Monday, January 11, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Five – Omitting isn't the same as lying…is it?

I have moments when I absolutely love living in Dubai and lately, they're not as few and far between as they were when I first moved out here. I still have major issues with a lot of things (namely the blatant discrimination, the hierarchical system and lack of transparency) but I've realised that since I'm stuck here for the duration of my contract, I may as well just enjoy whatever I can, while I can. It's not all woe and doom. I love the abundance of halal food, I secretly love the pampering lifestyle (I've been to the salon to get a mani and pedi again after 24 years of never being bothered) and I love the Muslim facilities. Being able to pray just about anywhere definitely beats having to pull over at a service station or take refuge behind a tree.

In ode to this realisation, I have decided to take the plunge and hire a car. I've never owned a car before and relied mainly on Travelcards to get around London. Occasionally I managed to nick my brother's Golf, or persuade my dad to insure me on his Galaxy (which didn’t quite capture my young, single spirit with its seven seats and rumbling diesel engine), but most of the time I made do with buses and tubes. Naturally I can’t help but feel excited at the prospect of having my own (okay, not technically my 'own' but as good as) set of wheels.

The rental man actually brings the car right to my doorstep, I complete the necessary paperwork, and that's it. I now have a modern equivalent of a horse for just over a thousand Ds a month.

After the dude leaves, I stand there in the dimly lit basement car park, staring at the brand new Toyota Yaris and wondering how I'm supposed to drive the fragile little thing around this monstrous city. Sheikh Zayed Road in particular scares the crap out of me. In the UK, whenever I was forced to drive on the motorway, I'd get palpitations when I had to actually join it, terrified that I wouldn't find the right gap at the right time to squeeze in before the lane ran out. When I did finally manage to get on it, I'd sit myself in the middle lane, too scared to switch, even if it did mean being stuck behind someone crawling along at 60 mph.

Pushing aside my fears, I mutter various prayers and verses from the Qur'an under my breath and decide to see if I can make it from JBR to the Springs in one piece. I get in and sit there for a moment, disorientated. Something just isn't right. Realising that the steering wheel is actually on the other side and feeling more than a little stupid, I climb over to the left side of the car and strap myself up. I feel queasy already. How am I supposed to drive on the wrong side of the road? Reading a few more prayers just to be on the safe side, I turn on the engine and carefully navigate my way out of the car park, thankful that at least I don't have to fuss around with gears.

The first time I got behind the driver's seat was with Jayden and my attempt at driving was pitiful to say the least. He had borrowed his brother's Beemer for the day and rolled up on campus like he was some kind of G, blaring hip hop out of the open windows, the ground shaking under the force of the subwoofers.

"Aight Shorty? Wanna ride?" he purred, pulling up next to me, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively and flashing me a bright smile.

"I ain't that kinda girl," I teased, flicking my hair over my shoulders and pretending to be offended. He continued following me and I gave up the pretence, laughing as I walked over to the car.

A group of Asian girls with massive hoop earrings and tight jeans stopped to stare, expressions of shock disfiguring their otherwise pretty faces. It was obvious that they couldn’t believe that the fittest guy on campus had just stopped his pimped out ride to let in the clumsy Asian girl who never spoke to them.

I never ignored the Asian gang at Uni out of spite, but I guess after hanging out with my cousins in the weekends and spending evenings with my family, I was all Asian-ed out by the time I got to Uni and preferred meeting people from different realities instead. For me, University was supposed to be about making new friends, broadening horizons and going out of my comfort zone, so I made an active effort to get to know those who weren't from my part of the world.

Plus, the Asian girls at Uni just weren't my cup of masala chai. Some of them were living away from home for the first time, others were in a mixed-gender environment for the first time and they just didn't know how to handle the freedom that they were suddenly granted with. I wasn't perfect myself and I did my fair share of messing around, but these girls had a sort of wildness about them – and it unnerved me.

