Dino postponed the Saudi trip for one week to allow Johnas time to get his personal affairs in order. Against growing protests from his neighbors Betty and Frank he decided on going anyway, signing over a power of attorney for them to allow the sale of his house in his absence. Johnas rationalized Saudi Arabia was a ‘dry’ country and the further he was away from alcohol, the less chance he had of slipping away into a bottle of grief.
“Johnas McCurdy, please report to British Airways gate ten,” the loudspeaker in the airline terminal kept repeating.
Johnas hastened his step, merging into the mainstream of travelers and luggage moving to their appointed rounds. He found an eddy of humanity created by a group of Asian travelers moving more briskly than the rest settling in behind them allowing the slower current of humanity to vortex around them.
“You Mario?” Johnas asked the tallest of three standing before gate ten who had been watching him approach.
They were an interesting looking trio, with Mario being the tallest standing maybe six foot four. Amir was the smallest at about mid height to Mario and Hermes was in the middle, the average of the two. The three looked so comical I almost laughed out loud.
Normally Johnas, a California boy born and bred, would have been embarrassed being seen in the company of this trio but he reasoned who’s going to care in a crowded airport let alone on the other side of the planet. Amir was the most interesting of the three, looking as if he were seventeen years old at best complete with pastel flood pants and a busy floral shirt. Hermes was unusual appearing as well. He was a dark skinned Asian man with a full stock of salt and pepper hair. At least he was dressed appropriately enough with conservative slacks and matching polo shirt.
Then there was Mario. Straight out of a ‘B’ movie he wore an oversized silk shirt with the first two buttons open exposing an abundance of chest hair resembling a classic lounge lizard with large, roving eyes.
“You Jonas?” Mario asked, scanning Johnas from head to toe. Hohnas was wearing his open toed sandals, shorts and a pastel peach colored surfer shirt.
“At your service!” was the reply, extending his handshake.
“Hey Johnas, I’m Hermes Collado, the other mechanical engineer and the two also shook hands.
“And I’m Amir, the process engineer,” extending his hand as well.
“And I’m the project manager,” Mario added, not wanting to be left out of the pecking order. Johnas immediately considered this guy thought with his penis.
I wonder what kind of car he drives, popped into Johnas’ head.
“On the flight over I’ll give you some material to review and discuss what I expect you to accomplish on this trip,” Mario announced.
“That would be fine,” replied Johnas in an initial attempt at being a team player. “I’d like to hit the ground running,” he added.
“That’s a good attitude, Johnas. I hope it rubs off on the others.”
Johnas watched the other two roll their eyes after catching Amir examining him up and down with a wide-eyed, goofy expression.
The four boarded the airliner and Mario immediately cornered a stewardess. As Johnas inched by the two it now seemed Mario was speaking in a much heavier accent than previously heard. The company had booked them in business class and as the planes engines began to whine and started its’ taxi Johnas realized it would be only the four of them occupying the business class section of the airline. He chose a window seat while the rest randomly chose theirs. Luck had it Mario plopped himself in the seat directly next to Johnas and looked him in the face, smiling devilishly.
Great....... He thought.
“So, here’s the deal,” said Mario before the plane was even airborne.
“What we are doing is expanding an existing water treatment plant,” he said as he unraveled a roll of engineering drawings across both their laps.
“Where’s it at?” Johnas asked, liked he knew anything about Saudi Arabia.
“It’s called Qurayyah, just outside of Hofuf, near the Uthaminaya Refinery,” he answered, forgetting Johnas knew nothing of Saudi Arabia.
“What I want you to do is hook up with the survey party and get elevations and locations of tie in points. Here are your prints. Study them on the flight over. Wake me if you have any questions,” and with that Mario left his seat to another across the isle, propped his head against the window and proceeded to fall asleep.
Johnas studied the drawings for a moment then rolled them back up, deciding on having a drink instead. The plane was already airborne and the stewardess was at hand so he ordered two drinks in the event she didn’t return againin a timely manner.
