A group of us went out for a posh and delicious dinner at the Shangri-la Hotel's Vietnamese restaurant, Hoi An, last night. I figured it would be nice to dress up. So that's how I found myself, in the taxi stop outside my hotel in a pair of 3.5-inch heels and a scarf covering the top of my halter dress, telling two separate men that no, I really could not accept their offer of a ride.
"Don't be afraid of the beard!" yelped the driver of the black Toyota Yaris, which, for some reason, had a yellow light on top of it. "I give you ride. Get in."
The man, like many from South East Asia, was quite small. I could have easily taken him in a scuffle, or so I figured, but why risk it? When I thanked him and said no, I really could get my own taxi, he wouldn't drive off. But soon he had to move forward in the taxi stand, because another man had pulled in, this time driving an empty short bus used to shuffle labourers to and fro. He also wanted to give me a ride. Again, I apologised, and both of them sat there, waiting, like I was going to reconsider. So there I am, in the high heels, motioning for the two of them to drive off so I might have a hope of getting a taxi.
Men do this all the time in Abu Dhabi. I would say every other day a strange man pulls over in his car and offers me a ride. Emiratis are much more low-key about it. I will be hailing a taxi and notice that a Mercedes or a Landcruiser has pulled over and is idling just up ahead. If I glance in its direction, the heavily-tinted passenger window will slide down, and inside I will see a bit of a dishdash, the corner of the driver's ghutra, a snippet of an igal (the white cotton scarf and black cord to secure it worn on the head), and a beckoning hand. In the early days this really freaked me out. Now I am able to ignore it. (And during Ramadan, when it was nearly impossible to get a cab, more than once I was severely tempted to take them up on it. It was those jet-black windows that tripped me up, every time. It's like if I got in, I would disappear from the world.)
But I can't help wondering, they aren't all be would-be attackers, are they? There just aren't that many sinister people in the world, right? And there was that time in early Ramadan I hopped on one of the short buses, full of labourers, and the sweet driver dropped me off at the front door of the office, wanting nothing more than to help me out. So, what is going on? Is it some sort of bizarre dating technique? And if they are just nice men - or you know, interested men - does their offer of a ride ever get accepted? What woman in their right mind would ever say yes?
It's a lost opportunity, but I really wish I'd had the temerity to ask the bearded Yaris driver one question:"Has this ever worked for you before?"