The characters you meet

MB is in Doha airport heading to God knows where. He arrived too early on account of not taking proper look at his fligh ticket earlier today and not being able to remember the departure time from two days back when he booked the ticket. It’s a man thing. 

Some Phillipinos are nattering away in their native Tagalog a few meters from where MB is sipping his coffee. They are the Spanish of Asia in that regard. They love to talk. And talk and talk. And then some more. Like Spanish students during Summer back in Ireland. Who arrive to learn English for a few weeks and take over all the public spaces in the major cities at evening time. Talking at ninty miles per hour. Non stop. Incessantly. In Spanish! 

A man is asleep in a chair directly in front of MB. His luggage is next to him and in his sleep he is dreaming that nobody is stealing his luggage. Which is a safe bet in low-crime Qatar. Looks Turkish. 

He is stretched out on his seat as much as the small seat will allow. If he stretches one millimetre more he is likely to slide right off the seat and onto the floor. Only the man’s overweight pot belly is maintaining the present equilibrium. He needs to spend some time in the gym by the looks. If he does and loses that belly, then he will have to take a different posture when sleeping in small chairs in airport departure halls. Otherwise he is likely to go sliding.

A few days back MB was sweating it out in the gym. Trying to lose a few kilos he has recently gained. Gained on account of being too tired in the evenings to do anything other than flop down on the couch in front of the TV with laptop on lap. Where it was designed to fit and named in honour. And eat some chocolate. Because it’s good for MB allegedly. And because it’s tasty. But mainly because MB is a 100% chocoholic.

A German lady was also using the gym at same time. MB had greeted her a week earlier when nods of the head were exchanged. Which is all you can do when someone is wearing headphones and engrossed in the subject matter of their listening. MB did not know then that she was German.

But on this morning, she greeted MB’s hello with an hello in reply. In a clipped German accent. MB noticed that she had a can of some cleaning chemical spray. Like a ‘Mr Sheen’ or some such for cleaning glass or furniture. MB assumed she was not a cleaner. In these parts cleaning is the exclusive preserve of dark shinned individuals from dirt-poor third world countries. The German lady was far removed from such a non Germanic status. In her Nike training gear and blaupunk head speakers. Which cost more to buy than any of the apartment block’s dark skinned cleaners might earn in six months. Allah u Akbar.

Anyway. MB likes to stretch his calves as part of his routine and as there isn’t convenient apparatus present to do so, MB normally places his foot on top of one of the weight machines. The ones with soft seats where you can do all manner of lifting while sitting down. So MB did his usual. First one leg and then the other. Fifty seconds each, of stretching the calf muscles to snapping point.

MB had the misfortune of facing the direction of the German lady as he lowered his leg to the ground on completion. German lady removed the head speakers from one ear only. In a ‘Deutschland uber alles’ sort of way, and addressed MB. Very much in a ‘Deutschland uber alles’ way. “Do you have to put your foot on ze seats when you do ze exercise?” said frauline deutsch to member-of-a-lesser-race MB. “I normally do” explained MB, which wasn’t really any explanation at all. Silence in th gym. Frauline Deutsch replaced her headphone and MB moved on to his next effort. No further words were exchanged, apart from those already uttered that now defined the relationship of MB and FD.

FD then finished with the treadmill and moved to the first of the gym lifting apparatus. Grabbing the can of cleaning spray, and a small cotton towel that appeared like an apparition in her hand, she proceeded to give the apparatus a thoroughly good spraying before applying some elbow grease to deliver one of the cleanest pieces of gym equipment known to humankind. Over the next 30 minutes FD repeated the same routine before using each of the other five or six pieces of equipment she used. And giving a particularly vigorous cleaning to the piece that only minutes earlier had supported MB’s muscular stretched calves. Casting a disapproving Germanic glance at MB as she did so.

Only a god damn German could treat a gym like an operating theatre though MB, displaying a rare moment of racial intolerance, as FD finally tired of her exertions and signed out. To MB’s relief.  MB decided there and then that he will return to the gym at exactly the same time next week when he will surely encounter FD again and falsely inform FD that MB suffers from chronic asthma. And could she please desist from spraying harmful chemicals in the gym, lest MB have and asthmatic attack and die. Right in front of FD. Which would put the gym out of action for a day or two and result in FD having to explain to the local police why she killed MB. MB is really looking forward to that encounter. 

A few days after the Irish/German diplomatic gym incident, MB found himself in Kuwait city. An Indian driver from a partner Kuwaiti company picked MB up at the airport. MB sat into the front seat like he always does. To engage the driver in some banter and get the local low-down. Which can be useful out these parts.

Turns out Indian driver was a Muslim called Mohammad. He was an intelligent man with a good sense of humour and had animated discussion with MB about the latest games in the cricket World Cup. He suggested the batting order that India should adopt in the next match. Like most Irish people MB knows little or nothing about cricket but did his best with what little knowledge he possessed. The conversation moved on to life and work. And the struggles that men meet. 

Mohammad’s monthly salary is USD 590 per month. He must pay his Kuwaiti visa sponsor 180 per month leaving him with 410. From that he must pay for his own accommodation and food. And then try to send something to his wife and family back in India. Mohammad is actively looking for a new job. He hopes and dreams that he could get an extra 150 per month. If he can achieve this, then life will be good for him and family. Comfortable and with less financial stress at any rate. Maybe good is too strong a word.

There are hundreds of thousands of Mohammad’s in the region. In same lowly positions and in same position of stress and strain. This is what low, or no, levels of education and the ways of the world dictate.

There are not so many ladies, or men, in gyms wearing thousand dollar headphones spraying cleaner chemicals all over the gym equipment. Thank god for small mercies.

Mohammad in the company car in kuwait.

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