Arabian Nights

I was in a pub near Tower Bridge, chatting to Fakhir. He is an Iraqi who sought refuge in the UK some years ago. He was provided with a form of sanctuary in Glasgow. He simply pointed to the ugly scar on his forehead when I asked him about his impressions of Scotland.

He moved to London as soon as he was given the right to remain in this country, where he met our mutual friend during his career as a property consultant. He has since moved to Dubai, where he enjoys a lifestyle which he described as a ‘good mangling’ of Western and Arab cultures.

He was aggressively affectionate. Barely a minute passed without him rubbing the back or massaging the shoulders of our mutual friend.

We worked our way through several pints, and the more the drinks flowed, the more he wanted to bet. On anything. From who would get served first at the bar to which team won a particular football championship. This quickly became tedious.

It was during a particularly animated bet proposal that he suddenly stopped shouting and put his hands to his mouth, eyes wide with alarm. Vomit seeped through his fingers. I averted my gaze, but watched him scrambling for napkins in my peripheral vision.

Miraculously, our mutual friend hadn’t noticed, having been pre-occupied with his mobile. Fakhir’s eyes fixed on me as if to cement the awkwardness of this sudden silence. Sticking with the gambling theme, I ended the moment by saying ‘Here’s a safe bet for you – I bet you’re embarrassed!’

For a moment, I thought he was going to kill me. Perhaps it was xenophobic anxiety. ‘Oh fuck, I’ve insulted an Arab. I might as well have knocked up his sister. I’ve committed some terrible faux-pas for which I’m about to pay dearly’ characterises my thoughts at that moment. He broke the silence by gripping my arm, kissing my cheek (yikes) and telling me I was a bloody bastard who would be well-received at his desert condo any time.

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