Over the weekend – without any new fountain pens to play with – my mind drifted to the time when I was posted to Kuwait a few years back. At the time, I was doing some consulting work for the Kuwaiti Government at Jahra hospital. Jahra was a small, nondescript town situated close to the border of neighbouring Iraq. From the hospital, I could clearly hear the occasional automatic gun-fire coming from the nearby border areas. It was unnerving at first but I got used to it within the few first few days of my stay. I figured that if my time was up, I could just as easily be run down by a bus in Subang Jaya as I could being cut down to ribbons by stray gunfire in Jahra. A few weeks after my funeral, it wouldn’t matter to anyone anyway how I had kicked the bucket. After a few years, I’d be lucky if even a handful of people still remembered my name anyway.
When I arrived in Kuwait City, I was assigned an assistant by the name of Mahmoud. He was quite good-looking but rather skinny for an Arab. Always dressed to kill, Mahmoud never failed to draw the attention of many of the hospital’s female staff. As a result, I was often left to my own devices while he was pre-occupied chatting-up the many Filipina nurses who worked there.
This was alright by me since Mahmoud wasn’t exactly the brightest component on the circuit-board and thus, was completely useless to me when it came to grappling with the several million lines of code that made up the database system we were developing. However, there were two things about Mahmoud that never failed to yank my chain: first were his two-tone sunglasses that he insisted on wearing even indoors and the other was his rather annoying habit of complaining about his lunch.
Since we had discovered very early on that the food at the hospital cafeteria was probably worse than the food they served to the hospital patients, we had decided to pack and bring our own lunch. So, during lunch break, we’d search for an unused room where we could have an hour or so of peace and quiet to have our lunch. Invariably, the moment he opened his lunch pack, I’d hear him declare with disappointment: “Oh, no! Not bread and ‘labneh’ again!” He’d then shake his head and proceed to gobble down the food anyway.
Every day it was the same. After two weeks of silently enduring Mahmoud’s, “Oh, no! Not bread and ‘labneh’ again!”, I was ready to give him a piece of my mind. It was either that or I’d be forced to punch his not-so-bright lights out. Naturally, I decided on the less physically aggressive route.
“Mahmoud, if you hate bread and ‘labneh’ so much, why don’t you tell your wife to prepare something else for you?” I asked, ready for any eventuality.
Mahmoud gave me an incredulous look and replied, “What wife? I’m not married, boss. I pack my own lunch everyday!”
It’s been maybe two years since the incident. I suspect there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Maybe someday, I’ll learn what it is.