THE SOLDIER AND ALI
In the true tradition of his ancestors, Billy accepted his responsibility to uphold the glory of his British Empire on foreign soil - How does that sound?
Arriving in Egypt in 1948 he was posted to Moascar, which was a large garrison situated roughly in the center of the Suez Canal, close to the town of Ismalia. Because of the trouble brewing between Israel and the surrounding countries, the Canal Zone, with Port Said at one end and Port Suez on the other would be his home for the next 12 months. Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria attacked Israel later that year.
In his reduced circumstances as a truck driver, he was attached to # 139 Static Bakery, with duties involving the delivery of yeast to mobile bakeries situated in small desert camps within 60 miles of the garrison.
In the beginning it appeared that everyone in Egypt was called Ali, starting with the elderly man who cleaned the company office and ate so much garlic that he emptied rooms as he approached. There was also the Ali who supervised others at the bakery in Moascar and was responsible for loading yeast onto his truck. A third Ali supervised the removal of the yeast at Fayid, one of the destinations.
During the first weekís assignment, Ali at Fayid complained that some of the yeast was missing, which was initially attributed to sloppy work. When this continued the second week, Ali at Moascar suggested that the other Ali didnít know how to count. Billy then reported this situation to the corporal at Fayid, who recommended closer supervision on the unloading and also suggested that Ďtheyí were stealing it.
Not knowing the value of the yeast bricks, but beginning to understand the nature of the beast, Billy informed Ali at the loading dock in Moascar, who he trusted, that it was still going on and asked him to check the count carefully that day. Afterwards he observed the other Ali counting them off the other end and there was still a discrepancy.
The next day Billy made a point of personally counting the bricks before they were loaded and also when they were unloaded. To his amazement, there were still a couple of bricks missing. Although no one else appeared to be too concerned about the disappearing yeast, he realized that he was in the middle and if the situation escalated, he could be a prime suspect. The mystery had to be solved!
Analysing the situation, and with limited knowledge of the product, Billy reasoned that the yeast just couldnít disappear into free air and if it did, the wrappers would remain as evidence. Obviously one of the counts was wrong and the answer was to find out which one. Could it be a case of the hand being quicker than the eye, smoke and mirrors, or just a misunderstanding? It was a case of Ali vs. Ali and may the best man win!
Starting from the beginning again the following morning, before Ali at Moascar made out the paperwork, he presented Billy with the boxes loaded with yeast for him to count. Instead of counting then in the boxes as he had previously, he emptied the boxes and repacked the bricks as he counted. He also didnít let the boxes out of his sight until they were loaded on the truck. At the other end, he paid particular attention to the count as Ali unloaded them at Fayid and low and behold nothing was missing.
The conclusion was that Ali at the Moascar loading dock was the culprit and a slight of hand must have occurred either by the way the bricks were stacked in the boxes, appearing to be more than there were, or they were quickly removed from the boxes after the count. Miraculously from then on there were no more complaints of missing yeast and a dark cloud descended over Ali at the loading dock.
Some time afterwards Ali at Moascar informed Billy that he was going past his house on his next delivery and asked for a lift home. Ali wasnít a bad guy as Aliís go in Egypt, so he obliged by allowing him to sit in the passenger seat next to him. Ali was busy reading an Egyptian newspaper with another one on his lap as the truck exited the garrison, past the guards on the gate. Farther up the road with only sand and tin shacks in sight, Ali beckoned to stop and stepped down from the truck, revealing a large whole fish between the newspapers. Billy was annoyed that he was duped into smuggling the fish out of the garrison, but was grateful that Ali didnít invite him home for dinner, with everyone sitting on the floor eating with their hands from a communal platter.
Itís a wonder that Billy didnít smell the fish in the truck, which only confirms that the aromas came fast and furious out there at the time.
THE SOLDIER AND THE MECHANIC
Copyright © Bill Hawksford.
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