A (fictional) tale of a day in the life of Doha’s forgotten men. Faceless, nameless and anonymous to most of us. The Karwa driver. What’s it like to drive a Karwa all day and who are the men who sit behind the wheel? I have no idea and this story probably won’t tell you but I hope you enjoy it. On a serious note, although this is a spoof, I would love to hear any good stories about any of the Karwa drivers you’ve met so please get in touch if you would like to share one.
4:45 AM – 0 Riyals |Industrial Area
I peer out of the window to catch the sun rising over Doha. I catch a glimpse of an orange orb peering through the cloudy skyline. It’s time for my shift. I take one last look in the mirror, adjust my aquamarine tie but I notice a ketchup stain across the front of it. I have a feeling it’s going to be one of those days.
5:30 AM – 0 Riyals| Al Sadd to City Centre
After cruising the streets for a while, I pick up my first customer of the day outside the Doha Downtown Hotel. He’s a silver haired, red-faced man in a crumpled cream coloured suit. He looks like an ice cream that just fell on the floor and was run over several times. “How much to City Centre?”. I think about my choices here. He’s looking at me anxiously like he’s late for a meeting. He looks new in town and doesn’t know where he is. The sunlight bounces a reflection from his Rolex watch and I tell him “50 riyals”. The man shrivels his face like a prune and doesn’t look too happy. I wait for his response. It’s a gamble but I know he’s late and I know he’s got a few hundred in that wallet. “Fine”, he says irritably and he swings the back door open. I wrap my ketchup covered tie over the dashboard to hide the meter in case he figures out the real fare. He falls asleep, snoring like a rhino, until we reach his stop.
6:15 AM- 50 Riyals | City Centre to Abu Hamour
The cream man mumbles something to me as he walks out of the door and waddles away. I move over I get an alert on my screen. This new online system worries me. I don’t know who I’m picking up and if they’re going to be a pain the ass. I drive a few blocks to pick up a mother and 3 children from a gleaming residential tower that immediately lowers my car with their combined weight. The little boy slaps my head repeatedly while his mother restrains his little sister from stealing the youngest boy’s Ipad. It’s too late though, and the young boy bursts into a torrent of tears and the scream of a banshee. The thought of dropping them on the side of the road flashes through my mind before I realise arguing with this woman will give me more of a headache then just holding out another 10 minutes.
6:45 AM – 73 Riyals | Abu Hamour
I drop off the annoying family but the mother is 2 riyals short. I want them out of my life so I don’t make a fuss of it. I drive around looking for a fare. There’s plenty of people around but no one wants a pick up. I find a nice spot by the side of the road and get 40 winks in to save my petrol.
7:45 AM- 73 Riyals | Abu Hamour to Hamad Hospital
I’m dreaming about my sweetheart back home. Pretty Pooja. In my dream, we’re both having a picnic by the river near our village. She’s made a heavenly mutton curry and paratha that’s steaming out of the tiffin box. The sound of birds chirping fills the air with beautiful music. We are due to marry when I finish my contract. It’s only 2 years 7 months 3 weeks and 3 days left to go.
I’m woken up by a loud knock on my window and realise I’m still in Doha and I’m going back to my hairy, sweaty roommates tonight. An Arab man is waving at me frantically and jumps into the car with his wife before I could respond. “We go Hamad Hospital”, he ordered. I then realise that his wife isn’t actually obese but is heavily pregnant. I drive off as quick as I can, hoping I don’t hit a speed camera on the way there. His wife does an imitation of the screaming child from earlier and in between her shrieking, I hear her complaining about the state of my car. I look round to see my car mats dusted in sugar from those little shits from before. We hit a traffic light and the husband desperately tries to persuade me to skip the light. I ask him if he has a spare 6000 riyals which shuts him up momentarily. An ambulance cuts through the gridlocked traffic so I decide to tailgate it to the couple’s relief. I pull up at Hamad and I help the man and his wife out of the car. They both thank me profusely and the man hands me a 100 riyal note. I pretend not to have any change, hoping his sense of urgency will play to my advantage. It works like a charm and I start the car up again.
9:00 AM |173 Riyals | Corniche to Al Waab
I decide to venture out on the Corniche. The clouds have cleared and the sunlight sparkles on the West Bay skyline. I see the Burj Qatar and it makes me think of Pooja. Families are strolling along the waterfront while my compatriots fail miserably at the exercise machines dotted along the promenade.
