Monday, October 12, 2009

Chapter Twenty - Sugar Honey Iced Tea

I had another nightmare last night. I keep having them every week or so, and they come like a reminder I've put in my phone – alerting me of what I left behind and what I am trying to achieve, startling me out of my otherwise peaceful slumber.

Last night's choppy, static dream was so intense that I can still feel the tightness in my lungs as I tried to scream, but nothing came out. I can still feel my head spinning as the walls closed in around me and I collapsed into a heap of weak limbs on the bedroom floor, the sound of sirens clawing at my ears. That was when I woke up, my breath heavy, beads of sweat clinging to my hairline. I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom where I made wudhu with cold water, my eyes still laced with sleep, my movements slow with fatigue. After I finished the last step, washing my feet up to my ankles, I stared at my reflection, at the dark circles under my eyes, my lifeless skin, the water dripping down my face and my neck, leaving wet patches on my Snoopy nightshirt. I looked exactly as I felt – cold, lonely and miserable.

Heading back into my bedroom, I wrapped a scarf around my head, pulled on my dressing gown and stood on the prayer mat. It wasn’t even time for Fajr, and the sky was still as black as it can be, considering all the lights in the city, so I prayed the optional night prayers instead. I prayed for Allah to ease my parents', pain, their heartache, their incomprehensible disappointment. I prayed for Allah to forgive my brother for his anger and frustration, to instill peace in his heart, patience in his mind. Then I prayed for Jayden, wherever he is; for Allah to accept his soul into the garden of eternal peace and happiness. I remained prostrated on the prayer mat until my legs began to feel stiff, until I couldn’t feel my feet anymore, until my head and face felt heavy with all the blood that had settled there. My face soaked with tears, carpet marks imprinted on it, I eventually felt as if a tiny part of the weight I had been carrying had been lifted.

The phone wakes me up, hours later. Feeling groggy, my body aching, I slowly wrench my eyes open to find myself lying on the prayer mat, my scarf around my neck and my dressing gown over my body like a blanket.

"Hello?" I manage to croak, my throat dry, acutely aware that I sound disgusting first thing in the morning. When I was at college and at the pinnacle of my beanie hunting days, my then best friend, Farah, had been kind enough to advise me never to talk to any guys when I have just woken up.

"Trust me, Sugar," she told me, snorting down the phone at 7am. "You sound SO butters. Never talk to a guy like this. Not unless you want him to run a mile."

Farah had always been excruciatingly blunt. I feel a sharp pang as I remember all my wonderful (albeit a little crazy) friends that I've had to leave behind. I can't even remember the last time we spoke.

"Sabah al khair," Goldenboy replies, his voice smiling. I smile back, wondering if he too can feel my expressions through the phone.

"Sabah al nour," I reply geekily, trying my best to pronounce the guttural sounds properly. Arabic is definitely a beautiful language, but so damn hard to learn and even more difficult to enunciate accurately.

"Why are you smiling?" he asks, and I grin even more.

"Because you called," I say without thinking. The second I say it, I regret it. I'm supposed to be the cool, suave rude gyal from North London. Not a sickeningly adoring teenager from the suburbs.

"Because you woke me up, I meant," I hastily add, trying to redeem myself. "I forgot to set my alarm. So I'm happy I didn’t oversleep."

"Well get ready. I'm coming to collect you," he says. "I'll be there in an hour."

"Where are we going?" I ask, panicking. I just woke up on the prayer mat for God's sake. Surely my religiosity had to extend beyond the morning after?

"It's a surprise. Just dress comfortably, okay? See you soon!" With that, he hangs up and I sit still for a moment. Last night, during my prayers, I finally felt a tiny glimmer of hope – hope for redemption from Allah, hope for peace in the afterlife. I can't destroy it all now, just for a bit of fun.

But you won’t do anything bad,
a voice whispers within. It's okay if you behave yourself, if you keep your barriers strong. Just be strong, be good, and it's okay.

And it’s not just a bit of fun either. There's something about Goldenboy that's so compelling. I feel drawn to him, like two opposite magnets that can only give in to the inevitable and cling to each other.

