At Dubai airport, everything worked swiftly except at one point where Luke thought the authorities had misplaced his luggage. As soon as we got out, we had to discard the upper layer of our clothes. This was the summer the world hoped for. Ashraf was waiting for us at the exit. He was tall for my expectations of the Middle Eastern men. Actually all people were a little taller than what I’d known. Ashraf was dressed in an all white gown that fell right to his ankles- they call it a Kandura. He lead us to his car, “I’ll drop you at my house. It’s right across Jumeriah beach. Do you know about it? The others will join us in the morning.” Luke shakes his head, “Thanks a lot. And sure I do. I also know that you guys have the tallest building in the world and the most expensive hotel with an underwater disco. Yes, I did my research well. My accomplice, Zara on the other hand is very lazy.” I hit him on his head again. Accomplice? “Oh, Zara you’ve got a very Arabic name,” Ashraf says turning to look at us when the car stops at the red light. He speaks fast but you can hear each word that leaves his mouth distinctly. Out of habit, he keeps breaking his knuckles. Ashraf tells us that we’re running parallel to what is known as the Sheikh Zayed Road. The car is zapping by really fast, but the skyline is at a distance so we can see it very comfortably. There is a building which keeps changing its colour every five second, and another one that has an overall effect of burning down in flames, and one that looks like a huge clock tower. At the end of what we can see of the skyline right now from the car is Burj Khalifa- the tallest building in the world. It’s beautiful and at one point it looks like there is no power in the structure except little star studs twinkling. It looks like a piece of the sky cut very delicately. “That happens every time the fountain show near Dubai mall picks a start,” Ashraf shouts proudly now that the car windows are open. Suddenly we take a sharp turn and it depresses the hell out of me. The alley we’re in is dark too much in contrast with the bling bling of Sheikh Zayed Road. But we turn right again and the heavy salt laden breeze of the beach runs through my air. To my left is the sea and the other side is lined with pretty villas. We pull over next to a beige coloured house. “Welcome to my place. Make yourselves at home,” Ashraf lets us out of the comfort of the car.
Ashraf’s house is really posh. There are huge windows draped with flowy curtains and big sofas. Luke and Ashraf take our baggage to the first floor. I sit around in the living room playing with the cushions. Sometimes all you need is soft cushions to put your mind away from all the problems of the world. Ashraf walks out not noticing me drowning under the pile of cotton and fabric.
Luke excitedly shouts jumping down the staircase, “Zara, this place is amazing. Ashraf says this is a spare villa. His family lives in another one of these, a few blocks away. Can you imagine there’s another one of these? Do you want to check your room out?”
“It’s just for a night. Plus I think I have other things on my mind right now. Please don’t spoil this. Ashraf is such a nice man we do not want to reveal our purposes and wreck it all.”
I sound uninterested but I do want to see what the first floor is like. Just as I am about to give into Luke’s stupidity, the door clicks. It’s Ashraf. He’s struggling with some bags, “Ya Allah, this door. Anyway. I hope I’m not being rude, cause I will not be able to stay the night. There’s some paper work that needs to be completed before we leave tomorrow. Get some good sleep, you’ll not be able to catch up on it for a few days. I have these spare keys, you can have them. I’ll probably be back after the morning prayers. You’ll meet the whole team by noon tomorrow. And I’m really sorry I didn’t know what kind of food you people liked so I got some fries and burgers.”
I am blown by the swiftness in his plans, “Thanks a lot for all of that.”
“It’s the least I can do. Also, here have some cash for the time being.”
“That’s really sweet of you but we can’t-”
“Yes, you can. The nearest currency exchange shop is half an hour away. Besides we’re a team now. Wada’ an.”
He winks at both of us and leaves. I feel bad at what I’ve done. Cheating on good people is the worst thing in the world, because with bad people you’ve the consolation of believing it is Karma getting back at them. I drown myself in the cushions and punch them really hard. Luke asks again if I want to go upstairs and I barely have a choice. There is a semicircular platform at the end of the staircase and three rooms around it. In the middle is the master bedroom and on either side are two tinier rooms. The one on the left is Luke’s and it is covered entirely in white. I’m scared Luke will trash the cleanliness leaving us embarrassed but I’m too out of energy to ask him to trade. Also my room has a balcony attached to its end overlooking the ocean. We sit in the balcony and eat our dinner. There are bottles of waters, cold drinks and juices in the bag too. “I think we should call and inform Andrew,” Luke suggests. “Haven’t you already?” I snap “You are such an irresponsible person.”
