Thursday


Reading contempt


Saleh Al Shaibany

When I first started working, I realised that all my new colleagues were obsessed of doing something peculiar. There was this old gentleman who read every word in the newspaper before nine in the morning. He would then throw away the paper in the bin and complained about everything he read.

People would often leave him alone in the first hour after he read the newspaper. I would find out the hard way that he needed someone to listen during that time and he would go on for hours.  To him, the world was a conspiracy against ordinary working people. In the first few weeks, I became his victim as I listened to him whinging and moaning. On paper, he was an idealist but in practice, he was a pain in the neck. He had very little regard on newspapers' editors. He also had nothing but utmost contempt to reporters. The amazing thing is that he was hooked to a daily newspaper for years. One morning, when he was in a less fiery mood, I mustered enough courage to ask him a question.

"Why bother to read newspapers at all?" He looked at me as if I had insulted him. To him, I was nothing but a gratified listener who should learn something from him. I was not supposed to challenge his wisdom and my question took him by surprise.

For a man who could talk a lot, it took him a full minute to find the words to answer my question. "Listen, young man," he said and rummaged the bin taking out the newspaper he had thrown a couple of minutes earlier. He rolled it and whacked it several times on my head," it seems you have a thick head and I thought you were clever all this time."

In the next five minutes, he gave me a long lecture about the uselessness of reporting. I don't remember most of it now. However, at the end of a long tirade, he finally made sense of his obsession of reading something he despised most.

"It is a waste of time for people who have nothing to do with their lives," he told me and I immediately realised he was summing up his own life.

I left him alone since that fateful day. Besides, he would not have anything to do with me. He would not even look in my direction and I am sure he completely dismissed me from his life. He retired three years later and I remember thinking hard about what we would give him as a farewell gift. The head of my section suggested an annual subscription of his favourite newspaper. I advised against it but everybody in the office voted for it thinking it would make him happy.

When it was presented to him, he looked at his present that would be delivered to his house for a year, and said, "it is a wonderful gift but I plan not to read newspapers in my retirement".

The small crowd in the room looked at me. They knew I knew something that they did not know. He caught their glances but he understood it wrong. He said, "so it was his idea."

I vehemently shook my head but the blame was firmly pinned on me. When we were alone in his last hours in the office, he told me the reason why he would not read a newspaper again.

"I finally now have the time to do something better with my life," he said but would not tell me what it was. I never found out the answer because the man died last week, too late for me to find out now anyway.

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