By Linda McMullen
“… and this next site, Arad Fort, predates Shakespeare,” my guide intones, with her insinuating British accent. Maybe it’s just me. Four months into our planned year of post-graduate globetrotting, Michael left me for a girl from Liverpool with a fourth-rate education and a burgeoning career as a glamour model. That was back in Istanbul. It’s been one week and approximately ten pounds of Turkish Delight since then.
I slip out of the bus behind the Canadian couple (in polite, disbelieving disagreement over something), a pair of retired Frenchwomen on a bucket list adventure, and a bearded backpacker with no sense that his shorts are out of place. Muharraq is under construction; new malls and condos seem to emerge in real time. And still preserved within this urban development is an ancient fort. Loving hands must have restored this structure, a gleaming sand-tinted citadel beneath azure Bahraini skies.
“This fort – with its thick, straight walls and circular towers – is representative of traditional Bahraini military architecture,” the guide continues, though I’m the only one listening. The others are lining up for selfies, pivoting 180 degrees to capture both the imposing edifice and the Manama skyline. Beardy – who unfortunately resembles Stuart, the angst-ridden pseudo-poet I dated before Michael – is asking the tour guide how she likes Bahrain. How she keeps in touch with her family. How long she’s planning to stay here. What she likes to eat. What she’s doing for dinner tonight. My eyes meet hers and we exchange a look of profound mutual comprehension.
“Hey,” I interrupt. “I have a question. What kind of stone did they use to build the fort?”
The tour guide beams at me. “Coral limestone,” she says, promptly. This allows her to segue into a mini-lecture about how Bahrain’s efforts to reclaim not only its heritage, but land… how the island has expanded over the years…
Beardy drifts away, glaring at me. I let the guide’s words drift over me like the gentle breeze. Everyone always thinks of the Gulf in terms of oil / wars / hellacious heat. Somehow no one ever considers calm 68-degree Decembers and playful zephyrs ruffling the fronds of swaying palms. Even I hadn’t. Michael designed this part of the itinerary; I picked up again starting in Romania in the spring.
He would have loved this – the historic setting, the gorgeous weather…
…and – I thought – me…
I turn my attention back to the guide. She’s explaining the fortress’s defense mechanisms, including placements for cannons and machicolations. I edge along the narrow catwalk so I can inspect them. Michael would have taken aim at me, called me out for shots fired, for my ability to drop barbs on him out of nowhere. Hmmph. Well, I hope he and Gemma are as happy as they deserve to be.
My eyes feel hot. I really thought that Michael and I… I run a sleeve over my face. Of course, earlier I had imagined that Stuart might be my…
Guide. Follow the guide. She’s now describing Bahrain’s colonial history to the French women, explaining that the Portuguese and the Omanis took control of the fort at different times – “but now,” she smiles, “it belongs to Bahrain.” I straighten, place my hand on the sun-kissed stone. Still standing.
* * *
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over one hundred fifty literary magazines. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.