Sunday, 4 July 2010

Chapter 2 (or 3?) The Book (my book)

.........[beginning missing].......

“Khalil!” I sobbed. “I am so, so sorry! I kicked my mother! I think I hurt her! I’m soooooooooo sorry!!!!” I was wailing.

Khalil sounded confused on the other end. “Calm down ya Anna. I can’t to understand you. I am not mad at you. Tell me what is with you and your mother?”

“She was choking me! And I kicked her! But I didn’t mean to hurt her! I couldn’t breathe- I-”

The PDO friend was still holding the phone to my ear. At this point he gave it to me to hold and I sat down on top of my suitcase in distress.

“Where are you Anna?”

“At the bottom of Rahab Street,” I sniffled. “Oh Khalil! Please don’t be mad at me!”

“Where will you go?”

I looked blankly out around me, at the ROP cruiser pulling up, the uniformed officers getting out of the car, going over to the gathered crowd. People speaking in Arabic... I didn’t understand them. Audrey was hyperventilating. My suitcase was spilled open.

“I don’t... know.” I said.

“I am coming,” Khalil said. “I am in Al Khoud now. I will out to you by 11. Can I speak again to

I nodded and handed the phone back to the PDO security guy.

Hatam and Khalil spoke to each other in Arabic and apparently Hatam informed Khalil that the ROP were with us now, and Khalil requested to speak with them in Arabic. The phone was handed off to the ROP officer, and the other PDO guy went over to speak even more nonsensical Arabic to the free ROP patrol cop. Audrey’s two Omani families spoke together. Eventually
‘Asma-Rahab Street’ came tell us what had been decided.

“The ROP will take you to the station right now and they will take care of you,” she patted my arm to assure me. Half of what she said to me sounded far away, like in a dream. “In the morning there will be female ROP officers to come get your things from your mother.
The men, they cannot enter into the house, since they are not allowed to touch a woman and you have no father or men there. And your mother, she still might be dangerous. It is not safe for you girls to go back there tonight.”

My mother had locked all the doors at this point and maybe she had fallen asleep as the Valium and medications mingled with the alcohol in her heated bloodstream. The ROP knocked, but were shortly scared away by the barking of Chewbacca.

‘Poor Chewie!’ I thought then as ‘Asma-Rahab Street’ mumbled more than my bruised senses could contain. ‘He must be so scared after all the breaking glass, and the yelling and strange men. And no father anymore...’ I wanted to go comfort him. Tell him I still loved him even if I couldn’t go back. I remembered when Chewbacca had eaten my mother’s new paintbrushes from the art shop in Ruwi and how she’d beaten him with his chain until Anis had begged her to have patience. No one would be there to walk him anymore, or have time for him, tell him nice, kind sounding words. It broke my heart another time, and I was surprised it could be broken again, the pieces left of it so small and fractured already.

The ROP officers loaded my suitcase into the trunk of the patrol car and Audrey got in the back hugging her purse and the novel close to her chest. Somehow ‘Asma-Rahab Street’ had closed up my suitcase and stuffed back in the yellow ball gown and bright coloured jalabiyias [long, loose-fitting brightly-coloured and embroidered Arabic dresses] popping out. She took my hand and hugged me to her chest.

“Allah will protect you,” ‘Amsa-Rahab Street’ said, “because you are Muslim for His sake. Take my phone number,” she said, and wrote it down, and closed my palm around the paper into a fist. “If you need any help, a hotel, call.”

I got into the car, and drove away from Ras Al Hamra, the only part of Oman that I knew. Audrey was beside me, pale, and looking to me for reassurance that I would somehow know what to do next. We had not made a contingency plan for this.

Where we drove, I could not tell at the time, which way, or for how long.

I looked to Audrey in the dark car; our pale faces lit by the flashes of gas street lamps passed glimmering through the glass windows of the locked doors.