"Slut," one of them hissed at me the moment I got into the passenger seat. Her taunt felt like a physical assault and I took a deep breath, nerves clawing at my stomach. I whipped my head round to see who it was, but all five of the girls were whispering, looking at me like I was a prostitute being picked up for a quickie.

No words came to my mind as I looked at them with their shiny straightened hair and layers of lip gloss. Was what I was doing really deserving of that label? I didn’t have to say anything though. The driver's door was flung open and Jayden stepped out of the car, towering over the group with his six-foot frame.

"Is there a problem, ladies?" he asked, his tone pleasant but the steely glint in his narrowed eyes saying otherwise.

There was a silence as he continued to literally look down on them, looking more than a little imposing in his black hoodie over a tight white vest and dark blue jeans, his trademark diamond stud decorating his left earlobe. Most of the time I wished he didn’t look like such a hoodlum and made more of an effort to look respectable but that chilly Autumn morning, I was quite happy that his bark was far worse than his bite.

The girls remained silent and Jayden smiled, his lanky arms folded casually over his chest.

"Good. I thought not. But disrespect my girl again and there's gonna be beef." Turning around, he swaggered back to the car, revved up the engine and we drove away, my heart pounding after the confrontation.

"J, do you really think it was a good idea to intimidate them like that?" I asked eventually as we left the de Havilland campus behind us, drove through the quiet Hatfield streets and back into London through windy A-Roads. Although our university campus wasn't part of London, it was only a 20-minute train journey from King's Cross so I usually took the train there unless someone was kind enough to offer me a lift. It got a little tedious, especially as getting to King's Cross took me half an hour on the bus, sometimes more, and that's not including the often cold and wet wait at the bus stop.

I tried to broach the car subject with my dad once. All he did was raise his eyebrow and mutter, "When I was your age I'd ride my bike to university in 30 degrees heat."

After that emphatic response, I pretty much gave up and resigned myself to a life of running after the bus.

"Me? Intimidate them? Surely you jest," Jayden joked as he leaned back against the leather seat and casually placed his left arm across my shoulders, using his right to control the steering wheel.

"Come on J, not everyone knows that you're not a thugged out G but actually a sensitive nerd who smashes all his exams," I retorted with a laugh, leaning over to yank the baseball cap off his head. "Maybe you could try losing the diamond earring…"

"Look, I'm not going to change my style just because people are too ignorant to look beneath the surface," he suddenly snapped, snatching the cap back. "Yes, I'm black, yes I like my gangster rap, yes, I prefer my jeans baggy but that doesn't automatically make me a thug."

"No it doesn't, but bullying a bunch of girls does!" I retort unfairly. Just half an hour earlier, I was glad that he gave off that vibe but his sudden defensiveness irritated me. Maybe because I was tired of people thinking I was going out with a rude boy. I turned to face him, about to argue more, but the sadness in his expression made me stop in my tracks.

"So you would have preferred it if I had let it go and they continued thinking you're a slut just because you're with a black guy?" he asked, glancing at me. As always, his puppy dog eyes melted away my irritation and a twinge of guilt gnawed at me for making him feel bad. He did, after all, come to my rescue.

"You have to let me fight my own battles," I said softly, leaning over to nestle my head in the crook between his arm and his chest. "Trust me, I know how to handle Asians. Getting my boyfriend on them wasn't the right move."

"S, there were five of them. Were you really gonna take them on?" he replied, softening against my touch.

"Next time let me find out," I whispered.

We sat in silence for a while, listening to the hum of the engine as we eventually entered London, the tension between us slowly melting away. I could never stay annoyed at Jayden, neither could he stay upset at me, and soon, we were laughing and joking as we usually did. We spent the rest of the drive singing along to an old Beenie Man song about a Beemer and trying to match it with reggae dance moves.

* * *

"Oh crap," I mutter to myself as I accidentally take the Jebel Ali/Abu Dhabi exit, my memories interfering with my already lacking sense of direction.

