Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The BOOK: Chapter 1 pt. III

see this post:

and this post:
***before reading part III of Chapter I see above***

"We’re just leaving Mohamed here?” I asked as we got into the 4x4.

“Don’t worry,” Khaleel assured us, “they are just waiting from some paperwork from Bank Muscat. The bank is on a break right now, but in the evening Mohamed will be out.”

I felt bad. A man was sitting in jail right now because he had tried to drive us from Abu Dhabi to Muscat. Even IF he was a man that thought women over the age of 25 were like cartons of milk with expiry dates, he was still sitting there waiting for the right paperwork because of agreeing to help us.

Khaleel had lied to my mother about our distance from Muscat because he intended to drive differently than he had been driving previous. He would now drive like "an Omani."

Because we were insanely late and his shift for work was due to begin at four.

Poor Khalil was fading. He'd been up since six a.m. the day previous, had worked his shift, and then had driven straight to UAE to come get us, and now he was due to work another shift again with no rest because of the delay in the border mix-up, both Mohamed's, and our own exit stamp misadventure. Which, I reminded him, was his fault.

Due to my perverse jitteriness Audrey had taken away my Red Bull rights. I was pouting, she was guarding the blue and red cans like a mother hen.

We delved back into the silence we had immearsed ourselves in pre-dawn hours in Emirates.

Flashback to UAE:

Khalil had arrived, but unlike Mohamed, he had never been to Abu Dhabi before. He was unfamiliar with the roads, being an Omani's 'Omani', so he didn't even know the main street in Abu Dhabi, Hamdan, which was the one we were own.

The closest he managed to find to our apartment building was Al Mariah Mall. Communicating soully by text message and nigh out of credit and afraid to lose him again, I said I would run down to meet him. It was 2 a.m. . I left Audrey with our very helpful Philipino roomates. It was a twenty-minute walk away, but a seven minute sprint.

Weaing niqab [face veil for Muslim women] and abaya I flew in the night, wings of chiffon edges with silver trailing behind me like some ethereal moth [or bat, Khalil would add if he were the author] soaring across the sleepy city streets.

I arrived at Al Mariah and texted him, looking for him. I had only ever seen him in his camel-coloured khaki uniform before, and it had been five years since we'd last seen eachother. And I wasn't sure if he would know me, even if I wasn't wearing niqab.

But he did.

It was my height that gave me away.

He was wearing black and white checked knee-length surf shorts and a red t-shirt, and he had grown into his height so he wasn't skinny at all like I remembered him. I had remembered him with skinny legs. But his face was the same.

We walked towards eachother in dazed, surreal kind of way across the parking lot, haltingly, unsure of the strangeness of the night, as meeting again was something neither of us had really ever expected the last time we'd said goodbye, and 'how are you'.

"Khalil?" I said, missing the correct spot in my throat to pronounce his name from.

"Anastasia," he smiled, using the name my mother calls me by, glad he right about who I was. Honestly, there were no other women out at this time of night dressed in niqabs and abayas.

We stood there dumbly, me in niqab, the elastic digging into my nose, and him looking more North American than me. Unlike most people, even though he knew I was Muslim right away from my hesitancy to make eye contact and no offer to shake hands, he didn't ask me of how that had come to be.

"Do you know how long it's been?" He asked.

"Five years," I mumbled. We were looking in eachothers' eye, remembering our childhoods.
"I'm Muslim," I broke the spell.

He looked around, and motioned towards the white 4x4 he'd borrowed to come and get us in. "You'll have to show me where you're friend is at," he said. "I don't know where to go."

I got in on the passenger side beside him, only because I needed to give him directions by pointing on where to turn.

We pulled up at the apartment building, and I got out to support Audrey to the vehicle, her being propped up by one of the Philipino girls until I took lead, and the Philipino guys kindly loaded our baggage into the fold of the 4x4. We handed our groceries off to them, and thanked them for their unending kindness, and waved goodbye as we pulled away from the city that had nearly swallowed us in its seedy underworld. I had nearly drowned in the marina bay, and Audrey had nearly died of weeks of illness.

We were not sad to go.

