Falling Backwards.

4 09 2016

Desert Pyriamid

Walls of Turquoise cast illusions of coolness onto two tired travellers’ faces.
We were now drinking our third mint tea and debating whether or not to have a fourth when the waiter launched a question in our direction. ‘Where are you from?’
Ignoring Sherry’s Mickey Mouse T-shirt I tried to think of the right answer. ‘Err Switzerland?’
‘Switzerland?’
‘Yes Europe’.
‘Is he your husband?’
‘No, boyfriend’, Sherry’s answer icing up the waiters eyes balls, but it didn’t matter anyway as he was now looking at her through his nostrils.
‘And why did you come here?’.
‘We are exploring the Middle East. Do you travel much?’
Silence before the waiter turned a slapped face expression towards the doorway. ‘A man was shot dead … there… yesterday’.

I waited in vain for Sherry to respond, her large myopic eyes now scouring the floor for evidence.
‘Did you know him?’
‘Yes of course.’
‘So sorry for you loss but we have to leave now’.

We bowed our way backwards to the exit, ‘al-salāmu alaykum’, legs two feet in front of our torso’s as we scooted up the road and around the corner, an open air stock exchange thwarting any attempts to move much further. But desperation nurtured an idea. I found my camera, focussed it on no one in particular, and like a scene from a biblical movie crowds parted. Dogs assessed us for meaty tenderness as we made slow progress, young boys begging us for cigarettes all the way, a young girl offering flower petals handed a few coins before we finally emerged from the mayhem.

We’d reached the junction, a bus shelter just ahead, a water pump to our left and to the right a … what… a tank. An officer sat on the very rim of it, a gun aimed at my forehead. ‘You cannot stay… you must leave. It’s too dangerous’, his outstretched hand yanking Sherry up the side of the tank before she’d uttered a sound. I soon followed, sat beside her at the front, and right next to the gun turret.

We couldn’t have been more conspicuous if we’d tried and I was already regretting the yellow shirt. Were there snipers on the roofs? If someone threw a grenade at me should I throw it back or just say a hurried prayer?

The tank took a wide turn right, through compound gates, the hundreds of soldiers within it busy training for … what?
Now in the mess and forced, against my instincts, to move away from Sherry in order to accommodate the number of soldiers surrounding her, I recalled the numerous times Sherry’s’ flirting had dug us out of a hole. I didn’t intervene. But a Chief Officer did. ‘We are driving you to Jaffa. You can go anywhere from there but do not come back.’

Exhausted from the efforts of trying to pull our shoes off we fell backwards onto the bed. It was more of an imperial relic than a hotel but it did at least have a jug of water and a bowl – and a hole in the ceiling. It revealed an unusually black sky.

I squeezed Sherry’s hand. If flirting with danger, and surviving it, can make me feel this much alive I mused, then I would do it all again tomorrow.

But I didn’t. We didn’t.

The very next day we took a long haul flight home to London, and as advised by our military escort didn’t come back.

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