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The International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Dreamscapes Life Stories - From Our Archives

The Wait
Esha Nag

Ameera couldn’t wait to get home. It was getting dark and the warm Shamal winds made it difficult for her to remain on the streets any longer. Besides, it would soon be six and she was expecting Salim any moment now. Ameera pulled the scarf over her head, and jostled her way through the crowds on Bank Street.

She lived along the creek, near Dubai’s old spice souq, in a building that housed some kebab shops and smoke-filled shisha bars. Her roommate - the two Filipina girls, one Russian and an Egyptian – were never there in the evenings when Ameera returned, so it would be good to have some time with Salim alone. For the last two years Ameera shared bed space with these girls. Five of them huddled together in a room on five different bunker beds, the dull neon light their only ray of hope. And even after so many months, Ameera didn’t know their names. She wasn’t interested, and they weren’t too curious either. Her identity was carefully guarded and she preferred it that way. In this country, you could master the art of disguise and get away with it.

Ameera brushed off the sand from her hair. She had to hurry. It took her ten minutes on an abra to cross the creek. The locals also called them the dhows, the tourists knew them as water taxis. It was an inexpensive way to cross the warm and shallow waters that divided the city into the old and the new, and a beautiful way as well. You could watch the sun go down, the seagulls crying for that last bit of bread you often chose to treat them with, throngs of excited tourists returning from the gold bazaar, the thousand clicks of their cameras and the beautiful women in their silk abayas all in a span of few minutes. Ameera smiled to herself, thinking of Salim and the news he would bring. She had waited for this day for more so many months now, and finally the end didn’t seem so far away.

Salim was waiting for her just outside the shisha bar. It was a little after six and the place was not yet crowded. He had put on weight and his hair looked dirty and greasy. The black shirt he wore was unbuttoned at the chest, and a glint of gold around his neck caught her eye as she walked up to him. The smell of his sweat was familiar and Ameera couldn’t hold her excitement. "Salim!" she burst out in a smile, "Salaam Alaykum!"

He turned around, and smiled, "Ameera, good to see you… mashallah, you look beautiful!" For a moment they didn’t know what to say and the silence seemed odd. "When did you come, Salim? Did I make you wait too long?" Ameera asked, only too eager to please. Before he could answer, the mobile in his hand filled the air with some loud music that Ameera failed to recognise. She was so cut off from all forms of entertainment – the world of the television or the radio was all too distant for her, so inaccessible, except maybe when the girls in her room hummed a tune or when the kids she chaperoned switched on their TV sets. Salim answered the call and broke into a nonstop chatter, moving a little away from her. Maybe it was an important call, Ameera tried to reason… maybe it was his business partners calling and he didn’t want her to listen to it. Salim Bhai was after all a man of business.

"So, how was your day," Salim asked after she had made him comfortable in her room, on her bed. He was not very happy sitting there, but she was adamant. He had to see how she lived and fought her daily battles after he had left her by the creek two years back, promising to come back and marry her.
"Not bad. I really don’t know how the time went by today. I couldn’t wait to see you. The children didn’t give me a hard time as well," she said.
"So you’re happy with your job?" he enquired.
"As happy as I can possibly be in my situation, Salim. Do I have a choice?"
"But you’ve been lucky, Ameera. Many have to do without a job for months. They have to resort to other means. You have been spared of that ordeal," Salim said, very matter-of-fact. Ameera lowered her eyes and kept quiet. She wanted Salim to get to the real point, but for some reason he was buying time.

"So where have you been all these months? Why didn’t you come and see me even once Salim? I’ve been so lonely… the first few months were horrid and I spent all my money trying to find my bearings," