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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

Pulp Friction a short story from Qatar.

In the summer of 2001 I boarded a near-empty Qatar Airways flight to Doha. Reuniting with my family who’d recently moved there for my father’s new job, it was my first time living abroad.

I’d been kicking around Doha for around six to seven weeks by the time I finally decided my life needed some purpose. Not that lounging around the pool or making my umpteenth visit to the markets wasn’t pleasant. I was just starting to get fidgety and funds had begun to run low.

Taking inspiration from a school friend who’d recently arrived in Doha to teach English, I decided to enroll in a TEFL course (Teaching English as a foreign Language) at The British Council. This, I’d been told, would be my key to the world! A chance to make Qatar the first of many international adventures.

I remember being nervous during my interview for a place on the course. Luckily, the lady I met that day was a friendly, mumsy type called Laura. She asked me to spell a few tricky words and correct some mistakes in a short text about penguins. Then came some tedious questions about what makes a good teacher. ‘‘Oh yes…’’ I said, as Laura smiled back at me plainly. ‘‘I think patience is very important’’.

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

Strip away the bullshit and what it really came down to was a) Did I have the required fee for the course? and b) Could I transfer said money immediately? Thankfully the answer to both of these questions was a resounding yes, hence I was in!

The British Council Doha Qatar.

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

My fellow participants were a mostly unassuming bunch whom I never really connected with. There was Mora, a Scottish housewife from Aberdeen and a retired New Zealander called Anne. There was also a bookish Pakistani student by the name of Asma and an eccentric Englishman Percy, who looked a bit like Robbie Coltrane.

Abdul Rahman was the group’s lone Qatari and he stood out from the crowd right from the off. Young, cocky and obscenely rich, he oozed a child-like energy that irritated the others. However, I always found Abdul entertaining, not to mention a little intriguing. To me he was the only local who managed to look genuinely cool in his traditional white robes. He was also unwittingly funny, mostly due to his bad English. And of course he represented a priceless opportunity for a window into Qatari culture.

Short stories from Qatar Leighton Travels.

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

It soon became clear that Abdul had little interest in the theory side of the course. During Laura’s daily lectures, while the rest of us scribbled away in our notebooks, he’d stare out the window or play a hand-held video game. One time he even sat whistling to himself, tapping his fingers on the desk for good measure. The rest of the crew shot him disdainful looks, a few exaggerated sighs, but Abdul didn’t seem to notice or care. Laura meanwhile, in the middle of talking about the differences between past simple and present perfect, didn’t bat so much as an eyelid. At the end of the day I guess Abdul’s money was as good as anyone’s.

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

When the time finally came for us to give demo classes to real life volunteers, Abdul sprang to life as if he were the host of some manic TV show for kids! In fact, watching his lessons had to be seen to be believed. There was dancing, flirting, animal noises, singing and occasional juggling. He also drew impressive cartoons on the whiteboard to bring the target language to life. All the while there was his English, at times so inaccurate and confusing I could only wince at the back of the room as it spilled forth like a band of drunks falling out of a taxi.

Short story Qatar

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

At the end of each day Abdul would give me a lift home in his absolutely huge 4×4. During these journeys I was able to peel away his cartoon exterior and get to the man behind the circus act. One of the first things I discovered was that he was married!

‘‘Not my choose’’ he explained. ‘‘Father say… Abdul do’’. For the first time since we’d met he became deadly serious, explaining how his wife was a cousin. A lady who was ‘‘OK at the cooking’’ but ‘‘bad at the sex’’. “Soon”, he confirmed, ‘‘father is wanting children’’, a prospect that seemed to fill Abdul with dread. ‘‘No avoid’’ he mumbled with a regretful shake of the head. ‘‘Like sun come up, baby must be’’.

‘‘Not my choose’’ he explained. ‘‘Father say… Abdul do’’.

Nevertheless Abdul seemed to be doing an excellent job at postponing things. ‘‘I stay busy’’ he explained, brightening up with a smile and a wink. Between the token part time desk job he held at his father’s bank and the newfound distraction of the TEFL course, Abdul admitted he barely saw his wife. ‘‘Maybe little Abdul come in summer’’ he conceded, chewing his lip as he did the mental arithmetic.

