We got talking after he piqued my curiosity when he greeted me with the Islamic greeting “Assalamualykum” (peace be with you). It’s not every day a homeless man greets you in Arabic.
A crippling debt problem forced Dawud onto the streets after his father, who helped him manage his debt, died suddenly of a heart attack. Things inevitably spiralled out of control when he took to gambling to try and make quick money. When that failed, he went to a loan shark which forced him into bankruptcy, sealing his fate to sleep on the streets.
He looked up wistfully at people walking past and said: “I look at these people, going about their normal lives and I think “that used to be me once upon a time.””
For the first time in a long while, I was seeing Dickens’ tale of two cities unfold before my eyes even though I was momentarily swooping into life on the “other side”, and I have to say, it was hard to swallow.
Dawud talked about how his newfound faith, Islam, helped provide some anchorage and solace in his life. A brief encounter with a Saudi preacher became a transformative spiritual experience for him. Talking about his conversion, he said: “I went into a congregation to pray after listening to him. You know when you dive into a swimming pool and come out dripping wet? That’s how I felt, and I just had to do something.”
I asked him whether he ever questions God about why he is in the situation he is. He smiled a small smile, and said: “I do. But since I found Islam, I just smile and get on with it.”
A few minutes before I left, a man walking past glared at Dawud, and shouted “What the f**k are you doing on the streets?” The blood rushed to my head instantly. I was incredulous at this unwarranted abuse, and saw red before I knew it. But Dawud calmly replied: “Stop swearing, there’s a lady sat here.” I’m not sure what I was more taken aback by: The man’s foul mouth, or Dawud’s chivalry. I then asked him if he gets abuse like that all the time when he’s on the streets. Unsurprisingly, he replied in the affirmative and added: “But I just smile and laugh.”
I for one feel like the most ungrateful sh*t in the world today.
Here is a man who has literally nothing of material worth in the world apart from the bag on his back, and the clothes on his body. Yet he had more to give to me today than I ever could.