A story of the 1991 Middle Eastern Gulf War, based upon real events and real people, with names and identities changed to protect the participants. This is part one of three.
SADDAMS TOILET (Part 1)
Curiously enough, it seems to have started in Riyadh...not the incident, but the diarrhea, although the origin of both could probably have been shown to be associated with boring afternoon bouts spent squatting over the quaint hole in the tile which comprised the villa's bathroom convenience fixture. The salient point, certainly, was that all things in life--no matter their position on the food chain or the physical context of their existence--end up being flushed down the figurative toilet of life.
It had been quite a while since I had been on leave from the Kingdom. The tell-tale signs that limits of tolerance for Arab cultural variation had near been reached were becoming obvious. Among these, one was particular telling, from familiarity with my own tendencies: I was once again catching myself lounging fitfully in front of the tube, making snide and ironic remarks about the quality of English programming in my off time, the irksome personal quirks of the BBC World Service Television broadcasters themselves (visions of horsey-faced, homely Saxon female introducing the weather forecast with annoyingly contrived Anglo elocution..."ello a-gaine...") starting to get under my skin. Also damning was the increasing frequency of moments spent fuming over having to take a trip to the WC, only to find that some child of Mohammed just moments before had preceded me into the enclosure to prepare himself for prayer-call at the bidet, managing to saturate the whole enclosure--toilet seat, floor and walls--with water, like some duck gone insane in a 12 inch diameter lake.
For a westerner--whether from Australia or Canada, or anywhere else in the 'western' world--one of the worst possible crimes a person (always male) can commit against his fellows is to take a whiz without lifting the toilet seat. For those who follow, and who must seat themselves uncomfortably on the wet appliance of necessity, there are few things which bring more surely an urge to strangle someone than having to sit down on a freshly sprayed toilet seat. Thus, when a local believer has importuned all of us infidels with the requisite indulgence of his faith's requirements for ritual cleansing prior to prayer (5 times a day, I might add, and facilitated in this heinous act by the French Company which manufactured the bidet and sprayer nestled alongside every toilet in the Kingdom--sacre bleu!), the discovery of said sabotage in the face of dire urgency is essentially grounds for justifiable homicide.
This is, of course, not a feasible recourse in the Kingdom due to the fondness one generates for one's head after spending most of one's life attached to it.
As if that weren't bad enough, having to live in an old-fashioned villa with its Arab version of the Japanese-style benjo-orifice in the floor is a still further source of delight that awaits the typical expatriate at home.
The 'hole-in-the-floor' approach has its hearty proponents, certainly (mostly idiots), although any medical doctor will tell you that squatting over such a fixture is an unhealthy strain on the average bladder (assumedly for the male, although nothing is mentioned about the difficulty the ladies might have aiming a stream into the target, being by nature 'setters' and not 'pointers'). My own experience with the abominable hole has never been a happy one, certainly, and even the momentary demonstration of pedal dexterity demanded by having to line one's feet up in the small concrete footprints which straddle the hole fails to amuse after a certain state of intimacy with the device has developed.
Our particular residence, similar to that provided to all the American instructor pilots working with the Royal Saudi Air Force students, had a particularly horrible squatter in it. The room itself, crowded by the pipes of the suspended Italian hot water heater that always looked as if it would tear off the wall, was small and stuffy. The one window's sliding frame had long since given up the ghost and the result was that the first step into said room produced an immediate and simultaneous urge to gag, don some sort of gas respirator, and indulge in a whimsical wish that a quick blink of the eyes would somehow magically transform the wretched place into a sumptuous 'place de bain' from a five-star European hotel.
Further, the hole itself, inevitably centered in the worst possible spot in the small room, had all the attractive appeal of a century-old conduit of the central Parisian sewage system in the Mont Parnasse district. Encrusted with the calciferous slime of years without cleansing, and evidencing a vile unfamiliarity with any sort of disinfecting solution, the hole gave one the willies just positioning one's self over it. And, as an Air Force fighter pilot, the subsequent 'bomb release' action unloading onto the target, as it were, gave the child in me absolutely no pleasure at all. In short, it was a most unpleasant way to indulge in what Ernst Mach did at no time ever sublimely refer to as 'one of the three great natural pleasures of life' (he also did not remark about the other two except to not say that one of them was an excellent cup of dark French roast kafe mit Schlag...).
And so, given the inevitable decline of a pilot's patience for the quaint cultural resources for aiding intestinal evacuation in the face of these daily challenges, in combination with all the other daily aggravations of local life, the warning signal that the limits of patience were being neared was more than simply a primary indicator of an impending requirement for some leave. My own personal limit had just about been reached earlier in the day, on a training exercise out over the desert....
