When we got the news, there was no hesitation … I must go, we agreed, you hold the fort here and I will go …
For the first time ever, our family would not be together over Christmas …
In the rush, I contacted all my business dependencies, clients and service providers, to explain …
I will pray for your son, the Muslim lady said.
And I was out on one of the first Emirates plane to Dubai.
Before we took off the passengers alongside me leaned over in broken English and offered me chocolate.
Armenians, Georgians, who knows?
I was taken by their kindness, in South Africa the indigenous blacks call me ‘Baba’ now … even if I think I am still the teenager of decades ago.
There is an innocence across all cultures in the world … a delicate beautiful innocence that surprises in its unexpected …
I was curious to ask my passengers what language they spoke – later I thought.
Behind me, during the night, a man’s blood pressure dropped … I thought I heard a lament as I was sleeping and a light eventually woke me up … right there in the aisle beside me a hostess had an oxygen mask over a passenger’s face as he lay flat on his back – I knew it must be the blood pressure drop, he was too young, and it happens to me too, even if I am not; my feet start burning and then the rest of me …
She was on her knees over him, behind her a steward also of an Arabic look – the crews are cosmopolitan though and their English is like a Rainbow … all the colours of the Sun, and the smiles of sparkling water drops refracting Humanity.
As she took his pressure again she delighted in ‘95/81’ … that is a good pressure, so he must have been down in the 60s or 70s when he thought his time had come.
Sure enough he was soon back in his seat, stay calm I silently said to him, stay calm and you will be fine.
So I asked my passenger alongside me, what happened?
And in his broken English he explained the man was Turkish and had called out.
By the way what language do you speak I asked him? Turkish he said.
In the early morning when we arrived in Dubai, it was only twenty five degrees not fifty this time, the planet is tilted for a cooler clime.
Get there to the Venice gate quickly, then you can think about whatever else you need to, came the WhatsApp from my son in his hospital bed …
Days later when God heard and we were out and about in the paese I saw her, the lady I had met the previous year. Or at least I thought it was her. Her long black hair beneath her veil as she parked her bicycle.
Our eyes met and when she came through the shop door she walked straight over to me.
Fatima, I asked just in case – yes, she replied and we shook hands. Those hands had made a couscous that was as light as billowy white clouds and I still vividly remember the taste of that dinner party at my cousin’s home.
She has been a long way from home for many years, even if Morocco is a mere hop skip and a jump away compared to Cape Town.
Or so I thought – I never knew she had married a local and her children were of this nation now.
A madman had ploughed a truck through Humanity in Berlin … the world is full of both the innocent and the madmen.
He was from Tunis – but not the same as the Tunisian who had spent time in hospital with my sprightly elderly father.
The two had got along well in hospital, perhaps in my father he saw the father he had left behind.
And it was Christmas Eve, so there he was with his wife and child, a huge Pannettone in their arms.
Come in, come in we said to them.
My father brought out brandy, and poured a short shot for him.
His wife and child drank aranciata.
We talked as if we were old friends, in Tunis there are few mosquitoes and hardly no humidity.
Same as in Cape Town – whereas here summer heat and humidity and mosquitoes are beyond imagination!
He would stay with another brandy rather than prosecco he said, just showing above his collar a tattoo behind his neck.
Ramadan had been a couple of months earlier, he had bought a sheep and slaughtered it, just five euros a kilo whereas in Tunisia it is twice as much.
Back in South Africa, on the East Coast, where India has its largest Indian city outside India, mutton is a common consumption. Until my parents had emigrated there, my mother had never cooked mutton.
I must have grown up on mutton, just as the children of the Indian Muslim who had prayed for my son.
In Durban, the Indians had even created the now famous bunnychow, hollowed out white loaves with hot curried mutton. In the absence of flat breads for wraps innovation prevails …
In the discourse, I discovered the Moroccan couscous is as different to the Tunisian as the North is to the South of Italy.
When we said goodbye, I felt the rough hard working hands of his wife as we shook hands and she wished us a Merry Xmas …
And being in the Mediterranean, between men we touched cheeks, left and right … it is a special greeting, a manly one, especially in the embrace … the solidarity of manhood …
Somewhere God still smiles …