7 July 2007

The Old Man on the Side of the Road

I was on my way home late last night, around 2:30am, driving on the semi-empty Sitra Highway back to Manama. Me and the guys had just finished having a good time; we rented a big swimming pool; invited a lot of friends over, a stereo on, good food, a really nice pool, etc. So after a long evening, here I am driving back, windows down, the cool breeze being a welcome change from the regular summer heat and humidity, and i'm fiddling around with my iPod trying to find a song i'm not yet sick of out of the 2,000 others that i've played over and over again. I spot someone on the side of the road through the corner of my eye; an old man, dressed in the traditional thobe, but somehow it seemed a little worn out and shabby. He was probably trying to hitch a ride, but as I was going at almost 120km/hr when I passed him it was pretty tough to make the car stop near him without causing a Hollywood-esque sort of scene.

So I drove on, my mind torn into two. Its only been 2 or 3 seconds since I spotted and passed him, but both sides of my conscience started to play their part (you know, the little angel and devil personages that talk to cartoon characters when they have a strong moral decision to make); “So, you in your luxury car, cruising along listening to music and on your way to a nice comfy bed, not even thinking twice about this poor helpless man pleading with anyone to drop him home?” said the good side of my conscience. By then it was already too late to stop for him and I was too far away, so I kept going. I knew there was a turn coming up along the road so I could make my way back to pick him up, but that would mean me wasting another 2 minutes or so going around the same way I came. “Just go home, don’t bother” said the bad side of my conscience. But with a swift kick, the good side kept the bad quiet and I decided to turn back.

A few minutes later I’m next to the old man, offering him a ride. He gets in, and asks me where I’m headed; I figure that doesn’t matter since I don’t have anything of an urgent nature to do at the moment, so I’ll just drop him all the way to wherever he’s going, and he says ‘Soug Markezi’ (central market) in an unclear voice. He’s probably in his late 60’s or so, his clothes are tattered, and he didn’t look like he was in the best shape. I ask him what he was doing there, in the middle of nowhere at 2:00am; his words are a little garbled, so I can’t make out exactly what he’s saying but I try to comprehend as much as I can. He says he just left work at a factory, and how this factory wouldn’t provide him with transport so most of his salary usually went to getting to and from work. He was trying to catch a ride to save up a little bit of money for something to eat later on.

He kept pretty quiet after that, but I could tell there was something going on in there and I ask him what he was going to do in ‘Soug Markezi’. He mentions that he has a second job that starts around now, and goes quiet again, but he still looks like he has a lot of buried sadness, exhaustion, maybe anger? I prod to try and get something out of him, and he seems to enjoy actually having someone to talk to, so I listen as he starts to whine about his three sons; I keep nodding my head and even though I don’t pick up everything he says, I guess he feels better in letting all his woes out. His first son seems to be embarrassed from him; he’s working a good job making good money, and has his own family now, but he won’t come to see him or let his wife or children meet him. His second son lives and works abroad, and doesn’t stay in touch with him so he has no idea how he is or what he does. The only son who really took care of him had passed away a few years ago, the reasons of which I couldn’t make out. His wife had also passed away recently, so he lives alone, his daily routine being working one job to another to put enough money together to eat.

So now we’re at his destination, and he opens the door to leave, expressing gratitude. I ask if there’s anything else I can do, and he just smiles and thanks me once again, and then walks away…

I drive off with a million thoughts and questions. After years of living, working, contributing to society and raising his children, why would his sons do such a thing and run off. Embarrassed from their father? To completely lose touch with him? Do they know that he’s trying to make a living working multiple jobs, probably physically demanding ones from the way he looked, and having to hitch rides in the middle of the night just to keep enough money to prevent himself from starving?

And why was he on that road in the middle of night? Why can’t a company provide sufficient transportation for its underpaid staff? It was a little over 5 minutes of minutes to drop him off, is that too much of a cost for the company? And even if they didn’t, why were cars just passing by on the highway, seeing him and not stopping? Is that what our society has come to? Doesn’t anyone have the decency anymore to help out an old man on the side of the road?


Hasan said...

Wow. Very nice blog entry :)

ammoontie said...

Hi Ammar,
That is a very good gesture and brave.
May Allah repay your kindness.
It is a sad reality but such is life..!

i*maginate said...

Hey, there are loads of people who stand by the road and I'm sure people do stop to pick them up. Not that that's a comfortable way to survive, of course.

Remember, you did pass him by and consciously made a decision to turn back! But good on you.

I have real pity for such people but being female, I cannot stop on the road and pick up men as a man can.

There are always two sides to the story. In this individual's case, who knows the real story. Could be that he was a woman-beater and his sons abandoned him because of it? Maybe he was a terrible father? Some people say always stick by family whatever the case. But sometimes, as outsiders, we don't really know what goes on behind closed doors.

As unfortunate as this poor guy's personal circumstances could have been, it's a shame people have to live in such a way. And it's lovely that people like you give them a second thought and actually *do* something about it.

Thank you for being the guy who stopped by to give someone a lift when I wish it could have been me, :)

Umm Adam said...

May Allah reward you.

My husband once walked home from the causeway and didn't get home until around fajr! We lived near Isa Town, I think it was caled Sana or Sanad or something.

i*maginate said...

Yup. Seconding umm adam's comment above, this story was moving. Every time I see people standing by the side of the road, I think of this post. :)

Nelesh said...

goodjob soldier! you've got a good heart :),There shud b more u you guys on this island :P