I do not have the emotional energy to carry on the conversation for too long with Andrew. He shouts at me a little about not calling his as soon as we landed. I tell him about my guilt. He says everything will be alright. I do not know what context he is suggesting that in. I apologize in advance regarding every single thing that happens on this trip and hang up. It makes me feel horrible.
Luke is already in his room getting ready to sleep when I enter out of the blue, “I think I’ll walk to the beach. Want to come?” Luke screws up his face in disgust, “Shut up and watch your manners, lady. You don’t care for a knock, do you?” I leave without another word.
I have crossed the road and gotten to the beach, when I see Luke fumbling with something in his hands, “Hey, wait for me. The house is grand and all but it’s spooky when empty.” Thank God, he has locked the door- the spare keys dangling by his pinky. We walk to the point where the land meets the sea. The tides are low and they lull at our feet. The power of wet sand to slowly let the feet sink in is therapeutic. At regular intervals I think Luke says something but I’ve zoned out too far. After a while he leaves to get back to the villa and I’m glad about it. I lie in the cold sand, little drops of sea spray and perspiration lining my forehead. The sky is very dark, which I’m reminded, helplessly over and over again in my dad’s voice, is not a good thing. “A starless sky is the number one indication of pollution.” I remember going to the countryside with dad to pick fresh fruits, staying overnight at his friend’s place, spotting all the constellations with dad and telling mom about them. I once got really angry when I looked out of the window, trying to show off my celestial knowledge to mom and found out that you could hardly see any stars in the city. Next time we picked fruits, I begged mom to come with us, despite her poultry allergy.
The sky is dark which reminds me of my mom’s hair. Well, not her real hair. She is a natural redhead. But that’s a thing of the past. She’s been colouring her hair dark like mine since forever. All my grandparents died way before I was born. All, except my dad’s dad yet that didn’t really change a lot. When I was nine, I went to his funeral. My mom cried a lot and my dad stood still like a dummy. Later, at home mom and I had dinner alone while my dad shouted at the top of his lungs in the bathroom. We never spoke about that. My parents were one of those people who you read about in books and watch in movies. They had lots of loyal friends which made it very hard for me to understand why I never saw much of their family. My mom had a brother who we saw at parties but that was about it. We never spoke about that either. Actually when you think about it we never spoke a lot about things that might seem important to other families. But we talked a lot. We didn’t speak we talked. Every time I left a conversation I felt like I was missing on something important. Thinking about it drives me crazier. I feel more horrible, more in urgent need to talk.
“Here, have this coffee. There’s an amazing little shop right over there,” Luke says pointing his fingers westward, giving me a slight heart attack. It’s good to see him back because apart from mom and dad Hanna and Luke are probably the only people I like to talk to. But that is depressing, because wanting to talk is supposed to be something metaphorical- in real life it should require no effort. I have to let it out though, “Dad is a miserable singer, you know? As soon as he begins humming a tune we shut him up. I think if he tried he can sing well, though. Because like other bad singers he’s not faking it- he knows the lyrics by heart and he sure as hell knows when the beat drops. Only I guess, he cannot own a song very well. If he took up singing as a profession and was discovered, I think, other people might want to hear him and try singing like him. No one would be able to copy his style because that’s the catch- he has a very unique voice. But it’s nice. You should hear him some day, Luke. You surely should.” Luke is definitely frightened, “Zara, you know what will be good? Some sleep. Come here.” He picks me up like a good friend should and holds me really tight almost as if he knows that my center of gravity is disturbed. He lets go when a good friend should. That way I do not end up feeling sad and dependent. I walk on my own feet and it gives me a slight control over my life. I feel like I can find out my parents.
Stand up for things.
Let your feet on
the Earth, for as long as,
to seep in places
you can’t be uprooted from.
Then watch life
grow around you.