Down the rich asphalt street, Abu Mohammed – the father of Mohammed — pushes his ice cream tricycle between tightly parked, packed cars in over 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. There is no sidewalk. There is very little room to ride his heavily wheel-rusted cycle. Trucks, vans and sedans drive around him, honking and blaring out tempestuous truths from their mouths.
Abu Mohammed perspires the usual, where drenching sweat salts its way down and around his white uniform. The shirt normally ruffles, minutes after ironing it. Yet, he pilgrimages on, pushing his concrete weight of a tricycle up and around stationed vehicles that sporadically align residential streets, toward the same site he has been serving ice cream for much of his adult life. For much of his livelihood.
Once he gets there, Abu Mohammed immediately assembles and erects an umbrella on top of the cycle. Removing the light towel wrapped around his head, he places it on his neck and under his uniform, patting his armpits and then wiping the other accrued saltiness from his lower back. Much of his face is rouged, wrinkled and cracked, resembling his succumbed uniform. He opens the top lid of the tricycle to let out some of the arctic chill that has been brewing, nestling buttery ice creams. A smile creeps open, fending off his permanent facial splits. Little by little, the sweats cease and a cartoonish face emerges, until his smile holds firm, influential for the rest of the day. He closes the lid and yells, “Bareed. Bareed,” announcing, “Ice cream. Ice cream,” and implying he is open for business in Arabic. His screams sound like repetitive sirens.
Drivers clumsily pull over. They hog part of the slow lanes while parking very closely to the ice cream man’s vehicle, squeezed between them and a drainage hole.
Orders are given. Creams are delivered.
Abu Mohammed coolly collects, assorts and delivers sticks and cups of iced vanilla – some dipped in nutted, creamy chocolate. Others chocolate wrapped in heavy vanilla. The drivers barely discipline their unruly little ones who yank and blare crude, cruel words toward the ice cream man, as if he is some sort of servant. As if he is some sort of slave.
By kids a fraction of his age.
The parents, meanwhile, would rather tamper and molest their mobile phone screens. Their kids are allowed to mouth off and jeer the ice cream man with little supervision. On purpose.
Instead, the youngsters are rewarded with much ice cream delight.
“How much?” parents ask, while hypnotized by their mobile phone screens.
Abu Mohammed beams in, with a half-hidden Iraqi accent, and stately addresses each Mister or Miss with,“200 fils for each.”
They ray back harsh, squinted gazes.
Large notes are handed over, stiffly. Dexterously, change is brought back. After the parents hear Abu Mohammed say, “Here you are,” with his deeply slanted northern accent, they yank all of the change back from his unfastened but blistered palm. They do not consider tipping one fils.
The drivers accelerate away, whipping out of vision, instead. Cremating out of his existence.
Abu Mohammed but holds his day-welded and heat-festered smile. Perspiration continues to creek down his hardened soul as each drive-by customer comes and leaves. Relatively all in the same ill manner.
He stares at the license plates eventually, which divulge the sanctioned, numbered and governorate-named regions of Kuwait.
As moisture swells his skin, Abu Mohammed remembers the Iraq National Library and Archive, mostly before and slightly during Saddam’s rule. He recalls how he used to collect, assort, and shelve rich books in Baghdad’s famous library, when educational awareness and mutual respect according to Islamic doctrines were exemplified by librarians, and equally amplified by library habitués.
Etiquette was worth its weight in silver. Education in gold.
He thinks back to Iraq’s might, of it being one of the most highly educated Arab countries, when words, ideas, cultural exchanges brought out the best in societies. The best in oneself.
As every Kuwaiti driving plate leaves his sight, salty tears coalesce with sweat.
Smelting his spirit in the midst of frozen heat.