Persuading myself that my relationship with him is legit and nothing like what happened with Jayden, I hop into the shower and begin getting ready. I throw on a pair of loose, frayed jeans, trainers and a yellow long sleeved cotton jersey top with a hood that just about covers my bum. As I tie a brown and mustard pashmina around my face, I tell myself that it's okay that my top is a tad too short because my jeans are baggy. I feel a bit guilty though. I hate it when hijabis don't dress like proper hijabis. You see them all the time in the UK and in Dubai, wearing skinny jeans that show off their thighs and bums, tight tops that leave no room for guessing bra sizes, and then flinging scarves on their heads, as if hijab is just about covering your hair, not about modesty, dignity or about hiding your physical beauty, saving it for one man only.

When I first moved to Dubai, I found Emirati girls' version of hijab really weird. In London, only ultra-religious girls wear the abaya, and it’s usually a step they take once they've worn hijab for a while and want to cover themselves more. Over here though, you get a lot of women in abayas, but with transparent, floaty scarves perched precariously on huge beehives, perfectly blow-dried, highlighted fringes sticking out. Their eyes are usually exaggerated by thick, heavy kohl, they often have fuchsia pink or cherry red lips and mega high heels. Their Swarovski encrusted abayas sometimes float behind them, showing off tight skinny jeans, bling belts and occasionally, a glimpse of a tanned, toned sliver of stomach. They clutch obscenely expensive designer handbags in their manicured hands and you can continue smelling their strong perfume long after they've walked past you.

Some women don't even bother with a faux hijab over their carefully styled hair and just have it around their neck instead.

Although these women look rich and graceful from the back as they glide through the malls, from the front, most of them look like clowns with all that makeup caked on. It's as if their dad told them that they can only wear makeup once in their entire life, so they put as much of it as they could onto their faces. It took me a while to get used to it, as I felt as if they were taking the piss out of the concept of hijab, out of our religion. It also felt as if they were making a mockery out of Allah's commandments, which, being a newbie hijabi, I was still getting to grips with.

Now though, I get that the way they dress isn’t a testimony of their faith. It's just a cultural obligation, nothing more. Of course, there are women who do adhere to it properly, and I guess those women are the ones who wear it for their Creator, who wear it because the Qur'an says: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty
…." Not because their fathers are worried that they will shame the community if they don’t.

But I'm not exactly a good example of the modest Muslimah myself, so I can't judge. Look at me, getting ready to meet a guy (haraam), wearing clothes only just about fulfilling the hijab criteria if I stand up straight an don't bend down (haraam), spraying myself with half a bottle of Burberry Brit (haraam) and grabbing my iPod so we can sing to my tunes on the way to wherever it is that we're going to (haraam).

Excitement flutters in my stomach as I get into Goldenboy's black BMW M3, shaking hands with him and buckling up. The sun is bright, but the air is surprisingly fresh, cool enough to open the windows and drive along the motorway. I connect my iPod to the sound system and introduce him to Coldplay. I can't help but sing along to 'Yellow,' and I see him watching me from the corner of his eye, smiling as he leans back against the seat and controls the wheel with his left hand, his right elbow leaning comfortably on the arm rest. I don’t know what it is about cute guys driving cute cars that does it for me. I guess it's the whole 'being in total control' thing.

Anyway, he's wearing aviators, white linen trousers and a dark blue Armani t-shirt, and I get the urge to touch his leg, to see if I can feel his skin through the thin linen (MAJOR HARAAM SUGAR. DON'T DO IT). Obviously I don't though. Instead, I take pictures of my reflection in the car's side mirror with his camera, trying to keep myself busy.

"You're so different from all the girls I know," he suddenly says, turning the volume down.

"Really? Why?" I ask nonchalantly, secretly pleased at the acknowledgement of my uniqueness.

"I don’t know. You just are," he says quietly. "You seem so comfortable with yourself and you're so open. What you see is what you get. There are no secrets."

My face turns pink at his completely misjudged analysis of me, and I turn my face towards the window, so that he can't see how uncomfortable he has made me. I wish I was simple. I wish I had no secrets.

We continue driving down the motorway, leaving the glitz and glamour of Dubai behind us and join a much smaller dual carriageway. The desert is on either side of us and occasionally, there are a few dirty, dusty shops on the side of the road. This is the first time I'm venturing out of Dubai, and already I feel like I'm in another world. One that is actually real, not a mirage of all things new and shiny. As we get further away from the city, as the road gets emptier and the signs get stranger (with the occasional road sign on declaring 'Subhanallah' or 'Alhamdulillah' which I find really amusing), we see brown mountains in the distance.

"Welcome to Al Ain," Goldenboy declares. "These mountains are called Jebel Hafeet. I thought we could have lunch in the oasis. Do you like the surprise?"

