house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


I slowed down when a rusty Mehran cut across the road, without indicating, to vanish down a side street.

I stopped when a Mercedes driven by a glamorous matron burst out of a side street without slowing down.

When a bicycle appeared ahead with a vast load of firewood and three small children perched on top, I gave them a wide berth.

As I did with the camel.

And with the family of five, all in black, walking along the tarmac at midnight.

Then I made my mistake.

The lights had gone red when a yellow Porsche overtook me - is it called 'to overtake' when the car in question shoots between you and a small school bus, to run the red light and cross the intersection?

A middle-aged bearded policeman witnessed all this, gave the driver a friendly wave and stared after the speeding car, hand on heart, like a proud parent.

My mistake was to roll forward and come to a stop on the pedestrian crossing which - as we all know - means nothing on these streets. In fact, all you need to ensure a successful suicide mission is to step onto the zebra. I once stopped the car at a zebra and waved a man across. He refused to take a single step and looked daggers at me instead.

But here I am now, an inch over the white lines and Beard-in-Uniform is Not Pleased. The hand-on-heart suddenly takes a darker, Napoleonic air and he strides over. I've had it.

'Apke yakata yakata' he barks at me. I understand the snarl, I do, just not the words, alas. My bad. My mad. I address him, politely, in Romanian. I start with the first verse of the national anthem which tells us to rise against the barbarian tyrants. I stop to draw breath.

'You don't speak Urdu?' he says, in English, momentarily thrown.

'And YOU speak English.' I note, also in English. Second mistake. And third mistake: I smile.

He reverts to a stream of Urdu, delivered with a toxic glare and in anaerobic conditions (i.e. without taking a breath, oh-la-la!). I understand the word for 'home' - strangely reminiscent of the Romanian word for 'claw'. Is he exhorting me to go home? I am staggered at his vitriol. His beard trembles, his chest puffs out, his words rattle like pebbles in a tin can. A younger me would dissolve into tears (the current-me undergoes a lip wobble and a numb nose - both mild signs of shock). Mid-speech, Bully-Beard drops his notebook. It puts a little undignified muffler in his flow, as he folds himself double to retrieve it. On the flip side, it gives him the idea to fine me.

The lights go green. A million cars start trumpeting from behind. Barbabully waves me along with a scowl and a show of squashing a cockroach on the hot tarmac.

And so we go back to our lives: I to my chaos of words and work and family; he to his precarious mid-ladder balancing: on one side his musty power repertoire, which consists of bullying his family and anyone on his tiny traffic patch; on the other side, a 6th sense and constant vigilance, to spot and kowtow to any greater bully than himself. His cardboard castle, his neon uniform, his rusty and tremulous beard depend on it.


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