Short Story: The Stranger and the Gentleman


I wasn’t sure if I was being extraordinarily cool about this, or if I was being extraordinarily stupid. To be safe, I kept a note in my hotel room that said this: “Going to a night club with the owner of an Egyptian club. His no is 734xxxxxx. He drives a light green Nissan with number plate xxxx. If I’m kidnapped, please pay my ransom… please!”

I don’t party, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. I do like to have a fun night out every now and then, but my friends feel I am from outer space because I suffer from the severe deficiency of “having a life”. So it would have sounded quite ironic to them that the reason that I mysteriously disappeared was that I had finally decided to go to a night club, except it was on the invitation of an unknown Egyptian shop-owner, and it was hundreds of miles away from home. On the bright side, if I’d be released after my abduction, they would definitely not pester me to go partying with them again!

Yes, I wasn’t exactly confident of my decision to decide to go partying in Egypt, of all places, especially when I hadn’t informed any of my colleagues about this, especially when the shop-owner who invited me to his own night club had also told me, “Beware of Egypt shopkeepers – they are all out to fleece you”, and especially when I don’t even party!

From the time he graciously picked me up from my hotel and we were on our way to a night club in a place completely alien to me, I admit, I was apprehensive. What was the catch? Why had an Egyptian shop-owner invited a foreigner at least 15 years younger to him to his night club? I didn’t look too rich, I had made it clear that I’m from India, and well, India isn’t exactly the land of the rich, and I hadn’t even bought that many souvenirs! Did he just instinctively take a liking to me or was he going to drug me and hold me for ransom?

He got us a VIP seat at the night club, he got a grand dinner arranged, and we watched some fine belly dancing, an Egyptian cultural phenomenon. But then, when he started to tell me his rags-to-riches-to nearly rags again story, it started becoming clear: he was going to ask me for money. He told me of his troubled childhood, how he overcame it, how God kept testing him by putting his family through still more hardships, and how he’s trying to stand up on his feet now with his businesses.

At the end of the evening, he drove me back to my hotel. I got off, and he bid me goodbye and wished me a safe journey. I was confused. As I wished him the same and was about to get into my hotel, he called out to me. I guessed that he would now ask the favour. But Syed, instead, shook my hand and asked a promise: “Promise me, you’ll be my friend. I don’t have many.”

I stayed awake that night for a very long time.



“So who are you buying all these things for?” I asked

“Well, I’m gifting this stuff here to my mother, I’m gifting this stuff here to my father and this stuff here is for my brother,” the young man answered.

“What are you buying for yourself?” I asked out of curiosity.

“Nothing. I don’t have any money left, and besides, I’m not much of a shopper,” he replied frankly.

“You sound like a gentleman,” I said to him. “I don’t meet too many gentlemen in Egypt. All the shopkeepers here try to fleece the foreigners, and all the foreigners are only out looking for a good time to care about that.”

“That’s very kind of you,” the young man said, with a smile. “I’m glad I decided to buy all my souvenirs from this shop, you seem very nice yourself!”

“Thank you,” I smiled back. Without giving it too much thought, I took out my card and gave it to him. “My name is Syed, and I also own a night club here. If you’re here tonight, give me a call. I’d love to have you as a guest at my club.”

The young man thanked me courteously, promised me he’d try to come, and then used our newly-formed friendship to negotiate harder! I didn’t expect him to give me a call, but he did. I was happy to take him to the club – he reminded me of myself when I was his age. I would spend all my money on my family and never save for myself either. I told him of my younger days and how I would go to different countries too, since I had to sell my goods. He seemed a bit distracted, maybe he had an early morning flight to catch. I think I had a little too much to drink though, because I unnecessarily bored him with my stories. We still had a very pleasant time, and I think I made a good friend today. I hope he keeps in touch, there are not too many gentlemen in Egypt.


Note: This story was first published on October 9, 2011. It was written for an online group. It is inspired from a true incident in my life and the man in the picture above is actually Syed.


Picture courtesy: Google. None of the pictures are owned by the author all rights belong to the original owner(s) and photographer(s).

© Copyright belongs to the author, Nikhil Taneja. The article may not be reproduced without permission. A link to the URL, instead, would be appreciated.


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