“Did I hit my mother first?” I wanted to know, so asked my friend, honestly unable to remember anything but the heat of my mother’s breath against my cheeks in anger, and her fingers tight as iron rings on my neck, squeezing it shut. I was truly afraid that maybe I had. I thought she hit me first... I really did. It is what I remembered. I wanted Audrey’s honesty.

“She jumped on you,” Audrey said in a strong voice. “I tried to pull you two off, when you kicked her, but you got confused, and thought I was her. I am so sorry,” she wept. “Forgive me.” She buried her face in her hands and then looked up to me, eyes shining.

Audrey’s French brown eyes full of tears reminded me of my little sister, Summer, when our parents fought during the divorce. Her moment of weakness, begging for forgiveness, for something that was impossibly her fault, brought me back to myself from the reverie of trauma I was indulged in a dazed way.

“Forgive me,” I giggled, “for bringing you here, introducing you to my mother, taking you to a hospital to see a dying man.” I started laughing. “What a horrible vacation for you!”

She laughed as she wiped away her tears.

“You’ve never seen a country...” she began.

“...Until you see its hospitals and its jails,” we laughed together.

“All I wanted to do was see one nice Mosque,” Audrey chuckled, choking on all the leftover emotion between fits of contagious, but modest, giggles.

“Well, at least it couldn’t get any worse than this,” I said dramatically.

“You have to stop saying that,” Audrey dried her eyes. This time the tears were from laughter.
Pulling up at the police station, we were told the young patrol officers would bring our bags back, and they herded us inside. Some nice Arabic men at the desk regarded us bewildered girls, and we were shuffled into the side office of an English speaking night officer whose rank did not register, but whose name was Yahye. He took down our account of the night, and asked for the contact details of our fathers.

I gave him Faisal’s name and my father’s phone number. Audrey told Yahye that she had no Muslim father, and that she was not married, and her family was in Canada.
Now in the station that night there were about five or six ROP officers, one nice man with a grey moustache at the front desk, three regular uniformed young guys, and two only Arabic-speaking young guys, one skinny, and one medium build, in blue camouflage with red berets. And then there was Yahye, whose physical appearance Audrey would recall better than I. I remember he was nigh forty, with round, not handsome features, and broad but unattractive shoulders. I remember his uniform better.

He told us first that we would go to his house. That he had a wife, and we’d eat and sleep there, and in the morning the female officers would come, and they would take us to my mother’s house to get Audrey’s things. She was still wearing her dog-abaya that she couldn’t pray in, and all I had was my jalabiyia and shayla, as the rest of my things were in the trunk of an ROP cruiser currently out on patrol. Something about going to an officer’s house in the middle of the night didn’t sound right to me, but Audrey was okay with it because she didn’t know much about Oman, but I insisted we were waiting for Khalil, who’d be coming to us anytime.

Hearing about our “miskeen” Islamic orphan status of having no Muslim father’s or husbands in Oman Yahye was immediately moved to help in regards to our situation.

“You are a good Muslimah,” he said to Audrey. “You have a good body. I can marry you,” he offered generously, a bit too generous I realized even then, but tried to think well of him, as these were the people that would either help us, or deport us.

“No thank you.”

Audrey shrank back into the blue cubed couch of the corner office of the ROP station. Seeing her discomfort at a man old enough to be her father proposing marriage to her [something not at all common in our culture-I’d been in the Middle East before and had gotten over the shock of it] and having no relation with us beyond the taking of a police report for a domestic disturbance, I rushed to deflect the developing awkward social situation.

“She’s talking marriage to my brother-in-law from Saudi,” I lied.

Audrey nodded.

Yahye didn’t take his eyes off of Audrey.

“My wife is in Morocco,” Yahye revealed only then, that his home that we would go to would have only him there, “with my children. This week I will get promoted. And I am over forty. I can marry non-Omani,” as if these minor details mattered to a young, definitely discomforted girl.

Audrey’s eyes bored into me.

