Can you hear the echoes?

I wrote this piece of Shrapnel (part of the prologue to More Deaths Than One) largely from my recall of an actual dialogue on a beach in Saudi Arabia in about 1998) Can you hear the echoes?

The beach party
None of the buggers are going to go home in a hurry. He takes a surreptitious look at his watch. One o clock. Connie's going to be bloody furious; he’ll definitely have to make a move soon. It’s been a good evening but apart from anything else it’s quite cold now, sitting outside with all these world class talkers. They’d been using English in polite deference to himself; speaking only their asides in the native Arabic. He had found the asides more interesting than the mainstream conversation.

Mumtaz Kaloumi concludes the point he’s been making and the banker, Ali someone, responds with a trite, "Money is like good health, my friend. It is never a problem until you do not have it. But you would rather not have money than not have good health, I think." There is a murmur of general agreement. The man goes on, "But myself, I would like to hear some singing. My friend Abdul-Rahman tells me you have a good voice and a good memory for Frank Sinatra, Thomas. This is so?"

Oh, no. "Thank you for that," he says, "But I would just hate to ruin a pleasant evening."
Abdul-Rahman shouts, "Joey". The Philipino servant appears as if by magic. "Bring Mister Thomas the microphone." He leans towards you. "But before that, let me ask you something else that is serious, my friend. In our lifetime, what have been the two great competing influences in the West? There is capitalism and there is communism, am I right?"

"Yes, I guess so," Thomas says. He wonders where his employer is going with this.
Abdul-Rahman says, "Yet one of these great competing concepts, this - what you call it - this philosophy of communism, where is it right now? Gone, finished, from one day to the next, caputo. Therefore capitalism is the winner?"

"So it would seem," Thomas says, cautiously, "Although politics and philosophy really aren't my subjects."

"That, my friend, is what you would call a cop-out. Listen to me now; this demise of communism, you saw it coming?"

"No of course not, Nobody did. Nobody I know of, anyway."

"Exactly. And you cannot see now the demise of capitalism?"

"Come on, Abdul-Rahman," he says, "You might as well say the demise of everything."

"Exactly, my friend. Every thing! But more important for us than wealth is the life of the spirit, of God. This - this is the difference. Our lives here are, let us say, eighty percent spiritual and twenty percent material. You of the west are the other way around." The sheikh looks around at the bearded faces of his big-money friends. "Nothing is forever, we know this to be true. And when capitalism passes away, as did communism, what will be left for you and what for us, Thomas? What will be left for we of ancient, Arab descent who are neither east nor west, we for whom your capitalism is just a temporary tool, we the people from amongst whom God has always chosen his prophets?" There is a silence whilst Joey refills the whiskies and hands you a microphone, its lead trailing across the marble patio floor and back inside the house.

Thomas says, "You talk of the future, Abdul-Rahman, and you may be right. But I would like to propose another toast, gentlemen." He lifts his re-charged tumbler. "Here’s to life here and now and to all the good things of this wonderful world." The five Arabs raise their glasses, nodding their approval, murmuring endorsements. Thomas blows experimentally into the microphone, goes into the first lines; …"Start singing the blues, I’m going today… " He's unsure of the exact words but hell, what does it matter? Soon enough, he passes on the microphone. Most people know some of the song and can even hold the tune a little, but he's trying to overhear what Mumtaz is saying to Abdul-Rahman on the side. He's speaking in Arabic. Mumtaz is saying, "You are sure your Englishman has no Arabic, Abdul-Rahman?"

Abdul-Rahman shakes his head, says something indistinguishable as the big banker, yet another Mohammad some-one, starts out in a big baritone; "New York, New York …"

"I assume you will not be bringing the girls or any further recreation whilst he is still here?" says Mumtaz.

Abdul-Rahman says, "No, of course not. But he will go home soon to his wife, and for that he is lucky for she is a beautiful woman."

Ziad the investor joins in then; "But yes, I like this English. He sings very well and he is a man of intelligence. But he is, I think, a man who it is best never to underestimate."

Thomas wonders about the reference to girls. What happens here after he's left them to it? He takes back the mike, sings, "I’m king of the hill, top of the heap…" Everyone here seems happy. What the hell does it matter?

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