I had been flying IP for a student in the lead aircraft of a flight of two of the Saudi F-15D Eagle trainer birds, and came the time, when in our mock aerial interception maneuvering, the trailing aircraft was due to practice weapons release procedures (using our A/C as a target). We were carrying heat-seekers, among our several other types of ordinance, and the simulation procedure was simple enough. It called for a straightforward intercept, lock-on, and dry practice firing, for which the cockpit weapons arming system selectors would be left in the safe or unarmed position. Our own aircraft was finally acquired by the trailer Eagle (flown by another IP and a student) after some difficulty, and the warning warble of a missile lock tone finally came over my headphones. Nothing startling, of course...routine target acqusition by the interception A/C's fire-control.
I was sitting passively in the back seat, letting the student fly our bird, and momentarily glanced behind in an effort to try to see the hostile. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, the lock-on buzz changed from the familiar buzz tone to a very unfamiliar and definitely unpleasant one: the no-nonsense, business-like standard alarm tone of an actual launch! The student hot on our tail had somehow or other loosed a live heat-seeker at us!
Thinking back on this at the moment, a poor joke about brown ejection seat cushions comes to mind, but if my own pucker quotient hadn't been apexed when the launch tone sounded I doubt whether there would have been any aggravation later over something as inconsequential as a wet toilet seat in the life support room, on base. On full ABs blazing, we had just managed to haul ass to port, disengage, and squirt away from the heat-seeker at the last possible second, the old Red Flag air-combat lessons not entirely forgotten, and I managed to save up most of my resulting choice comments on the student's proficiency with air-to-air practice launches until we hit the deck back at the field. Still, it had been somewhat of a scare--coming as it did so unexpectedly--and it was simply another force pushing me to an understanding that it was time to get on the Saudia bus and get out for a breather. The proverbial straw.....
Suki was home from the embassy when I arrived at home, and I brought up the suggestion of taking a leave. She responded as I knew she would--with animated interest. It was time to visit Austria, as we had discussed it all beforehand in selecting a destination and laying out an itinerary in advance (Hallstatt and the lovely Salzkammergut).
Now Suki is a brownish-yellow little female critter of awfully pleasing configuration. With her long, black Japanese hair, her wonderful almond eyes and just the vestige of a nose that manages to balance the rest of her pretty face just right, she is a considerable comfort to have enhancing the life of an old lifer like myself. With curves to match her handsome features and a lithe, willow-like figure of artful grace, Sukiko was a prize by my own reckoning, no matter how you looked at it. Although we were no longer kids, both of us being in our 40s, she was handling the aging process beautifully.
She had a beautiful way of coming softly into the room, radiating harmony and wonderfully feminine, Geisha-like womanly charm that would undoubtedly have brought satisfaction to some warrior-daimyo of feudal Japan in centuries past. What a sweet gift from whatever gods there were! Somehow, I just couldn't even imagine her coping with that blasted squat-hole in the bathroom, even though it had some hereditary relationship to the Japanese 'benjo' appurtenance already alluded to. I guess I had the same problem when I was a child, imagining that my parents could ever have done something as exotic (to a child) as screwing like the sex manuals suggested.
At any rate, Suki didn't share any of my bizarre hang-ups on Arab toilets, and the day's frustrations with wet toilet seats, married quarter 'squatters', and idiot student pilots were shortly put on hold as she charmed me out of my vituperous mood with her usual soft, sensual massage of the aching muscles which the aircraft seat harnesses had managed to mangle under extreme G-loads. Even the indelible impressions of horror over the state of toilet seats in the restrooms of King Khalid International Airport during the month of Haj couldn't surface through the soothing screen of Suki's amazingly strong fingers, as she continued to knead my shoulders.
But like a submerged log hidden dangerously below the surface of my awarenesses, that particular memory put up a brief struggle before falling down into the lower depths of blissful relaxation.
It had been my luck to have to return to the Kingdom from leave precisely at the peak of the Islamic pilgrim influx, that time of the Al Heigran year when the devout Muslims of the world attempt to fulfill one of the five 'Pillars of the Faith.' Accordingly, the airport at Jeddah was jammed with a seething knot of raw humanity that confounded and dismayed even the most experienced traveler. So vast was the crowd, packed into the substantial terminal space, that there was literally no room to walk more than a foot before being faced with the decision to walk over a sprawled body or on it. The sight that had greeted me upon stepping off the Lufthansa Airbus 300 had been bad enough--thousands of dark-skinned, poorly or incompletely clad, unwashed and unhealthy pilgrims, lying, squatting, sitting, perching, leaning and sleeping, generally filling every square centimetre of empty floor space to the point where there had been no floor tiles visible through the uniform brown tones of the bodies covering it. But when the inevitable moment came, and the urge to locate a men's room settled over me, I had been in for another, even more appalling surprise.
The seats of the toilets were all--every last one of them--covered with revolting smears of human excrement. If was impossible to sit on the seats in the conventional manner, without depositing your butt on half a dozen clots of horrible, half-dried human shit. And worse yet, there was no paper to be found anywhere--not even paper towels.
