NOTE - PLEASE READ THIS FIRST!!!
Before you read onto Chapter 24, just be aware that I've changed some of Nadia's details. I've made the changes in the previous chapters as well. It just had to be done for various reasons. I know it's annoying as a reader to suddenly learn that a character is no longer something, but something else, but I guess it's gonna happen as you all participate in this journey with me and I learn new things everyday as well.
Anyway, enjoy Chapter 24 of Desperate in Dubai - my apologies for taking so long with it and I wish you all a fantastic New Year's Eve and 2010. Whether you decide to party into the new year like Lady Luxe and Leila, whether you spend it with your loved one like Sugar or with your family like Nadia...Have a good one! :)
Thank you all for your constant support and doing what you can to promote Desperate in Dubai - I really appreciate it.
Until next year :)
P.S If you've not read the prologue to this chapter yet, please scroll down or click on the link on the right for that first.
Chapter Twenty-Four - There's no place like home
Nadia leans against the wall, her left hand casually placed on her suitcase's handle and her right unconsciously gripping onto her leather handbag. Her long, beige cardigan is creased after being stuffed in a suitcase for over 10 hours, and despite the extra layer, she still feels a little chilly.
She looks on at the hoards of people at Heathrow's Terminal Three, smiling as warmth fills her up from within, observing the mesh of different colours with a sense of peace in her heart. Colourful Asian women shuffle along in their traditional shalwar kameez and sarees, thick woolen shawls wrapped around their shoulders, a group of trendy Japanese students with paper straight hair and funky tights giggle together whilst taking photographs and the occasional hijabi also walks past, smiling at her in commiseration.
The airport is shabbier than she remembers, the décor dated and dull, the people void of the tiniest hint of glamour. There are no flowing black abayas gliding along the floor, no clouds of perfume lingering in the air or glistening white candouras catching her eye. Even the women that are dressed in Middle Eastern attire don't look nearly as enchanting as those in Dubai. Their abayas don't gracefully graze the floor, they don't float and they are not black. Dubai, despite being in the depths of economic ruin, is like a well-to-do woman who has recently lost her fortune but projects the illusion that her money is still intact with her classic jewellery and well-kept hair. London, it seems, is more like a working class woman who is simply too busy trying to organise her life to bother with taming her unkempt curls or manicuring her chewed-down nails.
"Nadia!" There is a flurry of red and Nadia looks up to see Yasmine hurling towards her in a bright red coat and her signature metal New Rock boots. Yasmine throws her arms around her older sister and Nadia hugs her back, a little of her sister's energy transferring to her.
"I'm so glad to see you," Nadia whispers, inhaling Yasmine's scent, memories of their childhood seeping back into her mind. She holds onto her sister for a long time, as if she is scared that she will disappear if she lets her go.
"I'm glad to see you too but you don't have to strangle me," Yasmine jokes, her voice muffled by Nadia's cardigan. She breaks away and looks up at her sister, her smile faltering as she takes in her pale skin, dark circles and protruding cheekbones. Yasmine, usually the more poorly-looking of the two with her death-white skin and fragile frame, looks radiant in comparison.
"You don't look like someone who lives in a sunny country," she notes, taking the long handle of the suitcase from Nadia and walking towards the bustling Underground station.
"Well, you know what they say about too much sun exposure. I don’t want to end up getting skin cancer, or worse, aging too quickly!" Nadia replies lightly, navigating her way around the crowds of people queuing up to buy train tickets from the various outlets.
The long, stuffy journey home down the Picadilly Line is uneventful, and other than the occasional strange look Yasmine gives her, it is almost as if she never left. Almost, not entirely, as she is now seeing everything she has seen before through new eyes. She never really noticed the conflicting scents on the Underground – soot mixed with perfume, food and body odour - nor had she paid much attention to the controversial advertisements. Her eyes fall upon a particular advert, one that appears to be quite bland at first glance, until she actually reads the writing and realises that it promotes atheism through denouncing the existence of God. She recoils as if she has been electrocuted. Shaking her head, she tells herself to snap out of it, that the bubble that she has grown accustomed to has well and truly burst. She isn't in Dubai anymore. She is no longer a religious majority. She is back to being a minority, an immigrant, and occasionally, a 'terrorist'.
