It was a tiring day in Damascus. After attending eight consecutive meetings, my Italian associate and I were bushed. At 9:00 PM, our last client was still arguing over pennies and cents. It was hard enough to keep my eyes open let alone argue with him. I just wanted out of there, a hot shower, a light dinner, a nightcap perhaps before calling it a day. In addition to the poor Italian and me, several other smartly dressed people were sitting around the huge meeting table, all subordinates to the bossy client. He was lecturing now. Surely he enjoys an audience and he was running on full steam. He was bathing in the adoring looks of his fans. He had fat and short fingers. I couldn’t take my eyes off his ugly hairy hands. I felt sorry for the beads of the expensive rosary coming in direct contact with his huge nails. There were so many reasons why I should hate the man and I was reciting them in my head. I don’t normally hate the filthy rich for no reason. I just loathe them when they go cheap to stay rich.
The man was a big shot and the head of his own business empire. For some reason, he calls himself the chairman of the board. His older son (the idiotic looking one) was introduced to us, the innocent Italian and me, as the chief executive officer, while the second son (the disgusting one with the greased coal-black hair) the general manager in charge of foreign accounts. What kind of a stupid job description is that, I was rubbing my eyes now, why doesn’t he just say: “he is my fucking son and that’s why he’s sitting here with us.” The victimized Italian was desperate. I knew what was going on in his mind, no salary in the world would be enough of a compensation for spending 2 hours with this moron. He was probably dreaming of spaghetti and Bocelli, of the green Italian vineyards and the lithe girls coming to and fro in the streets of Padova at exactly this hour on a Saturday night. He’ll let us sleep it over, the exact amount of money he offered for our services and which he, in his infinite wisdom and business sense, deemed appropriate. Then he stood up and the meeting adjourned. Take them to dinner, he told his son, the one with the greased coal-black hair. I tried to extricate my miserable Italian companion and myself but to no avail. The chairman of the board had said: Let there be dinner, and there was no way around that. Has anyone ever said no to this asshole, I wondered.
We were driven by the two sons, the helpless Italian and me, in two separate cars along with a couple of the ass-kissers from the meeting to a fancy restaurant in uptown Damascus. Dinner was presided over by the older idiotic looking son. It was his turn to act like a peacock now. He ordered the food for everybody without even having the courtesy of asking us what we would like. Like father like son, he knows best. We were allowed to order our soft fucking drinks since HE doesn’t drink alcohol. The disheveled Italian and I have accepted what must’ve been fate. We have done something terribly wrong that day, last year, before we were even born or conceived, and we were paying for it. I left to the restroom to, well, take a leak really. The greased coal-black haired one followed me and stood against the wall. While relieving my bladder he popped up the question. Would you like some Vodka with your Cola? You know we can’t let the Haj know (the Haj being his brother, the chief executive officer). I smiled at him while zipping up. He looked so beautiful in that instant in time and I wasn’t hating him anymore. Not some Vodka please, a lot of Vodka, I pleaded. Relax, he said, let’s finish dinner with the Haj then I’ll take you around Damascus, just the three of us. The Italian, the beautiful man and I had 3 colas each. After the first sip, the Padovano glanced my way and wanted to say something. He stopped short as I harshly stepped on one of his expensive Italian shoes and benevolently smiled. It seems that the evening was turning our way after all. We might still end up winners.
An hour later we were descending some stairs in one of the better neighborhoods of Damascus. I had no idea what to expect but the beautiful man assured me that we’re going to like it. Now in all honesty, I can’t claim that I ever was a regular of nightclubs. I always preferred small bars where people go in to drink and talk. On the occasions I’ve been to places where there’s dancing, I was taken there by somebody. This was a huge surprise to me. I’ve heard that there’s nightlife in Damascus but I never knew to what extent. Let me say this, I never knew that there are such places in Syria. The atmosphere was fabulous. Crazy young men and women were dancing wild. They were kissing and touching in dark corners. Do they do that in Damascus? Alberto, or whatever his name, asked me. Sure, I said, boys and girls are like that everywhere. Shit, I couldn’t believe it myself. The beautiful man was in his early forties but that didn’t stop the half-dressed girls from dropping by our table to give him kisses and tell him how much they’ve missed him. The music was loud, the Scotch smooth and Alessandro, or whatever his name, euphoric. He was on the dance floor as his Italian pedigree proved irresistible to the women with too much blood in their alcohol, I mean, you know what I mean.
The beautiful man asked me if I was going to give in to his father’s demands and I told him that I didn’t think so. He told me that he didn’t think so either and that we should drink to that. We did and he taught me a few business lessons at three o’clock in the morning, the Damascene way.