Leila grabs her car keys and hurries her way to the lift, where she glances approvingly at her reflection and then adds another layer of her Smashbox lip paint to make her pout even shinier. Fluffing up her hair one last time, she saunters out of the building and gracefully eases into her dark grey BMW 330, revs up the engine and then starts blaring Fairouz from the stereo. Not the sexiest of choices, but it’s Friday morning, the weather is mild and she is on her way to meet Mr Delicious for brunch. What more could she possibly want at this precise moment? (Other than an engagement ring bigger than Lara’s, that is).
Lara called her the previous night, right after Lady Luxe cancelled their usual Thursday night shenanigans. She only ever cancelled their weekly perving ritual if there was a man around and her taste for one-night-wonders rarely meant that she put an ordinary guy before her friends. So when she called to whisper a quick "sorry, can’t make it tonight, see you later", Leila guessed that the man in question was her father.
Lady Luxe rarely spoke about her family with Leila, but it was obvious that they were powerful and affluent. Why else would she painstakingly keep her last name hidden from her and even go as far as to only pay in cash so that her name on her credit card wasn’t visible? At the beginning, when she was still under the illusion that they were becoming real friends, Lady Luxe’s trust issues annoyed Leila. After a while though, she realised it didn’t really matter. Their friendship wasn’t much deeper than a swimming pool and was based upon a mutual desire for men, a vague liking of each other's personality and equal attractiveness. So, up until last week, Leila wasn’t particularly interested in the dynamics of her friend’s family life, her last name or where she lived. But now, after the way Lady Luxe descended upon her apartment like a magpie spying a piece of silver, she feels a little uneasy. Maybe it is time to start investigating her friend’s other identity – just in case.
During her thirty-minute conversation with Lara, Leila didn’t feel insanely jealous by her sister’s excited squeals and lack of pauses between sentences. The wind wasn’t knocked out of her, her breath wasn’t caught in her throat and her head didn’t spin. Instead, she actually felt a little bit happy for her younger sister who had managed to secure the everlasting love of a decent, albeit unattractive, prospective life partner. After her evening with Mr Delicious and his friend, hope in male-kind has tentatively been restored in her and although her cynical side keeps reminding her to keep her feet firmly on the sand, the dreamer encourages her to float to the tip of the Burj Dubai.
So, instead of hurriedly trying to hang up the phone, she actually asked Lara questions about the venue (their back garden), the dress (to be confirmed) and the honeymoon (Turkey). She didn’t even start fantasising about her own wedding. Instead, she concentrated on her strategy to bag Mr Delicious as soon as possible.
According to writer Sherry Arcov, men married bitches. If this was the case though, Leila would surely have been married a few times by now. Another saying was that nice girls finish last, thus implying that mean girls finish first. But so far, she isn’t even close to finishing – first, second, or last. In fact, she barely even gets the race started at all. Somewhere along the first stretch, she stumbles, falls and automatically forfeits. Usually with a lot of bruising.
Tired of getting it wrong Leila wonders if now is the time to play it differently. She has tried nice, mean, sexy, sweet, intelligent and stupid and nothing has worked for her. Today, she decides to just go with her instincts (apart from the those in her loins, that is) and hope for the best. Maybe she will get lucky.
Cruising along Sheikh Zayed Road at 90 km per hour, she takes the Marina exit and joins Jumeirah Road in order to avoid the SALIK toll gate. She hates having to actually pay to drive down SZR, and usually refuses to do so, even if it means being late. She just can’t justify wasting hundreds of dirhams every month for the sake of saving a few minutes. Besides, although she will never admit it, she is actually a little afraid of the mammoth highway, with its six lanes on both sides and monstrous drivers speeding down the fast lane. Her beemer is purely for decoration purposes, not speed. She shudders when she remembers how once, she was caught in the fast lane with a tank behind her flashing her to move out the way and no space on the right to actually do so. The tank came right up to her bumper and had she tapped on her brakes, would have ploughed into Leila, leaving both her and Baby Bee as flat as a manaqeesh. She now avoids SZR like swine flu, and prefers to plod along Jumeirah Road fending off nothing more than a few wolf whistles instead.
