My bed is warm and the room is cold. The AC is switched on at full blast. Ashraf is not back yet. I lie down and l can hear all the cars moving by. Tomorrow by this time, I would be looking for my parents. But suddenly I feel really scared. What if my parents are not in Syria at all? What if I get killed? What if I make it alive and Luke gets killed and I don’t find my parents? How long will I have to continue the search before I can stop looking for them? It’s not as sad when you read about it, but if you’re lying on a bed hearing all the cars speeding by, sweating in a cool room, it sure is.
Somebody is knocking on the door and I do this really stupid thing where I shut my eyes, hoping this is all a bad dream and that the constant tapping on the door would stop. But it doesn’t. “Hey, are you asleep,” Luke whispers. “Yes,” I mumble looking narrowly at him.
“I can’t sleep. I guess it’s the sea.”
“Take the couch.”
He silently walks over to the couch. It’s small for him so his legs are dangling by the side. That makes me sad, but I don’t want to do anything about it. Suddenly I feel like I will vomit all over the nice room so I sprint to the washroom. I get up so fast that my mind is not able to process the details of the movement and I fall. I know Luke is looking at me but like a good friend he lies motionless. I bet my life, the worst thing in the world is falling and letting other people help you. I gather myself and sit back on the bed. I cannot vomit I know. “I want to talk to Hanna,” Luke says. I give him my phone and he walks to the balcony. The door is shut and I cannot hear anything. I wish they are not going to talk about the incorrectness of his choice but I am sure they will. There’s nothing else to speak unless Luke goes that extra mile and discusses the beauty of the villa and the skyline and the beach. I sit there for as long as they talk. I don’t know for how long, but it has to be about forty five minutes. There’s a little pain in my diaphragm. The balcony door is a one way mirror. I can see Luke holding the phone in his left hand trying to unlock the door with his right. I speed up and pretend to be all asleep to avoid any conversation. “She is asleep. I’ll call you tomorrow if I can. Bye,” Luke whispers over the phone and goes back to his room.
I lie awake. It’s four or five in the morning when Ashraf comes back. He checks on both of us like a father and walks down. In the morning I wash and dress. There are huge dark circles under my eyes. When I come out of the washroom, Luke is plopped on the couch. He looks miserable, like he’s been crying all night. That picture is too funny to put together. I ask him to splash water on his face once more, despite the fact that he looks all set to go. Very oddly, he does obey. We take our luggage and move down to the living room. Ashraf is sitting on the sofa, drinking juice. He looks up at us from a pile of papers, “As-salamu-alai’kum. Did you guys sleep fine?” We both nod, the pile of lies stacking up near our feet. “Grab some breakfast from the table,” Ashraf says, “We’ll meet the rest of our team at Dubai mall now. You can have a look around too, it’s a beautiful place. We will leave by three in the afternoon finally. Can I have your camera?” Luke puts down his bag and looks around inside, extracting the video camera. It’s so embarrassing, we haven’t even removed it from the packaging. “Just got a new one for the project,” Luke makes up. I feel like vomiting over the word project. Ashraf takes it in his hands and pulls out a roll of stickers. He glues something to the side of the camera.
The breakfast is nice- eggs and bread and juice and fried chicken. There’s coleslaw that’s been taken right out of the freezer. It still has little pieces of ice in it. Contrary to my expectations, every bit of food that hits my acid filled stomach makes me feel less like vomiting which depresses the hell out of me because it triggers in me that maybe all sick people just need a good hearty breakfast. Luke is silently chewing on the same piece of bread for about ten thousand minutes. I am sure Ashraf thinks both of us are young and naïve kids, too scared to be out there amongst war. He doesn’t know any better.
“Wallahi, you guys. It’ll be nice out there. You can check out all the shops and when we’re back maybe you can shop,” Ashraf tries his best to lighten the mood. Luke smiles a little lopsidedly. It breaks me when I see people with a toothy grin smile lopsided, because they’re trying hard, but even the facial muscles wouldn’t go all the way up. It just breaks me.
We put all our stuff into Ashraf’s car. His friend Abraham smiles at us from the driver’s seat. “I’ll be your driver for the day,” Abraham says cheekily, doing fake hats off. Abraham will take us all the way to Dubai Mall and later bring Ashraf’s car back while we take the minibus to the airport. We get off Jumeirah and on to Sheikh Zayed Road. It’s alarming- the two different places a city looks like during day and at night. We’re surrounded by glassy skyscrapers and once in a while a piece of mirror reflects the sun and hits us in the eye. “Can I roll down the window?” I ask Ashraf. “No no no,” Abraham answers, “The sound of the movement scares the shit out of me. I’ll open the sunroof for you.” I think how crazy that is, I could burn my soul in the heat but then again I feel like puking so I get my head out.
We’re heading onto a flyover and there’s wind in every dead cell of my hair. Suddenly I feel all set to go.
Picnics on snowy days-
black tires rolling
across sheets of white.
Abraham pulls over. He wishes all of us good luck and gets a little teary eyed hugging Ashraf. We get into the mall when it hits me- Ashraf is leaving behind his family to do all this. All the time he’s cheering us up, he’s talking to a part of himself too and I am a jerk is all I know.