Socks by Hawra’a Khalfan

There had been a dust storm the day before, as soon as he saw those orange skies all he could think about was his job. He knows those Kuwaitis complain about not being able to leave their homes when these frequent storms happen, but all he could think about in that precise moment was having to get up and sweep it all up tomorrow. It is now his job to sweep the dust, it is his job to inhale the dust particles and cough uncontrollably. Oh, well. I have it better than the trash pick-up workers, they roam around all day in huge reeking trucks infested with insects, so I should be thankful I have this job. 

I forget where I am for a moment as I stare at the gravel under my feet, focusing on the feel of the small stones and sand particles under them. I close my eyes and pretend the sun isn’t bothering me, and that my nylon yellow jumpsuit isn’t suffocating my skin. I really don’t want to move just incase she comes today. Nobody really pays extra attention to me except her. To everybody else, I must be part of the street. I’m just as good as a traffic light, well, the traffic light is probably even better than me because it guides them and provides order. What do I do that’s so special? Collect cigarette buds and Pepsi cans? His train of thought came to a halt as soon as he saw her car driving up towards him. “Salam!” She shouted, pulling down her car window. “How are you, are you good?” She asked rhetorically, she knows he isn’t ‘good’, and that he’s as far from it as humanly possible, and that he’s too polite to mention otherwise. He nodded and smiled. I know, she thought, I know. I can see past your toothless smile, I can see into your life, old man. I can see that you’re hurting, that you’re tired, that your skin is peeling from the sun, that your shoes are torn, that you’re starving, and that you’re trying to provide for a family that you probably haven’t seen for years. I know. She thought. I know. She reached into her purse and handed him a 1 KD bill, smiling as she said goodbye and drove off- moving on with her day. She didn’t even give him the chance to thank her, but she ‘knew’.

He stood there staring at the bill with a huge smile on his face before he stuffed it in his pocket.  I should go buy one of those ice cream cones I see the kids eating after school. It will be refreshing to eat something cold. Or maybe I should just save the money and send it to my family? Why send it? I’m sending everything else- I’ll indulge just this time and buy the ice cream. I do need new socks, though. Ice cream, family, or socks? My sister needs to pay her dowry. I’ll just send it along with my salary, he sighed. A different car stopped his train of thought this time- it came so close to the pavement, stopping just an inch away from him. “Salam!” He smiled again enthusiastically, is it going to be one of the good days? Maybe I can taste the ice cream after all? The back window rolled down, and a housekeeper’s head popped out of it. An older Kuwaiti woman is driving and she seems to be frustrated, “Salam!” he repeated with more enthusiasm, but that just caused her to glare in his direction and speak in her Kuwaiti tongue, she seemed to be trying to get the maid to hurry up.  I can never understand these Kuwaitis when they start using their mother tongue. They normally slow down and talk me to like I’m stupid, which is fine. I am stupid, all I know how to do is pick up trash off the sidewalk so I don’t blame them. The housekeeper looked at me, and she knew. She knew. She knows. She feels it. I could see it through her smile, through her eyes. She pulled her arm out of the car and handed him a bag full of rubbish, there’s that smile again, he thought, that broken excuse for a smile. He took the trash bag out of her small dry hands, knowing that the second the Kuwaiti woman drives off he would never see those hands, or that smile again. Not even a coin? Maybe this day won’t be as good as I thought.

He walked, staring at the street ahead of him trying to limit where his feet touch the ground by hopping into any shaded area he finds along his way, and smiling to himself because he must look ridiculous to the people driving by. They probably think I’m crazy, but it really does burn a lot.  The soles of his shoes were thin enough to allow heat in, but at the same time thick enough not let it out. People don’t know that, they just see a probably senile old man who isn’t doing his job and cleaning the streets like he’s supposed to, but instead hopping around in the sun.

He holds his breath and squints as he sweeps the ground, but the sand particles make their way into his eyes and lungs anyway. I really shouldn’t rub my eyes, they will start hurting me again. Maybe I’ll get lucky and people will give me enough money to buy soap so I can clean my hands and body. I really hate the way I smell, but how do I buy soap? The soap I take from the bathroom in the park only lasts so long, and I always feel bad about taking it all. By noon he is sweating bullets, but he must carry on, he must not pause or walk slowly, he must be done cleaning because that is the only way he feels like he can make a difference. He walks and walks, and the only time he takes a break is when a car slows down next to him. He greets the driver with a smile and a “Salam” hoping he would get enough coins to be able to afford some soap now, as he can feel the sand particles moving around in his eyes. There are so many people who can take over my job- I could get replaced so easily, and then my family will suffer because my feet were sweating, and my eyes made friends with the sand? The ice cream and socks seem like tedious purchases now, because his eyes are burning and he can’t afford to take time off work. I want to wash my hands and take the sand out. I want to wash my hands and take the sand out. I really hope I don’t end up with worse eyesight- this happens every time a sandstorm takes place. I feel myself losing my eyesight slowly, he smiled, sighing- it is what it is.

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