After the initial shock of realising that she is no longer in a country that caters to Muslims wears off, she begins to enjoy watching the diverse mix of passengers entering and alighting the train. She enjoys being able to sit in a mixed-gender environment without every other man trying to make eye contact with her. She enjoys the fact that there is an alternative method of transport that is not under construction and is actually relatively reliable (until it rains, that is). She also enjoys the fact that on the tube, there is no hierarchy. There are no first-class compartments, no one is better than the other, no one but the elderly, pregnant or disabled gets priority over anyone else.
However, despite the sense of harmony she feels, Nadia unconsciously cannot help but keep her right hand firmly on her suitcase and her left on her zipped-up handbag. She also ensures that her pockets are completely empty and whenever anyone gets a little too close, she stiffens and draws her bag to her even closer.
"You're getting a bit precious aren’t you?" Yasmine jokes. "If you squeeze your bag any tighter it might actually shrink!" Yasmine's own bag is lying casually on the empty seat next to her, and she is playing with her phone without worrying that someone may snatch it out of her hand and run off with it.
"Am I squeezing it? I hadn’t even noticed," Nadia replies with a laugh, trying to relax her tense knuckles.
Yasmine stares at her sister, opens her mouth as if to say something and then closes it again. Worry is etched all over her face as she contemplates whether or not to confront Nadia about her obvious grief.
"What?" Nadia says eventually, tired of watching Yasmine's mouth open and close like a goldfish.
"Nothing," Yasmine replies quickly.
"Well stop staring at me then," Nadia snaps, turning her face away.
"Okay fine, it's not 'nothing'," Yasmine retorts. "I don’t know how to say this so I'm going to be blunt. Why do you look like shit?"
"When did you start saying 'shit'?" Nadia asks, mildly surprised. "I thought you always refused to swear and said 's-h-i-t' instead?"
"That's not the point so stop changing the subject. Nadia, you look like death. I've never seen you look so awful in my whole life. Even your skin has broken out and I know that only happens when you're stressed. So can you tell me what's going on?"
"Nothing's going on," Nadia lies, looking away. "If you don’t mind, could you continue your interrogation later? I'm kind of tired."
Nadia leans back against the soft blue seats and rests her head against the glass panel on her right, careful not to catch her sister's bewildered eye. She feels a pang of guilt at being so abrupt with Yasmine but really cannot bear the idea of discussing her pitiful life there and then.
Still looking away, she remembers the last time she sat on the tube, when she was overcome by nervousness and excitement simultaneously, not fear and regret. She remembers the nerves playing with her stomach, her mother clasping onto her hand, the hopes she had of starting a new life in a new country. She remembers the gnawing sensation in her guts as she waved goodbye to her family, her lower lip quivering as she willed the tears slowly brimming her eyes not to spill over. She remembers calming herself on the plane, telling herself that as much as she missed her family and her friends, it was more important to be with her husband who was also missing her, waiting for her, yearning for her.
A surge of anger rushes through Nadia and she squeezes her eyes closed and clenches her fists. She left everything behind for him. She left her mother who had no one but her daughters to lean on, she had left her friends and ventured into a land where finding people on a similar wavelength was almost impossible, and she had left her blossoming career, all for a man who openly declared that she wasn't enough.
He's promised he'll change, that we'll go for counselling together, she thinks, trying to calm herself. She struggles to remember Daniel's contrite face as she waved goodbye to him at the airport and wonders if he is enjoying her absence. She knew that leaving him in Dubai for ten whole days without her was like leaving an alcoholic alone with a bottle of rum. But the truth was, she wanted to see whether the bottle would remain untouched until she came back, if she would return to find it opened, or worse, completely empty. She also wanted to know whether he deserved an added investment of counselling. She was tired of feeling like a burden. This was his chance to prove that what they had was worth fighting for. And although most of her was hoping it was…a tiny part of her, a part she refused to acknowledge, was hoping he would cheat again, so she could cut her losses and run.
