A recent Sunday supplement which Mrs Muriel Lawrence in Bexhill posted to her exiled son featured on its cover an aerial photograph of the Belaj Intercontinental Hotel, dusty windows shining patchily in the sunlight, sand-drifts blocking its doors, swimming pools and gardens submerged beneath the encroaching desert. The abandoned ziggurat of yesteryear Belaj looked every bit as mysterious as the ancient pyramids of Egypt, now lost to mankind. The world is commemorating another anniversary of Armageddon.
Inside were photos of radiation victims and refugee camps in Greece and Turkey; of the ruins of Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran; of the former oilfields of eastern Saudi Arabia and southern Iran where sand and soil, rock and rubble have fused into mile after mile of dark glistening glass.
There were close-ups, again taken from the air, of the cracked Kaaba in the Grand Mosque and the shattered stump of the Wailing Wall, surviving fragments of the destruction of Mecca and Jerusalem which remain the focus of their two irreconcilable faiths although centuries will pass before any follower is able to lay a reverent hand on their hallowed stones.
There were eerie panoramas of the Emirates’ ghost towns with their exotic skyscrapers and disintegrating palm-shaped islands, spared by the bombs but uninhabitable because of radiation. As Ernest McBride once predicted, the cities of the Gulf are vanishing back into the sand from which they sprang.
One picture showed the Belaj-Ras-Al-Khaimah Causeway, intact, sand-swept, deserted, a billion-dollar bridge between a depopulated island and a mainland where, amazingly, a few disfigured nomads still roam the Northern Emirates, Oman, Yemen and Rub’ al Khali, the Empty Quarter, now emptier than ever.
The accompanying article rehashed the familiar litany of events leading up to Israel’s ‘thermonuclear Masada'. The author, like most current historians, fixed on the fall of the Shah and the wars with Saddam Hussein as ‘the beginning of the end', with the explosion in the UAE Council of Ministers, the sacking of the Sultan’s Palace in Muscat and the mass beheadings of the Saudi royals as landmarks in the revolutionary process that slowly united Israel’s discordant enemies into a single overwhelming orchestra, all playing the same tune.
The so-called ‘peaceful transitions’ in Belaj, Qatar and Bahrain were once again dismissed as merely punctuating the more spectacular changes of power. Despite the prominence of the Causeway and the more-than-ever fabulous hollow of the Intercontinental Hotel in the illustrations, the island barely merited a mention in the text.
No one has ever hinted that the coup in Belaj was anything other than bloodless. Shaikh Masood, occasionally photographed at casinos and nite-spots around the world, the exiled Amir of an extinct country, has kept his silence, just as Eddy has – until now.
And yet refugees from the Gulf often question whether the Amir of Qatar (like his near-neighbour in Belaj) really suffered a stroke during his mid-morning majlis. The execution of Saddam Hussein was, thanks to the Al-Jazeera news channel, prime-time ‘living history', but it didn’t come out until months after Muammar Gaddafi’s death that he had been castrated by one of his female bodyguards. And was the King of Bahrain truly crushed by driving his Mercedes into a camel on his way into voluntary exile?
* * *
Eddy Lawrence, now a chronic insomniac on the Costa del Sol, is obsessed by the thought - clearly preposterous - that all the Arab rulers died and the Holy Lands turned into radioactive dust simply because he ...... (Sorry, but you'll have to buy the book to read the rest of this paragraph, which gives the whole plot away!)
Are there others like Eddy with hitherto untold tales of Arabian nights and the death of princes?
Earlier extracts from Shaikh-Down can be read on www.shaikh-down.co.uk
You can buy Shaikh-Down from Amazon or order it at your local bookstore. And for those of you with Kindles, iPads etc, SHAIKH-DOWN is available as an e-book at:-
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Update: August 2011
With Saudi and UAE troops reinforcing King Hamad's own militia, the uprising in Bahrain has been crushed - for now. William Hague and Hillary Clinton and other Western leaders keep on bleating exhortations to the Arab despots to respect the Rights of the People, but all the West really cares about is the flow of oil. But Col. Qaddafi's days are certainly numbered (looks like a fairly small number left); it remains to be seen whether he is found dead or alive (and castrated or not!).