Driving all the way down Jumeirah Road (referred to as Beach Road by the residents due to it running parallel to the coast), she finally makes it to Bur Dubai, countless traffic lights and speed bumps later. She enjoys driving down the equivalent of London’s Harley Street with its pretty cosmetic surgery clinics and dental spas, but not as much as she enjoys driving down Al Wasl Road, home to some of the finest old villas in Dubai, including those belonging to the Habtoors, according to Lady Luxe.
The roads are empty as most of Dubai either sleeps or prepares for Friday prayers and Leila reaches Oud Metha in record time. Except for the young Brits of course. They are most likely running riot at a champagne brunch somewhere, and although Leila has joined them on many occasions, today, she has forsaken drunken stupor for a finer pursuit.
Upon reaching Movenpick, Leila happily hands over her keys to the valet, thankful that she doesn’t have to get into a sweat by actually parking the car herself. She heads straight for the small and slightly dark restroom, where she applies her third coat of lipgloss, dusts a little powder onto her small, straight nose and checks her rear-end in the mirror one last time for any strange marks that shouldn’t be there. Despite wearing a cute, white cotton dress with tiny cap sleeves and carefully fixing a white carnation in her hair, with her voluptuous double Ds and round bottom, Leila somehow manages to make the colour of purity look devilish and provocative. Scowling at the dreary restroom, she wonders why Mr Delicious suggested Movenpick rather than something closer to (his) home, like Atlantis, and wonders if it’s because he doesn’t want to be caught seen with her. She shakes the suspicion out of her head – after all, who wouldn’t want to be seen with someone as sexy as herself? A married man her annoying conscience tells her. Shut the hell up, she replies, grabbing her faux tan coloured leather Chanel tote and stalking out of the restroom in her four inch heels.
“Leila, ahlan,” Mr Delicious greets her as she walks into the restaurant in the centre of the hotel foyer. With its huge glass ceiling, it is flooded with natural light, and together with the quiet live music and colonial décor, Leila decides that the general feel of the place is actually quite decadent and pretty.
“Good morning,” she replies accepting his kisses on her cheeks and inhaling his fresh, slightly musky scent. “What are you wearing?” she asks playfully as she sits down next to him rather than opposite him.
“Arabian Wood by Tom Ford,” he answers.
“Nice. It’s one of his private blends, right?” she confirms, excitement tickling her stomach. One 250 ml of Tom Ford’s private blends costs close to two thousand dirhams, and even the teeny 50 ml costs almost eight hundred.
“Right,” he affirms. “He originally created it for Sheikh Majid of Kuwait with the Sheikh’s personal collection of essential oils.”
“So do you know Sheikh Majid?” Leila can’t help but ask, leaning forward in her seat and ‘un’ knowingly giving Mr Delicious a good view of her cleavage.
“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you,” he jokes, smiling at her. “Anyway, let’s eat, the food here is great.”
Leila is not a fan of buffets. She hates having to wobble over to food stations and load up her plate like a homeless person at a soup kitchen. She doesn’t believe in limitless food either – no wonder most of the women in Dubai are so round. But she smiles and makes her way straight to the salads and the sushi, deciding it is the healthiest option and waits for Mr Delicious to finish piling his plate with everything that can fit. She watches him eat and wonders when she will get a chance to find out exactly what his mouth can do, aside from vacuuming up food and making charming remarks. She will never initiate anything though, and neither will she give obvious signals for him to pursue. She wants much more from him than a couple of pleasant gifts and everyone knows that Arab guys don’t marry girls they’ve screwed, no matter what proclamations of love they make prior to opening up the gates to the promised land. Like her mother always says: why buy the entire cow when you can get the milk for free?
