This is a 1kg bottle of Dates Syrup I bought two days ago. Before then, I had never bought nor tasted Dates Syrup. Heck I even have no idea what Date Syrup is. My guess is that it’s a syrup made from dates, or something I’d never spend a dime on; until I fell prey to an Indian street conman in Dubai.
Me and my wife were strolling back to the hotel on Al Nahdha Street. We were from doing a mini thrift shopping from one of those AED 1-10 shops where the most expensive item on sale will not exceed USD 2.7; and I mean everything, starting from a sweet to a piece of land. You should have seen the village excitement on my face. Whatever I ever wanted to own in this life and the next was on sale here at an unbelievable price. Those shops have reassured me that my dreams are valid.
So we were gleefully walking down the street, taking selfies and being generally naively happy when the conmen identified their prey. I am not even sure what it was that tipped them off, I am guessing they must have felt a heavy presence of village excitement approach them which tickled their conman sensory receptors, jerking one of them out of their car that had been parked by the roadside to start walking toward us from the opposite direction.
“Oh, excuse me my friend.” He suddenly stopped when he reached me. He touched my shoulder and looked me directly into the eyes, slightly tiling his head and leaning in for a close examination like a father who had just stumbled onto a child he gave away for adoption 25 years ago.
“Allahu akbar! See this thing below your eyes.” He was stretching out a finger to touch my eye when I flinched back.
“Sorry my friend. But see ring swelling below your eyes? Big problem.” He stood straight up and looked behind him, snapping a finger for his friend to approach. They mumbled a few things in a language that sounded like a Hindi dialect so I didn’t make out a word, all I could glean from the gestures was that they were talking about my eyes in a way that suggested that if I didn’t stand still in that blistering heat and listen to their diagnosis I was going to drop dead in the next 24 hours.
After their quick talk, the first conman handed me over to the next and pretended to proceed to his busy day’s schedule saying just two words; “big problem” as he gestured toward my eyes.
The second conman took over from where his friend left and leaned in too to examine my eyes with his hands holding his waist. Then mumbled to himself words that sounded like exclamations as he stood up, looked at Eva, then looked back at me and shook his head lamenting.
“My brother, my brother.”
Frankly, if someone pulled this weak move on me in Kampala I would have spat in his face, but for some reason I wasn’t thinking this time. Eva herself, a doctor, also just looked on in bewilderment. All that was going on in my head was have I been infected by some strange and fatal Arabic disease that I somehow missed in my preliminary internet research? What is wrong with my eyes? What is threatening to kill me?
“See, I used to have problem, same same like you.” He took off his shades and started to explain as he touched the bottom part of his left eyelid. “My eyes, big. Stomach, huge. But I took this medicine, two spoons every night for 20 days and see, look, look, see my eyes? Problem gone, eyes, white. Stomach, poof! That is toxic infection in your body my brother” He explained as he held my belly like a pastor trying to cast out a stubborn demon.
I gotta give to him, this man could talk. And he did it so rapidly and overly dramatized so not to leave me any room to think. The bastard was so callous he targeted my deepest insecurities. He must have sensed that the size of my eyes may not cut it, so he had to drag my stomach into this. And gullible enough, I was sold at the mention of “Stomach, poof”.
The thing about being conned is unless you’ve fallen prey to, survived, or heard of the stunt before, you never realise that you’re being conned until you sit down and think about the whole plot retrospectively. That’s when you start asking yourself questions like how did I let a stranger convince me that my eyes are big and they have a problem? Did I actually follow this man’s lead to a supermarket to buy Date Syrup to treat my mysterious ailments? Because that’s exactly what I did.
“Come, come. I’ll help you for free my friend. Just remember me in your morning prayers.” He led me to a supermarket a block away from where we stood and I followed like a sheep. He went straight to a shelf, picked this tin of Date Syrup and brought it to the counter like he was going to pay for it. For a second, I actually thought he was offering to buy it for me. But then I thought that would be impolite of me. The man is helping me cure a terminal illness for free, how presumptuous would I be to ask him to pay for my medication. So I frisked for my wallet and held it heady, to show that I gat this. I asked for the price, 16 AED; back home, that money can buy me lunch from Monday to Friday. But I paid it like it was pocket change.
But I hadn’t been conned yet, that’s the legit price for the Date Syrup that is received by the supermarket without any commission to the connman. The conman makes his cut at the next step, which I didn’t know about until I started to walk away.
“Wait my friend. Date Syrup alone, no treat. You need to add ‘majani’ and (another herb I didn’t catch well). You know where they sell ‘majani’?
“Oh, you mean tea leaves?”
“No no, not tea leaves. Come, come. Let me take you to the herbal shop.” And again, I followed like a sheep, this time to the abattoir. It is what transpired in that shop, after all the 28 portions of the different herbs had been measured and the price declared that triggered the war.