In Syria, and elsewhere, the tyrants prevail. Insh'Allah, not for ever. Insh'Allah, not for much longer. How many more Bahrainis and Syrians and Saudis will disappear into the torture cells of the 'Fingernail Factories', many never to be seen again - like the teenager whose abduction more than 20 years ago inspired me to write Shaikh-Down? This - true - story is posted further down on this Blog.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Well, I wasn't quite right about Qaddafi - although having a sharp (if it was sharp) object pushed up his backside must have been nearly as unpleasant as being castrated. 'Sic semper tyrannis' (thus always to tyrants), Brutus is supposed to have said as he stabbed Julius Caesar. We'll have to wait to see if any of my other equally outlandish predictions come true - maybe not for too long.
Whilst congratulating the people of Egypt and Libya on their efforts to unshackle themselves from the rule of tyrants, Ayatollah Khamenei uses his Revolutionary Guards to brutally suppress dissidence at home.
The programme revisited the case of Sakineh, the woman condemned to death by stoning for the murder of a husband who prostituted and brutalized her. (The lover who carried out the murder, one of her customers, was allowed to go free on the payment of Blood Money.) Other women, some only protesting against the regime, have been raped and tortured in prison.
A gay man, who had fled with many other dissidents to Turkey, said that the penalty for homosexuality under Sharia Law is supposed to be ritual dismemberment. The ayatollahs take pride in the "humanity" of their justice: they only hang homosexuals. This man too had been raped in prison before his escape. Homosexuality is criminal, but it's okay for prison guards to rape their prisoners: such is justice in the "Holy" Islamic Republic.
We need to remind ourselves that out of Robespierre's Reign of Terror came - eventually - the civilised France we know today (a France that has just banned the wearing of the burka!). Iran, 30 years after Khomeini usurped the Shah's 'Peacock Throne', is still going through its bloodbath phase. The next phase of the revolution is sorely needed. The Iranians do not yet know freedom anmd tolerance.
Hosseini's prose is unpretentious, his narrative style simple and straightforward. He tells a terrible story: the interweaving of the lives of two Afghani women from the ending of the Soviet invasion to the beginning of the 'coalition' one after 9/11, with the rule of the Mujahideen and the Taliban sandwiched inbetween.
Mariam, the older of the two women, the bastard daughter of a provincial cinema-owner, has a loveless childhood, resented by her mother, an embarrassment to her father who marries her off at 15 to Rasheed, a Kabul shoemaker three times her age. After a series of miscarriages her husband turns against her.
A few years later, abused with escalating brutality, Mariam befriends Laila, a teenage Juliet who has lost her Romeo. I wouldn't want to spoil the book for you by giving away any more of its intricate plot, but through many trials and tribulations in their own lives and the life of Afghanistan the women slowly bond. Mariam feels "the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections." Then an unexpected event turns their lives upside down.
This is one of the saddest books I've ever read but also one of the most riveting. Writing from exile in the US, Hosseini vividly recreates his native land and the horrors it has endured through successive regime changes. The oppression of women, perennially relegated to 'second-class citizens' in so much of the Muslim world, reached a new peak under the savage rule of the Taliban. Rasheed is up there with Charles Dickens's Bill Sikes as one of literature's vilest villains. In the West we deplore the handful of Bill Sikeses that our culture still produces. A regime like the Taliban actively encourages men like Rasheed to subjugate and even brutalize their womenfolk.
When our soldiers are borne in coffins through the streets of Wootton Bassett, we need to think of women like Mariam and Laila and what their lives, the lives of thousands, millions, of women, are like under the rule of the Taliban (and fanatical Fundamentalists in many other countries). Our gallant lads are fighting - are dying - to give these women and their children a future free from tyranny. The 'War Against Terror' is also a fight for women to be allowed to live as something more than medieval chattels.
HOW AND WHY SHAIKH-DOWN CAME TO BE WRITTEN
Why did you write this book?
The Arab World is always in the news and yet Westerners know very little about its life, its people. Having lived in the Gulf for six years - the happiest six years of my life, by the way - I think I was ideally placed to write a novel about relations between the expatriates and the ‘natives’.
But what you mostly give us is non-stop sexual relations! Is that how you see the Arabs - a race of sex-maniacs?
I did a lot of 'research' into this! Now you know why my six years were such happy ones!
But seriously, I decided the book would work best as a comedy, so I set out to produce a send-up of those Arab men who are obsessed with Western women. I also write about gay Arabs, bisexual Arabs, and even lesbian Arab women. These are delicate subjects, I know, but I hope I've written about them sympathetically and without causing offence.