"Wake up! We're here!" Nadia opens her eyes slowly and lets them roll into focus. Yasmine is standing, balancing precariously as the train grinds to a halt while trying to prise her sister's fingers open so she can pull the suitcase off the carriage. Nadia blinks rapidly, letting go of the case and staring at Yasmine as she manages to yank the case off the train. Still disorientated, she slowly gets up as the driver instructs the passengers 'to mind the doors' just before they close. The train lurches and she falls backwards onto the passenger sitting next to her.
"Oh!" she exclaims, trying to pull herself up. Yasmine is already on the platform, shooting evil looks at her, as the train moves away, leaving a slightly dazed Nadia on someone's lap.
"I'm so sorry," she mumbles, her face beetroot as she holds onto the railing and pulls herself up. She turns around to apologise to her victim again, smiling sheepishly, but her smile freezes when she sees that the man whose lap she fell into is actually rather good looking. His skin is dark, his eyes a warm brown and his shoulders are broad and muscular. Before she can stop herself, Nadia finds her eyes moving across his body in appreciation.
"No worries," he replies, his voice as smooth as a bar of Galaxy chocolate, causing Nadia to blush further. "I'm sorry that you missed your stop."
"It's okay," Nadia says, a genuine smile appearing on her face and she takes the seat opposite and tries not to stare at him too much. "My sister will just have to wait a little until I find my way back."
"Oh right, you've just come from the airport. Will you know your way back to Arsenal?" He looks straight into her eyes, and she notices that amidst the coffee brown are tiny flecks of gold. His mouth is full and soft, and she has to drag her eyes away.
Half tempted to lie and pretend that she doesn’t have a clue how to navigate her way around the London Underground, Nadia forces herself to admit that she is actually British and lived in London for many years before she moved to Dubai.
"So you're a half Moroccan, half Algerian Brit with a sort-of American accent who lives in Dubai?" he says just as the train slows down again.
"I guess that sums me up," Nadia answers, reluctantly getting up to leave.
"Somehow, I think there's more to you than that," he replies with a half smile. "And if you wouldn’t mind letting me find out, I'd like to meet up with you while you're here. Can I give you my number?"
Nadia turns to look at him – at his big, strong hands, his chiseled cheekbones and the smooth skin on his face – wishing she could take a lot more than just his number. She takes a deep breath instead, reminding herself that in God's eyes, she is still a married woman, regardless of her husband's opinion of her or his interpretation of marriage.
"Thanks but I'd better not," she manages to say as the carriage doors open. She gives him one last smile and elegantly steps out of the train, her brief encounter with the cute black guy making her feel warm inside. Maybe her life wouldn’t be completely over if she and Daniel parted ways. Maybe I'm not as awful as Daniel makes me feel.
"God, you need to get with it," Yasmine chastises as Nadia reaches Arsenal station and they begin lugging her suitcase up the ramp, eventually emerging onto the quiet street where the station sits in between a row of small, terraced houses, like a shiny silver coin amongst a pocket full of coppers. The sky is bright blue, decorated with the occasional wisp of clouds and Nadia shivers, pulling her cardigan tight around her body, unused to the cold breeze.
"Didn’t you bring a coat?" Yasmine asks as they turn the corner and into Quill Street, the council estate rife with Bengalis, where the Ziani family happens to be one of three Arab families (unless you count the Somalis, in which case, they are one of twelve). The flats and houses are made from yellow bricks, a welcome change from the dismal brown of most council estates, and there are children playing in the streets on colourful bikes; the girls in gaudy frocks or cotton kameez's paired with frayed jeans, their slick, oiled hair glistening in the rays of light. As always, there is a scent of freshly cooked curry in the air, and Nadia's stomach rumbles in desire. She can't remember the last time she had a full meal, or even wanted to.
"Why would I own a coat in Dubai?" Nadia retorts, following Yasmine into the bright apartment. The fragrance of buttery rice lingers in the air and Nadia inhales deeply, her stomach growling once again. She pops her head into the small kitchen, her eyes falling on the table that saw many family meals, but now looks more like a magazine rack, with various journals and papers adorning it.
"Gosh, things have really changed since mum moved back to Morocco," she notes, pulling off her white trainers and tossing them next to Yasmine's collection of more interesting footwear in the hallway.
