It’s raining outside.
Low ripples of thunder rumble through the clouds, the sound much like the unseen bowling alley of the gods parents invoke to explain thunder to children. Occasional flashes of lightning cut through the darkness much as the beam from a lonely lighthouse slices through the thick ocean night. A pleasant evening in the middle of a parched desert.
The rain began as I sat in a Fuddrucker’s restaurant eating dinner. I usually go out to eat on Saturday evenings, and Fuddrucker’s is a favorite – not only because they have pretty good burgers, but because they have floor-to-ceiling glass fronts through which I can watch people and cars and feral cats. Today, I watched the rain begin to fall.
After dinner, I strolled through the rain to my car. There was a time when I would have run, but living in Oregon has taught me that I am neither sugar nor poop; so, it is safe for me to walk through the falling rain. The droplets retain their warmth as they fall from the sky, and this makes the experience even more pleasant.
Unlike in San Diego, where good sense washes away with the rain each time a rainstorm comes to town, the Saudis actually slow down. There are accidents, no doubt; but, on the whole, the drivers in Riyadh seem to grasp something is happening with which they have limited experience.
I stopped at the Starbucks, which is in the next strip mall down from Fuddrucker’s, and I got a Tall Skim Latte. I took it outside and sat at a table beneath the awning, watching the rain fall from the sky. An older Saudi man walked from a car driven by (I would guess) his grandson or nephew. He had his hands cupped, and they rose in time with a quiet prayer that he uttered beneath his breath as he walked. He would pause to see if the younger man was coming. Then, he would lift his eyes heavenward, raise and lower his cupped hands, and utter his prayer of apparent thankfulness. Someone recognized that something besides oil is precious, too.
The barista who had served me came out soon after and began wiping down the tables. He engaged me in some small talk, and I found he was from Nepal. He said he was from the eastern side of the tiny nation, which resides well above the rest of the world. He described his home area as green and hilly. After two years here, he is planning to return home in about six months to a land that is no longer a Kingdom, as it was when he left. He told me it didn’t matter.
I can understand that. We both watched the rain for a few minutes, without words. Then, he went back inside, and I came back to the apartment – both wistful and elsewhere in our minds.