It was past seven in the evening. I was tired and hungry and badly in need of sleep. My feet hurt from all the walking in my ten days in Morocco. Wearing wedges and clogs while navigating the peaks and troughs of the narrow ancient streets of Fes, and forever dodging raging donkeys was not a good idea. And always, when most things turned out bad, all I could do was retrospect. ‘In retrospect, I should have just worn my Skechers with the kaftan even if it would look like the biggest fashion blunder in my lifetime.’ In retrospect, I’d rather have a hurt ego and morbid fashion sense than these festering blisters on my feet.
Heathrow Terminal 2 was sleepy at the time I arrived. I was with about a dozen other backpackers randomly perched on plastic airport seats. I was waiting for my bus to Southampton and was about to stretch my leg on top of the rest of the chairs when an English chap whom I earlier saw seated three rows away from me suddenly sprinted and sat on one of the seats, I was forced to fold my legs, my chin on my knees. I leaned against my backpack which now became my backrest although I had intended it to be my pillow had this chap not interrupted the space I had planned to dominate.
‘I had seen you crossing the street as you were coming in.’
‘Oh yeah? I must have been eye catching?’
‘No. You didn’t use the pedestrian lane’
‘I see. So you must be the traffic police or something?’
‘Bloody hell, no, ha ha. I was just telling you what I saw’
‘I’m adventurous. I wanted to see who’s tougher – me or the Mini Cooper that couldn’t screech!’
‘Ha ha, you’re funny’
‘I’m sleepy actually’
‘Oh I’m sorry. I disturbed you.
‘Yes you did’
‘Ugh, that hurt’, he feigned hurt by clutching his chest.
‘Now that’s hysterical’ I said as I propped myself, seated upright and leaned against the hard backrest of the chair that was way too angled I could hardly make it support my back.
‘I’m Jack’, he said as he extended his hand.
‘Hi Jack! Hah, that wouldn’t sound so good if we met on the plane. You know when people would overhear. I see pandemonium. Hi Jack! Get it?’
He guffawed ‘Gawd, you’re funny!’
‘No I’m not. I’m Eva’.
‘No, do it the way we do back home, it’s short E. E-va’
‘Ugh, Ok. I got that. Eva.
It was only when he extended his hand for a handshake that I took a better look at Jack. He was not that tall for an English guy, early twenties (twenty three, he confirmed later). I would have mistaken him for a Maltese. He was short, by English standards, with a mop of curly light brown hair and the freckles on his face. His face was red, the kind of red that told me it was not a tan, and if it ever was, it was not a good one. He was sunburned but he looked benign rather than menacing.
‘So where did you get your tan?’
‘I just got back from a month in Egypt’
‘Do you mind if I ask what you did there?’
‘Holidays. And work on the side. I was scuba diving instructor in Sharm-el-Sheikh’
‘Wow! Sharm-el-Sheikh!’ I exclaimed.
‘You’ve been there?’
‘No, but I heard a lot about the place. You don’t need a month to get a hang of the place you know’
“Ha ha. Don’t tell anyone but I worked there on the side as a scuba diving instructor’
‘Wow! Scuba diver. But then you already told me that earlier’
‘ I said I was an instructor. For my college tuition. Do you always say ‘Wow’?’
‘Ah ah, no. Only when I’m impressed’
‘Anyway, I make really good money out there. Hey, I’m making you a deal. Would you work for me?
‘I can’t even swim.’
‘No, not that. You see, I brought along hookahs to sell to friends. I’ve got a lot. You can help me sell. Where do you stay?
‘Wow. Hookahs! Southampton. I live in Southampton’
‘Great, I do not get that area covered. And also, you can help me collect. Not everybody pays on time. I’m planning to expand the business’
‘Isn’t that illegal?’
“The what? Hookahs? Hell, no!’
‘Not that. If I work here, that would be illegal. Did you think I’m on a holiday visa or something. I’m not even a British citizen.’
‘Okay. So what. I was a tourist in Egypt but I got to work on the side’
‘Wow! Such enthusiasm. In five years your will be known as the Hookah Hawker.’
‘Listen Jack, do I look like I have an ‘I need a job‘ post-it on my forehead. I’m on a sabbatical so I have no intention to work. Nada. How much commission am I going to get for each sale anyway?’
‘Are you in or what?’
‘Hell no! I’m just trying to humor you. Listen, I just got out of the darn immigration with the airport security turning my innards inside out, okay, that’s hyperbole, just my Clinique maquillage and eye palette because airport security was looking for joint because I was a solo female traveler who flew in from Morocco and I am seething in anger because they manhandled my make up-kit and my books. Nobody does anything like that to my make-up and books! I still have four months in my visa and I’ve no plans of cutting it short. I’d rather drop dead than be deported. It’s just so un-chic’
‘The dropping dead or the deporting?’
“Both actually but I’d rather be dead. At least I’ll get flowers that way.’
‘Ow ow, wait, that’s a nice valedictory but my offer can’t be that bad’
‘No! Tomorrow when my family goes to Marwell Zoo I’m sure someone will be stalking me and profiling me and now I’m talking to you’
‘Listen. Do you mind if I smoke’
‘Go ahead. Kill yourself softly’
‘Ugh, that’s mean. So mean. Want one?’
‘Wow, Marlboro lights. Sorry, I don’t smoke’.
‘Anyway, I’m off to take the 8PM bus to Devon. Here, write me your e-mail. I’ll get in touch’
‘Ok, if I give you my e-mail do you promise to get the hell out of here?’
‘Of course. There’s my bus! Yours?’
‘Okay, I’ll get in touch’
And in a jiffy he was out of my sight, as he scurried to the door with a huge box of his hookahs and a duffel bag slung on his shoulder on his way to his bus for Devon.
Two days after I arrived in Southampton I got an e-mails from Jack. He was still pestering me about working for him selling the hookahs. Each time I said no. On his last e-mail, he said that if I could not help him sell, could I help him collect?’
And then he had me switching to messenger so we could chat.
‘And what makes you think your minions will pay if I collect instead of you?’
‘I dunno. I just think they would. You look respectable’
‘You mean intimidating’
‘Your word not mine’
‘It’s illegal for me to do that here’
‘C’mon. The Chinese do it all the time’
‘I’m not Chinese in case you didn’t notice’
‘Listen, I’m off again to Sharm-el-Sheikh next week to get more hookahs. You need to help me’
‘And again, do I look like a filled out application form because I need a job so bad?’
‘No, but you sure could make better use of your time rather than wait for your garbage collector crush every Thursday. Your words, not mine.’
‘Ha ha. You remember. I was trying to humor you. Besides the garbage collector does look gorgeous. Like Edward Norton gorgeous’
‘Edward who? Anyway, I’m a businessman. I’m in the business of remembering details’
‘Oh no you’re not. You’re a street smart hookah hawker doubling as illegal scuba diving instructor’
‘Ha ha. You’re sweet words are killing me. Listen I got to go. Talk to you after I come back in two weeks. Cheerios amigos!’
‘Wow, Spanish. I’m not Spanish either.’
‘You’re not?’ Ciao now brown cow’
But then he was offline.
Two weeks after, the story was all over the news that the seaside resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh was bombed by terrorists. Scores were killed and hundreds more injured.
I never heard from Jack again.