The district we are driving thru is not a friendly one.
Groups of men standing outside the roadside market stalls stop and stare at the patrol with dark expressionless faces. Black veiled women move from stall to stall with worn, frayed plastic bags filled with produce. Children stand quietly on the side of the road.
There is no waving or begging for chocolates.
No cries of "Mister, Mister!"
No cheerful "thumbs up."
Fingering the handset for my loudspeaker, a thought occurs to me.
Twisting in my seat, I turn and face my interpreter. Beckham is sitting in the back seat, sweating despite the air conditioning. He is looking thru the window at the grim faces outside.
“Beckham, what is a popular song?”
He looks perplexed.
“Yes, what is a popular, traditional song?”
Beckham thinks for a moment, and then he smiles.
“I have one for you.”
His voice is strong and clear, and the Arabic song has an insistent rhythm. I can feel my foot unconsciously tapping in time with the music. The song is incredibly catchy, and his deep voice holds the tune.
I trade glances with my driver and he smiles.
Beckham is a great singer.
Passing the handset for the loudspeaker over my head, Beckham takes it in the back seat.
“Beckham, I want you to sing that song into the loudspeaker.”
Beckham stares at the handset for a second in thought, and then keying the button with his thumb, he begins to sing his song.
Thru the loudspeaker mounted on the front of my vehicle, comes the insistent, catchy Arabic tune.
The music has an amazing effect on the marketplace.
In astonishment, a black veiled woman stops her inspection of a stack of pale green melons, and turns to face the vehicle.
One mans glare turns to amazement, his cigarette dangling at his side, forgotten.
All movement in the marketplace stops.
Beckham, looking out of the window, sees the effect his music has had. His voice falters for an instant, and then he catches himself and he begins to sing even louder.
A small dark boy, no older than ten years old, stands on the north side of the road. He smiles, white teeth flashing in his dark face, and his thin body begins to sway in time with the music. His hands raise up above his head, almost of their own volition, and he begins to dance in time with the music.
As we roll down the marketplace street, I see smiles break out on normally dour faces.
A group of young men sway and clap in time with the music.
An old man, sitting in a blue plastic chair by a produce stand, is snapping his fingers and wagging his toothless head in time with the song.
Two little girls, one dressed in a black burkha, smile and point their fingers in delight at the American vehicle playing the unexpected music.
For an instant, the mood in the marketplace has changed completely.
A small bridge has been built by Beckham's song.
As we turn at an intersection and head north, we leave the marketplace behind. The long rows of stalls and people give way to arid desert and a murky canal running north and south along the roadside.
Beckham stops singing.
As his voice fades from the air, the air suddenly feels empty.
Turning in my seat, I give Beckham a reassuring smile.
“Beckham, keep singing. It sounds great.”
Beckham keys the handset again, and the patrol continues north thru arid, deserted fields, accompanied by the cheerful sound of Beckham's Song.