Tom Fillion



            Nelson Glassby had deep set eyes like binoculars, and they were focused on Floyd Stevens and the small contingent from Bell Helicopter as they walked toward the sprawling, one story building, faded and bleached by the Arabian sun. They had just gotten out of Floyd’s beat-up, cream-colored Mercedes.

"I don't like this at all, Tierney,” Glassby muttered to me.  “This makes me really nervous when we get another teacher.  I hope he's not a real asshole like some of the people we get here."

I didn't say anything and remained poker-faced in spite of Glassby's drama. After making his pronouncement Glassby scuffed his heels loudly and walked down the hall, swinging his right arm. His head teetered forward with his tunnel eyes peering down at the floor.  When he reached the office for non-smokers he flung the door open and disappeared.

"What an asshole," I thought.


Later on, Glassby was still beside himself with anger bordering on rage, either real or manufactured, it was hard to tell as he paced in our non-smoking office.

"Did you meet the new guy?"  Glassby asked.

    "He's a bit nervous, it’s his first day in Saudi Arabia, he wears sandals, and doesn't like the accommodations on his compound," I said. “He’s one hundred percent normal.”

"He's British, right?"  Glassby asked.


"Goddammit, I hate Brits.  That accent just drives me up a wall.  I don't like this a bit."

Glassby repeated himself several times, fuming about the new guy he hadn’t met.  Floyd, a huge man who walked with a profound hitch in his step that afflicted the left side of his body, arrived at his desk next to mine, and once there, he stood and stirred a cup of instant coffee with his good hand.  He hummed a song and he continued stirring, chiming the sides of the cup.

"Nelson, he just got here.  How can you feel that way before you've even met him?" Floyd asked.

Glassby pointed his right index finger at Floyd.

"He's British, right?"


"That's why.  They're all assholes and drunks," Glassby shouted.

"That's not very Christian of you," Floyd replied.

"Since when were you made the moral referee of the world?"

"I merely said that's not very Christian of you," Floyd with the patience of a Sunday school teacher reminded him.

"This is really making me mad," Glassby continued. He flung himself into his chair and began tapping his foot, and didn't speak again to Floyd that day or for several days. Those of us who had been there for any length of time were used to Glassby’s moods. He was in his geodesic transfibulum and no one else could enter.


The rift between Floyd, from a splinter group of Mormons in Utah, who believed every Mormon on earth became a savior in another solar system when they departed, and Nelson Glassby, an Episcopalian and out-of-the-closet John Bircher from Virginia who hated Saudis and Brits with equal venom, was short-lived. It helped that Floyd had the old Mercedes in which he chauffeured his friends and co-workers around Saudi Arabia. 

"I'm going to Al Baha this weekend.  Anybody want to go?" Floyd asked.

The Gulf War had started a few weeks before so we were on half day schedules, bored as shit, and getting combat pay for teaching English to sleepy Saudi air force enlistees.

"Will lunch be involved?" Glassby asked, breaking out of his geodesic transfibulum.

One of Glassby's favorite subjects was food, especially Turkish and Arabic food.  Despite his hatred of everything Arabic, specifically the Saudis, he was an aficionado of their culture, their food, and the history of the tumultuous region.

Floyd was an historian of their past lunches.

"Yeah, but not like the last time when you promised to pay half the bill and didn't," Floyd said.

Glassby looked indignant.

"I'll make it up to you this time. I'll pay for lunch and even put gasoline in your car, not that you deserve it," Glassby said.

His tunnel eyes sizzled.

"I'll even buy lunch for you, Jim," Glassby stated, looking at me, using my first name on such a rare occasion.

"Is that an invitation for me to go too? I'll pay for my own lunch, thank you," I answered.

With the combat pay, we were all rolling in dough.

"No, I insist.  I don't want to give people the wrong impression,” Glassby said.

Floyd looked up.

"That you're a cheap bastard?"

"Floyd!" Glassby shouted.

Before they argued again and Glassby's main weapon, a searing, silent stare from his tunnel eyes before he sealed himself back into his transfibulum, I changed the subject.

"What about travel letters? With the war on and all?"

Glassby's face changed from anger to agitation.

"Yeah, we can't go to Al Baha without travel letters.  The goddam Saudis will arrest us. We'll end up hanging upside down in some prison where they’ll beat our feet."

Floyd was unconcerned, almost beatific.

"I don't have one, but I'm still going," he declared.

