Sunday, September 1, 2013

Love Letters to Osama bin Laden

 “Can’t trust what people tell ya, boy-yo.  Can’t trust what ya know to be true in yer bones.  Can’t trust anything cept what happens to ya and even then… ya don’t know what it means til somebody tells ya it’s all a lie.” -Wee Scott Bob

By the end of the week, Wee Scott Bob was with his wife in Edinburgh. 
 It was an amazing downward spiral.  On Saturday he refused to come to work saying he was sick.  On Sunday he sulked, kicking around the office complaining.  On Monday he scrapped his lesson plans and stood in class insulting King Abdul-Aziz until the Admiral called him in the office and set him straight.  But it’s what he did on Tuesday that was the final straw.  
 Teachers barely noticed.  All talk was about Mad Dog and his arrest in Riyadh.  There were more questions than answers.  
 His roommate, an astute chemist from Auckland named David, said he hadn’t a clue Mad Dog was even gone.  Word was Martin was at the U.S. Consulate having him released.   Flintstone said he knew the truth, “Mad Dog’s gone loco son.  Head be all swimming over some fine little honey he got stashed up there.  Probably eloped or something.” 
 Basically, no one knew anything, least of all me.  Besides, men who throw diamonds in the sea don’t run off to get married, and without iqamas, nobody was leaving Saudi Arabia alive.
 That afternoon riding home through the desert on the bus, I had a rare moment with Bangkok Phil.  All the other teachers were wrapped asleep in headphones and hoodies and neck pillows and for the first time we spoke as humans.  
 “All my life,” Phil said, “I’ve done whatever I wanted.  I followed every instinct, every base desire I’ve ever had.  I never thought about consequences.  I just wanted more.  More of life, more of lust, more of living… but I always felt a little guilty, you know?  Then 9/11 happened and I realized it didn’t matter if you were good or bad because whether you knew it or not, you were already dead.”
He stared at the passing dunes and a line of dirty camels drinking from a bathtub hose.  
 “When the planes hit the towers, I had no idea my father was traveling that day.  I only saw the flames and the people running away on TV and my students cheering, shooting their guns in the air in triumph.  You know I was here for that, didn’t you?”
“I’d heard,” I answered.  “But I didn’t know what to think about it.”
“That’s just the thing.” Phil said.  “I didn’t either.  Because when I saw my students and the looks on their faces… the smiles, the cheers, the weeping of celebration… all the years they have been repressed by Islam and blaming the west for their problems, I almost felt…”
“What, happy for them?  You're joking?” I asked.
Bangkok Phil nodded, “I know.”
 The bus came to an abrupt stop at a light.  An old man in robes rode a donkey across the street, beating its hind rump with a stick.
“But then I heard my father was on the plane, and suddenly it’s like I felt through a trapdoor.  There was no one I could talk to.  I mean no one.  So I turned to social media.  Facebook and chat rooms and Twitter.  I sought out strangers for comfort because I couldn’t trust my own thoughts.  My inner most reactions were destroying me.  I needed to reject my own mind.  I’d become overly connected with a reality that wasn’t real.”
The bus was speeding now, weaving in and out of traffic.  Immense freight lorries and sewage trucks, racing sedans and flying auto bikes.  Phil adjusted his knees in the seat.
 This went on for years even after the grief of losing my father passed.  It got to be that I wouldn’t watch a movie unless I read the instant reviews online first or go to a restaurant before checking the customer service comments.  I began trusting anonymous people more than myself.  It became destructive because next thing you know, I was having random sex and pick-ups on the street.  Quick and easy with a delete button attached.  Anything to keep me from seeing the real me.  To keep me from seeing what I had become.”
Around the bend the road narrowed.  We were approaching Jizan.
“And what was that… what were you becoming?”
“A man who couldn’t trust his own mind,” Phil said.  “Lost.”
 When we arrived at the compound Senior Director Martin was waiting.  He had an update on Mad Dog.  We were called into the meeting room between the main office and mosque to listen and Martin explained there’d been an incident with a Saudi man whom Mad Dog had assaulted.  Charges were being filed and an arrest was made.  Mad Dog was released after a full confession.
“There’s no risk of flight,” Martin said, “because without an iqama, Mad Dog isn’t allowed to leave the country.”
“That’s right,” Phil spoke low into my ear.  “Only way to leave this country without an iqama is get yourself fired and deported.”
That night I went running on the rooftop again.  Lately I’d been jogging through the compound with the boys chasing me and throwing bottles at my feet but tonight was different.   I needed time to think.  To let ideas take shape.  To trust again what I felt was true.  I took off my shirt under the night sky and raced back and forth between the walls in the dark.  Breathing hard.  Sprinting.  Drenched in sweaty exhaustion.  I fell on my back and stared up at the stars as if they alone could guide me.  The only sound the pounding in my chest.
When I got downstairs Scoops was waiting.  
“Bob’s been sacked.  What a week, huh?”
"What?"  Wet palm wiped across my cheek.  “What for?”
“Had his students write love letters to Osama bin Laden.  Why he’s a hero.  Why he’s someone they should admire.”  Scoops stood staring into my eyes.  “He put the letters on the Admiral’s desk and was fired on the spot.  Why would…?  I mean, why would anyone do that?  What was he thinking?”
We stood in my kitchen looking at one another for a long time in silence.
“Maybe he just...” I almost dismissed the thought faster than it first appeared.  “needed the fall.”

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