Lowlife in the Gulf
I felt sorry for Walid Abdullah. There he works day after day after day in the presence of petty criminals and the low life of the Arab Emirates. He even raises a smile now and then, bless him. I know. I was one of his ‘customers’.
My crime was nothing short of parking across the corner of one of the disabled parking bays in the private car park of the apartment block where I live. They are keen on disabled bays there. On the ground floor of the car park there must be well over a dozen such bays, though I have yet to see even one disabled visitor to this monstrosity of an accommodation block.
The people who planned the tower block (I presume someone must have planned it, though I’ll bet they are trying to remain incognito right now) saw fit not to build the main underground car park under the tower block. Instead you have to drive down a slope, park, walk up the slope, down another slope, walk down some stairs and then take the lift up to your apartment. Anyone with shopping / luggage / tiny tots is well and truly stuffed.
Not surprising therefore that many people park their cars in the disabled bays rather than face such a marathon every time. And, perhaps like me, they too were highly surprised when the local police came and gave out parking tickets – not just ordinary parking tickets, but ones with a AED1000 fine – that’s around $300 for heaven’s sake, PLUS four black points on your licence.
Now for ordinary common or garden misdemeanours such as speeding, tailgating and the like, you can pay your fines from the comfort of your arm chairs. But for us hardened low life, we are obliged to go to the traffic department, present our licence together with the required pile of dirham notes and show the right level of contrition.
So I duly turned up to find a queuing machine that gave out tickets to ensure an orderly stampede of miscreants eager to part with their hard earned cash. One of the options was for a queue for those who wanted to contest their fines. Oh, silly me. Why did I even think it was worth asking what business it was of the local police to guard disabled bays in a private car park? Maybe it was the phase of the moon; maybe I had not been sleeping well recently.….
My number was called and I was directed to a Bruenhilde look-alike whom you certainly would not wish to meet in a dark alleyway around midnight. She was yakking away into a mobile phone and thrust out her hand at me waiting for the details of the crime I had committed. I smiled; she glowered; I handed over my summons; she grabbed it; I asked if one was allowed to contest the right of the police to operate in a private car park; over there, she said, continuing almost uninterrupted into the mobile as if I simply didn’t exist. It left me wondering if she had at one stage been trained in the Dubai Airport school for immigration officers.
I went ‘over there’ and that’s where I met Mr Walid. Yes, dear. What I can do for you?
I was thrown off guard but only for a second. I played my smile-at-Mr-Policeman card and explained that I was somewhat surprised to have been given a ticket for parking in a private car park.
He smiled – perhaps he had heard it all before a thousand times. Had I been a little rash? But no. He asked me to wait a short while and he would be as quick as he possibly could. True to his word, he bounced back from the rear office just 17 minutes later waving at me to come over to his desk again.
Hello, dear. I have rung Jebel Ali Police station but they have gone early to lunch I think. You will give me your mobile phone number and I will keep on trying them. I will ring you back, but don’t worry dear. I will call you before midday tomorrow.
What had I let myself into? Cursing my stupidity, I gave him my number and left wondering why I just hadn’t paid the fine. But it was too late now. Things were escalating beyond my control.
Fast forward a number of hours and as I lay in bed the following morning, considering whether I would make myself some poached eggs on toast, or have porridge and apricots for breakfast, my phone – which is normally silent as the grave until after 9.30 - blasted out, shattering my fantasies in the blink of an eye.
Hello dear. This is Walid from Dubai police.
Oh, thank you for calling back, I proffered, coming quickly to my senses.
Yes dear. I have spoken to Jebel Ali police station and they say you should go see them in office no 9. They are expecting you. Goodbye dear. Goodbye.
The phone went silent; I remained silent; thoughts of poached eggs were rapidly fading into obscurity.
My first reaction was to go back to the office I had gone to yesterday, simply pay the fine and have done with it. But Jebel Ali police were now expecting me. So it was time to face the music. I keyed the police station into my GPS as I had no idea where it was, and after downing a quick cup of coffee, I drove to my appointed rendez-vous.
I would never have found it without the GPS. It was situated close to the Jebel Ali free zone, but the signpost led one into a no-through road. Retracing my steps (tyre tacks?) I followed a forlorn-looking taxi driver who looked as if he was about to meet his maker. A good decision as it turned out. I parked in the last available space in the car park and looked around for office 9. There was Office 10 – a portacabin dedicated to Criminal Investigation. There was Office 8 – another portacabin to do with permits. And snuggled in between was the portacabin I had been looking for – Office no 9 – Traffic Offences.
I walked in where three bored looking officers were passing the time of day doing whatever it is that bored police officers do to pass the time of day. They perked up when they saw me. One of them was intent on practising his English; the others didn’t speak English and soon went back to reading their papers.
I explained to the eager cop my predicament. Did I really have to pay a 1000 dirham fine for badly parking in a private car park?
He reached into a dirty shopping bag, extracting a sheaf of parking ticket stubs. Eventually he found the right one, checked a number and turned to the computer, punching in the necessary digits and up sprung a database full of pictures of cars parked badly across white lines, and there in the middle was my car… and yes, there was no doubt about it. The crime of the century had indeed been committed.
But, I protested feebly, it is a private car park. Why were the police there in the first place? Ah, that we cannot answer. But you will no doubt be more careful in the future, no?
I would indeed, of that there could be no doubt. I left the portacabin and headed back to the Traffic Department. This time Bruenhilde was dealing with some other unlucky miscreant. Instead I got a very bored looking Emirati who was thumping the keyboard of his terminal, muttering to himself about – as it later transpired – the inadequacies of the traffic department computer system which had crashed for some incomprehensible reason.
I provided what I thought would be some much needed distraction for him, though in truth he hardly even threw me a second glance. Simply thumped my numbers into the keyboard and waited…and waited….and waited.
Eventually he gave up waiting and threw my driving licence back at me with a printed receipt for the money he had already neatly folded into his drawer and told me to go away. Yes… You are finished. Go!
I picked up my licence wondering how the crime had been recorded on an apparently non-working computer, and hence where the money went…but being a firm believer that discretion is the better part of valour, I kept quiet…
I left the traffic department older and wiser and decidedly poorer. I always make a point now of driving past the dozen or so disabled bays which are always standing empty and unloved; and down the slope into the lower ground park, from whence I wend my weary way back up the slope, down the next slope, down the staircase and up to my apartment in one of the remaining working lifts.
So too do the other miscreants who had received parking tickets. How must Walid Abdullah shudder when he hears the name of this accursed apartment block. Or maybe he is quietly smiling to himself. It is, after all, an excellent way for the impoverished emirate of Dubai to refill its coffers, second only to asking Abu Dhabi for a handout – but that, as they say, is a story for another day.