"I love my surprise!" I exclaim, my eyes shining and a huge grin on my face.

As much as my relationship with Jayden was thrilling and exciting, it wasn't particularly romantic. He never actually took me anywhere different, not unless he wanted a quiet spot to make out with me, in which case he'd seek out various lonely parks and cemeteries (I know, how morbid). Neither of us had cars, we relied purely on our Oyster cards to get about and we didn’t have much money either, so we couldn’t go anywhere remotely exotic. Not unless you consider graveyards to be exotic. There was one hidden in Stoke Newington, just off the high street, that was actually quite peaceful. The grass was unkempt and there were loads of trees and overgrown foliage covering the headstones, providing lots of privacy. We went there a lot and sat around on the walls, talking, our heads resting on each other. I should have realised that any relationship that blossomed in a place rife with dead bodies was ill-fated.

The oasis is nestled amongst the towering, sandy coloured mountains, a luscious splash of green in otherwise arid landscape, and we choose a spot next to a little stream. Goldenboy has actually not only packed a fabulous picnic of Arabic bread, grilled chicken, roast potatoes, homous, baba ghanouj, fattoush and loads of fruit and drinks, but he has remembered to bring a blanket, cutlery and even a thermos of mint tea and a shisha. There are other families around us, barbecuing fragrant cubes of lamb, preparing salads and others sitting around drinking tea. Goldenboy strikes up a conversation with one family in Arabic, and the next thing I know, they've sent a whole loads of grilled goodies in our direction. I love the Arab hospitality, how they are so generous with their time, attention and material possessions. I can't imagine being invited to join in someone else's family picnic in Springfield Park. In fact, they'd probably nick our stuff while we weren't looking.

When the sun sets, we hear the adhaan in the distance and Goldenboy asks me if I want to pray behind him. I readily agree, and he stands in front of me and begins leading the prayer. His voice is sweet and melodic, and I feel a rush of emotion reach right to my soul as he recites various verses from the Qur'an. We finish praying, get the shisha ready and relax under the stars, smoking the fragrant double apple shisha and sipping on mint tea. I wish I could stay like this forever.

"I haven't seen this many stars for so long," I tell him, looking up at the surprisingly clear black sky. I lie down on my back and try to count them, encouraging Goldenboy to do the same. He seems to be taking the task quite seriously. Whereas I'm just trying to force my body to remain glued in the little (okay, big) patch of grass I've flattened. All I want to do is roll over and place my head on his chest and listen to his heart beat, to casually place my arm over his taut torso, to intertwine my legs in his. And then confide in him and tell him my secrets, my hopes, my fears. My story. I wonder how he would feel if he knew everything about me, if he would still want to be friends with me. Or if he would reject me, cast me from his life as some of my other friends did, if he would hold me in contempt and lose all respect for me.

I have had to learn the hard way that people you think love you unconditionally, actually only love the idea of you, and when you fall from grace in their eyes, they no longer want to know you. The idea they had has been shattered, and the real, you - the naked, vulnerable you - just simply isn’t good enough. I came out here hoping for a fresh start with people who don't know my sordid past. I wonder how long I can keep it like that.

Goldenboy turns his body to face me, his expression thoughtful. My heart starts to pound and the metre between us suddenly feels like nothing. After all, he is close enough to touch. The possibilities between us are endless.

Despite the lack of a physical connection between us, I feel emotionally connected to him. The more we talk, the more I realise that it's not just about hormones. Of course, they're there, charging the atmosphere, but it's not as it was at the beginning of the day, when all I wanted to do was touch him. Now, all I want is to spend more and more time with him.

During our picnic, we talked about our families. He told me little anecdotes about his parents and the day trips they took when they were kids. I didn't tell him about the time our family was supposed to go to Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, and how the night before, my older sister and I excitedly packed a huge picnic lunch, how we sang songs all the way down the M1, only to get there and have my mum change her mind and decide she didn’t want to suffer through the intense heat. And how we looked for an alternative, but the park we stumbled across was full of skinheads who snarled at us as we walked past, and how we ended up having our beautiful picnic in the car. In the Sainsbury's car park. No, I decided to leave out my weird family stories and listened to his instead. His upbringing in rural Syria was so different from my inner city London one, so unassuming and innocent compared to mine, that I found myself hanging onto his every word. I wished that I too had that kind of Enid Blyton childhood, full of adventure, wildlife and the kind of independence kids brought up in a safe environment are privy to.

