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RICHARD MARTIN

 

 

Richard Martin

From his chapbook, Inhabit Us, Richard published prose poems in the New York literary journal, Insurance 4. He has travelled extensively and is now writing a collection of short stories. He lives in Morocco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Camel


Farid’s veranda faced the Giza pyramids. I was the only guest at the campground and each morning he called out to the small bungalow I rented for me to join him for breakfast. He would talk about when people actually came to his campground, not long ago, before tourists had been threatened, kidnapped and killed. The outdoor disco was a ruin. Tattered chairs were stacked up and unlit dusty lanterns hung from the sagging canopy. The entire campground, down to Farid’s black leather shoes, was covered in a layer of dust.

The only bright thing in the campground was the happy face of Mohamed, the sole remaining employee. When I suggested he join us for breakfast, Farid frowned and stood and called for more hot tea, tapping his fingernail on the teapot.

Mohamed will not be allowed to slack, said Farid. I pay him, and must pretend that any day the crowds will return. You should have seen the campground in those days! He sat down, shook his linen napkin, and ate an olive.

 

One morning I went to see the sights. I went first to the village, where wild hedges were in flower and a sewage canal ran down the main street, delivering its poison to the nearby Nile, and from there took a taxi to the Saqqara pyramids. There, the guardian placed his wrinkled hand on my shoulder and with the other hand grabbed his crotch and squeezed, offering himself. I paid him to leave me alone. Then I hired a camel driver with a hare-lip to take me to another pyramid, over the dunes.

Once at the tomb, the guide said that he would wait for me, but that the return trip would cost much more. I told him not to wait, though I had no idea how I would get back.

The guardian opened the gate to the underground tomb. It was only partially exposed to the sky. When first built it had been above ground but the sand had risen and swallowed it. I pictured Egypt green and lush, as it had been, turning into dunes. Inside, a tall gaunt soldier was talking to a young turbaned man in a candlelit corner. They stopped talking when I entered and glared at me. The soldier asked if I spoke English. He said he was searching for another soldier who was with a tourist, a French man. Had I seen them? I shook my head and the tall soldier went out.

The young man explained that the soldier being sought had earned 50 euro by letting the tourist suck him off in one of the tombs. The turbaned man put his thumb to his lips and made a loud sucking noise. And now the other soldier was after the first one, probably to take the money for himself.

I walked about the ancient rooms, looking at hieroglyphics.

Outside the sanctuary, the hare-lip sat on the sand, thumbing his beads. He jumped to his feet when he spotted me, demanding I pay him to go.

Another camel driver came up and they talked. The new arrival studied me, his blue eyes standing out in the monochrome landscape of sand and stone. White linen covered most of his face but from the creases around his eyes I could see he was smiling. An exchange was taking place. I was the goods.

I turned and quickly walked away from them and out of sight. The wind had picked up and was whipping the sand along the dunes. I passed another small pyramid and climbed a dune, then sat looking out at the hazy distance. The sand was shutting out the world. Again the moment of being alone, with only the sound of the wind. But then I could see a camel and rider ascending the dune. Finally, they towered over me. It was the blue-eyed rider. His eyes were still smiling.

It’s late. You won’t find anybody out at this time to take you. Come to my village.

The camel kneeled, bellowing, then sat. The man extended his arm to help me up into the saddle.

I am Hamid, he said. And this is Mickey, he said, nodding to the camel. You know, from Mickey Mouse.

Hold on, he said. His body was strong under his jellaba, firm as a rock. We descended the steep dune. He had the camel go slowly at first, just until we were into the haze of sand, out of site of the military camp in the distance.

In just a few minutes they won’t be able to see us, he said.

It was illegal for a tourist to be alone with an Egyptian. Hamid would be arrested if we were caught.

Are you holding on to what you want to? he asked.

I was holding his waist. He grabbed my hand and placed it on his erect cock. Hold on to that, he laughed. He leaned forward, hit the sides of his camel with his feet, and took off at full clumping speed. I bounced up and down, holding on as best I could. At one point, slowing the camel, he undid the turban from his face, showing deeply tanned skin with dark stubble. He pressed his lips against mine, not kissing, just pressing hard. He gripped the back of my head, rubbing his hot face against mine. The camel came to a halt and he lifted my face away from his and stared straight at me.

With the dunes all around, I had no way to orient myself. In the wind and sand the horizon had disappeared.

He took my hand and put it under his jellaba. The camel bellowed, stretching his neck forward. I held his stick-shift with both hands, my face pressed against his back, as he sped across the dunes.

 

The village appeared abruptly out of the sand: palms and streets, houses and a small green oasis. A human place again after the desolation. And at least here, if something went wrong, I could possibly escape. Hamid walked Mickey through the village, greeting men along the way. Most discreetly ignored me, but every so often a passing friend would ask Hamid where he had found me, blatantly grabbing and rubbing his privates, staring at me wide-eyed.