"Well, seeing as you lot pretty much left me alone here, what did you expect? The flat to still look like a family house?" Yasmine snaps, her sharp tone causing Nadia to stare at her in surprise. The sisters look at each other in silence: the older wondering if her baby sister really was okay with living all alone in a big city, and the younger wondering why her big sister looked so tortured. Neither confirmed or negated the other's fears.
Nadia leaves the kitchen, already feeling despondent. Her old home just didn't feel the same without her mother's laughter and warmth, and she is worried about the distant look in Yasmine's eyes. She has been so wrapped up in her own life, her own problems, that she never actually thought to find out if her little sister was okay.
Guilt weighing her down, she drags herself up the stairs, pushes her old bedroom door open and enters the room, glad to be home despite the changes.
She isn't prepared for the rush of emotion that follows; the wave of nostalgia, the tightening in her throat as tears begin to gather in the corners of her eyes. The small room, painted cream during the days when magnolia was the latest décor craze, looks almost exactly the same as it did when she left home and moved in with Daniel. She takes a deep breath and closes the door before walking over to her bookcase, the shelves laded with university textbooks and old CDs. On the top shelf is a picture of her and Yasmine during their Qatar days. Nadia stares at her fifteen year-old self. Her eyes were big and bright, her smile open and unassuming, her skin fresh and plump. Her curly brown hair grazed her shoulders and her arm rested casually on Yasmine's tiny shoulders.
Moving over to the full-length mirror by the window, she looks at herself, thirteen years later. Her eyes are beginning to sink into their sockets through lack of sleep, her once roundish face is now gaunt and strained, her cheekbones protrude like an iceberg and her complexion is dull and lifeless.
"Nadia! Come down and eat!" Yasmine calls from the bottom of the stairs, and Nadia is thankful for the interruption. She has come to hate looking at herself.
* * *
Nadia walks through Oxford Street, trying to avoid bumping into the crowds of shoppers, businesspeople and tourists, making sure to keep her handbag close to her at all times. The wind is strong and she wishes she had secured her brown hijab more tightly around her head. She is wearing her favourite cream coloured woollen coat and she feels snug and warm against the silk lining as she continues glancing at shop windows. She enjoys the feeling of walking in a street to shop rather than a glittery mall, although if it starts to rain she is sure she would change her mind. She takes a moment to stop outside Selfridges and looks around her, feasting her eyes on the bright red buses, the cornflower blue sky while inhaling the scent of warm waffles, and then continues walking towards Oxford Circus where she finally makes it to her favourite shop in London - the flagship Topshop store.
After two hours of fighting through serious shoppers, browsing through the clothes racks and trying on countless pairs of shoes, she emerges with four huge bags of clothes and shoes and makes her way to the Underground and back home, feeling more satisfied than she has in a long time.
It has been three days since Nadia came 'home', and she has realised that she actually missed navigating her way around pigeon poop and occasional dog droppings on the pavements on her way to the train station. She has also missed being able to walk to places rather than take taxis or coerce Daniel into dropping her. But more importantly, she has missed having family around her.
Although it has only been 72 hours since she landed in London, she can already feel a huge shift in her emotional and physical well-being. She has been sleeping through the night without waking up in a panic. She has been eating three balanced meals, and even the odd snack instead of skipping most of them and relying purely on breakfast cereal to ensure she has enough energy to move.
Her relationship with Daniel even seems to be getting better as well. Every evening, he calls her and mentions that he is missing her and that he can't wait for her to come back to him. Every morning she receives a text message proclaiming how sorry he is for all the hardship he has inflicted her with. And every time she hears from him, another pebble of hope joins the little cluster she has collected. She wonders if one day, she will have enough to build a wall around them again.
Yasmine is still completely unaware of her sister's sorry life in Dubai. Nadia has placated her with tales of long working hours, lack of friends, no family, and so far, her unassuming sibling seems to believe it.
Feeling tired after her day of shopping, Nadia takes a bucket bath (the weak water pressure making it impossible to have a decent shower), changes into flannel pyjamas and makes herself a mug of hot chocolate, feeling sinful after taking a sip of the thick, creamy cocoa but tells herself that she needs to gain weight anyway. She sits on the soft, faded canary yellow sofa and sinks into the cushion, her hands clasped around her mug, keeping them warm. She glances over at the bookshelf, wondering if she should pick one of Yasmine's many literary books to read, and then decides against it. She's not in the mood for something so heavy - and the only other alternative in Yasmine's extensive book collection is Manga, which she also opts against.
