New Houses in Abqaiq - 1949
There was a housewife in Abqaiq in the beginning – 1950 or so. Her husband was one of the best, if not the best, driller that ever operated out of Abqaiq. He was in the desert making Aramco rich and she was in their house newly-built in a patch of desert scraped off flat with a bulldozer. Unimpeded by trees, a fence, or even blades of grass the wind blew steady and whistled on as she sat in the dining room doing a crossword puzzle.
There is a faint tapping at the back door. Who could that be? At two in the afternoon? There is some more tapping and she goes through the kitchen to the back door. About five feet from the bottom steps is an old man, grinning through a gold tooth and not many more. The hot wind catches his guttrah to veil and unveil his well-worn face.
She knew the Pearl man who limped from door to door with his Prussian blue pouch of natural Gulf beauties, the Shrimp man who showed up with a burlap bag of shrimp packed in what looked like Aramco issue ice – the kind with the hole through the middle. So his cousin worked at the ice plant. But this old man is new.
She goes to the door and opens it to look at him with an ancient, battered, wooden camel bowl in his hand. He says, “Mimsahib. Wajid zain.” And proffers the bowl towards her with a big toothless smile.
It’s so bright outside that it is hard to see much of anything. She opens the screen door and steps into her barren backyard as a momentary gust of wind obfuscates the old man in dust. She can’t see what he is offering and says, “What?”
The old man brightens, takes a step forward and shows her the bowl. It contains some round dark things that definitely aren’t pearls.
“What in the world is this?”
“Mimsahib. Wajid zain,” he says as he brings the bowl right close to her face. “Wajid zain. Wajid zain s***.”
He was selling fertilizer. The next weekend Aramco’s foremost driller was tilling a couple of hundred pounds of wajid zain grade goat pellets into his yard.
As told to me by a wonderful Abqaiq mother who arrived there at age 24 in 1950 and stayed for nearly thirty years.
Earlier stories by Tim Barger are included in his collection Arabian Son.
ARABIAN SON: 21 Stories
by Tim Barger
Paperback: 142 pages ~ $14.95
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