"You are?"  Glassby asked.

Glassby appeared to be rethinking his original enthusiasm for the trip south from Taif to al Baha.

"You're trying to get out of paying for lunch and putting gasoline in my car.  I knew you'd find a way out of it," Floyd said. "What a tightwad!"

Glassby's eyes shifted back and forth like a cornered animal.

"So you're going to?" he asked me, an ex-Catholic and ex-smoker from Florida though Glassby had proclaimed I was still and would always be a Catholic, no matter what, and a smoker.

"Yeah, and you don't have to buy lunch for me."

"I guess I'll go too," Glassby acquiesced.


Al Baha was south of Taif towards Yemen.   My interest in the trip was tempered more by Glassby's presence than the absence of a travel letter. Going anywhere with Glassby, I thought, was comparable to being hung upside down in a Saudi prison. Nevertheless, we set a departure time for the next day and despite Glassby's overriding concern about Floyd being there on time, given his penchant for canceling plans at the last minute, he was parked beyond the front gate of our compound when Glassby and I got out there the next morning. Floyd had on his usual: an xtra xtra xtra large white dress shirt with a see-through white undershirt and xtra xtra xtra large baggy, blue slacks. Not exactly a savior-in-training's attire. The only thing he hadn't donned for the trip was the light blue tie that was normally clipped in front of his thick, bovine neck. 

I had on blue jeans and a long, white pullover. Glassby was in a dark walnut-colored coat that shone like fake leather.  He had on sunglasses with cherry-tinted lenses and looked like a spy from a Peter Sellers’s movie.

"The last time I went to Baha, I froze my ass off," Glassby said.

"That reminds me. I better stop at my compound and get a jacket too," Floyd said.

It was a short drive to Floyd’s compound, past a soccer field used by American troops as an encampment ever since the beginning of the Gulf crisis.  The soccer field was on the outskirts of a small village with dusty, narrow streets aligned with weathered, one-story structures. Children without shoes ran through the streets, using it for their playground.  As the Mercedes passed through, the children and adults stared at the massive gentleman with white hair driving through their village. Glassby slumped in the back seat.  I sat in the front.

There were some two-story dwellings with block walls, but most of the area had one-story cubicles with flat roofs.  Steel rods stuck out from the top of many structures in anticipation of another story that would never be built. Only when the structures were completed did they have to pay off the loan to the government, so the Saudis rarely finished them.

A Saudi prince's compound was close to the village, on fifteen acres of land surrounded by a large, white wall.  Inside the compound Mediterranean-style buildings with orange-tiled roofs were visible through the breaks in the palm trees that grew in abundance.  The front of the compound had a large brown gate with a sentry's post built into the wall on either side of the gate.

The Bell Helicopter trailer park and compound was not far from the prince's estate.  Floyd parked the Mercedes in front, and we walked onto the compound.  There was no security check like the compound where Glassby and I lived with U.S. Air Force pilots. This compound was crowded with poorly maintained buildings and spunk-laden trailers according to the newest recruit that Glassby already hated because he was British. 

Glassby and I followed Floyd as he limped, one side of his body dragging the other, through the labyrinth of aluminum boxes until he reached his trailer.

"Welcome to Shangri-La," he said.

Outside Floyd’s trailer in some nearby bushes a dog yelped and barked at the three of us.

"I've had it with that wild dog," Floyd stated.

He picked up a baseball-sized rock with his good hand and tossed the rock, hitting the dog broadside in the ribs.  The dog let out a horrific yelp and ran off. 

"There, maybe that'll shut it up."

"Floyd, I'm surprised at you! That's conduct unbecoming a savior bound for another solar system. But good shot," I congratulated him.

We stepped inside his trailer, small for such a massive individual.  Persian rugs covered the walls, but not the floors. Glassby ran his hand over one of the rugs.  His eyes widened from pinholes to the size of olives at the touch of such luxury and beauty.

We stayed just long enough for Floyd to retrieve a light jacket for the mountains to the south. From there we returned to the Mercedes and drove off despite the absence of travel letters from our employers – a Saudi requirement if we traveled more than fifty clicks.

The road south gradually took us into higher mountains with dramatic views.  The clear, crisp weather enhanced the scenery. Lonely, brick citadels looked like desert lighthouses along the ridges.  The citadels were hundreds of years old and had been lookouts to control neighboring tribes who robbed, stole, and looted from each other in a game of hide-and-seek that was a tribal pastime.  