“Where is the washroom?” I asked, changing the subject. “We need to make wudu and pray.”

Yahye got up to show us which way to go down the hall. When I started down the corner,

Audrey was still with me. I was thinking about our situation again, and about what time it was, that it was an hour past when Khalil was supposed to have been here, and what we were going to do, that I didn’t notice Audrey was not with me, when I stood at the mirror, splashing water on my face.

Going back to Yahye’s office, a pale Audrey clenched my wrist as I walked into the room. At that very moment [to Yahye’s obvious annoyance], the ROP officer with the grey moustache and two of regular uniformed ROP officers had entered the room with a report in Arabic, and to tell us they had brought some food for us to eat in another room.

“Promise!” Audrey hissed between clenched teeth into my ear, her hand pinching my wrist still. “Promise you won’t leave my side. He [Yahye] grabbed my arm and prssed up against me, and said ‘kiss me, kiss me!’”

Poor Audrey was white with panic. Every expat girl coming to Oman has to have a creepy older man propose to them and then hit on them. It is part of whole experience. I wanted to laugh, seriously, but, yeah, that probably wouldn’t have made her feel any better. Out of the frying pan and into the fryer. But touching is going a little too far. ‘It shouldn’t happen at a police station,’ I sobered myself up with that practical reminder. ‘Worse could happen if somehow we get taken to the man’s house.’

I was skating lines in my head, trying to format an escape plan from then-unknown station. They all hinged on rescue by Khalil though. When had I allowed myself to become so ridiculously helpless?! Was it marriage to an Arab? Was it the hijab? What was it that had changed me into this dependent being?! I had never been like this before.

“I promise,” I remarked with a straight face, and we followed the men into the big booking room across the hall, where there was a table with a tin tray filled with rice and meat lain out for us. Most of the officers had already finished. When they asked if they wanted Qahwa [traditional Omani coffee flavoured with cardamom and highly caffeinated] I of course said yes. When do I ever say no to Qahwa? It was, and still is, to this day, the best Omani coffee and machbous [traditional rice dish] I have ever had.

I drank all they offered. This amused them. After all, the coffee is publicized as being very potent.

The slightly more responsible ROP man with the grey moustache realizing how awkward it was having a bunch of young (probably unmarried) Arab men convalescing with two traumatized young women in the middle of the night, ushered the plain uniformed ROP guys out. Yahye remained, along with the two young [special forces?] guys in blue camouflage. I ate very slowly, making sure to meet Yahye’s eyes as I did so. Audrey was not hungry, nervous wreck that she was. And I ate a lot, homeless, penniless, jobless, and unsure of my future at the time, this seemed a good idea.

I was learning fast this survival technique.

“We should go to my home now,” Yahye said.

“Khalil is coming,” I insisted, jaw set. He’d have to get through me to get to Audrey, and to do that, I knew, he’d eventually have to go through Khalil. But by then it might be too late.
Where the hell was Khalil?!

“I want to go to PDO,” I pouted to the respectable ROP man with the grey moustache. “I need to get a phone number. They have it there.”

In the meantime, Audrey was hearing the mewling of kittens coming from grey file drawers. She pried one open to see that it was empty.

No, she had not gone insane under the load of stress I had exposed her to. The two (special forces???) guys in blue ROP camouflage were playing a trick on her, to try and get her to smile. Apparently, there was a rumour going around the station that I had been beaten for converting to Islam and that we had been driven from our home because we were Western Muslims. Most of the men there, kind of held us in awe, and were generally kind, but after our recent experience with the shorta in Emirates, we didn’t know who we could trust.
Grey moustache got us a patrol car and at the PDO gate Hatam and his friend’s produced Khalil’s multiple phone numbers.

These were the people I trusted. Audrey and I wanted to get out, and in private, tell them about Yahye’s wicked plot to get us alone and how he’s put his slimy (cheating-since he was already married) hands all over Audrey, begging/demanding kisses in a way that makes her shudder to this day. Suddenly brave, I tried the door jam. It was locked.

