Sidewalk Water Cooler

Sidewalk Water Cooler

Disclaimer: this article is like a scented candle, it is meant to trigger certain kinds of emotions. You might not relate to it, or get the point of it, but that doesn't mean others will not too. Since it is Eid, I wanted to light up this memory candle hoping that its smell will evoke nostalgic memories, gratefulness, doubt, bliss, and other emotions that we don't feel as strongly as we used to or we don't even come by as frequently if not at all.

It's 1.25, on a Thursday during July. Most of my classmates already packed their stuff and are just waiting rather impatiently for the bill to ring. Our teacher is trying his best to get their attention but to no avail, the students' already left the class albeit mentally. The school bell rang and everyone rushed out of the class as if it's some sort of prison break.

I say goodbye to my friends and apologize for any hang out plans this weekend. I leave the class last with a gloomy cloud of thoughts above my head. Even though it's Thursday, which marks the beginning of the "joyful" weekend for many, my optimism is offset by my anxiousness of the future. Lots of study material to go through and the lessons are getting harder. Teachers are skipping important sections here and there just so they can meet their deadlines, which leaves us confused in the process and pushes us towards private lessons and the black market of "Mothakerat/Notes". These notes written and compiled by legendary private tutors are supposedly a guaranteed way to get perfect grades. Little did we know at that time that there is no such thing as a silver bullet to acing exams other than actually understanding what's going on in the books.

Walking down the stairs I think to myself that the upcoming exams are so critical to my future as they will decide what kind of profession and subsequently future I'll be having. The idea of missing up is stressing me out so much that having insomnia before exams has become a common occurrence. I got used to it somehow which helps me keep the same mindset I was having the day before while studying which actually helped me remember things better somehow. At any rate, I had one trick up my sleeve which is to get ahead whenever possible. This will help me manage stress, and hopefully prevent me from falling behind and missing up my studies.

As I make my way through the yard, I find one of my friends there. I used to know him very well in middle school, but since we moved to High School we've been distant and we stopped talking all that much other than the tasteless hi and how are you doing. This made me notice that since High School started, I find it harder if not impossible to have friends and good grades at the same time. Friendships are tested harshly during High School, only few connections survive to become long lasting. Everyone gets into a different college/university and some even travel abroad to study. Kind of knew that staying in touch is almost impossible for those who travel, but I was trying not to think about it too much.

After getting out of the school, I spot "Hadda / End of school" fight that is going on outside. Looks really bad, hope no knives or pens are involved. The teachers seem to not care that much to break it off, their sense of empathy numbed off from the continuous trouble students cause. Can't blame them really, after breaking off hundreds of fights and dealing with another hundred of angry parents, what can they do anymore? I shrug it off as there is no time to waste. I have to get home as soon as possible so I can take a nap and start my studies. We have a saying that goes something like "tomorrow the ice will melt and the meadows will appear". I'll just hear all about it on Sunday I guess.

I'm in the waiting area outside the school, I grab my busted 3510 Nokia which I was hiding in a secret pocket in my one sided bag, which I thought looked really cool at that time. Speaking of phones, I remember N73 was popular at that time. Sony Ericssons were a thing too, really liked their aesthetics, software and features.

I'm trying to call my parents to figure out how I will get home. Father is still at work and mother is having an after school shift where they basically stay until 2:45 or until all students are picked by their parents. No way I'm going to wait that long, I rather use this time to get home. To make matters worse, I'm out of allowance money, so no taxi for me.

Even though buses were free for students at that time, you can forget about the bus driver letting you in. The moment he sees your school uniform, he will shut the door and barricade it even if he could. He got traumatized by these irresponsible kids/students who caused nothing but trouble for him and the other passengers. They basically ruined school bus rides for the rest of us. The fact that the closest bus stop is actually far away from the school too didn't help either.

