Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Real Threats

Tim sat in the crowded departure lounge, flipping through a magazine, bored. He looked around every so often to see others also waiting, also bored. There was a TV mounted high on the wall showing an American soapie, with the sound muted, thankfully.

A young Indian-looking man came in, wearing a CIO Mining shirt like Tim's. He saw Tim, and made his way over. CIO was a multinational mining company; it was common for it's employees to meet each other randomly at airports.

"Hello," said the newcomer. "I'm Saleem. I'm an electrical grad up at Western Creek Coal." He sat down across from Tim, and put his laptop bag beside him. He had just the slightest trace of an accent.

"I'm Tim." He leaned forward and they shook hands across the aisle. "I do SAP support for all the Queensland and New South Wales coal sites."

Saleem smiled. "You must fly a lot, then."

Tim grinned. "Platinum frequent flyer, most years."

"That would drive me crazy," said Saleem. "No matter how much I fly, the security just frustrates me. I get the random explosive check every time I come through. I just had my carry-on searched, after the x-ray check."

"Really?" said Tim. "I've never had them go through my carry-on."

Saleem shrugged. "It's one of the hazards of looking like me, rather than you," he said, matter-of-factly. He added, "And having Muhammad as my first name doesn't help."

"Saleem's not your first name?"

"Where my family's from in Pakistan, Muhammad is every man's first name. Saleem is my second name; it's what I've always been called by."

"Well, I'm sorry if they give you a hard time just for that. I think security is important, but they shouldn't be targeting you just because of what you look like, or for your religion. That's just prejudice. Security should be focussed on real threats."

Tim realised he was starting to rant. He changed the subject, and asked Saleem if he'd been with CIO for long. Eighteen months, he said.

Suddenly Saleem asked, "Hey, are you Tim Murdoch?"

"Yeah, that's right."

Saleem smiled. "I've actually been meaning to give you a call – everyone says I should talk to you. I need your expertise on a project I'm working on."

Tim smiled back. He liked helping people with SAP problems, and he loved being seen as the go-to man. "What can I do you for?"

"I need your help to make a bomb," said Saleem.

Tim blinked. The people around fell silent. No one looked directly at them, but Tim could feel their eyes, and he wasn't good at feeling that type of thing. He coughed, then said softly, "You need my help for what?"

Saleem looked around, then back at Tim. "To make a bomb. Everyone says you're the one to talk to."


"Sure: my boss, other grads, lots of people. They say you've made more bombs than anyone else in CIO. That you make them quickly, and, most importantly as far as I'm concerned, you get them right, the first time."

The circle of quiet, nervous people had expanded now, like a ripple in a pond. The entire departure lounge was hanging on their every word, though everyone kept looking at their magazines and laptops, or at the TV, or out the window.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."

Saleem looked bemused. "You're are the SAP guru, Tim Murdoch?"

Tim smiled, self-consciously. He liked being called a guru, though he'd never admit it, and he sometimes even pretended to complain about it. "Hardly a guru," he said, "but I know a thing or two about SAP."

"Then why don't you know about how to make bombs? I'm quite new to SAP myself, but I thought that building a Bill of Materials would be child's play for someone like you."

Tim almost choked. Of course: Bill of Materials. He always referred to Bills of Materials as "BOM's", for short. Everyone did. Saleem had been after his expertise, so why on earth had Tim thought he was talking about building a bomb?

"Oh," he said, after a few moments. "You mean you want my help to build a BOM!"

Saleem's mouth dropped open. "Isn't this what I've been saying for five minutes?" he said. He spoke quickly now, and louder, and his accent was becoming stronger. "I have all the parts and components. I just need you to help me build my BOM!"

Tim looked up then, and saw the security guards. There seemed to be a dozen, or more, coming at them from every direction.

This story was published this week in Issue 95 of Shift Miner Magazine This is also my #fridayflash for 17 September.

What's SAP? Almost all the readers of
Shift Miner will know what SAP is; but you may not. SAP is one of the major "Business Management Software Applications". Among many other things, this type of software is used by mining companies (and other major corporations) to organise and track maintenance and other aspects of asset management. In industry, one of the steps of procuring a new piece of equipment is to set up the "BOMs" (Bills of Materials), so that the "system" has a record of all the parts, how many are stocked, and where to buy them. People in this part of the industry talk about BOMs ("bombs") all the time.

I'm sorry if the humour in this piece is too much of an "in-joke" ; however, I hope the underlying message still comes through.


Milo James Fowler said...

Underlying message = loud and clear; and humorous.

And hey, you've got an award waiting for you at my blog...

Hakeem said...

Hmm... good story... sounds very familiar to one ive heard... wonder where.....

Good work mate... laughed alot when i read this one

John Wiswell said...

This is funnier having just read about the theory of the Strong Anthropic Principle. SAP, you say?

I bit the humor, too. Thanks for sharing, Bernard.

Bernard S. Jansen said...

Hakeen: Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you liked it. Thanks also for sharing your hilarious story, which was of course the inspiration to this piece.

Mr Wiswell: I'd not heard of the Strong Anthropic Principle. Every acronym seems to have a thousand meanings these days. I'm glad you liked it, and I do appreciate your comments.

Eric J. Krause said...

Wonder if he was doing his own racial profiling or if it was simply the explosives check talk that got him on the wrong track? I had no idea what it meant, but you did a good enough job in the story of explaining that the humor shines through at the end. Good story!

Bernard S. Jansen said...

Eric: As you'd know, one of the hardest things in writing is knowing how subtle/blunt to be.

My intent for the "message" of this piece: Tim was subconciously doing his own racial profiling - even with someone from his own company - while condemning others for doing the same thing. Tim hasn't quite worked it out by the end of the story.

My primary intent of course, was humour. We can laugh at misunderstanding: it's a common human attribute that crosses all boundaries.

Thanks for your comment.

vandamir said...

This would be so easy to see happening during these paranoid times. Excellent story.

Bernard S. Jansen said...

Thanks vandamir. I do think that when everyone gets so paranoid, a bit of humour goes a long way. That, and love, of course.

Rachel Blackbirdsong said...

Perfect story for the world today and it's climate of paranoia. Humor gave it a great edge.

Steve Green said...

This really gave me a chuckle. :)

We need more humour on this kind of subject for all our sakes.

~Tim said...

Nice play on words and prejudices.

Joey said...

That was funny Bernard. I hadn't visited in a while and usually sit in the background reading your stories without commenting, but this one had me sitting on the edge of my seat trying to work out where you were going...