Audrey knew what I was about to do, and grabbed my jalabiya sleeve, holding me back, as I was about to hop the backseat to the front and swing myself out the open door. I would tell the guys at the gate not to let them take us, that we’d sleep inside PDO until the morning. That we didn’t know what would happen to us if they took us back to the station.

After the dirt and corruption we’d witnessed in the Emirates, police officers using prostitutes, the Captain who tried to tie me to his car, and the injustice I witnessed in my stand-off against our local stalker in UAE and how the police wanted to jail me for another man’s perversion and crime, I wanted to leap into the arms of the PDO security guards, gangly teenagers and young men that they might be, imperfect Muslims of Ras Al Hamra barbecues and camping trips and dirty-dancing discos admittedly, but I sure as hell trusted them a lot more than I did the law.
Audrey didn’t want to know what would happen if somehow my bold move angered the ROP patrol guys, and she rightly figured that a bunch of neighbourhood security guys would have little wasta when it came to deciding our fates, so she begged me to keep calm.

The ROP guys came back to the car and said Khalil was asleep. Someone from the station, Yahye, had advised him we were fine and not to come. He would be available in the morning--- said his brother. This, we took in, ominously quiet the drive back.

We’d have to make it to the morning, I mouthed to Audrey.

How? She mouthed back.

I’ll think of something, I nodded mutely to her understanding.

What to do, what to do? I was a girl who had packed ball gowns instead of pepper spray, floral print maxi dresses and cashmere cardigans instead of mace, designer abayas and flower hair puffs instead of my-last-time-in-Oman dagger. Where was my knife after all? I wondered then for a moment, till the moment was forgotten. Then suddenly, there it was, the key to buying time, a suitcase spilled open in my mind. Nothing takes more time than a woman getting dressed, or requires more privacy, than the art of feminine changing!

At the station when we got out, I demanded my things. Audrey looked at me quizzically, wondering why on earth I’d want a suitcase full of designer abayas and pretty party frocks in the middle of this situation where we were doing our best to be the least appealing creatures imaginable.

In the morning! Yahye whined, but I defeated him with feminine sweetness, a new game I would learn to play adeptly in the coming years.

Audrey and I need to change into clean clothes I insisted, my dowdy house jalabiyia and her abaya covered in dog hair were hardly modest or decent enough ecroutments for our dainty feminine figures. Yahye had already offered Audrey an Arabic perfume earlier in the evening to splash on her wrists to route the smell of mangy wadi dog. Audrey still smelled an awful lot like Chewbacca. A pervading sixth sense from before the ‘kiss me’ incident had led her to refuse. Her mouth soundlessly fell open, asking what the hell she was supposed to put on from my wardrobe. There was NO WAY she was going to make herself look anymore or appealing (or any less smelly) than she already was.

When society does not allow for you to use your natural physical strength, then you have to learn to use what other weapons God gave you, and my feminine charms (also a danger to me) could be honed into a precise means to an end. Omani women are good at this by the way. Manipulation is a feminine art in the Gulf states.

I was awarded my suitcase out of my sheer helplessness and feminine love of beautiful things. Yahye left us alone in the booking room to sort through a pile of fancy lingerie, and crinolined party dresses.

“What are you doing?” Audrey asked as soon as the door closed silently behind us.
“Buying us time,” I winked conspiratorially.

I unpacked and repacked my suitcase five times before the sun came up. At dawn, Yahye gave up on us, and came one last time to Audrey, incriminating phone number in hand.

“Call me if you need anything. I will take care of you,” he promised.

Then he left. And we waited for the female officers they had promised us were coming to take us to my mother’s to get Audrey’s things. We were hardly relieved by the end of Yahye’s shift, as our futures were still unknown to us.

They never came. We later learnt, Yahye had purposely kept all others who could have helped our situation, or that were legally required to know of it, in the dark.

[to be continued]

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