We drove for an hour and a half before coming to a watchtower not far from the roadway.  A cluster of block structures surrounding it made it look like a small village built on top of a steep precipice.

"I'm going to stop," Floyd said.

He slowed a short distance past the watchtower then pulled the Mercedes off the road.  On the other side of the highway was a small farm at the base of the mountains.  Large steps were built into the sides of the ascending landscape to trap rainfall and fertile soil.  At the base of the mountain plots were under cultivation, each about an acre. A generator in a nearby, unfinished building rumbled like a jackhammer.

Several children ran in the farmyard until they spied us.  They stopped what they were doing and sought refuge in a doorway.

"You're not going to climb up there, are you, Floyd?" Glassby peered up, screening his eyes with his hand, at the tower.

"I planned on it.  I might be a cripple, but I climb mountains when I'm home.  I want to look in those buildings. I've always been curious about those towers."             

It took a few minutes to climb the steep, rocky path but Floyd did it.  When we got to the lookout point, the small buildings made of cut block that surrounded the tower were all empty.  The thick smell of farm animals permeated the air.  Hay littered the floors, but no animals or people were anywhere.  The silence and the solitude were like a church or a mosque at midnight. 

The tower was sixty feet high and made of cut stone like the other buildings.  I entered the tower after opening a frayed and splintered wood door.  A homemade ladder made of rough-hewn lumber leaned against a loft covered with hay where I halfway expected to find someone or something, but it too was empty, and the tower was silent and mysterious except for my breathing. The emptiness of the place was as thick as the scent of the farm animals. Light ricocheted from the top.  I stayed for a few moments until I heard Glassby and Floyd stirring outside the empty cathedral of hay.


"Thousands of years ago there were plenty of trees and rainfall here. Now look at it," Floyd said, when we got under way again, pointing to the promontories covered with rocks and vegetation as sparse as a reef.

Floyd stopped at lookouts along the roadside that dropped off dramatically like potholes into distant valleys. He pulled off when he spied a small food store tucked between several shops in a low, flat building.

There wasn't much to select from in the store. Everything was covered with dim light and layered with dust. A dark-faced Third Country National sat aimlessly behind the cash register.  I bought some Oriental potato chips as a curiosity and soda warmed by daylight because the store had no refrigeration.  Floyd bought a bag of antique cookies that looked like it had been around for several kings.

"I'm not buying this for you," Glassby stated as he and Floyd stood at the cash register. “This isn’t part of the lunch deal.”

     "I hadn't presumed you were," Floyd replied.

"I’m only buying lunch," Glassby emphasized. "That was my offer."

Floyd was right. I shook his head, thinking what a cheap bastard Glassby was, then I returned to the Mercedes. The other two followed. A few cars driven by Saudis pulled in and out.  The Saudis stared at us like we were dressed in bikinis. 

Floyd fumbled with the bag of cookies when we got underway.  The bag was as brittle sounding as the cookies inside it were. He had only the one good arm, his right one. The left was palsied and reminded me of the short, withered arms I had seen on ancient dinosaurs. It was the right one though that he used to get at the cookies.  His left arm was more like an antenna, a feeler than an appendage, and half the size and weight of his right arm.  Part of one finger was missing, and the remainder of the arm was stiff, with little mobility to it.  That was the arm pressed against the steering wheel while with the right hand he tried to open the bag of cookies.  I watched Floyd unsuccessfully open the bag.

"Could you open this for me?" he finally asked, the speedometer flickering to the right of one hundred clicks.

"Sure, no problem," I replied with a sigh of relief, knowing if we crashed out here we’d end up like the other countless museums of rust, beached by exuberant, first generation users of the internal combustion engine.

Floyd seemed unperturbed by his high-wire balancing act, and rightly so, considering he believed he had a life as a savior awaiting him in another distant solar system.

We drove higher into the Asir. Storm clouds gathered, hanging off the sides of the mountain, heavy with rain and suspended in the air. When we finally arrived in Al Baha, it was cold and the rain came down in steady bursts and drizzle.

"Every time I come to Baha it's like this.  Cold as hell and you freeze your ass off," Glassby complained. "Why'd I even come?"

Floyd drove through the center of town built on the slopes of several intersecting mountains.

"Do you want to eat at the hotel?" Floyd asked, noticing it on the other side of the road.

