We looked similar apart from the fact he was an Arab and I’m a Brit – two young men about the same age; he was wearing a V-neck sweater and a pair of Levis, and so was I; we both had wristwatches and wore brown shoes. We both liked Woody Allen films, which was why we had gone to see Manhattan at the Odeon in Panton Street.
We shared some popcorn and drank Coke but then, just before the end, he wanted to leave. No explanation just upped and started leaving. I hesitated but then got up to follow him as he walked across Leicester Square to the amusement arcade; I stood irritated while he pumped coins into the slots and then we went to the garage where I’d parked the Jag, and I dropped him off at the Dorchester. He didn’t ask me in for a drink, which is good because I didn’t want one. He asked me if I’d come around in the morning and I said I would then I drove back to South London.
My wife said I should stop complaining; we could go and see Manhattan anytime and that he probably had a lot on his mind, and he hadn’t meant to be rude. I said, “For two pins…” and she said, “Two pins what? Shut up; you need the job and he’s a good payer."
The job was being Prince Faisal’s driver: Somehow I’d bagged a prince from the House of Saud and she was right, the pay was good.
He’d sent the security home; he liked to walk around with someone not wearing a suit; maybe he needed a friend. We’d both worn V-necks but his was cashmere; we’d both worn watches but mine was a Timex. Timex, Rolex, how similar they sounded.
Faisal was a funny one, not like the others who came over every summer when they were scorched out of their palaces, to have sex with European women whilst their wives were out shopping for gilt elephants and diamond encrusted toilet seats. At nights the men would hire riverboats and knock back whisky while they gambled. The boats would stop now and again so the German pimp could let one clutch of mauled working girls off and let a fresh batch on. Brothel boats.
Faisal didn’t do the boats; he was a brooder who had no time for the booze, cards or scrubbers, yet it wasn’t a higher calling, he wasn’t in the least devout. He was a modern man who seemed to be constantly grappling with the crazy serendipity that had, all in the space of fifty years, propelled his tribe from camel herding sand gypsies into masters of the universe to be feted and fawned over by western statesmen, and given a licence to strut the globe like gods.
While he wore a Savile Row suit and yapped on his house brick cell phone making plans for his kingdom, his grandmother with tattoos on her forehead was walking through Shepherd’s Bush market buying purple things, looking at the world through a slit in a robe and thinking how did I get here? It was a pikey’s dream.
I often wonder how different my life might have been if I had stayed with my Arab. The offer was there. I could see the whole scenario: me driving fast cars, living on cigarettes and coffee while I led cavalcades of armoured limousines through the Levant, stopping off so UN VIPs could con flab with men with falcons on their wrists; or smuggling white girls in and out of palaces, collecting ruby encrusted casks of cocaine from seaports, and riding Lear jets with potentates and strippers.
Then I got to wondering about the two of us: that afternoon that Faisal and I went to the cinema to see Manhattan; had that been a date? It’s happened before - gays trying to swing me, even rich ones - but never on this scale. I’d bagged a Prince! If only I’d cottoned on at the time. That must have been it! Because after an hour and ten minutes of the film I hadn’t made a move, he’d got the hump and went to play one armed bandits while I stood and watched him. Was that it? The Chauffeur and the Sheikh? Well if it was a date. I should have shown a bit more interest. What would I have said to him? “You are my prince?”
Faisal liked me well enough but I didn’t like his brother a pudgy-faced man-baby that you wouldn’t let near your kids, who squeaked like Sweep and eye-lidded me with a ‘you are a maggot’ kind of leer. Perhaps he could sense my disgust. He’d just broken his arm in some altercation in an Edgeware Road sex salon, which the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital generously fixed for him before he was whisked out of the country on a diplomatic visa. His bodyguards loathed him and he revolted his own brother so Allah alone knows how the man-baby would have treated me back in Riyadh - perhaps as his gimp. Curiously I haven’t seen or heard a thing about him since that year; could some powerful forces have deemed he was too filthy to keep around and needed cleaning up?