On the first morning of the new year, I was in Al Qurum’s Al fair with my mum buying a loaf of bread. As she headed to the counter to pay, I lingered behind practising my favourite hobby: eyeing the chocolate section and having an inner debate on the ethicality of buying an exported bar for almost RO 2! That was when I was approached by a shortish smiling chubby woman, wearing an Abaya and asking in an unmistakable Emirati dialect if I was an Omani. When I nodded my head, she exclaimed happily saying that I didn’t really look like one —obviously! — and thrusted her soft hand into my bony one shaking it repeatedly.
She kept asking me about how my family were, and how were my children — I had another moment of debate whether to brush her off by saying that I didn’t have any and walk away looking indignant OR remain and see what exactly she wanted. Of course, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to stay (a natural consequence of hanging around cats for too long). Without losing a minute — or her smile — she declared that she had “a story to share if I have some time.’’
I exchanged my polite smile with my famous poker face that never failed warding off friends and foes alike. Not bothering about hearing my response, the woman started her epic drama with the fact that they were a big family visiting Muscat from Abu Dhabi.
On their way here, the family got lost from each other — made me wonder for a second about their means of transport — and the women were separated from the men on different ends of the city. Now the women are staying in one of mosques and the mother is crying. I knew where this was going but couldn’t help asking: “So why don’t you call each other?’’
Not expecting my question, the woman looked baffled for a few seconds before answering quickly: “We’d packed all our phones in one bag that got lost in Abu Dhabi airport!’’. If it wasn’t for the grave look on my face, I would’ve rolled on the floor laughing.
Nowadays, Arabs in particular would rather die than be separated from their phones. You need to surgically remove it from their hands let alone pack it in a separate bag. Imagine the group hysteria realising that the phones were lost!
The lady went on with her story saying that they’d called their brother — how exactly when you’d lost your phones? — who wasn’t really surprised by them being lost as Muscat is a huge city (seriously?).
But he assured them that there is nothing to worry about as in Oman you’re among family! Obviously, this was the cue for me to reach for my bag and hand her whatever I had in my wallet. Instead, I stood there and gave her a sceptical long “hmm”.
Nevertheless, she went on with her story saying that they’d gone to the bus station: “You know the one in Ruwi?” and bought tickets with all the money they had. But now they’re running out of cash for the remaining three tickets (bingo!). When I didn’t stir, she added: “But my brother had sent us the money already! Just thought of sharing the story with you!” and I gave her a longer “hmm”.
She shook my hand once more hurriedly and from nowhere appeared a little girl who followed her out. I joined my mum who enquired about the lady. “Just a con artist having an unsuccessful start of the new year!”
(Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja. email@example.com)