"Damn you Jayden for messing with my mind so much," I add only half jokingly as I find myself on a slip road that leads onto the dreaded Sheikh Zayed Road. There are vans to my left and my heart begins pounding as I try to speed up to pass them in order to join the highway, my lane already beginning to run out.

"Get out of my bloody way!" I yell as a truck beside me also speeds up, preventing me from joining the road. I start panicking as my own lane gets shorter and shorter. I wave at the driver to let me through, but either he can't see me or doesn't want to see me, giving me absolutely no space to enter the lane. My Yaris looks like a mouse compared to his rumbling old van and I can feel my heart thumping furiously as I finally find a tiny gap and pull into it, squeezing my eyes closed as I do so, unsure as to whether I actually have enough space to get in. The driver blares his horn at me and I open my eyes to see that I have made it, relatively unscathed.

Sighing in relief, I slump back in my seat and, as an afterthought, stick up my middle finger at the mean truck driver while trying to regulate my breath.

Once I recover from my near-death experience, I actually enjoy the freedom of driving so I open my windows and turn up the radio, wishing I could feel the wind ruffling my hair. I make do with it tickling my face as I plod along at 90 km/h, enjoying the sense of freedom. When I get used to the road, I tentatively begin switching lanes and it isn't long before I am weaving in and out of the cars like a pro, wondering why I am the only one who seems to know what the indicators are there for.

In the UK, the motorways generally operate by a uniform rule – drive in the left unless you need to overtake – and very rarely do you see people hogging the fast lane. Here though, anything goes when it comes to roads. You can overtake, undertake, intimidate people by coming right up to their bumpers and flashing your headlights until they move out the way and indicating appears to be a waste of time. You can speed down the slow lane at 180, and you can cruise down the fast lane at 100 – until someone comes up behind you and forces you to move out of the way, that is. I realise that driving in Dubai requires a lot more concentration than in London – you have to be aware of everything that is around you at all times and you have to expect people to undertake you or swerve in front of you without signalling. You can even do bizarre things like reversing around a roundabout when you miss your exit without anyone batting an eyelid.

As soon as I become comfortable with the art of driving, I start thinking about that autumn day in London again, and no matter how much I try to delete the memories from my mind, I can’t. I even try thinking about my dilemma with Goldenboy instead (I am trying to avoid him and haven't returned any of his calls since we kissed), but that doesn't help either. The scent of the upholstery, the feel of the steering wheel between my nervous hands, the sensation of finally being in control, all resonate with that morning with Jayden.

We ended up in Alexandra Palace, one of our favourite hang out (make out) spots in North London. Jayden parked by the ice rink and we walked to the actual palace and sat on the walls, feasting our eyes on the magnificent view in front of us. We could see miles and miles of London in the distance – tiny grey buildings, baby towers, all against the backdrop of a typical English blue-ish grey sky. We sat huddled together, the chilly breeze surrounding us. He wrapped his arms around me and his warmth filtered through my denim jacket and my white hoodie, heating up my skin. We didn’t talk much as we sat there, just absorbed the amazing view and enjoyed each other's physical presence.

Until I began to wonder how long our relationship would last. What would happen after University was over and my parents undoubtedly began enquiring into suitors? It had only been a couple of months since we technically got 'together' and neither of us had uttered the dreaded 'L' word. I was probably the only girlfriend in the world who adored her boyfriend but hoped he never worked up the courage to say it. Because that four-letter word would change everything.

And I wasn't ready.

To avoid voicing my growing sense of uneasiness, I jumped off the wall, grabbed Jayden's hand and pulled him back to the car. Thinking he was about to get 'tings', he happily obliged, but instead, I slid into the driver's seat and asked him to teach me how to drive. Jayden being Jayden, he readily agreed without asking any questions.

The next day, a group of Asian boys who weren't from our University turned up in Hatfield. When Jayden walked out of the campus, earphones glued to his ears, completely oblivious to the crowd that was waiting for him, they pounced. By the time they were finished, Jayden lay in a broken heap on the floor, his entire body covered with bruises, his white t-shirt smeared with cherry red.

