Eastern Province, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Just like the song by the Eagles- I can check out any time I like, which is every morning- hopeful that a villa becomes available on the compound, as promised. But I can never leave- I get to work to be told that things aren’t ready yet. Maybe tomorrow.
The Dhahran’s faded glamour squats in the dusty landscape. Inside, it’s all Arab chintz- heavy curtains and swirly patterns. Once, this may have been the height of opulence. Now, the elevators rattle up their shafts like a consumptive’s tumurous cough.
The swimming pool is drained for the season. The guests are all oil workers and visitors to the airbase where once it was Kate Adie and Jon Snow, reporting on the first Gulf War.
Each room I have been in has something wrong with it. Stinky drains on the ground floor; a broken fridge that gets reported but never fixed; hot water that isn’t hot; an adjoining door to the next room so thin that I can hear its occupant farting. I can practically see the fart cloud seep through the wood grain.
“Don’t fart,” I want to say. “You’re discolouring the carpet.”
Instead, I sternly say “Turn down your TV, please” at half past ten. I have insomnia and need utter silence to slip away right now.
And I have such dreams- more vivid than for years, thanks to the absence of alcohol in my system.
I am astrally projecting through a rich fantasmagoria- my spirit pinwheeling through several shades of lucidity; flight, telepathy, clairvoyance, premonitions of fate- all are not only possible here, but compulsory.
Then I wake to the dreadful beepity beep beepity beep beepity beep beepity beep.
Another Saudi dawn. Another buffet breakfast of fruit and muesli. Another stolen sandwich I will have for my lunch.