I like to guess people’s stories and their backgrounds. How they got here? Do they live here? Have they suffered? Are they happy? Why is that boy sad? Or is it just his look? Is that couple fighting or are they so used to each other they don’t need to talk? It’s a world of possibilities.
As a graduate of humanities and social sciences from Zayed University, a lot of my university studies included observation of people and social settings. In my psychology courses we learned about reading body language in order to understand others’ psyche. In another course we were asked to choose a public spot and show up for a few hours every day and observe people and social happenings for a period of time. These were my favorite projects and they subconsciously fed and tamed an existing desire and love for people-watching. I can say it made me learn to observe people better and make my analysis deeper. On the other hand, it fed my need as a writer. It gave me a base where I can be inspired by my surroundings, and then make my own analysis and my own creation. It helped me imagine, something I never thought I could do.
So when I decided that a career in the humanities would be put on hold, I turned to writing. And what a decision that was! I didn’t know where to start, what should a write about, who were my audience, etc. Until I participated in my first “Made in UAE” project with Rainer Wekwerth by UAEBBY and Geothe Institue during the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in 2013. From that day onwards I had the proper tools to embark on my journey with writing. And it stared with a novel —pending— and a blog. Soon after that I joined the newly found group of dynamic female writers, my Hunna Ladies. And the rest is history.
With the proper tools I began writing, and I realized that my writing is very character oriented. The most important element I have in my stories are the people, and it is because I see them. My characters are as real to me as the old lady holding her husband’s hand beside me in the elevator. My characters are as real as the boy having a tantrum at a Starbucks’ line. My characters are as real as the couple trying to hide their red, rage filled faces. My characters are real because they are inspired by reality and they tell real stories. And I owe all my inspiration to my people-watching.
So if you are a writer —even if you’re not— go ahead and do it. Bring along a novel and have a latte somewhere public. Keep your ears ready and let your mind go wild. Keep a notebook nearby to record your findings. Because someone out there has a story, and their story could be you next inspiration. Sometimes you might get to even initiate conversation with those strangers, and they might love it. Maybe they’ll even let you take a photograph. Maybe they will tell you their story. Or maybe they’ll think you’re weird and call security on you. Either way, you got fed something that you can use in your next character. Something you took from reality, and hid in a book.
Artwork by Fadwa Al Qasem
She walked briskly towards the miniature tables that you always find at crowded European coffee shops. She pulled out a chair and slumped her bum on it. Her husband followed slowly, his heavy steps slow by weight and age. His white hair receding to the back of his head, freckles covering his shiny baldness.
She, on the other hand, was quite slim, and seems fit for her age. Her arms and legs were strong and muscular, yet her hands and face covered with wrinkles. Her white blonde hair was cut short, its frizziness making her look like cotton candy on a stick.
Funny how hair reflects the mood and the personality of a person. Shiny healthy hair resonates a lovable personality. Marines crop indicates professionalism and order. Frizzy, unhealthy hair reflects a troubled personality. Nothing’s set in stone though, only a theory.
However, she was one of those hair-matches-personality type of person. She was angry, stiff and jittery. And everything she did matched how she looked like. His hair matched his, he looked apologetic and a little bit worried. Did he look this way all the time?
The waiter came by and took their orders. She didn’t bother taking her shades off even though the sun was behind her. She asked about the menu sounding disgusted, as if she was forced to sit in this particular coffee shop. Her husband ordered with a friendly face and a huge smile, as if feeling apologetic for his wife’s uncanny disgust.
While waiting for the orders the crowds filled in. Walking tours and museum tours stopped for lunch breaks. Noise arose like a giant woken up from a slumber. It started slowly, and soon gained momentum. Vibrations of buzz rising up here and there, like an orchestrated symphony.
The old couple contributed to the crowd with a few words back and forth. Not to be considered a conversation, just words being snapped at the other. Then silence. The orders arrived; hers ice-cold and his warm. And she sipped her cold soda with composed rigidity, her lips locked so tight one would think that she wasn’t drinking. Merely bringing her lips to the cup and letting them touch the ice-cold soda. And as if by osmosis, the liquid in the cup receded.
The whole scene could depict a life they are leading. Or it is merely a scene; something that happens and is then replaced by another scene, one different in mood and setting. This scene just happened to be one of anger and apology. As the scene ended, the sun hit the empty chairs directly. Breeze blew away a dirty tissue from the table. The waiter cleared the table with professional precision and swiftness. The chairs were filled again. Scene two.
Hunna Blog, a peek into the pages of our notebooks and our minds. Not a literacy area rather a jungle of thoughts.