Khalil was a bit shy and nervous around both Audrey and I. The awkwardness between Khalil had been a five years thing so that was nothing new, and he didn't like talking English in front of people he didn't feel wholly comfortable with. He'd told me before, so that I'd known.

We drove in silence but with English music playing on the radio.

"Soooooo....." I started. "My mother didn't tell you we were Muslim did she?" I inched off my niqab. Khalil had seen me a a bikini before so my face really wasn't much of a shocker to him. I didn't do it for him, but I did it because I knew I would be seeing my mother for the first time since I had become a Muslim and I didn't want niqab [the face veil] to be the issue. Most of the Omanis she associated with had told her niqab was a tribal thing and not part of our religion at all. If I wore it from Abu Dhabi to Oman, I knew there would have been no taking it off in Muscat. I didn't want her to see my conversion as something rebellious to be different and to seem "exotic" like my father had accused me of.

Khalil shook his head from the front seat and looked back at me from the mirror above the dash. "She gave me your picture." I knew this already. Five years ago, despite how much it had embarassed me, she had distributed my photographs from my vacation in Oman to all the security guys who had worked for Petroleum Development Oman Co. [i.e PDO]. Seeing that this didn't seem to shock me, he clarified. "She gave me pictures of you at your Christmas, last year."

I'd been Muslim and covering my hair for five years now. Christmas last year was an all family event. Most Muslim women don't cover their hair in front of their male family members. Christmas photos were sans headscarf.

Our eyes met in the dashboard and I looked away in embarrassment, knowing then something else.

"My mother didn't tell you I was married, did she?"

Khaleel kept driving as if I hadn't said anything, and then replied softly in the negative. "He's the Saudi?"

"Yes," I said.

Khaleel kept his eyes on the road and didn't say anymore.

We drove in more silence.

'Awkward,' Audrey mouthed to me in the dark somewhere in wadi before Al Ain.

Somewhere in the silence, and in the dark, the radio was subtly changed to Qu'ran. Audrey and I noted the switch.

'Do you think he still has feelings for me?' I mouthed to Audrey in the grey, stuffy air.

She gave me, a 'like duh' face.

We faced to each or own individual sides, Khaleel forward, Audrey to the left, myself to the right, and stared out the window at the stars and the sky.

"What is the Arabic word for stars?" Audrey asked Khaleel in an attempt to make conversation.

He didn't answer. He was listening to Qu'ran.

I knew somehow my voice would have an effect.

"Ya Khaleel! Audrey wants to ask you something."

He reached to turn the voume dial down, and looked at me.


"What is the Arabic word for 'stars'?" I repeated Audrey's question.

"Najma." Khaleel went back to driving.

More silence. Quiter Qu'ran, but more silence.

We drove through Al Ain and back into the darkness of the desert. Audrey probably wished it were light out, because she'd never seen sand like that from Al Ain to Al Bahrimi in Oman before. Bored, she buzzed down her window, and stuck her hand out into the warm night air. She started making waves with her fingers, and eventually Khaleel cracked a smile at her childlike enthusasiam for the air currents ability to lift her hand as her fingers curled. The ice was broken. The awkwardness had thawed to only 'mildly uncomfortable'.

I was glad. At heart, Audrey is a sweet goof, with a mind that recalls 'Grey's Anatomy' [book, not program], and a spirit for loyalty and fun unbeknownst to the majority of human beings that populate this planet, myself included.

Back to the drive from border jail house to Muscat, Audrey was plumetting into coma-tose again in the midday sun, as in Abu Dhabi the night pervious, as if the drugs in her system were stored in her body fat, and were being burned off anew to effect her again.

For some reason, pervsersely I think, Khaleel and I were both hoping she would fall asleep, so that we could talk freely, and that the awkwardness would be a different kind than his lack of confidence in grasping the English language.

We drove in silence while Audrey drifted in and out of whatever it was that was in her system.

Dust of the earth sticks to the heart, making it thick. It colours a man's dreams, the planes of the places he has been. Mouldable and weak as clay, wet and quick and cold as oil, or rough and hard and hot as diamonds, desolation decides him, as sure as the luxuries of other places on this earth spoil him, and coddle him, and make him feel bigger than he is.

