On a sodden evening here in the woods I was chatting with an old buddy from our days in the Saudi desert outpost of Udhailiya, camped on the edge of the Rub al-Khali or Empty Quarter, and no matter where the conversation headed it always ended up going back to sandy memories when we would head out into the giant open-air furnace, sit on a sand dune, smoke a spliff, and stare out over the desert at nothing and everything. Man, that was the highlight of our weekends!
The buddy I was chatting to - a Canadian instructor in the oil & gas field - hadn't taken too kindly to the locals, and after a few months was climbing the walls for a break which soon arrived and entailed a two week holiday in Thailand which resulted in him coming back married but without his wife (Saudi visa complications), who he left behind in the bars of Bangkok ... where she worked. Lots of guys did this. Bangkok seems to have adopted 'Las Vegas Religion' and marries people in five seconds flat, mostly when the bridegroom is pissed out of his head. I've never been there, it's what I'm told.
But when the bridegroom came 'home' to the desert, he was all hyperactive and tense, and after a few weeks, on the sandy journey into work, often sharing the road with camels, he was telling me how he was now convinced that al-Qaida was staking out our accommodation block in Hofuf.
"I saw a guy out there yesterday, man! He had binoculars and was checking out the place. They're gonna attack, man. Believe me, it's time to hoof."
... which is exactly what he did - a runner, under the pretense of a weekend in Bahrain, jetting out with no intention of coming back, picking up his missus before the long haul back to Canada. There is a happy ending though as he and his wife remain happily married 20 years later and have a little daughter. "She understands me, man .... although she does nag, I'll tell yer that." Cest la vie, bud.
Once he'd absconded I was transferred to another outpost albeit closer to civilization than good old Udhailiya. Yet I still returned there about once a month, highway straight across the desert sands to the parking lot of the al-Herbish hospital, to meet up with The Man, who was always late. I sat humming in my firm's Ford Taurus and when he finally drew up, we lowered our windows, said our greetings, and he handed over a Marlboro pack filled with soft creamy hashish from the mountains lining the southern border with Yemen, and I'd hand him a Marlboro pack filled with cash. We'd say goodbye and I'd head back as the sun was setting. After 20 kms or so I always pulled over at the same spot, rolled up and climbed a rocky sandstone outcrop to watch the ball of fire go down in the west. After a period of meditation, I drove back to my apartment hotel home where the Indian manager welcomed me warmly, standing on the steps in the dark shadows of trees, enjoying the cooler evening air.