This is it, I got to man up and walk home. What's a heat stroke or two am I right? Mom raised no weakling. School bag is really heavy though as Thursday's schedule was packed. I don't even have physical education class today, so I'm stuck walking back home with my normal school clothes which I hated so much at that time. They restrict my movement and I constantly feel suffocated by the shirt. It's either I get baggy shirts and trousers for convenience and give up the cool look or get slim shirts and tight pants to look sharp and gain some sort of status among the cool kids. And let's just admit it, we always looked for acceptance from the cool kids during High School.

I undo my top 3 shirt buttons, roll my sleeves, tighten up my one sided bag and wish for the best. My 1 hour walk home with 10+ kg of books and other things I wish I never brought with me that day starts now.

Not even 10 minute into the walk and the scourging heat is starting to get to me. I wish I had a cap on, it would have helped me so much during my long walk instead of having my head cooked slowly and painfully by the sun like boiling an egg. Don't get me started on the pavement which has been absorbing and trapping heat all day long, so walking in the shade won't save me from the heat that much. No wind either to ease my pain, talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

20 minutes in and I feel like I sweated off most of my body fluids. I mutter to myself "If I get through this, I'll never joke about heat strokes again". I could have rested at one of the conditioned complexes, but that will have me take a detour of 10 minutes away from my path. I didn't like that option that much and opted in for going all the way in one continuous walk. I was and still am a very impractical person.

30 minutes in and I'm panting hard, the heavy bag is digging into my shoulders and I keep swapping it from one shoulder to the other. I'm starting to doubt if I'm getting double vision or if it's just the mirage caused by the heat baking the pavement. All in all, my arrogance prevented me from doing the sensible thing, which is to rest a little and then continue my walk afterwards.

40 minutes during the walk and I keep saying I'm almost there, but honestly it's not looking good for me. You see, the longer you walk during the heat hours, the slower and more clumsy you get. I was at least another 20 minutes away from my home, but my stubbornness to get home as soon as possible prevented me from resting. The conclusion of my situation was starting to look like an article you would read on the last page at one of the local newspapers. "Aloof High School student passes out from the heat in Hawalli. Why didn't he just sit down and rest? Where are his irresponsible parents? Blah blah" or something like that.

10 minutes later, I spotted a water cooler. This is it, I'm saved! I rejoiced and ran towards it with whatever little strength I had left in me. I dropped the bag and skipped using the chained cup, no need to elaborate on why not using it is the sensible thing to do. I open the tap and reach out with my hand to feel the water and by Allah's grace, it is freezing!

My day has been really crappy so far. The huge school study material I have to study, the ambiguous future waiting for me, the broken friendships and tough choices I have to make, random High School troubles here and there, the stress from my upcoming exams and in top of all of that, my teenage hormones and the accompanying mood swings. All of these troubles and negativity faded away during these moments. The only thing I could feel and care about right now is the sensation of cold water sapping the heat away from my fingers, it felt amazing.

I cupped my hands, and started guzzling the water like it was my last drink. I don't feel ashamed to say that I drank like a thirsty hippo for what feels like 10 continuous seconds. The cold water quenched my thirst as if it was from heaven. These sidewalk water coolers really hit differently during the heat.

I read the sign on the water cooler and muttered to myself, "Allah bless you فاعل خير / philanthropist and Allah bless you Kuwait''.

An hour and 10 minutes later, I reach home. Soaking wet from the sweat and exhausted, I turn on the AC, set the temperature to 18 and stand exactly in front of it. It feels like I'm in the Alps. 5 minutes later, my mother reaches home. "How was your day habibi / sweety?" I facepalmed myself internally, if only I waited, I could have reached home practically at the same time without having to go through this experience. I nodded to her and answered, "It was like any other day mom". She responded "That's good, dinner will be ready in an hour or so". "That's great, I'll arrange my stuff, take a quick shower and join you soon". "Uh mom, one thing, next time, I'll be waiting for you to pick me up if you don't mind".