I turn to face him, wondering what he's about to say, trying to plaster a reassuring look on my face so that he feels that he can open up and say anything.

"How many stars have you counted?" he asks. My heart plummets, and I force a smile on my face. I'm beginning to doubt that he has any feelings towards me at all. Maybe I'm like those saddos from that movie, 'He's Just Not That Into You,' who over-analyse every smile, touch, word until she believes that he is about to pop the question at any moment. When the reality is, he sees her as nothing more than a way to pass a few hours when there's nothing better to do.

What am I supposed to say?
Sorry, I haven’t actually been counting the stars. I've been wondering what our children would look like instead?

"Twenty three?" I answer instead.

"Is that all? I got thirty nine," he replies. I don’t care, I think to myself. Feeling annoyed, I sit up abruptly.

"Yalla let's go," I say, already adopting dodgy Arabic phrases.

"Already?"

"Yes, it's getting late. By the time we get back to Dubai it'll be nearly eleven." I say prudishly, remembering the many times I snuck out of my house at 2am, drove my brother's car down to St John's Street and met Jayden in Tinseltown, a 24 hour halal version of an American style diner. No wonder I got caught.

He reluctantly gets up and looks at me, slightly confused, and begins to pack everything away. I want him to refuse, to tell me that he wants to stay out here a little longer, but he doesn’t. Instead, he begins folding up the blanket and collecting our rubbish. I help him half-heartedly, feeling deflated. I should be happy that he respects me enough not to make a move, that whatever his reasons are, at least it's keeping me out of trouble. But I don’t. I feel horribly unwanted instead. Loneliness really is a killer.

The drive back home starts off a little cold as I refuse to smile at Goldenboy and he is unsure as to what has provoked the off behavior from me. It doesn’t take long for me to loosen up, and soon, I'm playing him all the Arabic music I have on my iPod. He is stunned that I know all the words to Nancy's 'Ah w Nos' and I sing my heart out, deciding that if all we're going to be is friends, I might as well have fun while I'm at it.

"Do you even understand what you're singing?" he asks, laughing.

"Nope! Don’t have a clue," I reply with a shrug.

"You're crazy," he says affectionately and I warm up again. He joins me and we sing Abdel Kader, the infamous Algerian song by Cheb Khalid together, dancing around like kids. He seems a little bit embarrassed to begin with, but my lack of inhibitions wear down his barriers and soon we're messing around like old friends.

When we drive into Dubai, I am disappointed that our amazing day has already come to an end. I feel like I'm flying and I don’t want to come back to Earth. I preferred being stuck on Cloud Nine. Why can't he ask me to stay out longer? Why can't he suggest going for coffee somewhere? The closer we get to JBR, the more resigned I feel. And suddenly, a vicious thought strikes me.

I look at Goldenboy's perfectly coordinated outfit, the immaculate hair, his neatly trimmed nails and think back to the amount of thought he put into this day out. He's clearly not interested in me. Could it be that it's not me that's the problem, but my gender?

"Are you gay?" I blurt out before I can control myself as we pull into my carpark.

"What?" His head snaps towards me, and there is a look of shock on his face. He pulls over and stops the car, his expression strange.

"S-sorry," I stammer nervously. Maybe he's not gay. Maybe he's actually a really dangerous guy who takes offense to questions about his sexuality. And who would be happy to put a big-mouthed girl in her place.

"What the hell. How can you ask that? I'm an ARAB guy. Do you know what it means to have someone ask you that?"

"I'm sorry. I didn’t mean it in a bad way," I say weakly, not looking him in the eye.

"What did you mean then?" he answers sarcastically.

"It's actually a compliment," I backtrack stupidly. "It's because your clothes and your hair and everything is just so perfect. It's a bit gay."

"So you still think I'm gay?!" His voice is incredulous, but now, instead of feeling scared, I actually find it all quite funny.

"Yeah maybe," I say cheekily. "Is that why you don’t have a girlfriend?"

"Sugar! Stop it! I'm not gay!"

"You sure?"

"Khalas!"

"One hundred percent sure?"

"You want me to prove it or what?"

"How can you prove it when it may be true?" By now, I'm laughing hysterically, finding his discomfort hilarious, the excitement and then disappointment of the day finally getting to my head. He really does need to lighten up a bit.

