“Death ends a life, not a relationship”
– Mitch Albom
I nodded and winked at the guards with a small salute and the barrier was lifted. The Prime Minister’s Court welcomed me with open arms. I chose any space and parked my classic Lincoln Continental. As I stepped out, I gathered my bisht and glanced at my window reflection to make sure everything was straight. His Royal Highness paid attention to detail, and would notice any hair out of place. As usual, I was nervously excited to see him; his presence and warmth filled that void in my soul with comfort and reassurance. I normally took the side door, but I decided to go through the main entrance instead that day.
The security officers gave me a smile and a nod. No need for a security check. The 1970s-style green marble filled the place with a majestic weight of history. I knew countless world leaders and presidents were greeted on this spot by HRH. I knew thousands of photos were taken here. I also knew that this was where Prince Khalifa walked into his offices every morning since he became Prime Minister. I soaked in the moment for as long as I could and headed for the lift.
Upstairs, a handful of royals, dignitaries, and businessmen waited to greet him by the main elevator. I was just in time. The soft murmur of greetings and small talk filled the small waiting hall, bouncing off magnificent classic tapestry and furniture all in his favourite colours: Blue and gold. Giant portraits that had previous rulers long gone adorned the wall, projecting strength and power. He was known for his strength and wisdom but was loved for his softness and kind, generous heart.
The room suddenly came to a deathly still, as the main elevator started moving. My heart beat faster. No matter how familiar we became with each other, I always had a feeling of awe and ultimate power when I faced His Royal Highness. I controlled my breathing and got a grip.
He glided into the room from the golden elevator, as every person started paying their respects. Some kissed his hand, nose, or shoulder, others just shook his hand. Never kiss his head (he doesn’t like it), and only the rare can kiss his cheek. My turn was up, and as I greeted His Highness, a smile beamed on his face. He asked me how I was. I told him I was fine, and whispered a funny detail of my life into his ear so nobody else could hear. He looked at me then looked away biting on his lip suppressing laughter. After all, it was a solemn occasion, and most of the men there were ultra-serious. I stepped away and continued greeting his sons to his right, but as I looked back his body was still shuddering as he laughed internally at our joke. He loved funny stories and had the best sense of humour I have ever seen.
That humour was matched by a very high intellect, impeccable observational skills, and a memory that rivalled those of a chess grandmaster. When he looked at me, he could see all the way through me. That was who Prince Khalifa bin Salman was. A charismatic genius with the brain of an economist. And he was generous. Generous in his words, generous in his actions, and generous with his love. He bought me with the first few words he said to me, then owned me with his actions. When he spoke, his deep baritone rocked the room. I could hear him in the back even when he whispered. He was larger than life, but also just a man. A father. A grandfather. A mountain that held our stability and security. A sun that captured and reflected the love of millions.
He truly cared. He knew the names and locations of all the families in Bahrain, and would chat and joke with many as they were his children. In his private office, his stories were fun and youthful. The depth of history he contained was infinite, as he lived and survived different eras. His loss came as a shock, and something inside me died with him. There will never be another Khalifa bin Salman. Rest in Peace Baba Khalifa, I truly hope we meet again in a better place.