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It was the middle of a hot day and humid day, and the usual smiling and friendly faces of the local population was missing.
This was the time of Ramadan, and the faithful and devout were hungry.
Even worse, in thirty degrees of scorching heat they were thirsty and there was still another eight hours before they could quench their thirst and feed their appetite.
It wasn’t difficult to tell the thoughts which were most prominent on their mind.
We were almost at the hotel when she inquired is Rio with you? She being Pam, although I didn’t know her name at that point.
We were at the very beginning of a mid-May school half-term holiday to Hammamet in Tunisia, and I had met lovely blond Pam and her family on the plane. She was travelling with her five boys who although BOISTEROUS where very friendly and nice, and full of life.
The three younger boys names all started with R and were Rio who was the youngest and just 3 years old, Romeo (who unsurprisingly turned out to be a lady charmer) who was 6 and Robbie, an exceptionally smart boy who was nearly 8. The next boy was Will and was a very pleasant 15 year old who was very articulate.
Our friendship was initiated through another R who was the oldest of Pam’s boys, Rob their friendly and chatty father and I immediately liked him and knew we had a lot in common.
Rob was a smaller slimmer version of me although, with his prominent and homely well padded middle it highlighted he definitely wasn’t observing Ramadan.
As mishmash of exploratory good natured chat developed our friendship, I guess Rob and I resembled a pair of smiling Chines Buddha’s.
The trip from the airport was mainly silent as there as the interesting landscape flashed past and provided insight to how the locals lived.
Along the road side storks had dexterously weaved their nests into place upon the tops of small electrical pillions, which seemed the most unlikely of places for caring parents to rear their young.
Although, apart from the many quite small olive trees the horizon was totally devoid of serviceable trees which would have satisfied the same nursery purpose.
So,and regardless of their potential danger, electric pillion were became their nursery and boasted a skinny singly chick who stood prominently, and as straight as a palace guard in each nest, presumably waiting hopefully for mom or dad to return with food.
The journey and countryside was full of interest which made the journey pass quickly.
Presently however, we reached the outskirts of our holiday destination of Hammamet and here the coach began pulled into well kept hotels and a few passengers at each left us to begin their holiday proper at the resort of their choice.
Each stop was fairly short as the well practised driver retrieved the bags of the departing holiday makers before securing the luggage doors and driving us on to the next hotel.
The friendship between Rob, Will and myself deepened as we examined and asked probing personal questions into each others lives. The English as a population are a very nosey civilisation.
To me however, good conversation, and meeting new people (especially interesting ones) is what holidays are made of, and it seemed that Rob was in full agreement as we tussled and competed to tell our stories and ask our questions.
As we talked an (anything goes) grappling match between Robbi and Romeo, the two middle boys had started in the seats opposite me, it soon became obvious that this was a championship finale.
This smack-down action continued as we navigated the interesting back streets that took us closer to our hotel which was the last call for our coach driver.
Rio, the youngest and cutest boy with his beautiful blond hair would occasional travel the few rows back to observe his waring brothers before retaking his seat next to Pam the matriarch, (and VERY OBVIOUS boss) of this amicable group at the front of the party.
I remember well seeing Rio’s smiling little face many times peering back at us as he tried to get in on the action and conversation.
Eventually it was only us who remained on the coach as we were headed for the same hotel.
Right from the start it seemed this friendly family were adopting me (Kevin NO MATES) as a guest holiday member of their family.
We were just a couple of minutes from our hotel when Pam turned to me and asked: “Is Rio there?” indicating in the direction of the seats where his two older brothers now resembled a tight ball of juvenile humanity with their trashing inter-wined arms and legs?
I couldn’t see him, or for that matter, see him anywhere, and this was that point of horror which every parent at some time has experienced, and this, definitely provided them with more new grey hairs than they deserved.
[box]INSTANTLY, Pam and Rob were motivated into action as they sped up and down the coach isle at an impressive pace in the frantic hope that little Rio was sitting unseen between the seats.[/box]
Everyone looked under the seats, behind the seat, and even in the overhead luggage racks without luck.
Rio was definitely not among us.
Upon learning this startling revelation of the lost child, our driver, who until this point had never lost a passenger before, and not waning to ruin his unblemished track record, spun the coach around at the very next traffic island.
In his hast, the added centrifugal force made us all fall heavily to the left of the coach before speeding back down the road and retracing our journey at approximately 3 times as fast as we had a few minutes before.
Poor Pam slumped her head into her hands in despair and disbelief that they had managed to misplace their youngest child. The colour drained from her as her mind tormented her with dark possibilities.
The journey back to the last hotel we dropped people off at took no more that 10 minutes to travel at most, however, to Roi’s distraught parents I am sure is felt like SO much longer.
Instantly the coach stopped the two parents ran into the hotel lobby at an impressive turn of speed, and I hoped that he would be there.
A couple of minutes latter they reemerged with a rather serious little boy who remained almost glued to his mothers lap for the whole of the return journey, and the belated start of our holiday.
Apparently, they found him in the welcome meeting drinking a strawberry flavoured welcome drink.
All’s well that ends well…