You could always tell when he walked in. His presence would immediately transform El-Farouki’s atmosphere from the acidic smell of coffee beans being roasted to the sweet and spicy aroma of his pipe.
Do you remember El-Farouki? It’s still around, but I stopped going there a while ago. When we were growing up though, my grandmother’s house did not have an Internet connection, and at 14, I already had to get my daily fix of the World Wide Web. For four summers of my life, from 5:00PM to 8:00PM, I would explore my love for the Web in El-Farouki while surrounded by the smell of the man’s pipe.
The man was probably in his late 50s, at that point around the year 1999. He was tall, with a pot belly, salt-and-pepper hair, and a very square face. He wore glasses, blue shirts, and typed away while smoking his pipe.
And that was that.
Several years after I stopped frequenting El-Farouki, I joined the Power Hut, the only gym within walking distance. Imagine the nostalgia I felt when I saw that same man, running on the treadmill, sans pipe.
It was at least four years since I saw him last, and I wasn’t a child anymore. We would occasionally run next to each other, but neither of us ever acknowledged the presence of the other. I always wanted to, but all the imagined opening lines in my head were awkward:
“Sorry to interrupt your intense workout, but what happened to your pipe?”
“Hello, sir. We went to the same Internet cafe when I was tween.”
“Do you live in the area? I used to see you when I was a kid. Oh, no, I don’t mean that you’re that old.”
“Hi, 3ammo. Do you remember me?”
I eventually stopped going to the gym after a four-year stint, and the man fell out of my life again.
That is, until last week, when I joined Fitness First, another gym in the neighborhood. It was my first day training, and lo and behold, the man was doing arm curls as I walked towards the locker rooms.
I know, it doesn’t mean anything to you. But this man has been in my life for 15 years. I would see him almost daily. It’s just that it so happens that our connection, which is always interrupted by several years, only takes place in very personal spaces; while sweating it out at the gym or being lost in a computer screen. I’ve never seen him in the grocery store, although the two grocery stores I go to are both very close to the Power Hut and El-Farouki. I’ve never ran into him at the neighborhood’s Kalha in the morning. I’ve never glimpsed him dining at a restaurant in Shmeisani.
Who is he? What’s his name? What does he do? Where does he live? I’ve been making up narratives about him in my head since I was 14.
Maybe one day I’ll meet him at the grocery store. Or maybe he reads my blog. He was, after all, online everyday in 1999. He must read blogs.
If yes, hello. I loved the smell of your pipe. It is one of the most distinct smells of my teenage years.
And my name is Roba, by the way.