I have painted an unkind picture of the ‘Old-Colonial’ type of English ex-pats who think Britannia still rules the world. And I suppose air-stewards and stewardesses might take issue with the way they’re portrayed, although this is also based on very thorough research!
What about the political side of the book: assassinations and revolutions?
That’s the thriller element, which has a basis in real events.
Let me tell you a true story. Quite early in my time in Bahrain the Security Police took away a teenage boy who worked with me, one of my landlord’s sons. He was never seen again. Nearly everybody was too frightened to talk about it, but I was told he would have been tortured to death because one of his brothers was a fugitive anti-Royal activist.
This is the kind of thing we tend to associate with Fascist regimes like Pinochet’s in Chile, although according to blogs and news reports in the West the torture and murder of dissidents still happens today under the so-called ‘benevolent’ Middle East regimes. Look at this business of the ‘rendition’ of prisoners to be tortured in countries like Morocco and Syria in the aftermath of 9/11.
Anyway, in SHAIKH-DOWN the death of his landlord’s son is the ‘catalyst’ that links Eddy Laurence, the central British character, to the group of Arab revolutionaries. In my book the dissidents avenge the disappearance of a boy from Eddy’s bank by plotting to assassinate the Amir in his bedroom. In the real world this might not be so easy to bring off!
So the island of BELAJ is meant to be the island of BAHRAIN?
No, Belaj is clearly imaginary. It’s situated off the coast of Ras al Khaimah, where no such island exists, and it’s shaped like a question mark, which no island of the Gulf is. Belaj City, all landscaped boulevards and cutting-edge architecture, could be any city in the Gulf.
What about the Amir of Belaj, Shaikh Khalid al-Khazi?
He’s tall, he’s thin, he’s totally ruthless and he has absolutely no sense of humour whereas the Amir of Bahrain, when I lived there, was short and round and jolly. I see Shaikh Khalid as a sort of Arabic version of Margaret Thatcher – not that she’s tall or especially thin, but she was certainly one tough lady and famously humourless. And somehow I doubt that she’s likely to appreciate the tribute!
What about the Amir’s niece, Nayla Bahzoomi? She’s the only female Arab character in your book and you’ve shown her as an adulteress and worse.
Yes, she’s not what any self-respecting Arab woman is expected to be, but don’t forget she’s married to a lecherous drunk who, in the West anyway, might drive his wife to be unfaithful.
You don’t consider this portrait as an insult to Muslim women?
No, she’s just a character in a book. Her second husband is a very pious Shaikh from Ras al Khaimah. Of course he turns her from an adulteress into a revolutionary, but that’s fiction for you! What happens to Nayla and to her brother Shaikh Ibrahim shows two of the possible consequences of the Arab ‘flirtation’ with Western ways, Western vices.
So, how much of the book is based on real people, real events?
It’s pure fiction. I know that there are Arab women who are intellectual and ‘free-thinking’, but the women I met socially or at my place of work weren't comfortable talking politics with a Westerner they hardly knew. There was just one - I won't say where - who gave me a kind of base to work from, but the character of Nayla is almost totally made up to give the story an 'edge'. I'd love to think that there is a woman like Nayla waiting to liberate her sisters from the male tyranny that dominates the Arab regimes.
As far as her brother Shaikh Ibrahim is concerned - I met a few Shaikhs during my time in the Gulf, but nobody quite like Ibrahim. I did take a well-endowed lady-friend to the Police Fort in Manama to help me pass my driving test in much the same way Eddy does in what I hope is the funniest scene the book, and I developed the character of Ibrahim out of that situation.
What about the other Arab male characters – Hassan the assassin and Ahmad the ‘super-stud’?
I met a lot of Arabs who wanted to be super-studs. Some of them even got there! I never met any wannabe assassins, so I had to invent Hassan.
And the gay Arab character – Rashid?
Rashid is based on two gay Arabs that I knew, one in Bahrain and one in another country. Neither of them was in any way ‘political’, but I saw how difficult it was for them being gay in a part of the world that has zero tolerance of homosexuality. I’ve tried to bring that out in the novel.