A group of teenage boys hail me down and ask me to take them to Villagio. The three of them look like clones of each other, with back to front baseball caps, basketball vests and oversized shorts. They all look like they hadn’t eaten in a month. If I had some more rice and curry I would have gladly shared it with them. En route to Villagio, a Landrover cuts across my lane without looking. I have to slam the brakes so hard, that in my panic, I let rip a trumpeting fart that seems to last for eternity. The boys are laughing hysterically and I feel humiliated. I drop them at the front entrance and the boy in front asks to get his bag from the back of the boot, where his wallet is. I wait patiently for him to do so, but the boot door stays open. I look behind me and the boys have disappeared.
I slam the boot down and run as fast as my legs could carry me through the main walkway. I trip over a pushchair and the impact almost makes me fall into the Venetian canal. I grip the railings for dear life because I never learned how to swim. I look from left to right but see no trace of them. I try to enlist the security guard to help me but he looks at me blankly and yawns. He looks back at me with his blank stare and I realise I’m on my own. I spend half an hour trying to track them down but finally give up. The longer I spend here, the less time I’ll have on the road.
9:30 AM |173 Riyals | Al Waab
I pick up a few local fares close by but nothing substantial. I park up to have my lunch and calm myself down. I open my Al Meera carrier bag to reveal a Fatayer and a 7 up. I listen to my Bollywood playlist on my USB stick. I stretch my seat back and close my eyes. I see Pooja dancing around an oak tree while singing to me in a voice as sweet as dripping honey. She skips away into a field of lavender and I feel both joyful and full of sorrow at the same time. I wait patiently for my next fare.
11:30 AM |173 Riyals | Al Waab to The Pearl
I pick up a group of 2 guys and 2 girls dressed for a beach party. One of the men has chalk coloured skin and an immense ginger beard. I think maybe he’s a convert so I ask him if he’s Muslim. His friend, a dark skinned Indian looking man, tells me “Na, bruh, he’s just a hipster innit”. I feel confused. The Indian man sounds like the white man but he looks like me. I ask them both “What is this hipster innit?” and they both laugh at me. One of the girls is wearing a black dress, black like the colour of Pooja’s eyes. She keeps saying something about “broonch”. I don’t know this broonch but I think she means Brunch. She must be still learning English because she confuses some words. She keeps calling her friend pet. I feel sad for her friend. I look at her face and she doesn’t look like a dog or a cat. She looks more like an owl. Maybe this is why she calls her pet. Western people keep very strange animals as pets.
12:30pm | 211 Riyals| The Pearl to Katara
I pick up an American tourist wanting to go to Katara. She is a middle aged lady with kind eyes and a gentle voice. She smiles as she talks to me and she compliments me on my English. I tell her about my English Literature degree and my childhood listening to the BBC World Service and Kiss 100 but I don’t tell her the real reason no one else will hire me. We while away the time having a gentle conversation about Jane Austen and the hypocrisy of American Imperialism. I wished her well and gave her a warning to watch out for those dirty pigeons that crap everywhere near their bird house.
After dropping her off and gritting my teeth while rolling over the cobblestoned pathway out of there, I hear a sudden THUNK on the underside of the car. I think I’ve run over a pothole so I pull over to check. While I’m doing so, I notice a wallet on the back seat. I open it and it has the ID of the ‘Hipster innit’ with the ginger beard.
There must be at least 2000 riyals in there. He wouldn’t notice if I took out a few hundred would he?
1:30pm | 211 Riyals | Katara to The Kempinski
I drive back to the W hotel to drop off the wallet. I’m hoping this gingerbread man gives me a reward when I see him. When he sees me and the wallet, he breaks out into a broad gap toothed smile and slaps me so hard on the back, I almost cough out the rice and curry I had for breakfast.
He reaches out into the wallet, about to give me a 100 but his girlfriend stops him. She checks through his wallet and gives me the look of someone who’d just eaten a plate of lemons. She looks over at the hipster innit and tells him, ‘you had 2500 riyals in there, there’s 300 missing now’. He looks intently at her, while swaying from side to side and hiccupping loudly. He looks bemused and shrugs his shoulders.
She turns to me and says ‘You’re trying to cheat us aren’t you? You’re lucky I don’t call the police!’ I try to persuade her of my innocence but it’s to no avail. The ginger man looks sheepish and slightly embarrassed. No reward for me today then.
