“Let’s hear the rest of the story!” Someone shouts.
The Sheik is apologetic as the two return to the table. “I wanted to make sure I caught Hassan before he left.”
“Big project coming up in Jeddah” John adds. “We’ll have to talk more on that later, let’s not keep us in suspense any longer!” Rebecca responded with spirited anticipation.
“Okay, Here we go…So, Rashad is safe in the manhoist, I scramble back to the stairwell, head down a couple of flights, the terrorists on my tail. I unplug the stair lights, plunging these two jokers into darkness. And as they groped their way down, I quickly hatched a plan.”
“Heavy formwork was being stripped off the ceiling on the east wing. The crew was on break, but in their usual fashion, had left a large area supported by a single post.”
“Now for those unfamiliar, here’s a little formwork 101; Shoring posts support beams, beams support perpendicular timber joists, timber joists support plywood sheets, you get the idea. When the concrete is set the forms are removed by taking away all but one shoring post in the middle of a beam, and as the timbers and plywood span over the beam, when they knock this one remaining post out…everything comes down with a crash!”
“I saw a length of rope and tied it around the base of the post. Then I positioned myself right near the edge of the building, with the rope wound around my waist, and gripped firmly in front of me. Our terrorists showed up, right on cue.”Over here! Over here! Don’t shoot, I give up!” I said. The two proceed slowly, suspiciously, toward me. Then, in what I can only describe as a couple of seconds of absolute insanity, I yanked on the rope, pulling the post out, and jumped off the building, clear of the tons of formwork crashing down, crushing the criminals!”
Several seconds of dramatic pause pass before Wissan breaks the silence. “You…you jumped off the 81st floor!?”
“Umm…well, yes,” John smirked.
Rebecca interjects “We were working in the clouds that day. I had just announced on the radio that the concrete hopper was at the outrigger platform on the 80th floor, so from John’s vantage point, he could see the hopper just below him. He only jumped about three feet!”
“Hey, I took care of the bad guys, didn’t I!?”
“Yes, our brave superintendent, you did that.”
“But wait, our brave superintendent’s heroics did not end there!” Rashad chimes in, “My father was doing his weekly site tour, when he too was accosted by the terrorists. Two of them had been overcome by fast acting workers, but a third had taken my father hostage, alternately pointing a gun at workers then back at my Father! It was an intense stand-off, lasting several minutes! Then, slewing down out of the mist, behind the unaware terrorist, comes John, riding the concrete hopper while motioning the single finger at right angle to lips, at workers opposite. And as soon as he was directly over top of the thug, he pulls down the handle. The terrorist looks up just in time to be buried in concrete, while workers rush in and pull my father out of harm’s way!”
Shouts of “Bravo” and hearty applause are interrupted by Ahmed standing and extending his hand toward John. “I have not officially shown my gratitude, John.” John rises to accept the handshake, then looks at his palm to see Ahmed has pressed a solid gold guinea into his hand! John struggles with his emotions but manages a heartfelt thank-you. “A gold medal performance” Ahmed announces proudly.
Still standing he now faces Rebecca. “Ms.Kavner, I know you will understand, as a Muslim man I cannot shake your hand. But I could not live with myself if I did not show my gratitude. John’s heroics aside, without your program,and knowing exactly where that concrete bucket was, John would not have had that option, and I would not be here!” Ahmed points to Rebecca’s cup and turns his cupped hand over. While Rebecca puzzles through the charade, Ahmed repeats the motion. Rebecca tentatively turns over her cup, revealing another Guinea hiding under it. Rebecca pauses for a few seconds. “Gratitude is …a difficult emotion… to express well, a thank-you never seems enough, but this is very special Sheik Ahmed. Thank-you!”
Driving home, Rebecca is still riding the highs of the inauguration dinner. “I am always so impressed with the value of family in this culture, the closeness and importance evident in the relationship between Rashad and Ahmed.” The trip goes quiet while Rebecca waits a moment for John’s normally quick response. She doesn’t press him.
“It affects me in a different way”, John finally starts. “Think of every time in your life that your father steered you off a path that would have led to failure, or gave you some advice on how to deal with something, or helped you out of a bind. Hundreds of times, maybe thousands? Now try to imagine this didn’t happen, that you were abandoned, no advice, no help, no guiding hand. Forced to learn things the hard way, blindsided by problems, with no one to help get you back on your feet. That… changes one’s point of view.”
A reflective silence filled the car as they drove away.
Next week we go back to 1974 and a catastrophic event in John’s life that followed many years of trials and tribulations.