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Welcome to Dubai

11TH OF JULY

Emma
I’m woken suddenly by unexpected yelping and a whole lot of confusion as I try to figure out where I am and what day it is.

"Come on, come on, come on!" cries Sam in an excited voice next to me, "get up!"

I pull the covers closer to my eyes and moan.

"Can't I sleep for a little bit longer?" I complain.

"Not at all! I've been up for two hours already, making sure our itinerary still makes sense and all!” Oh, right-o, we’re on holidays! Wake up brain! “And I already researched Dubai and I have enough information to declare what our best plan of action will be." Sam pulls the covers off and nudges me in the shoulder. "Come on," she adds, "Get up, get changed, and I'll see you downstairs for breakfast as soon as you're ready."

With that, she walks out of the room.

Hot damn, was that my shy cute friend giving me an ultimatum or something? I rub my eyes and sit up slowly, my brain still a little foggy. We’ve actually made it. We are in Dubai, and we have the whole day to explore this amazing place before we need to head back out to the airport.
Excitement runs through my veins, so I get up and dash to the bathroom to brush my teeth and apply a tiny bit of makeup. I check my smartwatch, a little shred of hope flickering all the way down in my chest. But no, there’s no messages from father. Go figure. I look into the mirror, and shrug at my reflexion.

“Fuck it,” I say to the girl looking back at me, “Who cares?”

I’m going to have one epic day with my friend, and nothing’s stopping me from having the time of my life.

✢✢✢
Samantha

As I fill up a plate with a piece of wholegrain toast, some cereal, and a whole lot of fruit, I can’t help but smile. The trip might have not started the way I expected, but being right here, in the middle of an exotic country that I never even imagined I'd see, I can’t help but feel the thrill of everything I’m about to experience. I have to admit, I actually like this feeling.

I was up so early, right after the clock hit 6 am, and it was a little nerve wracking but still somehow electrifying to walk around the hotel that early, lurking around the silent corridors until I found the gym. I had one of the best yoga sessions I’ve had in a long time, even if it was really hard to let my mind settle at first. But something clicked while I was meditating this morning, and it was like a little voice in my head telling me to let go, that things would be okay.

I mindlessly take a hold of the greenstone that’s been hiding under my top since we left Argentina, and I run a thumb through the spiral.

I’m on my way, dad.

“Morning, my Sky!” says Em in a bright voice as she approaches me.

“Finally up, Moony? That was pretty quick for you,” I reply.

“Well, I imagine there’s a whole lot to see, and not too much time when you’ll probably want to be back at the airport at least 3 hours before the flight.”
I can’t help but laugh.

“At least,” I repeat with a chuckle. “You know me too well.” I pat Em on the shoulder as I walk towards our table. “Grab some brekkie and I’ll explain all of it when we’re sitting down,” I add over my shoulder.

Em sits in front of me just a moment later, a plate full of bacon, scrambled eggs, and two pieces of toast with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes on top. How she can eat so much and never put on weight is a mystery that eludes me.

“Okay, what’s the plan?” She asks with a mouthful of egg.

“Pretty simple,” I say, not waiting to swallow my cereal. The memory of mum telling me off for my manners almost makes me laugh and spit half of it. “We don’t have a whole lot of time, I know a day seems like a lot, but it’s not. So I don’t want to go too far for starters in case we get stranded somewhere… Again. And we want to keep it simple so we don’t get lost either, so we’re gonna head to the mall.”
Emma looks up at me like I’m playing some bad joke.

“We are going to the mall, really?” She says, deadpanned.

“Oh, don’t underestimate this mall, my friend,” I say, as I smile cheekily. “You’ll be surprised!”

✢✢✢
Emma

We have to walk a short distance to a train station that’s on a raised platform, and from there, it’s a decently short ride until we are led into a station pretty much at the Mall. There’s a glass tunnel that connects the station and the Dubai Mall, which has some amazing views over the city.

Once we’re finally inside, I can’t believe my own eyes.

I feel astonished as we walk around, I’ve seen luxury, I’ve seen amazing and cool places as I’ve done my fair share of traveling with father, but this... This is just on a whole different level. The building is so big, I just know there’s no way we’re going to be able to see even half of it. Floors and floors of all kinds of different shops, places with the latest technologies and things I didn’t even know existed. And the people! There’s such a wide variety of skin tones, styles of clothing, and different languages being spoken all over the place. I can almost imagine all of their cultures being rippling shreds of energy that tangle in the air and weave themselves into a quilt of a thousand shades that warms me up inside. It’s overwhelming.

I look over at Sam, whose mouth is hanging half open as well, and I’m so pleased to see that she actually looks like she’s enjoying herself.

“Where is that aquarium you talked about?” I ask after we’ve been walking for a few hours and even stopped for some lunch, “We should definitely go check that out!” I say.

“Let’s have a look there,” Sam says as she points at one of those big maps that show your location.