The two main British characters, Eddy Lawrence and Cass McBride, are also both based on more than one person. Most of the ex-pats are parodies of the kind of Brits I met out there. Felix, the most outrageous of the gay air-stewards, is a send-up of a couple of queens I worked with in London. I met a lot of stewardesses, and Sammy-Jo, the American stewardess who gets involved in the assassination, is based on one of them, although the real ‘Sammy-Jo’ wasn’t in the least bit political, she wasn’t the one who flashed her boobs to help me pass my driving test, and she wasn’t even American.
Some authors start with characters and build a story round them. SHAIKH-DOWN started with a couple of ideas – Arab men paying British women to bonk them and a teenager being tortured to death by the Secret Police – and I made up characters to fit the requirements of the story as it developed.
Your book ends with a thermonuclear apocalypse. Where did that come from?
That’s the ‘sting’ in the tail of my story. What would happen if all of the Arab thrones tumbled and the new regimes decided to take on Israel in a ‘mother of all Middle East wars’?
Even here I couldn’t resist slipping in a joke or two. In the world after the Apocalypse I’ve imagined that Princess Anne is Queen of England and Ann Widdecombe is Prime Minister. I doubt that these dear ladies are really destined for such High Office – what fun it would be if they were!
But who knows the future? Maybe Princess Anne will become Queen, and maybe all the Arab thrones will tumble like dominoes. And maybe Israel could be panicked into unleashing her nukes, and Jerusalem and Mecca and Damascus will dissolve into rubble.
Do you expect there to be more revolutions in the Muslim world? And would the consequences be as dire as you predict?
There must be people out there who yearn to see revolution in these countries, and a few of them may be working to make it happen - but probably not in the style of the coup in my novel.
I guess it’s more likely that the revolutions in the Arab World – if and when they come - will be inspired by Islamic Fundamentalism like the one in Iran. And who knows what the consequences will be? A wonderful new era of peace between Arabs and Israelis? Or – Armageddon?
You tell me.
In the real world, my comic ‘blueprint’ for a coup by dissidents and Women’s Lib isn’t very likely – and it may be a bit too blue for some tastes!
Didn’t you think that SHAIKH-DOWN might end up being banned?
The regime on my imaginary island - a regime that tolerates drinking, fornication and torture - is kicked out in favour of one that respects women and the true principles of Islam. I think SHAIKH-DOWN is a very ‘moral’ story - like one of Aesop’s Fables, you could say!
Really, what I’ve written is a harmless little comedy-thriller with a sly dig at those Arab men who find Western totty hard to resist. I hope people will read it and giggle.
Any plans for an Arabic edition?
There’s an interesting thought. We would need to find a translator with a broad mind and a good command of English and American slang!
24-year-old Londoner Eddy Lawrence has arrived on the Persian Gulf island of Belaj to run a training project at the National Bank.
Chapter Five: WAZDA
To drive in Belaj you needed breasts or a full licence from your country of origin. Eddy, unfortunately, could meet neither of these criteria. He’d failed a driving test in London two days before his departure. Now he started failing them in Belaj.
* * *
The driving test track was inside the Police Fort, next to the Amiri compound. Test appointments were not staggered: two dozen hopefuls - Eddy was the only European - waited on benches under a corrugated iron roof. By the time his turn came, after almost three hours, he was light-headed from dehydration.
The examiner, a dark-skinned Belaji in white military uniform, failed Eddy for his reversing, which he’d been practising three times a day for ten days - with Amin, his Palestinian instructor, during banking hours, with Rupert Devonshire in his clapped-out Mazda at lunchtime and with Cass McBride in her brother's Jaguar on early-evening dog runs with Helga.
Eddy was not the only reject: everybody failed - everybody except the one Belaji girl who’d been the first candidate tested. In an effort to limit congestion of the city’s roads it was now Traffic Police policy to fail all learner drivers. Not girls: the flower of Belaji maidenhood could not be subjected to repeated parading at the Fort; the last woman Amin could remember failing was the wife of a spice merchant who began the test with an unsolicited reverse that pinned her instructor against another candidate’s car, breaking both his legs.
Eddy’s next test would be at the end of October. ‘You okay next time,’ Amin promised as he dropped him off at the bank, adding the standard escape clause: ‘Insh’Allah (God willing).’
