Maud is watching ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on a plasma TV screen so enormous you’d need a camel to get from one side to the other. She’s sitting in a padded wheelchair, her bad right leg straight out on a leg support. It’s a nice contrast, seeing Maud in her wheelchair like that, Peter O’Toole on his camel. I picture her tying her leg to the hump.
‘Have you ever ridden one of those?’ I ask her.
‘No. But I went on the dodgems once.’
Maud’s daughter Isabel is supposed to be meeting me here. She’s already rung to apologise and say she’ll be late, though. Apparently the taxi driver sat outside her house and didn’t bother letting her know he was there.
Maud shakes her head.
‘That’s Isabel for you,’ she says.
We’ve done all the medical stuff so there’s nothing to do but wait. Isabel has some questions and concerns, so I need to hang on for a while.
‘I hope she won’t be long,’ I say.
‘She’ll be twenty minutes,’ says Maud. ‘You can set your watch by it.’
We watch as Peter O’Toole and his guide draw water from a well in the middle of a vast expanse of desert. Suddenly they see a shimmering black shape in the distance. A mirage? What is it? The shape gets bigger. A figure on a camel, riding straight at them. The Arab guide fetches out a rifle and takes aim. Peter O’Toole tries to stop him but it’s too late. The approaching figure fires first; the guide drops to the sand, dead. Finally the figure arrives. It’s Omar Sharif.
‘Now there’s a good looking man,’ says Maud, pushing herself more upright in the wheelchair. ‘He can shoot me any day.’
‘I’ve got a story about Omar Sharif,’ I say.
‘My brother in law is Lebanese. Or was. He’s dead now, unfortunately.’
It suddenly strikes me it’s an odd thing to say. Do you stop being Lebanese just because you died? Maybe you do. Maybe that’s death. You stop being anything.
‘What did he die of?’
‘Yes,’ says Maud, flatly, as if she expected it all along.
‘Anyway, he used to work in Maroush, a famous Lebanese restaurant on the Edgware Road.’
‘I’ve heard of it. I think.’
‘It’s pretty swanky. Saad was the Head Waiter. One day Omar Sharif came in, surrounded by all these glamorous people. Saad went to take their order and settle them in, and Omar looked up at him and said: Would you like my autograph? And Saad said: No. Would you like mine?’
‘I liked him in Doctor Zhivago,’ says Maud. ‘He was lovely in that.’
‘I haven’t seen that one.’
‘No? You should.’
Me, Maud and Peter O’Toole watch Omar Sharif ride away on his camel.
The door bursts open. It’s Isabel.
‘So sorry about that!’ she says. ‘Stupid driver.’