Saturday, July 29, 2006

Adventures in the Middle East!

I was ushered into Karim al-Marqawi’s receiving room, a small chamber in an otherwise extensive palace not unlike the Alhambra in Spain. But this was Saudi Arabia, and the local flavour was different. The aroma of exotic tobaccos wafted in from a curtained room to the right, while the lilt of a lyre followed not far behind. A small, imposing man came in from the curtain.

“Michael!” he warmly exclaimed with arms open. I stood and met him in embrace. “This is the man who saved my life!” he exclaimed to his bodyguards, who had been keeping a steadfast watch over me the moment I had come through al-Marqawi’s palace gates. “You are truly a man of compassion, Michael, to have saved a Muslim such as myself. Perhaps the world is not as bad a place as I had believed.”

“It is nothing, Karim. I would surely have done the same were you a man of any other creed.”

“Truly blessed am I that my motorcade passed before you. The work of Allah Himself, I am sure.” I nodded meekly at his quaint statement. “You are no doubt wondering why I have brought you to my home, Michael.”

“You are too modest, Karim.” I interjected. “This is nothing less than a palace.”

“Perhaps. And a palace built with my own two hands!” He stopped, catching himself. “Figuratively, that is”. Karim al-Marqawi was a small, burly man in his mid-fifties, with a thick moustache and a traditional red and white keffiyeh on his head. It contrasted with his dark aviator sunglasses, and well-pressed, double-breasted suit. He smelled of exotic perfumes. Anywhere else, this would have been effeminate; here, it only added to his charm. “Michael, for selflessly risking your life to save my own, you are in need of a reward. I am to give you five million American dollars.”

“Karim…” I began, catching my breath. “I do not know what to say.”

“Say nothing. It is a sum of little value to me, to be made back in but a day. For you, however, I know it will offer you a new life.”

“I thank you, humbly. I am but a young man, a teacher, from a faraway country. That you feel it necessary to grace me with such a gift, I will be forever thankful”. I was, of course, bullshitting. I had risked my life to save his, and would have accepted ten times what he was offering as compensation. Still, to play the meek foreigner had given me this much, at least. Perhaps there was more to come.

“Come with me, Michael. Allow me to show you my home. The courtyard is this way” he said, motioning beyond the curtained doorway.

We found ourselves walking side by side through his palace. Its open-aired courtyards featured fountains, slender columns and airy, light carvings over the archways. Every motif seemed familiar.

“Karim, is this palace modeled after the Alhambra?” I asked.

“Ahh, but of course it is. You have a knowledge of Muslim architecture?”

“An incomplete one, I’m afraid. Truly this is an impressive homage.”

“Not just an homage Michael! Between the two of us, this fountain is an original from Alhambra. I arranged to have it transported here.”

“Amazing” I said, entirely without irony. “Surely it comes from the Court of the Lions”, I said, mostly because there were a bunch of lions around the base.

“You like it?”

“Of course. It is a great work of human achievement.”

“It is yours.”

“Karim, I cannot accept this!” I said, stunned. What would I do with a fountain from 14th century Spain? Then, a thought occurred to me. “I shall donate it to the Royal Ontario Museum, in your name.”

“This Royal Museum you speak of, it is a cultural institution in your country?”

“Yes, it is. Though Canada is a great, modern country, it is still very provincial in its cultural capital as compared to other great nations. A work such as this would surely be among my country’s greatest assets.”

“Then I am glad to give it to you” he said, leading me to the next courtyard. Yeah, there were a bunch of them at this place. “Tell me Michael, what do you know of the Muslim afterlife?”

“Uhm…” I began, haltingly. How should I mention this? “I know about the 72 virgins”. Al-Marqawi laughed heartily, clasping his belly as he tilted his head backwards.

“But of course!” he said, wiping a tear from his eye. He stopped before a curtained room leading off the courtyard, and wrapped his arm around my shoulder. The laughter of women could be heard from the other side. “Michael, a man such as myself does not get through life and find himself in Heaven at the end. If this is the price for providing for your family, then so be it.”

“Karim, you may yet find yourself in Heaven.”

“I am glad to hear that someone has faith in me, my friend. In the eventuality that I do not, however, I have taken the liberty of building it here for myself, on Earth”. He pushed the curtain aside, revealing a bathhouse filled with women in varying stages of undress. The most modest were clothed in flowing garments made of the finest silk, while the more adventurous wore nothing but sarongs that blew with the wind.

"72 women, my friend! None virgins, naturally, but one comes to accept this."

“Karim…” I said, hesitantly, as he pushed me into the bathhouse.

“Do not fear, Michael! These are the finest women in all of Arabia!”

“And they’re clean?”

“Ha ha, but of course! I am no fool, Michael! Give me that!”

“And, er… anything goes, right?”

“Michael, so long as you are a guest in my house, Allah will not occupy Himself with your affairs!”


Blogger Cameron McKay said...

Anything goes, eh? You dirtbag. And how did Al-Zarqawi-- I mean, Al-Marqawi (who I presumed was a terrorist trying to crash a plane 9/11-style) get out of Britain and manage to reclaim his wealth in Saudi Arabia. EXPLAIN THAT!!!

11:51 am  
Blogger Mike said...

That was racist, Cameron. Clearly, I did not take the first Arab name that came into my mind and change one letter in it. Karim al-Marqawi and Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi are very different individuals.

Also, while this is not stated, al-Marqawi is a semi-legitimate businessman. That's canonical, even though it's not written in the story (like lightsaber crystals)!

2:23 pm  

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