* * *
‘You should have offered the bloke a baksheesh,’ said Rupert Devonshire a few minutes later in the Project Office. Ahmed Jabri in Personnel advocated driving without a licence, but a more practical solution was proposed in the training room by Ali Qassim Qamber, a Belaji teller of seventeen or eighteen who was the ineptest of those whom Eddy was inducting into the mysteries of computerised banking:
‘Mister Eddy,’ he said, ‘you need wazda.’
Small and chubby with the face of a dusky cherub, he was listed on the training roster as A.Q. Qamber, which is pronounced ‘a cucumber’ (Eddy had attempted to explain the linguistic pun, raising only an uncomprehending smile).
Wazda, the solution he advocated to Eddy’s driving-test problem, is ‘clout’, not a uniquely Arabic concept.
Eddy went back to the Personnel Office. Ahmed Jabri admitted that using wazda to obtain a licence might be safer than driving without one. ‘I’ll get your licence, no test, no shit,’ he said, showing off his slang and eliciting titters from two Egyptian ladies who had defected from their typewriters on another floor to the unofficial coffee bar that was the Personnel Manager’s office.
Half-an-hour and four phone calls later he informed Eddy with no show of embarrassment that his intervention had brought the second test forward to next Saturday.
‘But I thought -’ Diplomacy deterred Eddy from completing the reproach. This, clearly, was the limit of Ahmed’s ‘clout’ with the Traffic Police. It wouldn’t do to shame him in front of the secretaries.
‘Don’t worry, Eddy,’ he said. ‘This time you’ll pass easy, no sweat, no shit. This test’s only for show.’
* * *
Eddy failed this second test. So much for Ahmed Jabri’s confidence - and his wazda.
This time Eddy was faulted, by a different examiner, on the hill start, which he’d performed faultlessly on the special ramp provided (Belaj City boasted not so much as a slight incline). The examiner patted his knee. ‘Pass next time,’ he said - ‘insh’Allah.’ That word again. Eddy doubted that Allah - or even his mother’s more liberal-minded Methodist deity - was interested in the outcome of his driving tests.
Two Belaji girls were tested that morning. One of them, Amin reported, took a record fourteen manoeuvres to complete the three-point turn. They both passed.
Ahmed was now a little shamefaced and admitted after a phone call to the Fort that the Commandant of Traffic Police had decreed no passes for male drivers until further notice. Ahmed’s wazda did not extend to Shaikh Ibrahim bin Sayed.
‘Well,’ Eddy said over a commiserating lunch with Cass McBride at the Palm Beach Hotel (which the bank would be getting the bill for), ‘it looks as if nothing short of a sex change is going to see me with a full licence.’
Cass laughed and said: ‘Shall I ask the chef to lend us a carving knife?’ Another thought occurred to her:
‘All you really need is boobs,’ she said.
‘I can hardly do a driving test in a pair of falsies,’ Eddy protested.
‘They don’t have to be yours.’
He caught on quickly. ‘You’d do this for me?’
‘Well -’ Cass hadn’t realised what she might be letting herself in for - ‘I suppose I could, though I can’t say I fancy the idea of a load of sex-mad Arabs gawping at my chest. Actually, I think you need some younger boobs than mine. What about one of the stewardesses you met at your boss’s party?’
‘From what I could see, most of them expect men to pay to gawp at their boobs.’ Now a thought occurred to Eddy. He began grinning from ear to ear. ‘I know who to ask.’
* * *
‘I’m not having my wife get raped by some rampant rag-head,’ Rupert said alliteratively.
‘I’m sure she’ll be perfectly safe,’ Eddy said. ‘This Shaikh person isn’t going to do any more than gawp.’
‘Perhaps I could come along,’ Rupert pondered. ‘You know, as a sort of minder.’
‘That might be a bit counterproductive,’ Eddy said.
Sammy-Jo-Ann tugged at Rupert’s arm. ‘Rupie, you know I can take care of myself. Come on, baby, we’ve gotta get Ed through this test thing.’
‘I don’t like it,’ said Rupert. ‘I do not like it.’
* * *
From the moment they entered the Commandant of Traffic Police’s office on Wednesday morning, Eddy knew he had it in the bag.
‘Well, hi there, Shaikh honey,’ Sammy-Jo-Ann Devonshire breezed in with a daring excess of informality. Shaikh Ibrahim, who’d risen to his feet as an adjutant ushered the visitors into the room, sat down quickly, almost collapsing into the chair behind his desk. His mouth fell open. It was to remain open for most of the next sixty-five minutes.