None of us realised that this was only his first run-in with overprotective Asian boys. The worst was yet to come.

* * *

I've been driving for about forty-five minutes now and don't have a clue where I am. I know that I need to somehow go back the way I came, but every time I reach an exit, I end up driving just a little bit more. Although I'm just cruising along in a straight line, I'm enjoying the experience.

The scenery has changed and so has the road – it's now a reddish colour and the signs are describing places I've never heard of or been to. The mosques on the roadsides are beautiful, and for some reason, seem more magical than those in Dubai. Huge structures of stone with intricate domes, they look like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights and I'm tempted to pull over and have a peek in a couple.

My mobile phone rings and I answer it without checking the screen, not wanting to tear my eyes away from the road ahead of me. I'm supposed to be using a handsfree kit but whatever. The people out here don’t even wear seatbelts and their kids jump around in the front with no care in the world, so what's a lack of a headset in that context?

"Hello?" I mumble, my eyes focused on the road ahead.


I recognise Goldenboy's voice instantly and I curse myself for not screening the call. I have been yearning to hear his voice again and just hearing that one-syllable greeting has already melted my heart. At the same time, after our soul-connecting kiss, I'm too scared to talk to him. I'm worried that he'll wear down my barriers until I forget my ideals, my morals and everything I vowed to do (or not to do) to avoid my previous mistakes.

There is a silence as we both hold the phones to our ears, waiting for a sign from the other. My breath is stuck in my throat.

After a whole week of avoiding him, now that I am suddenly faced with him, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to explain the conflicting emotions tearing through me, the fear of deviating off the path I've set for myself… and there is no way I can explain why I am who I am today.

"I'm sorry," I blurt out, the same time he says, "I miss you."

He misses me.

Those three, sweet words mean so much to me and I find tears welling up in my eyes. There is a petrol station in the distance, and I pull into it and park up shakily. I don't tell him I miss him too, instead, I go for a safer topic and ask him what he's doing. He starts talking slowly, his voice tinged with wariness. The conversation is stilted at first but soon we're talking as normal – about work, friends, family. Everything other than that Godforsaken kiss.

The initial nervousness I felt wears off, aided by our chosen avoidance of certain subjects, so I push the seat back and fold my legs as we talk, getting comfortable. Our conversation is as sweet as his broken English. I love the way he mispronounces words. I love the way he tries to find alternative methods to explain himself when he doesn’t know the word. And I love the way he occasionally arranges his sentences the Arabic way rather than the English one. Everything about him it so endearing and all I want to do is snatch him, wrap him up in cotton wool and then place him high up on a mantelpiece, so I can stare at him forever without breaking him.

"Where are you?" he suddenly asks, and for a moment, I forget that I am sitting in my car in a petrol station, somewhere between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, not snuggled up in bed next to him.

"Um, I dunno. Somewhere near Abu Dhabi I think," I answer absentmindedly, wishing I were by his side.

"Abu Dhabi?! What the hell are you doing there? Are you alone?" His tone is angry and I frown, wondering why he's raising his voice at me.

"What's your problem? What's wrong with Abu Dhabi? And who cares who I'm with?" For some reason, I don’t want to tell him that I'm alone and I want him to think I'm with a guy. Okay, it's not 'for some reason'. It's because I want to see if I can make him jealous.

It bothers me that he hasn’t brought up the kiss. Yes, ignoring the topic did make me feel comfortable. Initially. But now I want to know why he's pretending it didn’t happen. Maybe he has no feelings for me whatsoever and all he wanted was a little fun on the side? My blood begins to boil as I work myself up over the hypothesis.

"Tell me who you're with!" he demands, his voice still raised.

"No," I answer, pissing him off further. I can hear him breathing heavily down the phone and I wonder why he's so annoyed. I've never seen this side to him and I can't imagine why he's being like this. Even if he's a little jealous, there's no reason to act so angry.

