In a Brobdingnagian community of extra-ordinary mansions, electronic gates, and fancy cars, I used to see a short, plump middle-aged man walk up the street in the intense summer heat. During those days I was visiting a family friend in a suburb outside Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where people lived in unbelievably large mansions and roamed around in chauffeured cars. This man had a round face, olive-brown skin, and cropped grey hair. From my living room window, I observed him pass my house in a confident, self-assured way. This man’s gait was so peculiar: shoulders straight, head up, measured footsteps. I was really tempted to find out who this man was.
After a week of observation, I ventured out and approached him.
“Hello, there. I’ve see you pass by my house every day and I must say you’re the king of the power walk.”
He laughed out loud at my comment.
“Thank you. I think powerful walk makes man powerful,” he replied in broken English.
He told me that he was from Bengal and he’d been working as a chef in UAE for the last three years. He had a family back in Bengal — a wife, and three kids. This affable man even took out his wallet to show me pictures of his family. Tears welled up in his eyes as he talked about them.
“It must be hard to live without family?” I asked.
“Yes, madam, it is. I miss them every single day. But what can me do? I have to feed them and I make enough money here,” he replied desolately. I could see tears welling up in his eyes.
“Do you get to visit them?”
“Yes, whenever I have spare money, I buy the ticket back home.”
I asked him about his children and he said that his oldest son, 17, was about to graduate and his younger daughters, 10 and 15 respectively, went to an all-girls school. His wife ran her own little sweet business.
“For me, family is everything,” he continued. “ I’m living away from my children so that I can finance their education.”
My heart bled for this man who walked for miles, every day, in the torrid summer heat, to feed his children back home.
Suddenly, this man started to weep. The tears he was holding back in the corners of his eyes now began to rush down his cheeks uncontrollably. I couldn’t help but comfort this man during his catharsis.
“Madam, do you mind if I tell you something?”
“No. Please, go ahead. I’m listening.”
“You know, I have a nightmare. I fear that my children will forget about me. I’m not with them during their prime ages. My son is almost 18. Soon, my daughters will also grow up and go to college. They will forget about their old, Bengali chef,” he said with a small chuckle.
This man’s words hit me right in the center of my heart. His greatest fear was his children being deprived of his existence and affection. He dreaded the day they’d forget about him and simply move on with their lives.
“No, not at all,” I said firmly.
“Your children know how hard you work and I’m sure they acknowledge it too. Even though they don’t get to express it, they love you and appreciate all your efforts. And believe me, one day you’d be back with your family, and the days spent apart wouldn’t matter anymore.”
At this, the man smiled. We said our goodbyes but his words still reverberate in the back of my mind.
© 2022 Mehreen Nagi