Sam was wearing a pair of skin-hugging scarlet hot-pants, although she would probably have had to be naked below the waist before the Commandant’s gaze could be deflected from her upper torso, upon which she wore only a man’s sleeveless white vest (Rupert’s) that allowed substantial top and side views of her substantial poitrine. Her breasts tangoed inside the skimpy top as she sashayed across the room on high-heeled open-toed sandals.
‘It sure is nice to see y’all,’ she said. She had abandoned her normal Pennsylvania drone in favour of a Scarlett O’Hara drawl with occasional echoes of Mae West. As she bent over, lifted one of the Commandant’s limp hands and gave it a shake, his eyes visibly bulged. When she let go his hand it lay lifelessly on the blotter for a few moments before he remembered to retrieve it; both hands disappeared below the desk.
Eddy’s function at the National Bank was too humble to justify his presentation to Shaikh Mubarak, the Chief Executive; the Commandant of Traffic Police was Eddy’s first Shaikh.
Shaikh Ibrahim bin Sayed al-Khazi was in his mid to late twenties. A large nose, large teeth (not as irregular as the Amir’s) and his height, before he’d fallen into his chair, proclaimed him a member of the Ruling Family. His uniform, white like the junior staff’s, was lavishly - too lavishly - decorated with gold braid, giving him the air of a night-club commissionaire.
‘E.T. Lawrence, Your Excellency, good morning.’ Eddy wasn’t sure that the Commandant of Traffic Police qualified to be an Excellency but a degree of grovelling could only help his cause.
His presumed Excellency, already rendered speechless, remained silent; his eyes flickered briefly in Eddy’s direction before returning to Rupert’s vest. Eddy seated himself in an armchair slightly behind Sam, whose hot-pants groaned ominously as she plonked herself down in a straight-backed chair and leaned forward to rest her elbows and forearms on the edge of the desk. With her eyes on the Commandant, she gave her wet-look-lipsticked mouth a casual but provocative lick.
Shaikh Ibrahim licked his own dry lips and gulped audibly. Ignoring a cigarette already smouldering on the edge of an overflowing ashtray, he lit another with shaking hands. The adjutant, whom his superior dismissed with a snap of his fingers without taking his eyes off Rupert’s vest, backed slowly out of the office; the crotch of his trousers pulsed with a life of its own. A rumble of resentment accompanied the closing of the door from the crowd of policemen, instructors and candidates that had followed Sam and Eddy into the building and up the stairs to the first floor.
It did not occur to the Commandant to question Sam’s presence (they had concocted a story that made her Eddy’s improbable half-sister). She recalled his having been on a London night-flight last month and treated him to a few scandalous stories of cabin-crew capers in Heathrow hotels, tales which were, Eddy surmised, airline folklore rather than personal experience. She continued to call him ‘Shaikh honey’ and larded her speech with interjections of ‘land-sakes’ and ‘lordy-me’ lifted from Margaret Mitchell. Each time she turned round on her chair to include Eddy in the conversation there was a flurry of activity in and around Rupert’s vest as of two small (not too small) animals burrowing together for warmth or companionship.
Shaikh Ibrahim smoked six cigarettes in succession and made no more than a few short hoarse contributions to the discourse; he would surely have been just as happy to hear her recite airline safety procedures so long as she didn’t sit still during the recitation. His eyes burned remorselessly into Rupert’s vest as if by some act of will he might cause it to burst asunder telekinetically. From time to time he squirmed on his chair as though his uniform was becoming uncomfort-ably hot or too tight.
His two adjutants took turns at bringing up cups of scented coffee and over-sweetened tea, a task they would have deputed to an Asian minion in normal circumstances; when Eddy wiggled his empty cup to indicate (according to Ahmed) not wanting more, the adjutants took it away and brought a fresh one. Each opening and closing of the door onto the landing produced another chorus of growls from the excluded audience.
After half an hour Sam heaved a theatrical sigh, her heaving breasts commanding the Commandant’s attention. She said: ‘Well now, Shaikh honey, how about this here boy’s drahvin’ test?’
Shaikh Ibrahim barked into the intercom. Following a shout up the stairs, the door opened and Eddy’s second examiner entered, a burly man the colour of an American Indian. He stood to one side of the desk, slightly stooped as if he too was experiencing some discomfort, and saluted his commanding officer with a cross-eyed expression, his gaze focussed on Sam’s side elevation.