2:00pm | 211 Riyals| Kempinski, Pearl to Hamad Airport
I pick up a business man, perfectly dressed in a tailored navy suit, white shirt and crimson tie. His face is stoic and is completely still. I offer to put his baggage in the boot and he stares at me, watching me through his Aviator sunglasses as I do it. When I’m finished he nods his head slightly and walks into the back seat of the car. As I’m driving, I notice him staring at me from my dashboard mirror. I look back at him and his body and face don’t move an inch. I turn around a corner, and his body sways in motion with the car, as if he had superglued his arse to the car seat. We stop at a traffic light and I ask him where he’s from. He raises his right eyebrow around 23 degrees and lets out a deep breath. He shuffles in his seat and rolls his neck until I hear a slight crack. He moves closer to me and in a bass heavy growl, tells me in a thick Russian accent, “Everywhere. Nowhere. Wherever you can find me”. I freeze and my life flashed before my eyes. I think of Pooja, I think of mama and papa and my dumbass little brother Vikram in the village. I even thought of my ketchup stained tie and that I’d never get the chance to get it dry cleaned.
This crazy bastard was going to kill me and no one would even care. I’d lost track of time before I heard a cackling laugh that snapped me out of my nightmare vision. The crazy man chuckled and said “I’m just messing with you Habibi.” Then his smile disappeared as he whispered “but seriously, if I tell you who I am and where I’m from I’ll have to kill you”. I thought he was joking again so I smiled nervously but he gave me another still life impression. 7 hours into my shift and it dawns on me that I seriously don’t get paid enough to deal with this shit.
Crazy man gets a phone call on his phone and I see both his eyebrows rise almost to the top of his forehead. His screams burst from the top of his lungs, through my AC system and shakes my car to the core. He rants for a good five minutes and stops suddenly, breaking his phone into two clean pieces. I turn my eyes away from him before he catches me looking. I drive up the expressway, the light from the parade of palm trees shuttering through my window as we pass. I park up by the departures gate and hand him his luggage from the boot. He offers me 50 riyals. The fare on the meter came up to 55 Riyals but I decide my life is worth more than the 5 riyals and wish him a safe journey. He stares at me intently before nodding his head and clicking his fingers to summon the nearest bell boy.
2:30pm | 261 Riyals | Hamad Airport to the St Regis Hotel
I drop off another business man to the other side of town but I can’t recollect anything about him. I was too disorientated from my brush with the mafia. I do remember that he wanted to listen to some music so I tuned into QBS radio. An annoying DJ with an International School accent was talking too much over a Justin Bieber track. I thought the business man was apologizing to me for something but realized he was just singing the words to the song.
3:30pm | 328 Riyals | St Regis Hotel to Intercontinental Hotel
I pick up a man with heavy set glasses on his face and a green polo shirt one size too small for him. He asks me where I’m from. I tell him what the Russian man told me, “Everywhere. Nowhere. Wherever you can find me”. He asks me “So you’re from Kerala then?”. I tell him where I’m really from then he tells me “Yes. Kerala. Nice place isn’t it. Where you from?”. This conversation continues for several minutes, interspersed with questions about “my beef with UBER drivers”. I tell him I am a Hindu and I do not eat beef but he doesn’t understand. I cannot tell if this man has a learning disability or is very intoxicated. He opens his wallet and whispers that he wants to show me something. He pulls out a miniature map of Kerala and asks me to point out where I’m from. He seems upset that I can’t help him with his geography question but wishes me well. He opens the car door and jumps into the water fountain before a security guard chases him down and restrains him.
3:45 pm | 328 riyals– Intercontinental Hotel to Home
I make my way back from the hotel, trying to make sense of the day’s events. I drive back to the depot, excited to have had such a profitable day. After all my expenses and sending my money home. I’ll have 40 Riyals all to myself. Maybe I’ll watch a movie at the cinema for the first time here. Maybe I will treat my roommates to a bucket of chicken. So many possibilities.
I daydream of Pooja once again, this time she’s rolling out dough in the kitchen while our little children are running outside in the garden. I tell her I’ll be late for work. She wraps a tie over my neck and knots it together, patting it down to keep it in place. She tells me she cleaned it yesterday, the ketchup stain is out and it looks newer than ever. She gives me a kiss on the cheek, laughs softly and tells me she’s cooking mutton curry for dinner….