The dust of Oman was red on the road from Al Bahrimi. It stuck to the sides of the white SUV as Khaleel drove, colouring the paint so that it never had another colour. It followed us, on thehorizon, and in a billowing cloud behind, making the sky seem more blue in its suspense.

Audrey finally nodded off. Khaleel was himself exhausted.

I was still high as a kite in that blue sky, sailing on the current of sureal-ness perpetuated by seeing a familiar landscape, the red mountains I never thought I'd witness again, and last time, never had hoped to.

In the backseat, my hand snaked for Audrey's thigh, where our Red Bull stash was parentally hedged in security.

Successfully, I wriggled two cans free from Audrey's warmth, and handed one up to Khaleel, who took it, and cracked it: without sound- or vigour. We drank to our mutual silence.

One of us stared out the window at the blunted diamond-edged mountains and tacky, tourist-trapped out Roundabouts with cement horse statues and plastic looking coffee pots/collasal insence burners, and the other kept both eyes fixed on the reminscent road curving ahead.

Omani driver that he was, we did so interchangibly. Every now and then Khaleel had the bad habit of swaying centerline while going nigh 160 miles per hour.

From the backseat now, there was not much that I could do about the centerline driving bit but grit my teeth and hold the seat edge. And as there wasn't that much traffic on the roads until we got into Seeb near the Airport, there was even less I could say about it.

Every now and then Khaleel met my eyes in the rear veiw mirror, and then glanced back at Audrey.

She didn't move, and was out cold.

After a while, Khaleel started, in his normal voice, "So how long will you stay in Oman?"

He is an outgoing person, full of jokes, not really the shy quiet one, at least not in Arabic. And had never been with me in English.

"We're supposed to stay six months."

"And your husband is going to be in your city?"

"Yes, he can't travel until he gets citizenship."


"Why don't you move here?" Khaleel suggested suddenly. "Saudi is close. Your husband can visit you once a month."


"Um..." I kind of laughed, not knowing where he was going with that. "....That wouldn't work for us. I kinda would like to see my husband more than once a month."


Khaleel gave me a weird look over the steering wheel.

...Because I was staying in Oman for six months without seeing my husband.

We left that where it was.

"He could work here. You could get a job. I could be friends with him and you could be friends with my wife." His voice sounded hopeful in too-cheery way.


My turn to give him a strange a look.

"My mother said you had a girlfriend..."

He gave me another weird kind of look, and then kind of choked, and laughed, the way someone sad does.

"No..." he drove. "I don't have a girlfriend."

So either my mother had lied, or Khaleel was lying. I was betting on my mother.

Silence. We drove some more. 'Driving is good' I remember thinking.

He continued to regard me in the rearview mirror. After a while he said, "You told me you didn't have a boyfriend."

I paused. "I... didn't." Sure of myself I continued. "And my mother never told you I was married did she?" I looked away. Then I looked back to him as he drove, sipping on his Red Bull. "I never had a boyfriend. But when I became Muslim, shortly after, I got married. Faisal was never my boyfriend, but I knew 'about' him when we were in school together."

Khalil wouldn't look to me. "You never wrote me back." His hands squeezed the steering wheel.

"Huh?" I was confused. "When did you write me? An email?" I'd always had his email address, it was just, we'd never used it.

"I wrote you four letters," he said. "You never wrote me back." Still not looking at me.

I'd never got them. "I never got them."


"I gave them to your mother."

Well, that was it then, his fault.

As before, when he'd told her that he liked me.

I started to ask what he had written in the letters, but...

"Too bad I am sleeping," Audrey gurgled half-coherently, sitting up suddenly, shaking Khaleel and I, and making us aware of our body language, that we were straining towards eachother from the partition of front & back seat. "If I wasn't sleeping I wouldn't have missed that lady with the hat!" Audrey's head rolled back again and she passed out cold.

Khaleel and I looked out the window to regard what she had been babbling about and saw an Omani woman walking on the side of the road carrying a basket piled high with firwood on her head. 'The lady with the hat'.

The two of us met eacother's eyes in mirror and burst out laughing.

[to be continued]

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