"Tell me Sugar or I swear to God I'll come and find you and kill him whoever this hmar is," he finally says.

I burst out laughing at his threat and my giggles deflate the charged atmosphere like a pin to a balloon.

"Don’t laugh at me," he mutters petulantly. "I just feel jealous okay?"

"Well don’t. I'm not with anyone, silly. I'm alone."

"You're alone? In Abu Dhabi?" His voice begins to rise again and I sigh. He senses my irritation and starts again, using a different tactic.

"It's not safe," he says, his voice softer now. "What were you thinking driving all that way by yourself? What if something happens to you? What if you need help? What if your car breaks down?"

"Don’t worry, I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself. And Abu Dhabi is hardly a dangerous place."

"You don’t know what. What if you break down and a man comes pretending to help you and kidnaps you?"

"I'll knee him in his you-know-what," I joke.

"Ataghfirulla. Why are Western girls so independent?" he laments, half to himself and half to me. I contemplate telling him off for being so quick to judge and then decide that we've had enough drama for the afternoon.

"Look, you need to calm down," I say with as much gentleness as possible. "Don’t get so worked up about things."

"I'm sorry," he apologises in a voice so quiet and regretful that I can't help but smile. His passion is actually quite cute. "But I'm an Arab guy, Sugar. You have to know that about me. I'm not Western."

"It's okay," I reply, shaking my head and still smiling. There is another silence and I wonder if all Arab guys are so overprotective. I wonder if his attitude would be stifling, and then I decide that I quite like having a knight in shining armour. I'd rather him protect me than abandon me altogether. Plus, it wasn't that long ago that I wished I could wrap him up and keep him by me forever.

"It's just…I can't bear to imagine you with another guy! It's the worst thing in the world for me," he suddenly bursts out, surprising me again.

"So don’t then," I answer glibly, trying not to take the conversation so seriously. We still haven’t discussed what happened, we still don’t know what we mean to each other, but he feels he can just come out with whatever he wants, whenever he wants.

"Sugar… I was wondering something," he begins hesitantly. I tense up immediately, not liking the sound of what he is about to come out with.


"Have you had a boyfriend before?"

The question shocks me and I feel my face turn red, first with shame and then with anger. Who does he think he is, asking me personal questions like that when he hasn’t even made his feelings clear?

"I don’t think that's your business is it?" My voice is curt and I intend it to be that way.

"That means 'yes' doesn’t it?" he replies quietly.

"No it doesn’t, it means it's not your bloody business!"

"So does it mean 'no'?"

"Look! You're just my friend and nothing more," I begin, my blood boiling again. "You have no right to be asking me such personal questions. It's not your place and you should be ashamed of yourself."

I know I'm overreacting but I can't seem to control myself. I feel so annoyed with him for putting me on the spot and making me feel so shameful. All over again. As if I haven’t felt enough shame over everything that happened. I wonder if my past will ever let me be free.

"I'm just a friend? That's it? Do you kiss all your friends?" Although his tone is hurt, all I hear is the implication that I am loose, and then I lose it. I shout and I cry, huge blobs of water cascading down my face. I can't seem to control myself. I'm sick of being judged, sick of being labelled, sick of running, hiding, pretending.

"Just leave me alone!" I eventually gasp, before hanging up the phone, tears still streaming down my cheeks.

My heart is aching and my hands are trembling. I want to tell him that I'm falling for him. I want to tell him that he is my only ray of sunshine, my only glimmer of hope, in this strange city. I want to tell him that in his eyes I see my future.

Amongst the thousand things I want to tell him, there is one thing I definitely don't. And that's my past. It is clear from his questions that if he ever found out about my sordid history, he would never look twice at me.

A shiver runs down my spine and I burst into a new flood of tears, a sense of hopelessness overcoming me. Does this mean that I have no chance for happiness because of what happened? Does it mean that every guy I ever meet will strike me off his list because I made some mistakes?

