x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Too rushed for Rashid

How the tyranny of time is robbing me of human contact.

There are shamefully few things I know about Rashid, considering the opportunities I have been given to become acquainted. In fact, from the genial Rashid to the men who stop outside our villa to introduce themselves after the Friday prayers, I've passed up some terrific opportunities, usually blaming that despot time. Might as well have stayed in Melbourne. When my wife, two children and I moved into the Euro Hotel in Abu Dhabi - a common port for journalists joining The National about 14 months ago - we came across the hearty Rashid.

Good chance you've seen him. Big bloke from Kerala with a bushy beard, sitting in front of the tyre shop across the road from the bus terminal. As we grew a little more common to the patch, Rashid took an interest in the kids: the little girl, who was then three years old and came to be constantly on the lookout for "Washeed"; and the little boy, who at 18 months was still mainly interested in second-by-second stimulus and comforts.

There have been a few times Rashid has shown us his kindness. When my wife passed his shop with two cranky, late-afternoon kids and a flat on the front tyre of the double-decker pram, he insisted on pumping it up. On another occasion, I had pulled into a car park a short walk from his shop after a tyre blew out not five minutes after I had dropped the family at home from a day trip to Dubai. That lucky escape, the unbudging wheel nuts, the jack that could have come from the first Model T, and the fact that I had inadvertently parked in a spot with a red curb all made me realise I could do with a hand.

There was no hesitation in paying a call on Rashid, and no hesitation on his part, except to pass over a bottle of water, in shutting up shop and coming with me. Some 20 minutes later, after some sweating, some good advice on the amount of air needed to stop a tyre exploding and some easy conversation about home and family, and we were back on the road. An awkward offer to pay for labour was given short shrift, a broad smile and handshake, and the reply: "My pleasure."

A couple of months passed before I met Rashid again. As usual, it was a quick hello and a look at the clock before I had to take off, regretfully passing up his offer of a chat over a cup of tea. Somewhere in the rush to attack the next seemingly crucial task, it occurred to me that such a refusal could be not only rude, but a missed chance to get to know more about a man who seems to be at peace with himself.

I've sworn that the next time I walk past his shop, I'll have the grace to drop whatever I'm doing and stop for a chat. Hopefully the kind offer will be repeated. Apart from the good company, you're almost bound to learn something from a man like that. He may already have taught me a good deal about the proper use of time.