‘This is the guy who failed me last time,’ Eddy whispered. Sam turned round in her chair. A series of creaking sounds emanated from the examiner’s uniform trousers as he received the full frontal effect. ‘This is one hunky redskin,’ she remarked sotto voce, ‘but I think we oughtta go for broke. Shaikh honey -’ raising her voice - ‘we-all had it in mind for you yourself to take Ed here.’
This was not what Ed here had in mind at all. He’d had his eye on the only examiner who’d not yet taken him, a shifty little runt to whom he was sure a 500-dirham inducement (with or without a hint from his CO) would guarantee a pass certificate. He gave Sam a ‘what-on-earth-are-you-up-to?’ look and received a ‘trust-me’ smile in return.
Shaikh Ibrahim’s olive complexion paled with indignation. ‘Madam,’ he said in the lofty tones of a Harrods floor manager, ‘I do not do driving tests.’
‘Oh, but couldn’t you do it jest this once an’ all, as a special favour?’ And she brought her elbows together across her abdomen, squeezing her breasts outward and upward to the point where Eddy was sure they must pour over the top of her vest. The red-skinned examiner’s uniform creaked again and the Commandant swallowed several times.
‘Very well,’ he said in a voice that conveyed both condescension and surrender, ‘especially for you I will do it.’
‘Why, thank-you, honey-pie.’ Sam’s bust shivered with gratitude. Shaikh Ibrahim stubbed out his cigarette. After some rustling adjustments beneath the desk he rose to his feet. Eddy also rose.
‘Those natives out on the verandah sound mighty restless,’ Sam said. ‘I hope a poor white girl’s gonna be safe while y’all are gone.’
‘Quite safe,’ the Commandant said. He had come round the desk and was casting unsurreptitious glances into her cleavage, now so much nearer and yet so far. ‘This man will be in charge.’ He gestured at the creaking redskin. ‘Any trouble, he will be shot.’ Eddy started to laugh, then stopped when he realised this was not a joke. The redskin, he noted, no longer creaked.
Pushing past the examiner, Ibrahim ushered Eddy out of the office and across the landing, which was held by two dozen robed or uniformed men, a tense panting throng which the Commandant parted with his swagger stick only to have it reform behind him, facing the office’s flimsy door. Eddy began to fear for Sam’s virtue and the poor examiner’s life.
At the head of the stairs Ibrahim stopped and tucked the stick under his left arm; Eddy couldn’t help observing he had another one tucked down the right leg of his trousers. In fact, swagger sticks were much in evidence, Eddy noted as he pushed his way through the crowd and followed the Commandant downstairs.
In the adjutants’ office two Belaji girls, abandoned by their chaperons, giggled together behind their masks.
Ibrahim grimly slapped his thigh with the swagger stick as Eddy drove Amin’s Ford Escort into the test ground. His tension inevitably communicated itself to Eddy who fully expected to do something foolish. There was, however, little opportunity for this: barely 50 yards into the course, at the mini-roundabout, he instructed Eddy to return to the entrance; when Eddy made to turn into the reversing zone the Commandant prodded him with his stick and had him drive on to the parking area where Eddy showed off by needlessly reversing into an empty space. Ibrahim got out of the car and set a brisk pace back into the building. Eddy ran to catch up. The Commandant did not speak.
On the ground floor the two girls were still alone and giggling. Upstairs the landing was deserted, the office door closed. No sound issued. Ibrahim thrust the door open; there was a yelp as it hit somebody.
The office was packed to capacity with a host of heavily breathing but otherwise silent men and youths. Sam’s strident tones rose from across the room. The Commandant prodded and poked his way through the crush. Eddy pushed his way through behind him.
Looking for all the world like Marilyn Monroe entertaining the troops in Korea, Sam sat perched on the front of Shaikh Ibrahim’s desk, engaged in animated conversation with one of Amin’s fellow instructors who sat, with Amin beside him, in the easy-chair closest to the desk. The red-skinned examiner stood over her with one hand on his gun holster.
Everybody watched Sam, some twenty to thirty pairs of eyes bulging in her direction. The excitement had proved too much for a few of the younger Belaji test candidates who sported damp patches in their jeans and dishdashas. But the overall atmosphere was of adoration rather than menace; Amin’s colleague was beaming at Sam in a manner more fraternal than lecherous.
