I have walked along the canal to and from work for the past 6 months and, depending on the time of day, I meet some of the same people, coming and going. I have always been one to say hello in passing. Most people don’t. On that first morning I passed an African man cleaning the rails along the waterway. I said “Morning”. He pretended he didn’t hear me, so shocked was he that someone had addressed him, particularly at 6 in the morning. I could see that in his eyes.
I soon came upon a man dressed in full thobe, head to foot, striding with purpose, coming toward me.
He raised his eyebrows but didn’t break stride, he may have picked up the pace a bit.
There is a ferry landing about half way to work where the ferry never stops, perhaps some future plan but the glassed in kiosk is always manned day and night. I wave at the fella through the glass and get a blank stare in return.
Next I pass a woman covered head to foot in her abiya and I only see her eyes…and the odd flash of the Nikes on her feet. “Good Morning.” It was as though I wasn’t there…invisible. She ploughed on through without turning her head.
On the water there is a work crew of men that get pushed out to the centre of the canal on a barge by a time worn tug called the “Halibut Ann Dubai” and I nod hello to the captain…no response.
On the return at end of day I pass another set of daily characters. One man who has a most distinctive walk, almost like watching a camel run, arms flying out and knees punching, arm and leg moving on the same side, same stride and he has a voice that resonates the length of the canal, I say “Good day” and he bellows “GOOD DAY” back in a heavily accented Arabic-English. Sometimes he walks alone but more often than not he has three mates, all retired age striding along with him.
Another traveller is an Asian lad who passes me morning and evening on his bicycle and gives a curt nod to my greeting.
As the days and weeks pass more response comes from each person in their own way. I walked directly to the man with the distinct walk and introduced myself to him one day. Extending my hand I said, “ My name is Stephen.” He trust his hand into mine and said “Abnon, my name is Abnon. Good to meet you.” After that whenever we passed we shared a bit of each other’s lives. I know he has a son in London and they come from Beirut. He knows of my family in Bangkok and Canada. He has a great sense of humour. We laugh whenever we pass now.
The African cleaning man from the Sudan now greets me long before I see him in the morning, smiling a gleaming white-toothed grin.
The ferryman comes out of his hut to wish me a good morning every morning, he has family in Manila that he will see for the first time in a year this May.
The curt nod becomes a beautiful Asian smile as he lifts his fingers from the handle bar for the briefest of seconds.
The man in the thobe and I say “Salem” as we pass now and the “Halibut Ann” captain always raises a huge, work roughed hand to wave me by but my greatest conquest came only two days ago as I looked ahead and saw the woman in abiya striding toward me as she does every morning but this time I saw a hand raised in front of her chest in a wave, just a tiny one, but a wave it was and I swear I saw smiling wrinkles around her eyes as she caught my eye, ever so briefly.