The merry old gentlemen!

Rasha al Raisi – Living with my grandfather for many years and an ageing father now, made me develop a soft spot for elderly men. At that age, they get grumpy and drive you mad with their stubbornness. Yet they become funny and unpredictable, just like children.
For the past few weeks-when walking back from school in Malaga — I kept bumping into Señor Cohiba. Of course, that’s not his real name. I called him that because of the huge cigar dangling from his mouth, that he puffed automatically, like an expert Red Indian chief.
Sr Cohiba is an ancient who sits on a wheel chair in the corner of the street. Whoever leaves him out there chooses a sunny spot. Apart from his continuous puffing, Sr Cohiba doesn’t move at all (I was glad to notice later that he moved his hands occasionally to remove the cigar from his mouth).
On my way home, I’d stop by him to say hello. Surely, he didn’t hear me well — due to old age and the cotton balls sticking out of his ears — yet he always welcomed me with a toothless grin and the usual: “Hola guapa!”. I stand and we exchange a few words, compare the number of layers we’re wearing that day to combat the cold and with a pat on the arm I say adios and leave him.
I felt good, doing my quota of human kindness for the day (and hoping deep down that one day when I’m grey and old — surrounded by 100s of cats — somebody would pass by and say hello too!).
The second old man that I had the pleasure of knowing here was Josep, the 74 years old Croatian language student. Now Josep is seriously interesting.
He’s one of the few people in this world who doesn’t have a mother tongue. He grew up in a village in the Hungarian-Croatian borders. His family spoke both languages, plus German. He grew up as a confused kid, speaking one language and writing in the other. Josep lamented the fact of not owning a particular identity, as he went on
travelling and living in different places — picking in the course three more languages.
But Josep’s stories were fascinating. As a marine, he travelled the world in the 60s and 70s (except the middle east, where the Suez Canal was closed in 1967 due to the Six-Day war). After retiring, he did different jobs, such as working in an After Eight chocolate factory in Italy. He was in packaging and was put off chocolates for the rest of his life.
Josep is a regular student in this language school, attending courses every few months. He prefers oral classes where he speaks his mind out, mixing Italian and few German words to Spanish.
Like the rest of us, he despised grammar and insisted that he didn’t really need it at his age. All he needed was some
Spanish to help him read the newspapers and chat with the locals at the bar.
Being retired, Josep now works as a volunteer in the psychiatry wards. He had a big bruise on his arm, caused by a patient having a fit. The only fear that Josep has is losing his memory and ability to move around. That’s why he continues learning Spanish and go for daily walks.
I invited him to visit me in Oman, but he said that he’s too old for such a long journey. Instead he gave me his mail address to stay in touch. Josep doesn’t own a mobile phone or know how to use the Internet. A gentleman from the old times indeed.
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja. rashabooks@yahoo.com