As loneliness begins to surround her, Nadia regrets declining Yasmine's invitation to join her with some friends for sushi. She hadn't wanted to impose on her little sister's group of friends and to be honest, wasn't particularly fond of most of them, with the exception of Sugar. Now, she is wishing she had. For when she is alone, she is plagued with thoughts about her uncertain future.
Taking out her laptop, she tells herself she will only check her own emails - not her husband's, although in her heart, she knows she will have a peek eventually. He had, of course, changed his password, oblivious to the fact that Nadia used her key logging device to learn all of them again. He still thinks that he had accidentally chosen Google chrome to save all his passwords and Nadia is glad that he was inventive enough to reach his own conclusion without delving too deep into the reality.
As she browses through the various forwarded mails in her inbox, she comes across one that she has been avoiding for a week, and as such, has not even opened it yet. However, the pangs of loneliness, together with the nostalgia she is experiencing being back at home, inspire her to finally open it.
I understand why you feel compelled to ignore my messages and calls. As always, you have been far better than the men in your life, so it is only natural that you would respect your status as someone's wife despite the fact that he disrespects his own status as a husband.
All I want to say is this – I am willing to wait for you however long it takes, just like you were willing to wait for me all those years ago. But please, I need to know, should I wait, and should you leave your undeserving husband, should fate open the doors for us again – would you be willing to come back to me?
Just reply 'yes' or 'no' if you cannot bring yourself to write anything else. And if it is the latter, I will respect your decision and will omit myself from your life.
Nadia's hot chocolate is now lukewarm, but she takes a sip of it anyway, allowing it to soothe her sore throat. Yet another decision she has to make. Another option to add to the mess that is her life.
She cannot help but feel annoyed as she re-reads his pompous words. He was always dramatic. Why is he putting her through this torture when he knows she is suffering enough? Couldn’t he have waited for her to come back to him instead of forcing a decision out of her? Yes, he said he would wait – but he wanted to know if there was any point in waiting. He still wanted a decision.
She hits 'reply' and with her fingers poised on the keyboard, she waits for some kind of divine sign that will guide her. Would replying 'yes' count as cheating? Would it make her the same scum as Daniel? But replying 'no' would cut off the last, fragile tie she has with her childhood love – a tie she is not sure she is ready to let go.
Nadia's phone beeps with an incoming text message. She is relieved at the interruption and gets up to retrieve the phone. Upon seeing Daniel's name on the screen, she lets herself out onto the veranda and leans against the cold brick wall, pausing to watch a train go by on the rail tracks behind the flat, before she eventually musters up the courage to open it. Although Daniel has been messaging her every day, each time she sees his name, her heart lurches with fear. She never knows what to expect. It could be anything from an apology to a talaq.
Whatever the message is will decide what your answer to Yusuf will be, Nadia tells herself, closing her eyes for a fleeting moment.
Hey babe, just wanted to see how you're doing. I'm still missing you, still wish you hadn't left me. But then, it's good you did. It's reminded me that I didn’t know what I had…until it had gone.
Nadia smiles and heads back indoors. Feeling more self-assured and confident than she had just ten minutes earlier, she reopens her laptop and sends Yusuf a resounding 'no'. Things between her and Daniel were finally looking up. He was open to communication, he was willing to change and he realised what he had being doing was so wrong. For her to tell another man to wait for her wouldn’t be fair to her marriage.
Within seconds, she receives a reply from Yusuf. A simple 'okay'. No flowery words, no profound testaments, just a four-lettered, two-syllable goodbye. Instead of feeling as though a weight has been lifted, Nadia feels an immense sadness at the end of another era. The first time she said 'hello' to Yusuf was eighteen years ago, when he was a shy, eleven year-old boy hiding behind his mother with his hands stuffed into his pockets.
She never thought that their 'goodbye' would be quite so…short.
She wonders how he felt when he received her 'no'. If he was relieved at being able to move on with his life, or if he was sad to lose her all over again. She tries to imagine his face, but finds that she cannot. She doesn't know what he looks like. All she can envision is the childhood version.