Over each western style porcelain commode was affixed a worn decal showing a stick figure squatting on top of a toilet, with a circle and diagonal red line through the drawing. It dawned on me that, despite the installation of the porcelain western shitters, the many boogey-men of the 4th world (those unfortunates even further removed from civilisation that those of the 3rd world) who were accustomed to squatting over the ubiquitous hole in the floor that served as a toilet were not capable of placing themselves on a toilet seat, but insisted on standing on the seat and squatting over it!
The result was predictable--poor marksmanship that resulted in the clotted shit which festooned the seat components. And it was not until some months later, after complaining to a Muslim friend about this, that he explained that the more ignorant people felt that western toilet seats were 'unclean' from a religious standpoint, and labored under the delusion that putting their body in direct contact with part of a toilet fixture intimately associated with the defecative act was harram (unclean). The irony of this explanation gave me a brief bit of ironic amusement as I reflected on the symbolic nature of uncleanliness--as contrasted to the overt and shit-smeared result of this religiously archaic attitude.
I had had to ignore the wall-to-wall feces which decorated the Jeddah airport terminal's toilet facilities, and stepping carefully to avoid stepping in gobs which had missed the toilet entirely, was forced to straddle the bowl and let fly in the native manner. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life, and I have seen some pretty horrible sights in my 25 years of combat flying.
At any rate, I was melting under Suki's touch, and soon I was as calm and cool as a bowl of almond bean curd fresh out of the freezer. After what seemed like a small eternity of these healing ministrations, I begged off further pleasure of this sort and followed my graceful wife into the bedroom like a sleepy puppy seeking a warm rug to curl up on after a full meal.
Suki, however, was not sleepy. Once in bed, and lying next to her smooth tawny body, I felt those same skillful fingers touching other parts of me with the delicate lightness of a spider's touch. I opened my eyes to look at her, and saw the sparkle in those deep black pools of light which her eyes admitted only special people into. Suki was very much awake, and it was time for the payback.
Later, with both of us drowsily sated, and in that half-way state that precedes sleep, I glanced over at her partly profiled, willowy body. Her eyes were closed, and the gentle curves of her slender figure somehow filled me with a great satisfaction. She was the most beautiful, exquisite creature in the whole world for me, and even when I closed my own eyes, her beauty did not vanish as the philosophers admonished it ought.
Her hair, long and straight and as dark as the mysteries which she contained secretly within herself, flowed over the pillow in an orderly cascade of luxurious threads of ebony silk. The hands, delicate and long, yet as strong as the titanium spars of a fighter aircraft, rested on the sheet, the slight, involuntary muscular twitch of encroaching sleep giving her slide into nighttime oblivion away.
A single magnificent rounded breast had somehow immodestly escaped the covering sheet, and the sight of it generated one last surge of savage sexual lust deep in the guts of my ki until finally, I too began the slide from this conscious world into the bottomless folds of darkness, where Suki already waited for me.
I think I dreamed that night. Something involving an in-flight emergency....having to punch out....the seat smashing through the canopy, which had jammed....hitting the 600 knot air stream....and feeling pain in my lower spine as the roman candle I was riding speared upwards in a rush that knocked the wind from me. Fragments of the dream are all that remained the next morning, as the mental cockpit recorder automatically rewound and played through in fast forward, spilling the guts of the dream out beyond my more pedestrian ability to capture it. The only distinct part I can seize upon in any detail was me, separating from the seat with a kick in the pants and coming down under the chute to land in a huge, stinking hole in the floor of the desert that stretched a good fifty metres across. As the murky brown, turgid waters closed over me, the nylon folds of the chute collapsed on the surface of the abyss like a surreal, white sheet of toilet paper...
I must have cried out, or flung out my arms to get out of the imprisoning parachute harness in my sleep, for the next thing I recall, Suki was gazing at me from her side of the bed, propped up on one elbow and regarding me with an unreadable look that could have been expressive of anything from curiousity to concern. "Hey Tiger, bad dream?" The gaze turned into one of faintly disguised humor, as I swam up to full consciousness.
Remembering the foul, brown texture of the sinkhole, and recalling the stink of the greasy green waters that had threatened to choke me, my still sleepy mind groped for an explanation: "I think I just bailed out into the asshole of the Universe", was all I could manage to croak.
Suki simply smiled at my rudeness and rolled off the bed, slipping a T-shirt on that left her backside bare, before padding off in those horrible bunny-slippers I hate to get the water started in the kitchen.
I regarded her beautiful, heart-shaped ass fondly as it wiggled deliciously off and out of sight, my regard for her attributes undimmed by the rapidly fading detritus of sleep. After a bit, I finally got up.
"Coffee," came the melodious voice which was attached, although most circumspectly, to that delightful part of her anatomy which I had admired. The luxurious aroma of real coffee, French-pressed, vectored in to my nose and a new day began.