by Joe Butterman

Charlie and the Bedouin Rider

The Treasury at Petra
[File:Treasury Petra.jpg. (2020, September 19). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 07:50, September 5, 2022 from]

When we were in Pakistan, I had strolled, quite by accident, into a bazaar and, somehow, within the maze of stalls and kiosks, I discovered a vendor of military stuff. I say 'stuff' as there was very little order to the displays: there was a bin full of helmets from various nations; there were no guns, but there were some bayonets, old swords, and camp knives; there were several baskets of assorted insignia on display, at first glance these appeared to be British, but on closer examination, it was that graceful Arabic script that was revealed, neither Latin nor English words appeared. No great surprise that, as we were, after all, in Pakistan.

My attention was quickly drawn to a bin full of military hats. There were all sorts of garrison caps that interested me not a bit; I had, however, long been an admirer of those British peaked caps with the fabric covered bill. I knew I was soon going to be the owner of one. What possible use a petty officer in the U S Navy might have for such a cap was unclear and unimportant. Need was not a factor.

I selected a nice one, it had a sort of quilted lining that suggested it was perhaps for winter wear. That was the hat I wanted. I could see myself wearing it back home in the wintertime. I picked an artillery cap badge to go on it, not from any love artillery, but because in the crest it had an old time artillery piece with those big, spoked wheels. I rather liked the look of it.

So, I then spent a happy afternoon, sauntering through the crush of merchants and customers. This marketplace was so completely exotic in comparison to all the shopping I had previously done in my life, that just the experience was energizing. I had thought that shopping in Beirut was different: while bargaining for a beautiful dagger, I had been given a seat and a boy seemingly materialized beside us with cups of Arabian coffee. It was even more elaborate in the gold dealer's alley where I was bargaining over several items on my Chriustmas list. The table had a crisp white tablecloth and there was a carafe of mineral water with the coffee. An altogether civilized experience and far superior to any shopping adventure I'd ever had in the States. Anyway, I bought nothing further. I sauntered in the general direction of the ship with my cap tucked underneath my arm. I had immensely enjoyed Lawrence of Arabia when they showed it on the ship; so, I fancied myself a British officer entering the lobby of Shepheard's Hotel.

I had the duty next day. We were in a port and starboard rotation, liberty one day, duty the next. You didn't get the whole day off. If we'd been at home, liberty wouldn't start until 1600 hours, but we were supposed to be doing a sort of goodwill tour, so in Karachi, liberty started at 1200 hours. In this manner, there were always enough sailors aboard to man the ship in case there was an emergency of some sort. I stood my watch on the quarter deck and later, when it was dark enough, we watched a Vincent Price horror flick on the torpedo deck.

The next day, we left Karachi and our next stop would be Aqaba, Jordan. The trip was completely uneventful for those of us in the Gunnery Department, but there was one moment of interest. We challenged a vessel in the normal manner, but we received no reply and she turned away and increased speed. We repeatedly order her to stop. But she was faster and easily outpaced us. We had been loafing along with fire in only two of our four boilers. On the mess deck that night, all the talk was that the officers thought that she was a slaver.

"Slaver? What the fuck does that mean?" Wondered Ed, a sonarman, between bites of pork chop.

"Yeah! Fuck. That's old time shit." Commented Mike, also a sonarman, and a strikingly handsome one at that. I crushed on him all the time but never did anything about it.

"Well fuck, that's what Mister Gasconne said," Tom went on with complete assurance. Tom was a signalman and had been on the signal bridge when the whole thing happened. As a participant to the event, he felt qualified. "She was painted white…showed no colors…no name or home port on her stern." He explained this between bites. "An she was makin' turns when she pulled away. She was a looker all right."

"Yeah, but slavery? Come on. You saw Berbera. They don't need no slaves fer chrissake." Mike was having none of it.

"Jesus Mike," rejoined Tom. "Rich A-rabs buy 'em fer their harems and shit. Come on, man, they won't be pickin' cotton."

We considered the enormity of such a thing for a moment. Then we continued dining. The chops were excellent. Plus, we had already done everything that we could do about it and that permitted us to forget the matter and turn to dessert.

We loitered outside Aqaba for a while as we were early and there were going to be some ceremonies at a specific time. While we were busy loitering, not an unfamiliar activity, two Israeli motor torpedo boats came muttering up. An unofficial escort, I suppose. We would not be making a call at Eilat, or at any other Israeli port for that matter; there was peace at this time, but you could visit the Arabs, or the Jews, but not both on the same cruise.

I immediately began considering the threat potential these boats posed to us even though we were allies. Gunnery, after all, is my job. They could not be considered dangerous except in a surprise attack. Highly unlikely from Israel at this time. Our guns were aimed by radar and computer systems and each one of our three five inch gun mounts could fire a round every one and a half seconds. Just a couple of years ago, older Dutch destroyers had sent a couple of Indonesian MTBs to the bottom without even blistering their paintwork. If you're going to have a navy, it seemed to me, you should have proper ships. Though not proper in my opinion, they nevertheless motored alongside and rendered honors as naval protocol required.

