“The best things in life are free” -unknown
I sat on the front steps of my house with a surgical mask hanging from my ears. I could barely breathe without it but having it on was a chokehold. A dusty gust of hot air coughed on me, as I hung my head limply with no energy. This heat had to be worse than hell I thought to myself as I closed my eyes. It was early evening, but the pavement and roads still radiated radioactively, and the evil hairdryer in the sky continued coughing all over me. I was waiting for my family and neighbours to pass by for our regular evening walk, but super-heated summer evenings sapped the fun and life out of everything. It’s still tough getting used to the new post-corona world: Masks and gloves on at all times, social distancing, and furtive suspicion towards anyone clearing their throat. Staying at home isn’t too hard as I enjoy my own company, but I still miss random interactions with strangers.
My mind drifted to simpler times. I was a young hellraiser that was carted off to a Lebanese boarding school at the age of 15. I still remember the first few weeks away from home where I battled shifting tides of emotion; ranging from the sheer exhilaration of independence to bitter desperation and homesickness at night. The late evenings were always the worst. As dormies (Dormitory students) we hung around on campus after the day students left. We had two study hours, a quick meal of meat and rice with bread and salad on the side, then a short bus ride to our dorms a couple of kilometres down the dark cool mountain. Those bus rides were when I truly felt alone the most. As the squeaky manual bus manoeuvred its way around sharp twisty mountain bends I’d listen to my battery-powered Walkman and wonder what my friends were up to back home. In the early nineties there were barely any landlines in postwar Beirut, let alone the mountains.
I was cast into a dynamic multicultural environment from an extremely sheltered existence. Bahrain was mainly desert with a couple of highways, a Dairy Queen, and a Diplomatic area. You could reach anywhere within 10 minutes and nobody locked their doors at night. You would never see more than a handful of cars at any traffic light, and we just had two TV stations (Arabic 4 and English 55). Okay, we sometimes got Aramco but that was it. We had air conditioning of course, but we were used to the heat. I cannot really remember ever feeling it, and I would play all sorts of sports outdoors during the summer.
On one of the nightly cool bus rides down to the dorms it started raining. Within seconds it started hailing. Hail was a strange proposition to a young boy from the Arabian Gulf. I took off my headphones and marvelled at the sound of thudding and clunking on the roof of the bus. Nobody else really seemed to notice but I was astounded and fascinated. As the road started turning white, the bus creaked to a halt in front of the dorms. I stayed behind as all the other children squealed and sprinted indoors, then I took a trepid step off the bus. I looked up and fixed my gaze on the sky. Despite the water and cold hailstones barraging my face I kept my eyes open. It was a magnificent feeling of pure joy and freedom. I spread my arms and spun around like a madman beaming and laughing with ecstasy as the other dormies wondered what was wrong with me. I enjoyed the slow walk to the main door and stepped into the strong yellow corridor light. As I shook off ice and water from my hair and hoodie, I felt reborn and happy. It was time for a hot shower and cocoa. Such were the small moments of pleasure that I miss the most.