I once had a friend. We were close without knowing anything about each other except for the other’s name and from where we had both come. Our bond, one that was strong and built on mutual respect, was all that we had. Our ability to communicate was minimal if it existed at all. My friend’s name was Rasheed.
Rasheed and I met on a street corner several years ago in the Basque town of Donostia. In the summer, this sleepy town erupts with life as foreign tourists flood to the beaches and pintxo bars, but here, on this corner in the middle of February, the sun is still a few hours from rising and the snow has been falling all night. For the whole long and seemingly endless night.
As I stood, gloved hands in pockets, waiting for no one in particular, I noticed a shadow of a man rummaging through the bins in the park across from the corner on which I stood. As I crossed the empty street, the man stopped what he was doing and retreated backwards to somewhere between the light and the dark. This, I later learnt, was where Rasheed was most comfortable.
Scrounging together a grammatically putrid introduction, I softly told the man hiding in the shadows my name and asked for his in return. Waiting in silence, I was disappointed with myself that my paltry efforts to learn the local language had, again, let me down. Half way through making my mental note to attend my scheduled conversation class for the next day, the man in the shadow replied in a raspy voice, one that sounded as if it was starved of every basic need that a human being deserves. “Mucho gusto, mi nombre es Rasheed”.
Gingerly, I hoaxed the man from his comfortable shadow and offered him a pack of biscuits that I had in the pocket of my winter jacket. Unsure of my sincerity, he initially refused, only to accept upon my insistence. From that night on, our relationship centred entirely around food. Not as you and I enjoy food with our families and friends, but as a point of survival.
My mind has made its own version of how Rasheed came to be in that snow-covered park on that cold night from his origins in Northern Africa. The reality is, I will never know Rasheed’s story as he will never know mine. At times, I sit at my desk thinking back to that night and wonder where Rasheed is now, or if in fact he still is. The weathered skin, the missing teeth, the torn clothing and the dirty fingernails were not an accurate representation of the man who I came to know. The man who I respected. My friend Rasheed.