‘Hi again, Shaikh honey; hi, Ed,’ Sam greeted them as they emerged at the front of the assembly. ‘Would you believe this guy used to drive a taxi in Pittsburgh! That’s my hometown, honey,’ she added for the Commandant’s benefit.
It took some time and much shouting from Ibrahim to drive the throng back out onto the landing. The two instructors were permitted to stay; the red-skinned examiner, having supervised the evacuation, stood on guard just inside the door.
The Commandant seated himself in Sam’s former chair, close to where she still perched on his desk. His eyes were now on a level with her nipples and no more than two feet from them. He smouldered but had not resumed smoking. Trying to be inconspicuous, Eddy sat in the chair nearest the door, beside the examiner. Sam cast him a questioning look. He shrugged.
‘Well now,’ she asked, in an accent closer to her re-adopted Pittsburgh than to Atlanta, ‘how did our boy do out there?’
Despite the confusion of clearing out his office Shaikh Ibrahim was in a good humour. Playing for time, he consulted Amin in Arabic; a dialogue ensued. Sam brought an end to this prevarication by suddenly bending down to adjust the ankle-strap on one of her swinging legs. Her breasts came together with a sound like a hand-clap and tumbled against the vest’s ribbed neckline, only prevented from falling out altogether when her nipples caught in the ribbing.
This movement brought her breasts some twelve inches closer to the Commandant’s face, twelve-and-a-half if one allowed for the heightened protrusion of his eyeballs. His voice rose almost an octave in mid-speech and ended in a hysterical gurgle as he completely lost the thread of what he had been saying to Amin. Beside him Eddy heard a familiar creaking.
Sam sat up again. Her breasts swam back inside the vest and paddled to and fro several times before settling to the rhythm of her breathing. ‘About Ed,’ she prompted Ibrahim who had clearly forgotten what any of them was doing in his office. He cleared his throat twice before finding his voice: ‘Mahbrook,’ he croaked.
Sam looked at Eddy. ‘Can you translate for a poor dumb broad from Pennsylvania?’
It was one of the words Eddy had learned at the bank and used to reward his slower pupils (such as A.Q. Qamber) for each little advance. ‘He said “congratulations”,’ he told her.
‘Well, kiss my ass!’ cried Sam, an invitation which everybody present would happily have accepted.
And she jumped down from the desk. This was more than her vest - and the assembled male company - could stand. Her breasts flew up and over the neckline, came within millimetres of slapping her under the chin and then fell to hang, revealed in all their glory, outside the vest - two large perfect globes with enormous off-centre nipples.
There came to Eddy’s ears, simultaneously, a gasp for which he himself was responsible, grunts from the driving instructors and a muffled splat from within the creaking trousers beside him at the door. This last diverted his attention momentarily, and he turned his head to check if there was any visual evidence of what he thought he had heard; there was not. A crash brought his gaze back to the desk.
Sam, scooping her breasts back inside the vest and whinnying with laughter, knelt beside a recumbent form on the floor.
The Commandant of Traffic Police had fainted.
* * *
With a certain amount of 'literary licence' this is exactly how I obtained a driving licence in Bahrain a few years ago. The boobs I borrowed belonged not to an airhostess (Sam is a fictional character) but to the wife of a Cable & Wireless colleague. Her tee-shirt was her 12-year-old son's rather than her husband's, and as you can imagine it had some difficulty containing her.
Ibrahim is another fictional character, although Bahrain also had a Shaikh in charge of the Traffic Police. Scented coffee was served in his office and there was a (small) panting throng trying to get a glimpse of my colleague's son's tee-shirt. There was even a creaking Redskin!
The Shaikh himself took me on my test drive, which was just brief as Eddy's. He was impatient to get back to his office where my 'sister' was waiting.
Did her tits actually fly out of the tee-shirt? Well now .......!
Read some more Extracts from SHAIKH-DOWN at my website:
And feel free to post your own driving test stories. Keep it clean (or not!)
CHANGE OF BLOG ADDRESS
I have moved to a new blog: www.davidgeebooks.blogspot.com on which I will be posting details of my about-to-be-published novels as well as Book & Movie & Theatre & TV Reviews.
The blogs I have left on this page are those which relate to SHAIKH-DOWN.
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