We strolled down a side street to a house and walked the camel inside. There was another camel in the inner courtyard. We sat on a mat and Hamid’s friend Mostafa prepared mint tea, at the feet of the camels, as the light grew dim. One of the camels began to piss, like a fire hose, a loud startling sound. The other camel pissed at the sign of the first, farted, and dropped some turds on the hardened floor, all the time chewing at sugar cane. Mostafa poured the tea, laughing at my surprise as the piss steamed up the air and ran in hot rivulets. He indicated a set of glass doors and suggested we go inside to watch movies.

Sex movies good, yes?

We drank our tea and Hamid made an excuse not to stay. He was just showing me off. Mostafa looked disappointed.

Outside, the night air was fresh. A veiled woman dressed in black passed like a shadow. I don’t want to share you with my friends, said Hamid. He held my hand, and we walked through the cooling night.

His sister met us at the door and pulled her hijab over her hair. The mother sat on the floor, rolling dough. A young girl, about seven, matted curly hair, grabbed Hamid’s leg and hugged it, grunting, snot running from her nose. Then she screamed, knocking her head against his leg. Hamid had to pry her away.

We closed the door of his room and lay on the bed. It was cool and quiet, and it was good to be away from the dusty street. In the dimness, with the fluorescent light of the main room shining under the door, we undressed and pressed against one another. With determined movements, he turned me on my side, held my hips firmly, positioned himself, and entered me, at first slowly. Then he moved faster and rougher. When it was over, we felt for our clothes in the dark, then slept in each other’s arms.

I awoke at times to the chattering of the women out in the main room, the dropping of a frying pan, the hiss of a pressure cooker.

Hamid slept deeply, his heavy arm slung over my chest. His turban was stretched over the table nearby, and his thick black hair hung wavy and long. I lay there feeling his breath and the heat of his arm. At some point the retarded girl began banging her head against the bedroom door. She banged and grunted. The mother or sister scolded her, and the girl stomped away.

 

Soon after, Hamid awoke. He stretched and called for mint tea. He flicked on the light and sat on the side of the bed. How are you, habibi? he said affectionately. The tea and cakes arrived on a tray and were set in the centre of the room. Hamid’s sister brought us water for washing. Then we were alone again, sipping mint tea. Hamid showed me some photographs. In one he held a baby high in the air. The tiny child had thick black hair like an Eskimo.

That’s my baby, he said, my little Mohamed. Does he look like me? The mother’s in Washington, a lawyer. I met her a couple of years back and she came to stay here with my family.

She said she’d come back, but we’re still waiting, he said, looking at the photo.

The thought ended there. Like standing at the edge of the town, looking out, seeing nothing but desert.


Outside, the streets were full of men, walking casually arm in arm. The cafes were crowded, while teens played video games in dimly lit shops, leaning into one another, sitting on each other’s laps. At the Abdul café Hamid ordered mint tea. Men stopped to talk to him and inspect me. They grasped my hand, held onto it, pulled it close to their bellies, smiling at Hamid, who grew worried as the stares accumulated. He sipped his tea.

I don’t want to share you, he said. Once a man from Argentina came and stayed with me and wanted sex in numbers. He begged for it. I led him out to a military lookout post and handed him over to a group of soldiers. I don’t know why I wasn’t enough for him. He gave me 20 dollars to pay them, and I gave the soldiers about 8 dollars for about 8 men and kept the change.

What did you tell the soldiers?

They knew as soon as they saw him. This one’s a camel, he wants to be mounted. They were nearly at him before I walked away. The soldiers sit for hours, days, staring at the dunes, and they’re bored and take anything that passes their way.

Was he satisfied?

Yes, for about a day, Hamid said, rolling his eyes. Then he wanted more. He went back on his own, knowing the way this time. It was very dangerous for me. He was staying with my family, everybody knew it, and I would be the one that the police arrested if anything went wrong.

A tall youth interrupted us and sat down, looking from Hamid to me and back again. He leaned forward in his chair and invited us to his uncle’s house. Inshallah, said Hamid simply, brushing off his offer. The youth shook our hands, stared at me one last time, and left.

Hamid continued:

He wouldn’t even take them one by one, but insisted in having them all at once. He said he wanted the small dick in his mouth and big dick in his ass, and made the men switch depending on their size. It would have been better if he had gone off alone with each soldier, but he wanted to see them taking turns.

Hamid sipped his tea.

He disgusted me, made me sick. Suddenly I could take no more and told him to leave, making sure the cab driver overcharged him for the taxi back to Cairo. I don’t know why I wasn’t enough for him.

A large military truck passed the café. The soldiers sitting on the benches stared out at us blankly.

That night, we remained in his room. No-one’s out anyway, he said, only men with sticks to beat anyone who is drunk.

The room was dimly lit. A plastic vine of rambling roses was draped across the glossy white wall. The women brought mint tea and served us, as they had earlier in the day. He made plans for my long stay with him and his family. I said nothing.

Later, when I left the room to go to the washroom, a squat toilet and low faucet, the retarded little girl latched onto my leg. She had to be pried off by the mother.

In the dark, I fumbled to the bed. I touched Hamid’s hot chest; he inhaled deeply. He put his lips close to my ear, and whispered. It was as though his voice were inside me: If you want it again during the night just wake me, he said. Then he kissed me, pushed himself onto my body, rubbing frantically until he ejaculated. Soon he was asleep.