They talk mindlessly and as always, she enjoys the conversation, preferring to talk rather than eat. She doesn’t get up to fill her plate again but takes great pleasure in watching Mr Delicious march over to the various stations. His body seems to be strong and powerful and his loose beige combats and a white t-shirt cling to his muscles as though they were made for him. She is secretly pleased that their outfits are matching, and takes this as another sign fate is throwing her way – first the gym incident, and now this. The way he looks at her, although unnerving, has Leila convinced that he is developing some kind of attachment to her. And who wouldn’t, she thinks gleefully. Look at me! I’m not only hot, but I’m classy and intelligent. What more could a man want?
“How’s your friend by the way? I never did hear from her,” Mr Delicious says, interrupting her self-appraisal while devouring a plate of freshly prepared pasta.
“My friend?” Thrown off-guard by the remark, Leila feels anger beginning to boil within. She has never been on a date that has resulted in the man enquiring after her friend before, and the sheer audacity of the question makes her eyes want to bulge out of their sockets.
“You know, the crazy blonde you were with at the Cavalli Club. Now that we’re friends, maybe you wouldn’t mind putting in a good word for me?”
Leila stares at Mr Delicious, at his perfect, chiseled cheekbones and his warm smile, speechless. ‘Friends?’ she screams to herself. Does it look like I need another ‘friend’? Furious, she clenches her fists tightly under the table and steadies herself before answering him.
“Oh, right, her,” she manages to choke out, along with a strangled laugh. “That’s probably because she’s actually Emirati. She likes to party but it’s all just a big game to her. She’s not looking for anything serious.” As soon as the words are out of her mouth, a wave of regret washes over her. She knows she has stepped over a boundary.
“Really? Wow. She doesn’t look Emirati,” Mr Delicious says thoughtfully, his forehead creased with confusion.
“Well she is. Anyway habibi, this has been lovely but I really have to run. I have loads of things to do today.” Still feeling as if she is about to vomit, she picks up her handbag and sticks her mobile phone back into it. No matter how much she wants Mr Delicious to want her back, her pride will always come first and she refuses to spend another minute with a man who has dragged her all the way to the other side of Dubai only to pry about Lady Luxe.
“Are you sure?” he asks, eyeing up the chocolate fountain and the selection of fresh fruit and marshmallows lying appetisingly beside it. “I’m not quite finished yet…”
“I’m really sorry but I have to go. Feel free to stay longer. And please, let me pay my share,” she says, pretending to rummage around for her wallet, giving him enough time to decline angrily. No Arab man will ever allow a girl to tread on his ego like that and such a statement is the ultimate blow to his pride, tantamount to his girlfriend cheating on him.
“Sure, why not. I’m all for feminism,” he replies gamely.
Once again, Leila is horrified. She can feel her heart palpitating at the different shocks she has had to endure: first driving all the way to Bur Dubai, then finding out that she is just a stepping stone to the greater prize – Lady Luxe – and then being told to pay her own share. Never in the thousands of dates she has been on, has she ever had her offer to pay taken up. Pulling a range of fifties, twenties, tens and even a couple of fives from her wallet to cover her share of the bill, she dumps them on the table and then stands up.
“Well Mr Delicious, it’s been a pleasure. Hope you have a lovely day,” she manages to hiss between clenched teeth, with as much decorum as she can muster. Firmly shaking his hand, she turns on her heels and strides out of the restaurant. She has had enough for one morning.
As she waits for Baby Bee to be returned to her, her phone beeps and she yanks it out of her bag, expecting to find a message from Mr Delicious apologising profusely for his faux pas. She already begins preparing her sharp response, but instead, it is Lady Luxe. She opens it and then almost drops her phone as she is electrocuted once again. Ya Rab! She almost yells out loud. Have mercy on me!
Had a nice brunch? The ominous message reads. I’ve heard good things about the food at Movenpick.