Trying to muster something insightful to write for this Last Word column isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s never easy, which is why breaking my leg was perhaps a blessing in disguise. Okay, so I’m in pain, on crutches, and it takes about an hour to put on my underpants, but at least it’s given me pause for thought.
Breaking a leg has changed the way I view Dubai. For one, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to get around. While the minor inconvenience of having a broken leg is in no way comparable to having a permanent physical disability, the fact that the city is alive with escalators, elevators and moving walkways means it’s pretty easy to navigate shopping centres and the metro.
I’ve also discovered that I’m the first person in Dubai to ever break a leg. At least it feels this way, because it seems that nobody in Dubai has ever seen anyone on crutches before. I became acutely aware of this when I ventured to the mall. While I admit that the sight of me tottering around like Bambi on ice is probably quite funny, I wasn’t expecting children to stop in their tracks, point at me and squeal with laughter. Happily, most adults refrain from full-on belly laughs, and instead just politely enquire how I broke my leg (even in lifts, where it’s virtually illegal to speak to the person standing next to you). While I’m a sociable person, I’m beginning to tire of explaining how I did it (for the record, I was trying to play rugby and ran into someone far bigger and better than me) and have begun to concoct elaborate lies to entertain myself – ultimate fighting, playing kabaddi, parachuting without a parachute…
But if breaking my leg has taught me one thing about Dubai, it’s that its taxi drivers – every single last one – have limitless advice and/or anecdotes to impart about broken legs.
‘Too much serious, or little serious?’ asked one, pointing to my cast. ‘It’s not too bad,’ I replied bravely. ‘Little serious,’ he confirmed. ‘I broke my leg. Much more serious. I fell out of a tree. I was getting fruit for my sister and I fell out of a tree. She thought I was dead. But I was not.’ Evidently.
Such is their knowledge of broken legs, many taxi drivers don’t even ask me how I broke it – they just know. ‘So, you fell off your bicycle,’ said one. I’m not sure how he came to this conclusion (you don’t see many cyclists in Dubai), but for some reason it conjured the image of me swerving off a picturesque country road to avoid a badger, and flying over a dry-stone wall.
‘Actually, I did it playing rugby,’ I told him. ‘Rugby? Ah, a stupid sport.’ We drove on in silence. He may have been wrong about the bicycle, but he was right about the rugby.