x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

The kindness of strangers

Few things can humble a brand-new expatriate faster than watching a taxi drive off with his wallet on the back seat.

Few things can humble a brand-new expatriate faster than watching a taxi drive off with his wallet on the back seat. But chasing after it in vain until his jeans almost fall down will add to the momentum. Weeks later, it still takes a few paragraphs to "own" that I was just a clumsy, absent-minded American in Abu Dhabi. In my first few drafts, it all happened to a Canadian in Hollywood. I'm making progress. Despite suffering from a stubborn fever, I had pulled myself from a comfortable hotel bed to get my marriage certificate authenticated at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I achieved all the other necessary stamps, signatures and raised seals from back home, from my town's health office to the US Department of State.

I exited the cab with my documents properly stowed in a satchel, but my brown wallet remained inside, camouflaged in the upholstery. Soon I was out of breath near Carrefour watching most of the tangible proof of my very existence motor away. At first, the fever dulled the blow. But soon the fog cleared, and what I'd lost came into focus. Dirhams. A lot of dirhams. I won't say how many, but it was enough to buy an iPad and use it as a drink coaster until the really cool one comes out next year. All I had left was change from the fare, not even enough to cover the fee to make my marriage street legal in the Emirates.

Also gone were cards. A lot of cards. ATM, credit, worker ID, driver's licence, insurance - crown jewels representing a decade of line-standing, form-filling, bureaucratic achievement. I had to sit down - standing required too much self-esteem - and it seemed the only thing I could do that didn't require a license. Then came self-pity. It was a stoic but colossal eruption. Only prevailing winds kept it from closing airports in Europe. The voice in my head was morbid to excess: how long can anyone survive on cough medicine, 20 dirhams and Hillary Clinton's signature?

But sitting helped, if only because nothing short of a plan could command me to stand. I took a taxi to the bank, withdrew cash using my passport, went back to the hotel and consulted the 21st century's last refuge for the forsaken: Google. I found the phone number for TransAd and got a sympathetic lost-and-found consult. Knowing the colour of my driver's uniform helped narrow the taxi company possibilities down from seven to two. The calm voice gave me a file number and said I'd get a call if my wallet appeared. I went back to bed, vowing to never be so foolish again.

The next day the phone woke me up. They found my wallet. Naturally, this stunned me into a near comatose state, so I barely remember making the long drive to taxi company headquarters in Mussafah. And watching as my untouched billfold was placed back in my hand, each and every bill still folded, felt like nothing short of an out-of-body experience. So despite my shame, I had to come forward and attest for the kindness of strangers.

No one would believe such a Hollywood ending otherwise, certainly not for a Canadian in Hollywood.