On the bus everyday, he talked the loudest, he cracked the most jokes. He had such a hearty personality. He is life itself. The bus ride was never the same in his absence. He broke the ice. He knew how to pull each of his mate out of the conundrum of gloom.
Each morning we rode 47 minutes from Shahama to Mussafah, the steel plant for on the job training.
They get woken up by 5am and they have their breakfast by 6am and by 7am they have to be seated on the bus. The roll call is usually done about 6.50am and last minute checks. We would normally hop on the bus and old Khan, the bus driver would wear a smile as I walked down the aisle of the bus shaking hands with every person.
We would stop by the canteen to get refreshment bags. I could predict what would be in the refreshment bag – a piece of croissant, an apple, a caprisone drink, three cupcakes and a little bottle of water. This never changed except the croissant which would either be stuffed with choc or cheese. Old Balla the team leader would hop off the bus with Yazi or Kaffa and saunter to the cafeteria to collect the bags. The bags would be dumped on the aisles. The boys would barely touch the bags. Because they are still full from the 6am breakfast and the anticipation of the next meal of the day.
As we pulled out of the camp, Bahim would pull out his phone and call a number and talk with a fella on the other end placing orders for food – burgers, sharwamas, noodles, hot dogs, etc. After about 20 minutes of driving, we would pull into this restaurant and all the boys would hop off except Yazi. Yazi was a bit of a strange one. I have never seen him eat. He is quiet to a fault. Always on his own and funny enough he never got bullied by any of the other boys. He will always bend down on his seat on the bus to sleep. He will wake up when we reach the plant. He always listens to every conversation, and beam a smile once in a while. He had no friend or enemy. In the training centre he did not take particular interest or delight at what was being taught, however if you asked him a question, he would answer, showing that he is with you all the way, though he seems off beat.
Bahim would yell from the back of the bus to each person who wanted to place an order to let him know what he wanted to have. Eissa as soon as he hopped on the bus would put on his head phones and turn on a movie on his phone. You have to literally shout him down before he could hear you and respond. Jay who sat at the front, always put his phone on the dashboard to watch a movie. Dalla would usually slouch on Fah and then fall asleep. Sometimes both of them would sleep together. It is quite a strange scene to behold especially if you are not familiar with the culture in this part of the world. The boys in this part of the world always found solace in staying connected together. They would sleep together, coil hands together, lean on each other and enjoy that level of connectivity. If they slept, they slept on each other’s shoulders or laps if they are sitting on the floor. Quite a unique and different sight to behold. Finally someone would slap Eissa on the back and he would turn around and respond to Bahim.
When they trooped out of the bus, the first activity they go for is smoke. They would draw out their pipes and tobacco and cigarettes and puff away. They shared pipes and cigarettes. I have often wondered the health implication of sharing these devices.
Old Balla would prefer to smoke alone and sometimes with the boys. He spent a great deal of time smoking, chewing sesame seeds and staring into space. Sometimes I wish I could travel into his mind to find out what was happening there. Food would be served and a cup of hot chai would be passed to me. I would hear the bellow “teacher, teacher” and I would wake to see the cup of tea in front of me. I would with hesitation take the tea until one day I thought, enough of this tea business and I refused to accept the tea. Thinking that, that would send a clear message. Next day, the tea offer was back. Balla explained to me that because of our bringing patronage to the food vendors, any teacher on the bus, would always receive free tea and food.
Fortunately, for them I never get hungry for burgers or fast food, if not, that would have been my source of daily breakfast.
Eating, smoking, shouting and disturbing the neighbourhood would characterize our stop here in this food vendor stall.
Forty minutes later all of us would be on the bus heading to the plant. From the back of the bus, we would hear Bahim talking loud and laughing so loud. Sometimes the bus would shake along as he laughed and shook his body. He was a smart alec and he had a few converts, folks who were loyal to him. Those who relied on his brains for the next exams success and daily survival. So, they would oblige him a few favours here and there to keep him happy.
Bahim must have been weighing over 150kg and he was not that tall. He lacked every sense of shape and was like an apricot fruit. He was such a lovely kid. In the training room, he cracked the most jokes and asked the most intelligent questions. He loved his on the job training and sometimes because of his exuberance, one needed to be extra strategic to be able to calm him down. He ate tons and he never took the stairs. He preferred to use the lift and would say, the stairs is not for him. Once I had a private session with him and he told me point blank, that he loved his weight and was not planning to lose a gram. I was so shocked is an understatement. He loved eating nuttela like a bear would love to eat honey. I remember on his eighteenth birthday, he requested for nuttella.
“Teacher if you don’t bring nutella for me on Monday which is my birthday, don’t say good morning to me. Do you hear me teacher”?
“Of course Bahim, I will bring nutella for you”, I replied and his face beamed with an infectious smile. Everybody loved him and wanted to hang out with him.
“How old was he?” I asked
“Eighty four” he answered but we were so close.”
He went back to weeping and crying.
I have never seen a man weep like a baby the way Bahim did. All that humour and laughter and craziness in him evaporated instantly. He was so inconsolable.
“He was my favourite father. He was my mother’s father” and went on crying again.
“Where did he live?” I asked.
“In the mountains” he responded.
For the first ten minutes he was just crying, so upset to speak a word.
I remember his phone ringing out loudly and him going out of the room to take the call. Few minutes later, the trainer Ekada came to me and asked me to go and see Bahim outside the training room. I asked “why” and was told a calamity has just befallen him. That was what that phone call was about.
Transportation was organized from the plant to take him to camp so that he could travel back home.
Since his departure the whole dynamics in the room changed. No laughter anymore, no humour, no jokes and the class always wore a somber look.
We all knew that Bahim made the difference!