Nadia is tired of crying lost tears. Instead, she logs out of her email and logs into Daniel's, hoping that the contents will affirm that she has made the right choice.
Her eyes flickering through the various names, she learns with relief that there is nothing there. Feeling a little guilty at doubting him, she is just about to sign out when an email comes through. An email from her old friend Sophie. The buxom Emirates Airline Stewardess whom she met at university.
For a moment, Nadia forgets that she is in Daniel's inbox and not her own. Then she remembers, and her heart beginning to sink, she opens it up and devours the short paragraph left on the screen.
Last night was a terrible mistake. A combination of too much to drink and stupidity. On both our parts. Please don't tell Nadia what happened – I'd hate for our friendship to be ruined because of this. Please don't contact me again.
Her hands trembling, she marks the message as 'unread'. What exactly happened? A hug? A kiss? More? Worry filling her veins, she begins to go through all his emails again – carefully this time. There is nothing incriminating in the inbox, so she heads over to the sent items instead where she finds a message, from Daniel to his colleague Anastasia, called 'productive.'
There is only one line in the email, and an attachment.
Lol, looks like neither of us have been doing much work ;)
Nadia opens the attachment to find an image of a 'print screen', displaying Daniel's sent items from his work email. There are over 30 messages sent to Anastasia, who Nadia remembers to be a colleague, all within an hour. This is the same Anastasia who Nadia had cooked for on many occasions. The same one who needed money urgently to send to Russia last month for her mother's operation, which Nadiahad happily provided. The same Anastasia who Nadia assumed was merely Daniel's colleague, and nothing more.
First Sophie and now this.
Nadia's head begins to throb and she pauses a moment, holding her head in her hands and pressing her temples, wishing the pain would go away. She had really thought it would have taken Daniel more than a few days to go back to his old ways. She wonders if she is just being melodramatic, if all men were programmed to behave in such a manner, if there really was no way for a man to be satisfied by one woman.
Breathing deeply, Nadia's shaking hand moves the mouse pointer back to 'inbox.' There is another email there, waiting to be ready, but she is doesn't know if she wants to look at it. They say ignorance is bliss, so wouldn't it be better to just ignore it? She knows enough. She knows that Daniel will not - or cannot - change. Does she really have to know more than that?
She presses the tab before she can change her mind and sees that there is another email from Sophie. Perhaps Daniel was using his email at the same time as she. She smiles wryly at the irony. She is finally connected to her husband, finally on the same page. Just not in life, but online.
She is too scared to open the mail and part of her doesn't even want to know what it contains. But she knows she has to look, she has to know what is happening. She has to know whether or not to go back to her husband.
She reads Daniel's reply first.
Thanks for your email. I hope you got home safely this morning. If you hadn’t disappeared while I was in the shower, I would have dropped you.
I agree, Nadia needn't know about what happened – but as for never contacting you – how can I not? I have admired you from afar for a long time now and last night was unbelievably sweet. Nadia gets back from London next week – why don’t we just enjoy the next few days together while we can?
Nausea clings to Nadia's stomach and she pushes her laptop aside and runs to the bathroom, where she retches into the toilet bowl, her stomach aching with every contraction, until there is nothing but bile remaining. She continues to throw up, her mouth stinging with acid, water running down her nose, her eyes bloodshot, her knees sore on the ice-cold tiled floor.
He wants to fuck her until I come back. He sent me a message telling me he missed me and then emailed her to arrange more of what he got last night.
Her body eventually stops heaving, and she lies on the bathroom floor for some time, the coldness soothing her burning skin, breathing heavily.
She gave up her life in London for this. She gave up Yusuf for this.
As the weakness subsides, rage begins to take control over her body. Holding onto the toilet seat, she hoists herself up, washes her face and brushes her teeth, glancing at her reflection as she does.
Something has died in Nadia's eyes. The softness has been replaced by steel. She is tired of being nice, caring Nadia. She is sick of being a pushover. She will never let any man make her feel weak again.
She goes back to the living room and curls up on the sofa once again. But this time, instead of letting grief overcome her, she focuses her emotions on her anger instead. Daniel has taken advantage of her one too many times.
This time, she will get her revenge.