My phone rings and I ignore it, still crying. It rings three more times, and each time, I will myself not to answer. I don’t know what I will say if I do. I don’t know whether to come clean, I don’t know whether to lie. I don’t even know if I want someone as traditional as him in my life.

With each ring though, my resolve wears thin and I wonder if I should just answer and give it a go anyway. He doesn’t have to know everything about my past. Not yet anyway. Maybe we could just be friends? The thought of losing him forever – although he has only been in my life for such a short while – numbs me. It causes an iciness to run through my veins and my stomach to contract in agony. We have only just met. I don’t know what we are doing, where we are going or what we will become. But I do know that I'm not ready to let him go completely. I can't.

I decide that if he calls once more, then I'll answer. But if he doesn't, it's over.

The minutes pass and I calm myself as I wait. The tears stop rolling, I stop hiccupping and I stop shaking. I wipe my face with tissue and blow my nose, feeling better after letting it all out. My heartbeat rises in anticipation as I wait for the phone to ring once more.

Half an hour later, I'm still sitting there with the phone in my hands. He doesn’t call back.


Anonymous said...

Cant wait to see what happens... always leave us in suspense GW... well done!

Media Junkie said...

poor sugar. i was wondering about her.

She's Reaching said...

Aww :( Poor Sugar. And poor Jayden.

Anonymous said...

Why do u keep saying asian instead of indian? U knw most ppl think of races like chinese when they hear asian

Ghost Writer said...

Dear Anon: I'm using 'Asian' as that is what is used in the UK. Indians/Pakistanis/Bangladeshis are all referred to as 'Asians'. Chinese people are just Chinese. So I guess it's the other way round to the rest of the world.

Jaz said...

Great chapter! The mystery is coming out, I wonder how this book will wrap up! Brilliant writing :D

Hijabis On Ranting Tour. said...

haha great chapter and yeah ghiost writer is right asian means south asian in the UK
(i wanted huudaa and wt happened 2 lady luxe ohgod i love this story)

Anonymous said...

i relate 2 so much of what ure writing...and ure characters are so well put together...n their experiences r so real n close 2 sitting here wondering if this novel isnt being written by a group of girls that are goin thru the exact same things ure writing about ....well done n kudos 2 u!

Muslim_Rose said...

Totally lovin Jayden;) Though Goldenboy is begining to grow on me...s-l-o-w-l-y
Oh and the asian girls with 'huge hoop earings and tight jeans' Classic

Sugar-Free Sweetie said...

love this one
for some reason I idintify myself the most with Sugar...
be it the start of my nick name
or how I simply imagine her to be
desipite not really having any of those relationships or rebelious phase.....she is the most related charater in ur novel to me...
Great Job...Keep it up !!!!

yasmin said...

omd i need de nxt chapter...dis is jus fantastic cnt wait 2 c wot happenes next :D

Anonymous said...

Hello there!

Good going!
Waiting for the next chapter! :)

Soon hopefully?

Anonymous said...

Oh ok i just think of koreans, thai, japs etc when i hear asian

Anonymous said...

If it takes you a month to write a chapter its going to take you all year to finish lol

Anonymous said...

wens the next chapter?

Comatose said...

Jaime [SWHHW] said...

Fantastic! can't wait for the next chapter.

janafar said...

Aww..poor sugar. *hugs*.
I understand exactly how she was feeling..I have been through the same! :( Fantastic story-there is a little bit of Lady Luxe, Leila, Huda and Sugar in all of us ;).

Anonymous said...

Dear Ghost WriterI think it is not fair to give such long breaks between episodes.
It s a very nice and exciting story but when u giv such long breaks we will loose our interest.
So please keep on writing or if there are no more chapters coming let us know that we will forget about the whole thing:::(((((

Anonymous said...

how comes the father went to university in 30degrees heat when her granparents already came to the uk from india and he apparently lived there his whole life?