x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

People lighten the wait

People-watching is one of life's greatest pleasures, not to mention that it makes waiting times breeze by.

Idling in a hospital or clinic's waiting area is not unlike stumbling on to a dramatic tableau of contradictions. Observing strangers trying to appear inconspicuous around one another is the perfect remedy for distraught nerves. In a hospital waiting room, one can understand the origins of the cliché "twiddling one's thumbs". People-watching is an art you have to hone with delicacy, involving avoidance of eye contact and absorbing the details nonchalantly. It can become quite a satisfying companion after you've settled comfortably within its folds. Suddenly, long airport waits, solitary shopping expeditions and a clinic's waiting area will no longer hold any terrors.

A visit to the doctor in a country as diverse as the UAE can quickly turn into a great observation exercise, especially if you can manage to ignore whatever ailment brought you there. From the receptionist briskly demanding your insurance card to the shrieking infant steadfastly ignored by its embarrassed and oh-so-weary parents to the old woman smelling of moth balls and calling out loudly every 2.5 seconds to ask the receptionist if it's her turn yet, the people-watching opportunities are endless.

There will always be at least one individual pretending to read. First, they will lean over the coffee table, and mess up the neat arrangement of magazines and newspapers, then picking one at random, probably the one with the most colourful cover, regardless of content. After leaning back and crossing their legs, the so-called reader will start skimming through the pages, staring at a picture every now and then, and lifting their eyes to allow them to roam around the room more times than there are pages in the magazine.

There will probably be a young man stealing glances at a girl who pretends not to notice him. And slumped in a corner, there is a teenage girl sulking to herself and ignoring her mother. Causing a ruckus to the side is a boy of six, running around the room, bumping into knees and elbows, stopping to tug at his mother's skirt and whining to be taken to the toilet. A young couple clasp each other's hands tightly, worry furrowing their brows, speaking in hushed whispers over the girl's gently rounded belly. An old man blows his nose into a handkerchief and sighs.

They are characters, all of them, regardless of where they might have hailed from, and rest assured that they hail from near and far, considering the motley of nationalities that have made the UAE their home. It forces you to acknowledge how much you have in common with the average person across the street, no matter how different you might be. And in a hospital waiting room, you're not that different at all. You're all waiting, pretending not to notice one another. You're all muttering your own versions of prayer under your breath. And you're all wondering how a few minutes can feel like an eternity.