‘‘Later than summer and there will be….’’ He paused, struggling for the right word. With only one hand on the steering wheel and scarcely half an eye on the road, Abdul consulted a pocket dictionary on the dashboard. ‘‘Friction!’’ he said finally, eyes dilated, ‘‘many friction!’’. And by the look on his face, it was clear that friction was something one did not want to experience with Abdul’s father.

‘‘Friction!’’ he said finally, eyes dilated, ‘‘many friction!’’.

There were frequent drives like this throughout the course. Over the weeks I learned that he had a mistress in Bahrain, a family friend who came over once a month. Booking into a hotel for the night, she’d become accustomed to enjoying an Abdul performance all of her very own. I also learned that he yearned to one day experience snow and had no concept whatsoever of vegetarianism or homosexuality. “Come on!!! You are the joker yes?”

He would also excitedly tell me of his love for western movies, even though he often struggled to follow the plot. “Can you tell me good movie?’’ he asked one day, as we sat gorging on an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner, his treat naturally. ‘‘Then I will buying and you come my home for watch’’. Having gotten a feel for his taste in movies, (‘‘No boring, big blood, many violence’’), I settled on Pulp Fiction and we agreed a date for the viewing.

Pulp Fiction movie poster.

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

On the night of the showing Abdul picked me up from my place and drove us out to his mansion in the outskirts of the city. Leading me into an ornate, high-ceilinged living room, I was met by an amazing spread of dishes. There was grilled meat, steamed vegetables, bowls of spicy yellow rice and plates of crispy, seasoned bread. After we’d worked through all that he scooted off to the kitchen, returning with a volcanic bowl of M&M’s and several family size packs of Doritos. There was no sign of his wife (‘‘She must staying in the up room’’) or indeed his dictatorial father (‘‘Go business to the outside country’’).

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

Abdul enjoyed the movie a lot, becoming especially animated during the scene where Butch, played by Bruce Willis, slices up his would-be-rapist Zed with an impressive samurai sword.‘‘I have this!!!’’ exclaimed Abdul suddenly, hitting pause on the remote. Jumping up from the sofa and disappearing from the room, he returned a few minutes later wielding two intimidating swords! Apparently they were the real deal, purchased while on holiday in Japan a few years prior for a princely sum. Encouraging me to hold one, we performed a short burst of swordsmanship, the room echoing with the metallic clang of clashing steel. It certainly wasn’t your average movie night!

Bruce Willis Pulp Fiction.

Pulp Friction, a short story from Qatar.

On November the 14th 2001 Abdul and I sat through our final lecture. Shortly after we performed one last demo class in front of a stiff-looking examiner with a wooden clipboard and a pair of equally leaden spectacles. Afterwards, accompanied by lemonade and finger food, we were all awarded our TEFL certificates and congratulated on becoming educators!

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Having already lined up a job through a local college, I was very much looking forward to getting stuck into my new profession. But when I asked Abdul where he was thinking of teaching, his reply came in the form of a sardonic laugh. ‘‘Father say no teaching’’, he expanded. ‘‘Is only hobby for kill time. He say this job is for womens before baby come’’.

We skidded to a flamboyant halt outside my villa door and I jumped out of Abdul’s jeep one last time. ‘‘No friction’’ he said with a wry smile as we shook hands. With a typically cartoonish salute he bid me farewell, revved up the engine and sped off towards his inescapable future.

‘Pulp Friction’ is the third chapter of my short story series The Qatar Collection.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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6 Comments

  • Beverley Thomas

    Those were the days. Smashing read.

    November 16, 2014 - 1:10 pm Reply
  • teamleisure

    Very good story 🙂

    November 16, 2014 - 3:45 pm Reply
  • Pierre

    Absolutely hilarious story! Enjoyed it tremendously.

    November 16, 2014 - 8:06 pm Reply
  • Natalie Lynch

    Loved this! Did he manage to follow the plot of the film?

    November 16, 2014 - 8:12 pm Reply
  • leightonliterature

    Not really no from what I recall. All that jumping back and forth in time caused a fair amount of confusion. But he liked the style and was suitably shocked when Marvin got shot in the face.

    November 17, 2014 - 12:34 am Reply
  • Bertine

    ‘‘Like sun come up, baby must be’’.

    Cue: daddy issues.

    January 13, 2015 - 10:38 am Reply

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