"It doesn't matter to me," I answered since it was my first trip there.

Glassby intervened, food being one of his jinns. 

"There's other places that might be better.  Why don't you park there, and we can walk around, Floyd," Glassby suggested.

He turned the Mercedes into a parking space.  There was a Turkish restaurant not far from where we stopped.  It was still sprinkling and cold enough to see one’s breath. We walked quickly to the restaurant. 

A short, heavy man with pale, Turkish skin though otherwise dark olive features sat at the cash register.  Two waiters, excited to see Westerners flush with combat pay, greeted us grandly.  A few Saudis glanced indifferently at our arrival. 

It was cold and damp inside the restaurant too, thanks to the open front door.  The Saudis seated inside had only sandals on their feet and seemed oblivious to the drizzly, dank weather.

The waiters led us to a back table.  To the left was the kitchen where much of the food could be seen. On the right side was an open door that led to the washroom where sinks and a mirror were visible from the seating area.  The bathroom was off to the side.

Glassby was in his element with Turkish food. He ordered heaping plates of rice and vegetables, lamb soup in bowls, a big spicy salad on a separate plate, hot flat bread, stuffed grape leaves, lamb pizza and non-alcoholic beer that all arrived a short time later.

An old mutawah looking Koranic and Biblical with a long, stringy beard entered the restaurant shortly after we did.  He was heavy set and walked with some difficulty, aided by a large cane.  He and several friends were shown to a table of honor in the front of the restaurant.  He had a large, brown wrap over his white thobe for protection from the cold, but he, like the others, wore only sandals on his feet.

After I ate as much as I could, I went to the washroom. The ‘toilet’ was in a little room off to the side.  There was no toilet per se, just a porcelain tray with a hole inlaid in the floor.  The tray was on a slight incline. A water hose on the floor that was wet and muddy from the constantly dripping hose was the only means of cleaning up. 

The place was cold and smelled worse than the manger surrounding the tower we visited earlier. I felt ill from the bone-chilling cold outside and inside the restaurant. I left hurriedly after sprinkling the porcelain tray with non-alcoholic urine.

"Don't go in the bathroom," I advised Floyd and Glassby when I returned to the table.

Floyd laughed.  Glassby still ate although his pace had slowed considerably.

"You might want to stop eating," Floyd announced.

"Floyd, you're not going to tell one of your stories, are you?"

There was a look of panic in Glassby's shriveled eyes. He scrambled to put the last few morsels of Turkish food that he promised to pay for in his mouth.

"As a matter of fact, I have two stories," Floyd answered.

"Oh no," Glassby gasped.

Floyd had a reputation for these impromptu stories told with a twinkle in his eye, and considering his future as a savior, I sat back to listen as he practiced on us with his parables.

"One day I had no choice but to use one of those restrooms," he began. "I had to go, and there was no place else to go.  I couldn't wait.  And I'm not exactly the size of your average Saudi, plus I've got this handicap."

Floyd was huge even though his upper torso was bent over at an angle because of his disability.  If he had been able to stand straight up, he would have been six foot four inches tall to complement his almost three hundred pounds.

"Can you see me in there trying to take care of my business with my pants down around my ankles, trying to hold my butt out so that everything hits the tray.  If you noticed, there's no place to hold onto in any of their bathrooms.  And me and my handicap."

"No, Floyd, no," Glassby shouted.

"I couldn't help it.  I lost my balance."

"You fell in your own...?" I asked. 

"Afraid so," Floyd admitted.

Glassby shook his head and motioned for the waiters to remove whatever was left of his unfinished food.

"I can't believe you did that," he said.

Floyd laughed.

"I've got another one."

"Floyd, you're making me sick," Glassby said looking annoyed.

"You're still paying for lunch."

"Go ahead," Glassby relented.

"I was teaching in Dhahran, and I invited some of the students for dinner.  I had the Western style toilet with the seat and the flush tank. Most of the students were familiar with it although at their homes they used the hole in the floor.  One of the guys was a Bedouin, right off the desert. 

"Nice kid but totally lost in twentieth century conveniences. I had the other guys explain to him how to use the toilet.  Lift the lid to sit. Lift the whole seat to pee. I was very explicit in my directions. They told this Bedouin fellow in Arabic what I had said.

“Well, after we had eaten, the students had brought lots of food, it was delicious as I remember, the Bedouin fellow had to use the bathroom.  He was in there for what seemed like half the evening. I knew something was wrong.  Finally, he came out and I said to myself, 'Self, you better go in there to see what he did.'

