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mardi 14 juin 2016


In Bruxelles, in the European Quartier, I used to pass by a Tabac when I walked along with LBGS to her Garderie. On the way home, I may buy LBGS, a “chuppie”, Americans may call Lollipop, worth only 25 centimes. The old man behind the counter, reeked of tobacco, was mostly unkempt and always grumpy. But we didn’t realize how much we missed him till one day there was a sign outside the Tabac: closed indefinitely due to illness.

We want to say hello to him. We saw him only during the weekdays and that too not often, but he had become part of our lives. Same thing was happening to the concierge of the apartment building, the Italian man who ran the café where I have my morning coffee and pain au chocolat(both hot and not warm), the Persian hairdresser (incongruously bald himself) at the end of Rue Archimede, we nod to each other as I pass by his salon, Darriush who spoke only French and Farsi.
Fernando Pessoa, that great Portuguese writer, well known for his personal insecurities had written:
“If one of the faces that I pass daily on the streets disappear, I feel sad, yet they mean nothing to me, other than being a symbol of all life.”
For me, a great pleasure is being able to recognize faces in faraway places, as I enter a hotel, a restaurant or a common place. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than greeting the receptionist by name, at Double Tree at Kuala Lumpur (12 time zones away from my habitual residences) or at the AVIS rent a car counter at Omaha Airport or the waitress with the sonorous name, Ochun, at La Burrito Habanera along the Rampa across from the Riviera cine in La Habana or look for a familiar place along the streets of Palermo in Buenos Aires.
It is different from recognizing people when I enter an Indian reservation, where it is a form of acknowledgment of things that has happened and will happen, and show respect and formalizing our presence in the lives.
But with people you meet so rarely? Fleetingly? S the receptionist in Salalah has been in touch for the past two years and was eager to have dinner together, only to realize that we really don’t know each other but teaches a lesson to accept the other person wholeheartedly as possible. It is a sort of a milestone in this ever changing world which has become so superficially globalized. Such a simple interaction gives me a satisfaction, a sense of purpose of living, that I am not just passing through this life- these are not pit stops on a journey with a purpose, but pit stops that are necessary for me: Siem Reap, Salalah, Cochin, Kuala Lumpur, Buenos Aires, Leticia; cities which have nothing in common with each other, just that I am a part of these far flung cities where passersby can offer me a greeting. Some cities descend into oblivion: Suva, Yangon, Kingston, Baracoa..the list is long indeed. The earth rotates and I find myself in another part of the world; In Easter Island I no longer feel a stranger, it is I who is not changing with the revolving scenery, like the stage that rotates during a theatrical performance.
Just yesterday, I passed a farm worker along a dusty road east of Salalah in Oman, who wanted me to drop by on my next visit to the Sultanate. 

The haze over the mountains dividing the Sultanate and Yemen gave me such an exhilaration! I thought of my ancestors who might have traversed these mountains centuries ago but I thought mostly of the day, Inchallah, not in  too s distant future, I will be walking along the sandy beaches of Mughsayl with LBGS, and I would ask her:
Do you remember the Tabac in the Quartier Europeen in Bruxelles where the old man who reeked of tobacco and didn’t smile?
Do you miss him?

I always miss so many people that tears come to my eyes when I think of a reunion at KLIA just four years ago. It is not a nostalgia nor a longing but a true reliving of the innocence and the mindfulness of that moment. Saudade, perhaps, as Cesaria Evora would sing it!
This is what I would like to teach LBGS.