SITTING NEXT TO…
“Come sit next to me”, he said with a warm smile as he gestured towards a beautiful Louis XVI chair at his side – honoured I sat – it was Khalid, the king of Saudi Arabia and it was 1979.
I was a consultant in the royal hospital, The King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the capital, Riyadh. King Khalid had consulted me – he was pleased with the outcome and I was grateful that providentially I had brought from
the UK a supply of a newly available drug which solved the King's problem; which although not serious, interfered with his life and royal duties.
We didn’t talk about affairs of state, he talked about a memorable journey he had taken as a young teenager when after boarding a liner in Jeddah – the great Red Sea pilgrimage port – he voyaged to Liverpool and then by the
Royal Train to London. He’d never seen a steam train and London astounded him. He met the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, and members of the royal family.
He asked me for my views on his Kingdom, I gave them… but only the positive ones – he beamed and said, “Now you need to examine me”, “Yes, Your Majesty,” I replied, “But I must first pray and then have a siesta. Doctor, you
can have a meal”. After the King left the room a heavily perfumed young man took me by the right hand and led me away.
I found myself in a vast dining room; sitting alone at the head of a table, glass-topped with carved golden legs – it was laid for three dozen, gold cutlery, gold plates and gold goblets even the curtains were gold. I was
attended by three smiling negroid male servants in gold embroidered blue-velvet waistcoats and brilliant white thobes -- which contrasted with their jet black hue, “descendants of African slaves, no doubt", I thought to myself. The food was standard Saudi
fare: freshly squeezed orange juice, thin spicey soup, one whole goat lying on a bed of rice on a huge platter with its head lolling to one side. For dessert, Umm Ali - Mother of Ali - which was for all the world just like my mother’s bread pudding…
SITTING NEXT TO…
“Come sit next to me”, said the Saudi police colonel to my wife, Maria, as he pulled a chair towards him at his desk.
I was in jail on a trumped up charge of making and distributing alcohol in the form of home-made wine. Maria, believed that because she was so much younger than me she could better survive a prison sentence. She had made a
written declaration that she alone was responsible for making the wine.
The colonel was grey-haired, kindly and friendly. He turned to Maria and in almost a whisper said, “If two people commit a murder two people are executed for that murder. If two people make wine, two people go to jail for
making wine. Your husband has already confessed to making the wine. You cannot help him. He is already in jail.”
He tore up Maria’s deposition.
“Now I want you to tell me that you didn’t make the wine and never, ever, change your story, no matter what happens, because that is what I am going to put in my report.”
As Maria sat outside the colonel’s office waiting for a lift home a familiar figure shuffled past, head bowed, wrists handcuffed, ankles shackled, five-day growth of beard. He glanced at Maria; no sign of recognition in his
haunted eyes; a policeman tugged at his elbow to keep him moving – it was her husband, her beloved Bill.
“WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO HIM ?” a voice screamed in her head…