Lady Luxe waves goodbye to her father and then closes the front door, pulling off the big black shawl that she has wrapped around her head and body as she does so. Whenever she ventures out of the villa, even if it's just to get something from her car or to sneak in a cigarette, she is obliged to cover herself up completely in case there is a visitor in the grounds, male staff walking around or a pervert with binoculars hiding in a palm tree. Leaning against the door, she pulls out her phone from a pocket in her loose, khaki green combat trousers and checks it once again, in the impossible hope that Mr Delicious has contacted her.
"How can he text you if he doesn’t have your number?" Leila quite rightfully asked her the previous day, when Lady Luxe couldn’t help but call her to complain.
"I don’t care," she snapped. "He should find a way! What the hell did he mean, the ball is in my court? It's him who has balls, not me, so he can bloody well find a way of calling me!" Hanging up the phone, she had stormed on to her balcony and smoked three consecutive Marlboro Lights. In her frustration, she accidentally let the last butt fall to the garden below, which happened to be where her father was taking a phone call. She heard him pause in the middle of a sentence and her eyes wide with fear, she ducked into her room before he looked up and saw her.
Shitshitshit, she thought to herself as she ran silently across the upstairs hall way, barefooted, straight to her seventeen year-old brother's room.
"Knocking is common courtesy," he mumbled as she burst in. Unlike Lady Luxe's room which exudes her personality perfectly with the bold hot pink feature wall, pale silver muslin hanging from the four poster bed and the plasma screen conveniently fitted on the opposite wall, Ahmed's room gives absolutely nothing away at first glance. The walls are a neutral beige, the sheets on the double bed are white and there are no posters or pictures hanging on the walls or sitting on the bedside cabinets. However, upon examining the contents of his bookcase, it is clear that Ahmed is nothing like his older siblings. The shelves are weighed down with books on Arab history, Islamic heritage, Middle Eastern politics, interpretations of the Qur'an, narrations from the Prophet's (Peace Be Upon Him) companions and volumes on Islamic jurisprudence. At the top of the bookcase, above all the other items, sits a small, worn Qur'an.
"Sorry habibi but you have to help me," Lady Luxe implored, grabbing Ahmed and yanking him out of his swivel chair. "Please go and stand on my balcony and pretend you were smoking before Baba comes up. Please!"
Pulling his arm, she half dragged Ahmed to her room, lit another cigarette and then shoved it into his hand. She ran back into his room, picked up the first book she could lay her hands on and opened it randomly. She heard her father's slow, steady footsteps go up the marble stairs and into her room and she strained her ears, trying to listen.
"And what do you think you're doing –" her father began as he entered her room. The pause, Lady Luxe figured, was him coming across Ahmed awkwardly leaning against the railings with the cigarette sitting uncomfortably between his fingers.
"Hi Baba," Ahmed replied in a strangled voice. "Are you looking for my sister? She's in my room if you want her."
Without a word, her father turned on his heels and marched into Ahmed's room, flinging open the door.
"What are you doing in your brother's room?" he asked suspiciously, seeing his daughter sitting crossed-legged in the middle of the neat bed reading a book.
"Reading," she replied in the most nonchalant voice she could muster, given the circumstances.
"Reading what?" he asked, coming closer to look at the book.
"This." Not knowing what she had hurriedly chosen, Lady Luxe held it up and showed her father the jacket.
"The Muslim Marriage Guide by Ruqqaiyya Waris Maqsood?" he read, the disbelief evident in his raised voice. "You want me to believe that you're actually reading a Muslim Marriage Guide?!"
"So?" Lady Luxe retorted defiantly, slamming the book closed. "I need to be prepared, don’t I?" Glaring at her father's impassive face, she realized she would have to change tactics if she wanted him to believe her. She softened her voice and relaxed her frowning eyebrows.
"I'm sorry for freaking you out Baba," she started, casting her gaze down in faux sadness so convincing, that it could have competed with Leila's fake Karama handbags. "It's just that…well, seeing as Mama isn't even Muslim and lives in another continent altogether, I don’t really have anyone to talk to about these things. It's too embarrassing to speak to anyone else about it so I was looking through this to see if I want to borrow it from Ahmed or not." She looked up at her father with the tiniest amount of water in her eyes, not enough to seem crocodile-like, but enough for him to notice.
Lady Luxe's father, despite pushing fifty, is still ruggedly handsome. His face is smooth with the exception of the small creases around his eyes, his thick, jet black hair is still full on his head and his smile is wide and generous. With his strong jaw line, faint beard and broad shoulders, he is often a target for women looking for wealthy yet handsome men but he rarely indulges himself in Dubai. Like his daughter, he prefers to play abroad.
"Yalla ya bnayti, I'll let you continue," he said sheepishly after a moment, his voice now soft. Looking down at his beautiful, strong daughter, he wondered whether or not she was suffering without a female role model in her life. Maybe it was time to get married again. Patting her shoulder in an unusual display of affection, he left the room and Lady Luxe sunk back against the pillow in relief. A moment later, Ahmed reappeared, a scowl on his face.
"I can't believe you just did that. You know I think smoking is haraam!" he chastised indignantly. "And what's that you're reading? The guide to marriage? Maybe you should try this instead." Picking up a book on seeking forgiveness from God, he tossed it over to his sister who smiled sweetly back at him.
"You know I love you," she said, jumping out of bed and hugging him. "Thanks. I owe you one!"
"More like a million," Ahmed muttered as she skipped out of the room, still holding the book that had saved her life. May God save her soul, he prayed, watching her retreating back.