"Sure, enough.  He had it all screwed up.  There were footprints all over the black plastic toilet seat, and the porcelain top on the back tank was ajar. I moved it just a little and could see turds floating.  I was furious."

"He shit in the tank?"  I asked.

"Absolutely.  I went right out to the kitchen and got him a spatula and sent him back in there to clean it up."

"Oh my God, they're worse than camels," Glassby said.

By then the waiters had removed the empty plates and with Floyd's stories finished, Glassby took the check though I protested.

“I insist,” Glassby said.   

With the bill settled we left the restaurant. From there we drove through Al Baha to a nearby mountain incline.  The road was steep and led to a hotel with outlying domed cottages that looked like flying saucers from another planet like Floyd's future home might look. Floyd seemed to know where he was going and drove beyond the hotel to where the road abruptly ended.  He parked, and we got out. The walking was difficult because the area was treacherous and slick from the mist and rain.  Glassby had a strained look on his face.

"I don't like this at all," he said carefully putting one foot down then the other.

I felt off balance too. We walked closer and closer to the edge. The pavement ended and the mountain dropped off thousands of feet.  Across the vast precipice were mountains and a snaky, veined line of roadwork called the Escarpment carved into the rock, winding up and down the mountain.  It looked like a side view of an anthill.  The panorama was beautiful and terrifying. Floyd, bent over with his handicap, stared across the expanse, like looking at earth as if from a distant place, with a look of comfort and contentment on his face.


We went through several checkpoints on the trip back to Taif. Our identifications were examined.  None of the security police asked for a travel letter. At one checkpoint, a policeman looked at our id's and smiled.


"Yes," Floyd answered.

"Good this," the policeman said giving us a thumbs up much to Glassby's surprise.

"He goddammed better well say that. We saved their asses," he declared.

It was getting dark by then as we neared Taif.  Saudi drivers pulled off the road to kneel and pray in the sand. Others knelt on rugs they brought with them. A quiet and serene solitude filled the air.  The high desert was sparse and pristine but beautiful.

Floyd drove fast and the car's front end shimmied to the right, close to the edge of the road where in some places it dropped off sharply. I saw the front turn signal blinking ahead of us. It was from an oncoming van.  Instead of turning, the van stayed on the main road and plowed straight towards us at a high rate of speed.  Floyd was oblivious to the oncoming vehicle, perhaps he was thinking about the mountain drop-off in Baha and how it would be like his life in a different solar system, or what he would do when he became a savior there, and would they actually believe in a three hundred pound cripple whose body was welded together like mismatched Siamese twins. Only one of the twins thrived, the other withered away but held on. The healthy twin was saddled with the remains and had to drag it around like a wooden cross because that's what saviors do.

All of a sudden, without slowing down, the van veered in front of the Mercedes, making a left turn onto a dirt road that appeared out of nowhere.  Floyd saw it and reacted at the last possible moment and pulled the steering wheel hard to the right with his good hand.  The van screeched past us just before the Mercedes left the roadbed and went airborne taking off toward Floyd's future home on a distant planet. 

It was in the air for what seemed like forever to me. I was in shock, my thoughts drifting to my home and family back in the States. I wasn’t sure at that moment if I’d see them again, especially after the near miss and certain death. I felt empty and desolate like one of those lonely, desert watchtowers. I felt alone like Floyd, a crippled, three hundred pound savior in the wrong universe.

The car hit the sand, the soft dunes cushioned the blow. It came to a stop in a heap of dust and swirling sand.

"Is everybody okay?" Floyd asked.

"You saved us, Floyd," Glassby moaned from the back.

Floyd found a level spot that led back to the road. We continued in the evening twilight back to Taif. Shock and somberness lingered over the day's events, but Floyd had earned from me, at least, a travel letter to wherever he was bound. 

Fiction:  My Savior Floyd


Tom Fillion is from Tampa, Florida. He’s a graduate of the University of South Florida. During the 1980’s and 1990’s he taught English to speakers of other languages at Hillsborough County Adult High School.  It was his privilege to work with immigrants and visitors from many countries and trouble spots in the world who made it to America in search of a better life. One quote in particular sticks in his mind.  “I send to you the hoping sky,” one of them wrote to someone left behind.  His short stories have appeared in many online publications. For a complete list please visit: