VHC (Very Helpful Colleague) and I walked into the Belhasa Driving Center today. It was a beehive of activity. People were rushing to and fro clutching papers, passport and paraphernalia.
We headed to the Reception. VHC took charge. Given my last experience, I was relieved.
VHC, a successful alumnus of the same driving institute, inquired about the fees, pick-up facility and instructors. He insisted that I opt for a male instructor. Reception said that wasn’t permitted. But female instructors talk too much, VHC said belligerently. Reception smothered a smile and told us to complain to the technical department. They’re constantly on the phone fighting with their husbands or discussing recipes, and you won’t learn anything, VHC persisted. But there was no relenting. Oh well, I thought, I could use a few recipes…
VHC filled the form while I supplied the details. We headed from counter to counter. File opening. Cashier. Eye test. Cashier. File opening. Reception. VHC grabbed hold of papers that escaped my grasp at each counter. Reception beckoned to me to collect my passport. We’ll call you within 10 days, he said. I nodded, thrust all papers in my bag and we made off.
The car was fiendishly hot. It felt like needles were piercing my skin. The air-conditioner offered no relief. I caught sight of myself in the vanity mirror and almost leaped out of my skin. What was that? It wasn’t a speck on the mirror as I hoped. I was beginning to sport a beard! Not a 5 o’clock shadow, but a distinct strokeable beard.
This cannot be happening to me, I prayed. Maybe this was like the bumblebee dream, which had woken me up the previous morning. I dreamed I was being chased by a bumblebee and woke up, arms flailing, tangled in the covers and with the drone of the bee still very ‘audible’. I checked again. The hirsute sight in the vanity mirror hadn’t changed. I was beginning to get worried.
My phone rang.
“Madam, can you please come back to the institute,” said Reception. “I think I’ve given you the wrong passport.”
“Wha…” I said, relieved to hear my voice hadn’t broken yet.
I flipped open the passport I was carrying. For a split second, I thought I saw a familiar face. Then, a wave of relief washed over me. I’d just escaped being Mohammad Jamil, resident of Saudi Arabia.
I made haste in returning the passport. And then it struck me, that I’d saved face, but perhaps also lost the opportunity to be part of the record books, forever.