Suddenly, he leans forward, and before I can protest, he places his hand on my cheek and presses his warm lips against mine. For a second, I do absolutely nothing. I am in complete shock. My heart feels as if it has stopped. It is as if I am suspended in mid-air. And then, I soften, and melt against him. My lips part and I begin to kiss him back. I wrap my arms around his neck, my mind disappearing into the kiss. I stop thinking, I stop worrying. All I do is feel his heartbeat against my chest and I pull him even closer. His lips are sweet and he tastes like Pepsi and double apple shisha mixed together. I nibble on his lower lip and then his mouth begins to move more urgently. I'm gasping for air but I don’t want him to stop, all I want is for time to stop, and to be suspended in this moment forever. But then, he slides his hand under my top and rests it on my bare back. The contact of his skin against mine, of his warm hand against my cool back, startles me and I pull away. I stare into his eyes, his eyelids sleepy with desire, and he stares back into mine. He is breathing heavily and so am I. It is all so right, but so wrong.

"I'm sorry. I can't." I whisper. I open the door and jump out of the car.

"Sugar, wait –" he calls out after me. But I don't stop. I run into the lift and when the doors close, I let out air from my lungs. My palms are sticky and my breath is still irregular.

This is exactly what I wanted and what I was supposed to be avoiding. This is the reason why my life is in complete shambles. But now it's started, can it stop?

Shit.

I enter my bedroom and collapse onto my bed. My phone already begins to buzz and I stare down at Goldenboy's name on the screen. I turn it off, while he is still calling, and curl up into a ball.

That night, I dream of mountains and butterflies.

21 comments:

Media Junkie said...

I feel so sad for her...

Maha said...

OMG..this really was the BEST chapter ever!!! I know alot of people always say that after you've put up a chapter but i couldnt stop reading! can SO relate to Sugar and her situation..the imagery ur writing creates is amazing. brilliant! :) xx ps plz let sugar and goldenboy have a few more dates, they make a lovely couple! n bdw are we ever going to know his real name? thanks a million for the chapter, u made my day :D

*~Ange~* said...

oohhh saucy! i like it.

Ghost Writer said...

Thanks for your comments ladies! No, won't be telling you GB's real name. Have to maintain his privacy!

doll said...

Wow what a wonderful read - thanks - cant wait for the next one -

Danya A. said...

O_O AHHHHHH!
I actually held my breath throughout the entire last coupla paragraphs.
Excellent job, worth the wait, as usual :P

Anonymous said...

What more can I say - excellent!

Vijay Eswaran said...

Wow, I am addicted to your stories..
Keep them coming.
The characters are so alive..:)

sabsuk said...

OMG OMG OMG OMG

That WAS the best ever chapter.

It wasn't just about WHAT you wrote, but HOW you wrote it!

Well done girl xxx

Anonymous said...

wens the nxt 1 coming?.. cant wait!

Anonymous said...

wens the nxt 1 coming?.. cant wait!

Ajlan said...

Ghostwriter,

Your blog is awesome !!!

But I really had to ask:

Is the character of 'Sugar' really based on your life ?

Also, I find it hard to believe, being an Emirati myself, that an emirati girl can be so westernized like 'Sugar' is.

Anonymous said...

is J. dead?
(Then I prayed for Jayden, wherever he is; for Allah to accept his soul into the garden of eternal peace and happiness.)
well is he?

Ghost Writer said...

Thanks everyone...Ajlan, Sugar isn't Emirati.... And anon, you gotta hang in there to find out more about Jayden!

CathysHeathcliffe said...

My god...!!
ps,can you add the refrence to the quranic ayyat you added. xx

Eni said...

Speaking of Enid Blyton, I am glad to inform you that I have just published a book titled, The Famous Five:A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com).

Stephen Isabirye

Nayamaus said...

loved this chapter!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi... I just started reading this and now I'm hooked onto it...
but unfortunately I can't view the whole chapter... Can you please repost this chapter
THANKS!

Anonymous said...

the strong emotions you get from reading, the twist in the story, and the uncertinty of the developing events strongly pulls you to read more.

simply brilliant, I loved it.

Mystery said...

Wow. This chapter is a real heart pacer. I'm suprised i didnt have a heart attack.

Keep up the great work.

P.S. Hope to see more chapters like this in the future!

Hussain said...

I've just been introduced to your work and I have to say that it is excellent! I'm a guy fromSouth Africa and I've always wondered about Emirati life and you capture sense of it in a reader-pleasing way. Well Done, GhostWriter. :)