Johnas was awakened by the wheels touching down in Heathrow, their first stop over. After a harried taxi ride the four checked into the Excelsire Hotel where Johnas decided to get mildly drunk at The Three Magpies, a local pub inside the hotel. In the morning Johnas directed the driver to stop so he could purchase a pack of cigarettes and a tin of aspirin, knowing he was going to pay dearly for his escapade in The Three Magpies bar the night before.
After getting airborne Mario unbuckled his seatbelt and moved over to the seat next to Johnas.
“The concierge said you never came in last night,” he solemnly said.
Johnas rolled his head and looked out at the English countryside passing by below, put two aspirin in his mouth and basically ignored him.
Sensing this, Mario rose and assumed his previous seat. Adjusting his seat and closing his eyes Johnas figured he had six weeks to assert his dominance over Mario. He thought of his wife. He began to question if he had indeed made the right choice of going.
“Ello, you must be Johnas. My name is Sip Locke,” the robust, bearded African man announced as Johnas approached.
He had been pointed out to Johnas by the Plant Manager on his first day at Qurayyah.
“Yea, I’m Johnas,” he replied, extending his handshake. Johnas was surprised at how big the man’s hand was.
“You know, your name in America is that of a sandwich bag,” said Johnas in an attempt at being funny and breaking the ice.
“And your name in Nigeria is shit!” he shot back smiling.
Note to self, thought Johnas. Don’t make fun of this man’s name.
Getting back to the business at hand and trying to gloss over this fax paus, Johnas went right to business.
“Sip, what we have to do here is survey the centerline of these tie-in points and mark them with spray paint.”
Without hesitation Sip began barking orders in Yemenis to his twenty or so mircat Yemenis workers who immediately began attacking the nearby Range Rover pulling down survey equipment and scrambling about everywhere setting up the equipment.
Johnas was impressed.
By the end of the week this initial task was complete. Johnas was again impressed when Sip handed over a computer generated spread sheet showing all the elevations and coordinates of all the tie-in points.
By the end of the first week the three had settled into their routines with Mario and Hermes working at an abandoned water treatment plant some fifty miles north near the Uthyminaya refinery. They never saw Amir. Mario complained to the office in Bakersfield but was told Amir had his own agenda.
For the remainder of the project Johnas and Sip and his Yemenis workers had completed various projects at just as many locations scattered through the entire country of Saudi Arabia. The whole while Johnas fought the feeling of despair of losing his wife keeping it a close guarded secret.
On the last night of the trip before leaving the next morning Johnas found himself walking along the beach at nine o’clock with his newfound friend Sip. The two were smoking Cuban cigars and discussing the previous week’s accomplishments. Sip astonished Johnas after pulling from his shirt an unopened bottle of twelve year old Scotch. Johnas had been sober for six weeks and the sight of this bottle made him salivate.
“Do you drink?” Sip asked, offering Johnas a drink.
“Sometimes,” he nonchalantly replied.
Johnas cracked the seal and drank copiously. He handed the bottle back to Sip and he too devoured a massive swallow.
The two walked in silence, admiring the shimmering lights reflected off the water by some distant city on the shore of the Persian Gulf.
“Do you have any children, Johnas?” Sip asked, breaking the silence.
Johnas’ heart sank. He knew his chances for this had been put on hold by the death of his wife.
“No,” is all he said.
“They make you immortal,” Sip philosophically added, looking off into the distance.
“Do you?” Johnas asked, not knowing why he asked feeling uncomfortable with the conversation.
“I have seventeen.”
Johnas almost choked.
“Wow,” Is all he could muster.
The two walked back to camp in silence with Johnas now feeling the effects of the Scotch and cigar. He lay awake in his cot for the remainder of the evening, thinking of his wife. He was both grief stricken and angry-angry she did this to him. His mind kept racing, going over and over why he didn’t see the signs. To him everything was fine. He remembered a picture he had of her still in his wallet. This now frightened him. He was afraid to look at it. Before falling off to sleep he decided on destroying it before it destroyed him. It was the only way to heal, he reasoned.
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