After the close call with her father, Lady Luxe spent the rest of the day hanging around the villa moping. Whenever she bumped into him, she would look at him with hurt eyes and say very little. Until dinner, that is, when he became annoyed and told her to get over it. She slumped back to her room and occupied herself with staring at her phone and Googling Mr Delicious, as she had been doing all week.
And now, after saying goodbye to her father who is off to Kuwait for another business trip, she is tired of checking her phone a million times and decides it's time to take matters into her own hands.
I'm going to the Cavalli Club to find him, she texts Leila when she hears her father's Mercedes leave the grounds for yet another business trip. Meet me there in an hour.
In a record forty-five minutes, Lady Luxe transforms into Jennifer. Wearing a black and white three-quarter length silk Cavalli dress over black leggings, she puts on a delicate diamond bracelet on her right wrist, fixes on the blonde wig and then covers herself in an abaya.
"Ahmed, I'm going to Maryam's house, tell Mohamed or Baba or anyone who asks," she calls out, running down the stairs and into her Porsche Cayenne. Her pink Ferrari is still being serviced and anyhow, she never, ever drives it as Jennifer as it is far too conspicuous.
Entering the Club alone, she takes a seat at the bar and orders a juice, wanting to stay completely alert. She doesn’t feel uncomfortable sitting by herself and just absorbs the ambience instead. With the Swarovksi crystals hanging from the high ceilings, she feels right at home and wonders if Roberto, with his interest in bling, would also be interested in collaborating with her to design a Cavalli abaya range. She writes down the idea in her phone so that she doesn’t forget.
"Hello," a British voice whispers to her right. Startled, she looks over to see an okay-looking middle aged man in a Paul Smith shirt smiling at her and she smiles vaguely back, not wanting to get side-tracked. The last thing she wants is Mr Delicious appearing only to find her flirting with another man. Turning her body away from him slightly, she sends Leila a message urging her to hurry up.
An hour later, Lady Luxe is still sitting completely alone. In this hour, she has sent five messages to Leila, who eventually replied saying she has guests over for dinner, has had six men try and talk to her, believing her lonely demeanour to be a request for company and has visited the restroom to powder her nose once. Although it is only 11pm, she decides to go home.
She makes the customary pit stop at a petrol station to take off her wig and put on her abaya, and when she does, she realizes she's not ready to go home just yet. Turning back onto the mammoth Sheikh Zayed Road with its six lanes on either side, she skillfully maneuvers onto the fast lane and heads South, ignoring the speed cameras as always. She curses herself for allowing Mr Delicious to artfully pull her phone out of her hands and store his number in it when everyone knows that no decent Arab girl with a shred of self-respect will ever call a man first. No matter how charming he appears to be or how desperate for him she is. She also curses Mr Delicious for being so damn delicious in the first place, for assuming that she wouldn’t give him her number and for putting the ball in her court when she obviously didn’t want it there. Then she curses Leila, whom she is on her way to visit, for bailing on her with 'guests'. In the two years they have known each other, Leila has had a handful of guests come to visit her, add to that the fact that she ignored almost all of her text messages… Lady Luxe is convinced that her friend is lying.
She takes the Discovery Gardens exit and screeches to a halt outside Leila's building, reluctant to leave the car. She doesn’t think much of the location (its only saving grace being its proximity to Ibn Battuta mall), the architecture (if you can even call it that) or the quiet and dull atmosphere. She feels that it is a complete mirror of Dubai itself – badly planned and utterly soulless.
As she walks up to the building, the door opens and a man comes out, brushing past her as he does.
"Sorry!" he says in an American accent, the darkness shielding his face.
"It's okay," Lady Luxe murmurs, the hair on her body beginning to prickle. She has heard this voice before. She stops at the door and watches the man gracefully get into a white Audi R8. He turns on the engine, the roar filling the entire street, and opens his tinted windows. Without looking back at her, he turns the car around and leaves, but not before she catches a quick glimpse of his sharp profile in the dim streetlamp.
Entering the building, her breath still a little too fast and her mind racing she calls for the lift. Who was that guy? She asks herself, waiting impatiently for it to reach the eighth floor. Exiting the lift, she is just in time to see Leila kissing the cheeks of a tall, bald man in the usual Lebanese way before saying goodbye to him and closing the door. Lady Luxe watches him stand at the door for a couple of seconds, smiling, before he turns and heads towards the lift. She feels relieved, hoping that this man was her only guest and the guy downstairs - who she has a niggling feeling may have been Mr Delicious - had nothing to do with anything.
"Marhaba," he says politely as he passes her, quickly absorbing in her pretty hazel eyes, immaculate complexion and slim frame. Although she is easily six feet tall in her heels, he is still taller than her.
"Good evening," she replies, smiling warmly and looking straight into his eyes. Inspiration coming to her, she adds, "Excuse me, but I think your friend is waiting for you downstairs? A tall gentleman with brown hair? Perhaps you ought to hurry a little?"
"Oh, he's still here? Thanks for telling me," the man answers, still shaken by her gaze, without even questioning how she knows he's his friend. Men, Lady Luxe sniggers to herself. They never think with their heads when they see a pretty face.
Striding purposefully over to Leila's apartment, she rings the bell. The door is flung open immediately, as if Leila is waiting for someone and she has a huge smile on her face. When finding Lady Luxe on the other side, standing formidable in her four-inch heels and abaya, Leila's smile falters so slightly that Lady Luxe could have easily imagined it.
"Hi! Come in!" she exclaims, without skipping a beat.
"My pleasure," Lady Luxe replies, her voice as smooth as silk. She walks in and smells the delicious fragrance of roast lamb and mint lingering in the air. Taking off her abaya and sitting down on the sofa, she looks straight at Leila who is making a big show of clearing away the dining table.
"So," she begins, her eyebrow raised and her voice innocent. "Who did you have over for dinner?"