The man with the warmest of smiles

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Ours was the unlikeliest of friendships. After all, he and I were from two completely different worlds.

I was an eighteen-year-old redhead, who had left home to find herself and her ‘calling’ in the exotic-sounding city of Jerusalem: ‘the center of the world’.

He was a long-standing resident of a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He was short and smartly dressed in appearance and his warm smile was sure to melt the very hardest of hearts.

We were two very different people.

My first few days at work were spent washing what seemed like endless amounts of dishes and cutlery – this would soon become a normal, familiar and easy routine.

Our shifts would begin at 6:30am in the morning – we would arrive exhausted from the 5km walk and we would begin by laying the tables for breakfast.

At precisely 6:53am the kitchen door would swing wide open and he would walk in wearing his faded gray jacket and a sleepy grin – he would always carry his Al Quds newspaper underneath one arm.

His cheerful ‘Good Morning’ set the tone for the day.

We would scurry around preparing the room whilst he set the radio to play. Each morning we were treated to a mixture of Fairuz or Ulm Kulthum. Both artists seemed unusual and somehow elegant in their own right. If only I knew then how much I would appreciate their songs in the coming years.

One afternoon, in particular, we were sat outside at a table, underneath a large lemon tree in the courtyard. Our working day was coming to a close and had been quieter than usual – this was a welcomed novelty.

As the tourists began to slowly continue on to new places he turned to me and asked me about my family, my home and my life. I confess that I was hoping to avoid a long conversation: it had been a tiring day, I felt bereft of all energy. Even so, I answered and his questions continued.

He then opened up his tattered leather wallet and showed me a picture of his wife, he called her his angel. They stood next to her in the photograph and both shared that all too familiar joyful smile.

He began to talk about his family, his culture, his country, his children and many other things. It did not take long for this to become a long-anticipated weekly ritual, most Sundays and Wednesdays.

As the months progressed I would find myself scribbling my name in Arabic and learning some quotes and expressions. His relentless efforts and passion for learning helped me to discover my interest in Semitic languages and this was only the beginning.

I stayed in Jerusalem for two years, I became a secretary, I studied at a local university and I learned to love the Arabic language. On a daily basis, I would arrive at work early to leave my things and prepare to walk to university. Each morning I was met with a packed breakfast and a takeaway cup of the weakest filter coffee in existence – which I appreciated greatly.

Eventually the time came to leave Jerusalem and return to England, our conversations were among the things that I missed the most. I would often call him and his wife to check on them and he would often send messages through our work colleagues. I met him in future years when I returned to Jerusalem and each and every time I spoke in my mistake-riddled Arabic, he beamed with pride.

I asked once if I could write about him, and he asked me: “why?”

I explained that I had learned so much from him and that I wanted to recount my memories and adventures.

Now I look back, there is something else that I wanted to mention about the life of this man. In all of our times together I barely heard him complain – like all of us I am sure he is no saint but I only ever remember his encouragement, laughter, and praise. He was and is still very patient and very considerate. Our friendship has taught me the importance of looking after the people that you’re surrounded by and living with a simple heart, making sure to value those that you hold dear. This is the story of how two people, from two completely different worlds, became family.

الأسرة هي واحدة من روائع االله وعندما تقع في المتاعب، انها عائلتك هي التي تدعمك.

Family is one of God’s masterpieces and when trouble comes, it is your family who will support you.


Jerusalem series

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