I can see the multiple levels and the hundreds of little numbers showing all the shops, and I feel a bit swamped by the size of this place. I feel so small, it’s unsettling.
“There! Found it!” Sam says before I can even get to decipher where we are supposed to be on the map. “Follow me.”
I follow a confident looking Sam, while my eyes keep darting around the place, finding new amazing things to look at, and not being able to stop myself from pointing at them. We are both giggling and jumping around, our elbows locked together, when we both abruptly stop on our tracks.

“Wow,” Sam whispers next to me.
“Wow, indeed.”

There’s a wall of fish in front of us. Quite literally, a huge glass wall, about four meters high, I don’t know how many meters long, where there are all kinds of fishes, big and small, swimming around corals and rocks. My eyes can’t even take it all at the same time.

I see there’s a queue to one side where the entrance must be, so I jump excitedly again.

“C’mon! Let’s go in!” I tug on Sam’s elbow and lead us towards the end of the queue.

✢✢✢
Samantha

I cannot believe what I’m seeing. There’s a huge tunnel inside the tank -which I think might be the biggest fish tank in the world-, through which we can walk.
I feel like I’m inside a bubble within the ocean, only an arc of thick acrylic separating us from manta rays, sharks and so many fish, big and small, that keep swimming over our heads.

Emma is running up and down the hall, her hands and nose plastered to the glass every other second as she yelps and points at different fishes. My heart feels so full, that I can feel tears trying to surface. I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy.

“Oh, I remember this one from class,” I say as I point at a little cute fish to avoid my cheesy emotions from making me cry. Em comes running over, looks at what I’m showing her, and within two seconds she is pointing at a huge shark swimming over us.

“This is so cool!”

We keep on walking, making it all the way across the arc and then visiting room after room full of tanks with all kinds of creatures.

There’s a tank full of starfishes with different shapes and colours, there’s turtles with funny looking noses that remind me of a pig's snout, and even an octopus quietly hiding behind a rock that takes me a few minutes to find. There’s crocodiles lying still on the bottom of tanks while little yellow fishes swim all around them. And more, so much more.

I keep being reminded of all the things I’ve been studying in Zoology class, and while looking at all the familiar species I can’t help but think how much nicer it is to actually be here looking at them, alive, rather than looking at pictures and reading definitions in a book.

We enter a new room and I almost run to the first tank in front of me.

“Oh my, they are so beautiful!” I say as I run a finger through the glass.

Em’s next to me in a second as she prances her way towards me.

“They are really small, I always thought they were way bigger,” she says a little deflated as she looks at the finger size pink jellyfish that I’m pointing at.

“Oh, it depends, they can be of many sizes,” I reply matter-of-factly.

“Just like another thing I know,” adds Em with a wink as she makes a somewhat vulgar gesture with her hands.

“Emma Moon!” I can feel my cheeks turning hot as I look around the room. To my relief, no one is looking our way. “Is that all you ever think about?” I add, now laughing a little.

“No, but I can’t help an easy joke,” she adds with a shrug. “C’mon, let’s keep moving.”

✢✢✢
Emma

When we finally exit the aquarium after hours of walking around, I feel refreshed and full of energy, but there’s something bugging me deep in the back of my head. No, it doesn’t matter, the place was truly magical, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience of the first time me and Sam got stranded in a foreign country and made the most out of it. I’ll stick with my cheerfulness.

“What was it now? That tall building we need to go check out?” I ask as I make myself smile widely.

“Yes, the Burj Khalifa,” says Sam with a smile even bigger than mine. “We just need to figure out which door is closer to it, as it’s literally just outside.”

With that, we walk over to the next map we can find, and Sam directs us quickly outside of the mall.

The building is breathtaking. A hundred and sixty floors high, as Sam informed me earlier. It's shimmering surface towers over the city, and makes me feel so small and insignificant all over again. We walk around it for a bit, just staring in silence as we take it all in. There's a water fountain to one side, and I realise there's a lot of people sitting around it, like they are waiting for something.

Even though it's only 6.30pm, the sun is already starting to set and the city's lights are turning on.

"We need to head back soon, right?" I ask Sam.

"Yes, I'd like to leave in half an hour so we can be back in time to have a shower, get some dinner and be in the airport with plenty of time to spare."

I’m about to suggest we get going, when music starts playing. I look around, trying to figure out where it’s coming from. That's when a lot of colorful lights lit up in the water fountain, and the water starts dancing.

In tune with the music, water jets into the air from multiple places, creating different shapes and patterns. The music is in perfect tune with the water and the lights, creating a magical effect. Jets jump high up, and then dance low, they create a circle that rises and falls, then a wave that goes from one side to the other as the jets reach different heights. The music rolls through the crowd like a caress, soft and caring as the water dances low, and then the music picks up, water jets rising so high up I have to tilt my head to see where they end.

We just stand there, awestrucked, jaws slightly open. When I turn to look at Sam after a while, I see the colorful lights reflecting in her eyes,and when she turns to look at me, she grins widely.

I can’t help but think this must be the perfect ending to a marvelous day.
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