The day I was going to die in Malta

It was a killer of a schedule.

Three working days visiting hotels, historical palaces and magnificent private gardens, popping in restaurants and beach clubs. God bless Le Meridien hotel for pampering me with a complimentary deluxe room and superlative Swedish massages to relieve me from stress.

My last morning in Malta included buying a specially designed lamp at the Mdina Glass Factory. I was caught in a trance by the glassmakers, their movements accurate yet sinuous, moulding glass with startling lines and colours, the goal failed.
We should go if you must be at the hotel by midday - Antony roused me from my torpor.
In his impeccable suit and composed manners, his brand new perfumed Mercedes S, Antony was the perfect taxi driver, hired just for this shopping blitz. I was back at the hotel in time for my pre-booked transfer to Luqa airport.
Your taxi is arrived, M’dam - the concierge said. An embarassed tone betrayed his usual smile, his eyes clearly puzzled.

There sat an old cranky minivan, waiting for me.
The shabby driver, in worn-out jeans and faded polo shirt, opened up the door and with a quick gesture invited me to take the seat next to him. Inside the minivan appeared unstitched dirty seats, a rosary hanging from the mirror, dozens of vintage air-fresheners, other unusual decorations, and remains of greasy newspapers on the dusty dashboard.
I vacillated and turned towards my concierge in search of reassurance. His kind smile comforted me till I was on board.
Antony stood nearby watching, and I imagined him chuckling - It serves you right, loser!

So, Omar was his name. I was trapped between his personal eternal double Dutch and his vehicle.
I was both carsick and seasick while Omar happily drove through every pothole and hollow along unfamiliar roads, persisting in calling them big kangaroos and small kangaroos according to their size.
The size of his belly was also part of his barmy monologue as he liked to repeat he was pregnant with triplets. Indeed, his paunch resembled a watermelon. His ID card was hanging from the driving mirror, depicting a very serious Omar, more than 22 pounds ago.

He laughed his head off to his surreal cracks, as a kid with no barriers or prejudice. He was simply oblivious to the superhuman efforts I was facing to stay focused on how close we were to the airport.
But we were never close enough to keep his exuberance under control, my wish to punch him in the nose, gag him and drive myself, a bit of fear.
Passing the village of Qormi, Omar stopped along a narrow, busy road. Leaving the engine running, he exited the car, repeating - Money, money, money. Perhaps it was payday.
Now could be the moment for me to deliberately commit robbery and escape straight to the airport! However, Omar was quicker than my thoughts. He returned happy as Yogi Bear after stealing a picnic basket.
It was definitely payday.

Driving on, his gabbing was in direct proportion to the increased amount of money in his pocket.
He was overexcited. I was overwhelmed.

Suddenly, Omar applied the brakes.
The minivan skidded off the road. My face nearly squashed into the front window as the van almost careened into a greengrocer’s shop.
It’s not time to die in Malta! - facing my sad destiny in those few crucial seconds.
It was a sunny early June, summertime was just around the corner.

In his mysterious language, Omar cursed at the villain guilty of catapulting his truck at maximum speed towards our miserable van.
Both drivers came out of their vehicles to gesticulate wildly and argue loudly, each in their own language. A small crowd gathered around the two, everybody actively participating in this feud.
The scene was familiar to me, similar sights often seen in Cairo and in Sicily. This was the Arab blood.
Bystanders arrived, inspecting our vehicles’ exteriors and looking intensely at me, as I was a centerpiece of the feud.
I had no courage to get out of the van, and sat resigned to my fate, whatever it might be.

The drama eventually concluded, Omar continued the journey to the airport, turning himself into an eccentric tour guide as soon as he decided something could be of interest - a golf course, a factory, a flower bed, a crossing.
Silently, I discovered myself smiling at this bulky strapping boy and his undefiled naivety. For a moment, I wished I were him.

E D Briguglio

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