Riyadh Taxi Journey

The plan is to get a train to Dammam. I’m only going because I want to keep my visa multiple and I have to cross a border and the nearest and most accessible is Bahrain. To do this I need to get to Dammam and then get a mini bus from there to Bahrain. This trip is a necessity if I want to holiday with my daughter in two months time. I could fly but the reason I’m here is to save.
I’ve finished work and walk, head covered and Abaya clad in the scorching heat to the main road where I wait for a taxi, a few minutes later one stops. The taxi driver is a mild mannered Pakistani who speaks quite good English, we chat about where I’m going and why. He give’s me his number telling me to give him a call as soon as I return, I put it in my wallet and will later throw it along with the other dozen or so I’ve been given.
Riyadh’s roads are full of crazy would be rally drivers, there’s no rules, dangerous driving is the norm, every road journey has it’s hazards and this 10 minute journey is no exception. Drivers cut us up, weavers and racers vie for space. They recon there’s a thousand accidents every day and it’s not surprising. There’s no women drivers and though I find this unbelievable archaic, previous thoughts of being an experienced driver on hazardous foreign roads leave me as I wouldn’t be tempted to drive here even if it was legal. We arrive in one piece and I head into the station.
It’s a holiday weekend and stupidly assume that I’d get a space on the train. Wrong! I decide to head for the bus station. I pick an elderly Saudi taxi driver from the many vying for a fare. He’s dressed in a off white thawb and I think he should be a safe bet, a little less crazy then the other notorious Saudi taxi drivers. He smiles at me with a wide toothless grin and we agree on a price that is half he started with. Wrong again! Within a minutes of sitting and before I have a chance to put my seat belt on we’ve had a near miss and I bang my head on the front passenger seat, luckily we’re only going a few miles an hour. He reels at the other driver and persists on muttering to himself. We get onto the main road and the journey truly begins! We sped off weaving in and out of the traffic congested highway, he has a constant manic demeanour that mutters and shouts at any vehicle in his wake, he waves his arms in the air and constantly removes his hands from the wheel. This is no mild mannered grandpa! There’s a traffic jam ahead and he exclaims something in unrepeatable Arabic. He carries on muttering and chatting in wavering tones that express mild anger and manic humour. Then he points to the adjacent clear highway, veers off sharply and mounts the curbed sanded barrier that separates us from the ongoing speeding traffic, he does an excellent three point turn and then edges onto the road, trying to find a gap in the traffic. In a moment that I could only describe as madness I see a gap and shout yellah, yellah, he screeches off leaving a sanded dust storm in his wake and we just survive the on coming top of range Land rover who’s driver barely batters an eyelid and just misses us by veering off to the side. Maniac taxi driver chuckles to himself and puts his feet on the gas and resumes his weaving and vying, the speed monitor hits 80 and we turn off with screeching wheels at the next exit. He comes to a skidded halt at one of the few traffic lights and curses the inconvenience. His impatience is apparent as he edges in front of the stationary waiting cars. While he waits his muttering persists as he revs the accelerator, the lights change and he speeds off leaving every car in his wake. I ask him “how far” he points to the large building ahead, “there”. We turn in and stop abruptly. I hand him the agreed fare and he starts insisting that I give him 10 more saying “quick time” I say “you crazy, thanks to Allah we’re alive. No”. I grab my bag and walk.

J Killingley

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