A long time ago I worked for a plumbing sub-contractor. When a big building went up, they put the pipes in (to this day, when I see the partially concealed little ghetto of Aspern Grove, off Haverstock Hill, the number '1153' pops into my head, because that was the accounting code we used).
A Sikh worked there, a fellow named Harbens. Despite the firm being a nest of golf club vermin I think he did okay, though an unfunny colleague would occasionally take the piss: 'Your head hasn't got any better has it Harbens, you must have changed that bandage fifty times by now.' Etc. He was renowned as a good site manager, which I'm told requires superhuman skills of psychology and people-manipulation talents.
One afternoon we were sitting around having a tea-break when a female colleague, quite apropos of nuffing, asked to stroke his beard. Shyly, he allowed her to. 'It's so soft!' she exclaimed. Never having been cut, the bristles had not become bristly. Pretty soon every female in the department was getting tactile on his chin.
Afterwards his mood was strange, like one of those koalas that remain still while petted but emerge from the experience suffering profound stress.
Anyway, I was only reminded of this as I met a Sikh chap today. An elderly chap, his beard and what hair was visible around his turban quite white. He waylaid me in Gloucester Place, beside that long short building with the large Low Countries-style windows, you know the one. One doesn't see many Sikhs around my way, still less those that initiate conversation at random.
He said to me that I looked like a happy man. That I didn't care for money but just wanted a peaceful life (spot on there, I thought, though kept shtumm). That the 21st October would be a very good day for me. That in 2007 a good woman would be mine. This came out in rather a stream, so I may have missed parts. In any case, at a momentary pause while he took breath I thanked him and went on my way.
I refrained from stroking his beard.