I looked up at the ceiling, saw the joke of it. I saw the face of the man from Argentina, saw the faces of the soldiers in the truck, on the street, at the Pyramids, in the parks of Cairo and the ATM machines, their shoelaces untied, some without laces, asking for cigarettes, grabbing their crotches as I passed.

I wanted to wake Hamid. I wanted to disturb him, to whisper in his ear: Take me to the soldiers, give me anything but your room. I wanted to tell him that I preferred the anonymity of many men to intimacy with one.

Sleeping, Hamid looked like wax in the dark room.

I drifted off. I awoke, hours later, with Hamid on top of me in the pitch dark, his heavy stubble rubbing harshly against my neck, his skin fever hot, the weight of his body pressing me into the hard mattress, suffocating me. Habibi, he said, gripping my head with his hands while thrusting against my stomach. His hot semen ran down the sides of my belly and onto the bed.

In the morning, his mother, gleaming with happiness, brought us more sugary cakes and mint tea.

Hamid, I have to get back to the campground. I left no word and my things are there.

He glared at me.

I left all my things there, and I’m sure the owner is worried.

Not a problem, habibi, you have to stay with us. I know this campground in Giza and will call the proprietor.

I’m travelling and want to see the more of the country. Perhaps after. Let me go back. Besides, if you call it will worry the man running the campground. He might think it’s a fake call.

Stay here, he said. We’ll go into the desert, just you and I. Go get your things and come back to me.

Inshallah, I said. I did not want him to hate me, as he did the Argentinean, but I had to lie. He was happy to hear I was coming back. I was expected for dinner. A chicken pecked about the kitchen, soon to be killed and plucked. The young girl squatted on the floor, bug-eyed, watching the chicken.

I smiled and thanked them. Inshallah.

Hamid found me a taxi to the campground. He hung in the window of the taxi and winked at me. The morning light was harsh around us, overexposed and painful. I reclined in the back of the taxi and noticed the dark warm eyes of the driver observing at me in the rear view mirror. I looked away.

 

I walked into the campground at mid-day. Nobody was around. I stared at the pyramids through the intense afternoon sunlight. In the past they must have glimmered, but their limestone facades had been stripped away and now they stood exposed and raw. I went into my bungalow and slept deeply until early evening. When I came out, Farid was in the disco. Mohamed was up a ladder, cleaning the lanterns

Oh, you! yelled Farid, throwing up his hands. I was going to call the police. You should have telephoned. Sit, he commanded. He offered me the nearest dust-covered chair and ordered Mohamed to bring me mint tea.

I’m glad I didn’t call the police and report you missing. I was one step from doing so.

I’m glad you didn’t, I said. I met a camel driver and went to his village, spent the night with him. There was no telephone in his house and he wouldn’t let me out after dark.

Farid was wide-eyed. He waited, head tipped back, to hear more. I let him wait.

Don’t go home with Egyptians, he warned. They will only want things from you, and it is never enough. If you don’t give, they’ll take.

I nodded.

I have great news, he added gleefully. A group of German tourists on motorcycles are coming, the day after tomorrow. I’m going to have the disco lights spinning when they arrive and, of course, beer. You know, they are never happy without beer.

Farid plopped a black olive in his mouth and sucked it.

Now, you wouldn’t mind, he said, giving up the bungalow, would you? You can stay in my house, naturally. He spat the olive pit into the ashtray.

I’d been in his house for dinner one night. The food was superb, but it was like being in a cage, surrounded by his books and furniture and pictures, and then made to listen and speak about subjects that did not interest me. I left so stuffed with spicy meats and cakes that I had to lay out on my bed for hours until it was digested.

I’ll be off tomorrow, I informed him, rather coldly, but with a smile.

But you’re welcome in my home, he said, tilting his chin back and looking attentively at my face.

He pushed the plate of olives over to me.

Think about it tonight, he said. I’m sure by tomorrow you will change your mind.

Mohamed had missed a spot on the mirror behind the D.J. stand, and Farid jumped out of his seat to scold him.

I’ve dealt with these people long enough, he said. If you don’t take to them with whip and chain, you’ll get nothing done.

 

When I woke next morning I felt I’d already left the campground. I had only to get in a taxi and catch up with myself, somewhere further down the desert road. After breakfast, Farid drove me to the taxi station.

A man called for you last night, he said. Late last night. An Egyptian, saying he was waiting for you. When were you coming? I told him you had already left. Farid said this like an intimate friend, confident he had done me a favour.

We shook hands, and I thanked him for all his generous and useless advice, the food, for opening his home to me. I sat in the front seat of the taxi. As we pulled off, Farid honked his horn and waved goodbye.

Don’t forget us, Farid yelled. Tell people about the campground, help keep us alive!

The taxi driver, a sun-scorched middle-aged man, winked at me, grasping my leg with his large hand and shaking it, as if to check that I was real and whole. He looked ahead and quietly began to sing a song in Arabic. I closed my eyes and listened to his singing and the sound of the tires on the gravel road.

©2009 Richard Martin

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