Monique was small in stature, huge in voice and ego. She managed to offend everyone on the first day of our team-building weekend. When Rick stood up to shake hands she hollered, “Oh you must be the guy who got himself beaten up at the Marine Club?”
And to Rob, “Who the hell are you?”
“Alexa’s husband …”
“Oh don’t say you’re somebody’s husband. You’re a person in your own right!” She turned to yell at the waiter, “Hey, you with the broom-handle lips, bring me some tea.”
Next morning over breakfast, as Dom was spluttering about his encounter with her, the door burst open and in she roared like a blistering wind, flaying the skin off everyone within reach. There was a rush for the exit.
At Ras Al Hadd we waited on the beach for the dhow that was going to take us on a cruise along the coastline. No Monique. We gave a collective sigh of relief. But when we embarked, there she was. She whooped and hollered to get everyone’s attention and announced that it was she who’d arranged the dhow trip through her boyfriend, Abdul Rahim, who had paid for the trip. “He’s a Sheik you know,” she shrieked. “A millionaire. Well, it’s his wife who has money, so he has to be discreet.”
“Just as well one of them is,” I whispered to Kassidy.
Kassidy’s mouth dropped open. “Abdul Rahim? A fiendishly attractive Sheik at that!” she said. “But alcoholic. Serial adulterer.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“I’ll tell you later,” she said.
Devlin, Angie, Marty, Kassidy and I stretched out on fat cushions in the stern of the dhow, drifting on turquoise waves, past amber mountains and empty beaches. Latifa, an Iraqui woman from Dev’s college, joined us. When she found out I was from New Zealand she told me she’d tried to emigrate there when Bush invaded Iraq, but her application was rejected so she came to Oman.
“I grew up in a society that educated women,” she said. “We had careers. We travelled. We could choose to marry or not. But now …” she turned her palms upwards.
We fell silent and watched Rob, Dom and Rick pulling on their snorkelling gear. Someone turned up the radio. The haunting rhythms of Arabian music drifted on the air.
“I hope it’s all to your liking,” Monique bellowed, steaming up to the helmsman. She rubbed her bare shoulder against his, batted her eyelids at him and whispered throatily in Arabic. He looked mortified, but moved away and let her take over the wheel.
“Isn’t this fantastic folks?” she screeched. “We owe it all to my boyfriend. He’s a Sheik you know!”
As the dhow skimmed over the waves someone asked if she knew where the rocks were. “Hey folks,” she thundered. “Drop the doom. Enjoy the boom.”
I tapped her on the shoulder.
“What’s your problem sweetheart?”
“I want you to move.”
The helmsman looked as though he’d been whacked on the head. I pointed to the wheel. He didn’t understand my words, but he was in no doubt about my meaning. He nodded and took over the wheel, staring grimly ahead.
“You can’t do that!” Monique yelled. “My boyfriend paid for this. He’s a Sheik.”
I gripped her shoulders, calculating how far I’d have to push her to pitch her overboard and settled for moving her to one side.
She hovered, throbbing, smoke curling from her ears and nostrils, sparks ricocheting off the top of her head. Devlin carried on his conversation about Celtic civilisations. He knew how to spin a good yarn. Monique turned to Kassidy and asked about her sea-sickness then immediately interrupted, “Oh don’t talk about your insecurities, you’ll spoil it for everyone else!” She threw one more acid-filled glare in my direction before stomping off to the far end of the deck.
The boat anchored and we all jumped out to go snorkelling. I thought I saw Monique get in the water behind me, but when I counted heads hers wasn’t there. Back on the dhow I saw her curled up in a corner by herself. We didn’t invite her to the team-building dinner that night.
A week later Devlin filled us in on the details of Monique’s sudden disappearance. A mysterious illness necessitating a brief stay in hospital before being dispatched back to Canada. “… and I quote ‒ ‘we don’t want her dying on us here’‒ and as soon as she was discharged they put her on the cheapest flight available which involved a ten-hour wait for connections in some God-forsaken airport.”
Kassidy poured more wine. “Mysterious illness?” she said. “He’s a Sheik you know.”
This time we didn’t laugh.
“So …” said Devin. “Next month’s team-building?”
Sandra Arnold’s short fiction has appeared in many journals including Bonsai: Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. She was a finalist in the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition and the 2018 University of Sunderland Short Story Competition. Her third novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Makāro Press, NZ) and her first flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK) are forthcoming. sandraarnold.co.nz.