I tried to take another bite at my falafel but couldn’t. The small piece of dry kubhoos which the man had was the only sight I could see.

My hunger and thirst was done for. I felt cold. Noticed that I was shivering. A drop of tear ran down my cheek. Felt foolish at being so vulnerable. Covered myself with “that one blanket” people tend to cover themselves with – professionalism. Sat back. I can’t be foolish and vulnerable. This is none of my business.
Forced the scene out from my mind and continued to type away at my laptop. I had some work to be done before I reached my destination.

Same route. Same journey the next day. Same time. Looked at the watch. About 1.45 pm. As I neared the signal I found myself praying that the light turn red and I get sometime near the signal. Signals red. I leaned forward and looked around for that man. Saw him stumbling to a spot of shade beneath the palm tree. Another old man joined him there. He took out another plastic cover from his pocket. Another piece of Kubhoos. He passed it to the other man who now sat beside him. He broke it into 2 and returned one half. My cab sped on. I noticed that I had gone cold again.

2 more days and then I had one day’s work in the branch that was next to the palace. I waited. Finally.
I moved on to the branch near the palace. At about 1.00 pm , I stepped out, politely turning down the office boy’s request to go and get lunch for me. The sun beat down on me the moment I stepped out. I felt that my skin was ripped apart from flesh. The light was blinding even with my shades on. I sped through the open playground. Hot sand burned my feet even when I had my shoes on. I reached the end of the road. The roundabout lay ahead and then the lines of bushes. Walked into the nearest restaurant and ordered 2 biriyani’s. Got it packed in a black “kees” and sped further. The cashier at the restaurant gave me his card and informed that they have free home delivery. I thanked him and sped off.

The roundabout and the line of bushes was my only destination. Dint know what I would do. Dint think about it. Just walked ahead. Saw the old man sitting beneath the palm tree. I halted at my spot and watched him for a while. He didn't pull out any plastic bag this time. He just sat there. Eyes closed. Head resting back against the tree.

Found my legs pulling me towards him. Crossed the road, walked ahead and stopped beside him. He woke up startled. Stumbled and stood up. Confusion in his eyes. I couldn’t manage to speak. Here was a lady dressed in formals – trousers, shirt and blazer in the scorching heat – in the roundabout in the middle of the road – OUT OF PLACE.

He spoke to me in a language that I did not understand. I assumed he was asking “what is it?’. I managed to hand over my parcel to him. He looked at me with suspicion. I held the tip of my fingers together and brought it towards my mouth enacting that it was something edible. He hesitantly took it from me. Called out to his friend – who popped out of nowhere. They opened the parcel, took out one and handed the other one back to me. I tried to convince them that it was for them – until he pushed it against me and I took it. They sat down together. Tore the thermacol lunch box in two and started to eat. I dint know whether I were to wait or move. I moved back a step. I looked down on them while they looked up to see what I was going to do. I waved my hand and as I started to turn around, the man’s hand wobbling reached forward and touched my shoes. I instantly bent down and held his hand against my forehead. There was this man who’s about 65 touching my feet in return for lunch. No ounce of professional strength could stop my tears now. I stood up and ran back. Could see heads pressed against windows of cars that had stopped by the traffic block. Dint pause. Dint think. Dint turn back. I ran. Streaking tears like a lil girl, I ran as fast as my legs carried me.

Same old journey. Same place. Often I found myself asking the driver to slow down before the signal so that we could get the red light and wait by. This stranger grandfather had become a “smiling acquaintance” by then. I would often find myself opening the windows to put my head out and smile and wave at him. In reply all he would do was smile and bring his hand to his heart.

I felt drawn by this unknown thread of compassion to him. I lost my grandfather when I was 9. He had meant the world to me. This person became my grandfather in the deserts. We never spoke. Never since the day I brought him lunch. That was the only direct verbal encounter that we had. I understood that he looked forward to this silent acknowledgement every day when once… my cab was about 2 hours late. I was worried if I would see this grandfather that day. But as I neared the signal, I found him waiting, not where he usually did, but by the road. As our cab neared he motioned to pull the window down. We had about 6 seconds before the lights turned green. As the cab slowed down and I pulled the window down, this grandfather passed on a black cover into my hands. As I waved by, the car sped on. I opened the carefully wrapped cover to find ripe dates. Probably from the palm trees that he tended to. I held it close to my heart. This was more precious to me than any other gift I had ever received.

I dint see him the next day. Nor the next nor the many days that came by. The driver always slowed down silently acknowledging my search for this man. I never saw him since then.

I moved on to another company. Another office . I never had to travel the same route again. But even then I occasionally find myself looking out for that man amongst every roundabout , every road that I go by.

My search has dwindled down, maybe I’ll never see him again. May be he’s back in his own country, may be he……… I don’t know. But I know this for sure – that he’s held a place in my heart just a strong rooted as I might have probably held in his.

My Gardner man, my “strange acquaintance” in the desert.
Based on a true story.

Nancy is a creative art person,a writer and a motivational speaker. After almost 7 and a half years of her career in HR and Corporate Training in various hierarchical levels; she decided to turn to Applied Behavioral Therapy, trying to make a difference in the life of Autistic kids. She loves designing and choreographing and has anchored various shows in an out of Kuwait and India. She believes in Karma - that what you give is what you get. She writes with the belief that if her writings brings about a positive vibe in the life of a person who reads it - even if it is for a fleeting moment - she would be blessed. Being a vivid observer, she only writes on true experiences.
View full profile

Read this article at www.indiansinkuwait.com