We manned the rail in our dress white uniforms as we entered the port and approached the dock. There was a band, and uniformed soldiers as an honor guard; they were all lined up precisely and the band played with enthusiasm.. Flags waved, there was a small crowd; they were quiet and reserved.

Our captain managed to flub the ceremonies. He neglected to salute the Jordanian flag as he passed the honor guard, though all the Jordanian officers in the party saluted their flag just as they had saluted our flag when they passed it. This was no big deal. It was pretty much standard operating procedure for this captain. In marked contrast to our previous captain, who was the embodiment of everything a naval officer should be, the new guy was inept. Previously, our ship had seemed like home, it was happy, there were no cigarette butts in the scuppers; now it was just a place to sleep and work. You could really feel it. We watched the ceremonies half expecting the new guy to trip over his sword. No class.

I wasn't sure I was even going to go ashore at Aqaba. At least that's what I told myself. It didn't look interesting in the least. Of course, I knew I would go ashore, even if I only took a cursory look around. Lawrence of Arabia had been here so there might be something to see. Or I might just sample the beer - if there was any.

But I was elated when it was announced that the Jordanian Army was going to provide transportation to the ancient city of Petra and I immediately signed up for the trip. I always went to see these sorts of things: mosaics in Malta, Roman villas in Tunisia, Crusader ruins in Crete, museums, all that sort of stuff.

We were told not to wear uniform, but to attempt to seem as casual and unmilitary as possible. We were told not to wear shorts, as part of the trip would be on horseback. Better and better, I thought; I'd had horses when I was growing up, and I loved them. I sometimes felt that I'd been abused when growing up as I seemed to have one foot in a deck shoe and the other in a cowboy boot.

So I dug into my unauthorized locker (everyone had one). I came up with a cotton sport shirt and a gray windbreaker, to which I added a pair of 501 Levis' and, as a final touch, my newly acquired British style peaked cap; however, I removed the insignia as I thought that would be inappropriate.

They had us sign out on the quarterdeck with our name, rank, and service number. This was somewhat unusual and I think it must have been something the Jordanian Army wanted, or maybe their tourist bureau, or something government like that.

There were three army trucks lined up on the dock. They had canvas covers over the top, but the side covers were rolled up so the sights could be seen. I prepared to clamber aboard when a Jordanian corporal grabbed my arm and, rattling along pleasantly in a language that I did not understand, placed me in the passenger seat in the cab beside him. It must have been the hat. The corporal deferred to me pleasantly and we exchanged mutually incomprehensible pleasantries as we started off. I noticed that his peaked hat, lying beside him on the seat, top down, had a picture of him on the inside. Somehow, I didn't think this was vanity. I suspected that a large segment of his army was probably illiterate. What we would consider to be standard, written name tags, wouldn't do.

We trundled on through a series of city streets. At least they were paved streets with curbs, gutters, and streetlights. But no buildings. It did not take too long and we were out of town and gathering speed along an arrow straight highway through the desert. And it was a real desert, not the sage covered flatland that I had grown up on and considered to be desert. No. This was the real thing: sparse and stunted vegetation, small sand dunes, that the wind had organized and then reorganized. All of it scattered across a uniform backdrop which was a reddish sand color several notches darker than the sandy beaches of Malibu or Miami.

Upon arrival we were directed toward a group of horses, each one of which had a boy as handler. With much gesticulating and incomprehensible encouragement, we were led to these stone blocks that were used to mount the horses. We got into vague lines behind each block and the boys led their horses up or us to mount.

When it was my turn, I stepped around the block and looked my horse over carefully; she was clearly an Arabian with fine conformation. She was looking at me just as carefully as I was looking at her; she was an elegant gray and I thought she might be around four or five years old. She was sturdy and looked as if she could kick ass and take names in any endurance race back in the states.

The saddle was interesting. There was no cantle to speak of and a modest pommel with no horn of any kind. It gleamed with care. Possessed full knee pads and it had the look of a good saddle that was well used and well cared for.

Then I looked at my boy. He also gleamed. Raven black hair curled from beneath a sort of cap that had a headband of red and white checked cloth around it, but was nothing like the classic turban I had been half expecting. His complexion was clear, darkened by the sun; his shirt was partially open. He was smiling and his teeth were straight, sparkling white, and even. Either his dentist was genius, or he had a naturally perfect mouth. His eyes sparkled and he grinned happily, nodding and pointing at his horse with enthusiasm. I understood not a word of his little welcoming speech.

I had thought of him as a 'boy' because of the general situation and because it seemed plausible that a horse handler, in this situation, would be a boy. But if he was a boy, then so was I; we were both boys, I was eighteen and I think he was fifteen or sixteen. We were both on the cusp of manhood in our very different worlds.

