Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thousand Yard Saudi Stare

One by one the foreign teachers arrived.  Each lugging his allotted one suitcase full of pressed slacks and dress shirts.  Each with his collection of stories and wild adventures rolled up like socks in a secret compartment drawer.
Mad Irish Dave and Wee Scott Bob.  Bangkok Phil and Crooner Joe.  Ralph the Sheik and Jeremiah Thumbs.  Hired men who have stood in classrooms the world over and would not flinch or cringe.  Men who had seen the edges of the world and were forever bent and burned by this lens.
It didn't matter the country name on their passport nor the port from which they departed.  All these men were the same.  A quiet triumph and tragedy to them.  At home, most weren't fit to pump gas, but abroad, they were giant slayers.  Men that had seen revolutions, dictators topple, and governments fall.  Men who had barricaded themselves in closets while armed invaders ransacked their apartments or crossed boarders at night through bribes and betrayals. 
Zack had sailed the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and faced squalls fifty feet high.  Mad Irish Dave the Libyan uprising.  Ralph the Sheik had missed a car bomb in Beirut by minutes because he chose a different café for fresh bread, and Jack the Gut sat helpless ten cars back when the masked soldiers pulled  the kicking and screaming from their cars outside Riyadh a decade before and executed them with a single gunshot to the head.  
Another hired man would appear every morning as we waited for the transport bus at 6 a.m.  to take us through the desert to the school.  Introducing with a nod, acknowledging with a look in the eyes.  Often men would shake hands, but it meant nothing.  There was rarely a point to that formality.  Everything important was said with the eyes.
New faces meant nothing.  This was the desert, and it was all an escape.

Each morning I would sit on the bus and listen to them trade tales in the way men do.  Booming voices echoing in the cramped vehicle.  Bangkok Phil with his button bursting belly and punch drunk nose rattling over and over about Eritrean whores and Somali Kat.    Slingshot Steve nodding, showing scars from a knife fight in Mogadishu while Jeremiah Thumbs cackled and showed off his tattoos.  
We rode through the desert this way every morning to school.  One way, one hour.  Through the burning hot sun scorching the earth as the men traded stories to keep themselves from going mad. 
And I would think, this is what happens to men at the end of the world.  

Then I would close my eyes and lay my head against the rattling window and pray for sleep.

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