He was dressed in no particular manner that a European or American would consider riding clothes. But then, neither was I. He wore a dark red vest with some restrained embroidery over a very loose shirt with wide sleeves that did not reach his wrists; there was a very informal cummerbund of white cloth around his waist, and his trousers were loose and baggy. I could not see his boots.

I mounted in the normal way, finding the offside stirrup without difficulty. There followed several moments of talking and gesturing as I indicated that I wanted the reins and I wanted him to ride with me. I kicked the left stirrup free and reached down for him. Everything became clear to him and he was then up and behind me almost instantly. Through all this unusual activity our horse remained unconcerned. I remembered reading that Arabain horses, in the past, frequently lived in the tents with their people. As a result of generations of this, they were remarkably friendly; they considered people to be a simple, standard issue, fact of life.

Our horse, who knew her job thoroughly, started up the trail toward the ruins and my boy, whom I had decided to call Rider for lack of understanding his actual name, snuggled up behind me with his arms around my waist.

This was great: a beautiful day, a beautiful boy, a beautiful horse, a foregin adventure - what could possibly be better than that? Well, Rider could brush his hand across my secret place. A gentle caress that could be an accident caused by our horse's motion. I had started calling our horse Missy after a fine old quarter horse that I'd known as a kid; this new Missy had a smooth wall, but Rider and I were in contact from crotch to shoulders moving with that smooth walk, There it was again. A little longer this time.

"Mmmmmmmm," I purred.

"Mmmmmmmm," Rider purred and his palm remained in place. Gently massaging me to Missy's motion.

"Mmmmmmmm, ahhhhhhh," Rider purred in my ear and I could feel him hard against my lower back, one arm tight around my waist, the other moving gently against my boner which was,sadly, insulated by the heavy denim and buttons of my 501 Levis and my official, United States Navy: shorts, boxer; cotton; white in color; one, each. These would soon be damp if this continued.

But they only got a little damp. We had been longer on the trail than it had seemed, distracted as Rider and I had been. Missy brought us around a bend and there was Petra in all its ancient majesty.

Petra is incredible. Thousands of years ago they carved a city out of the stone walls of their canyons. They engineered a brilliant water system; they carved classical style buildings with all the ornamentation imaginable out of the living rock. It was breathtaking, but it wasn't sensual.

I was still read;y to be sensual as we dismounted. I had to appear to fuss over Missy as I rearranged myself in my cotton prison. I'm sure Rider knew exactly what I was doing, and it looked to me as if he were doing the same thing.

Someone from the Embassy had put together a short guide to Petra in English which had been provided to us. At this time, it was not open to the general public unless they were part of a licensed tour. I had my copy, and I was going to look around; I stood admiring the Treasury Building for a long while. Was it correct, I wondered, to call it a "building" when in fact it was carved into a canyon's face? Then I started down one of the many canyons thinking I would be able to see their water works. My home is in a desert so I'm always interested in irrigation. But I didn't get very far.

"Hssssst!" This came from the shadows of a small defile. There was Rider, smiling coyly, he had opened his shirt and bared one breast. I started growing again and followed Rider down the defile to a small chamber that had been carved out of the rock face. I followed Rider inside and we kissed passionately. Rider had absolutely no trouble opening the buttons on my 501's and he quickly had them down and me out for fondling and stroking.

What I had thought to be a cummerbund, vaguely remembering my high school prom, turned out to be a sort of sash that even had some pockets sewn in. It came loose and off quickly and there was Rider in all his considerable glory. His trousers came quickly down. I admired his lovely bush as I tasted of him.

"Ummpphhhhh," he said as he pulled away. He made it clear that he just didn't want to explode too quickly. He tasted of me, and I pulled away too. It had been a long time since I'd had sex that wasn't solitary.

We smiled at each other and kissed and stroked one another. Then, by mutual accord, we settled into the famous sixty-nine position. There, in the dark of an ancient Petran chamber, in a litter of hastily cast off clothing, we consummate our almost instantaneous affection for each other. We climaxed in the ultimate affirmation of our humanity.

We cuddled in the afterglow. We relaxed and murmured sweet nothings. We were young. So we did it again. But ultimately, our duties summoned us down from our plateau and back to our duties in our very different worlds.

When we got back to the trucks, I wanted to kiss him goodbye. But there were too many others, I could only squeeze this hand. "I will never forget you," I murmuredinadequately.

British Army peaked cap

I have the hat still. Somehow it never seemed right to wear it again.

It has a spot in one of my bookcases next to an agate bookend and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

I placed it there on purpose. I look at it often and hope that Rider found love and joy of life. I think of Petra. Passionate.

All of the usual disclaimers apply. I found the pictures on the internet and believe them to be within the public domain. I have the hat, but just now it is packed away in storage with the agate bookends. All of the characters herein are products of my imagination and any resemblance to any real person is entirely coincidental.

My thanks, as always, to Douglas for all of his work editing and helping with computer issues. And of course, to IOMFATS for hosting this wonderful site.

I will respond to any comments or questions that may appear on site or by email, for whch you may click my name at the haed of this vignette

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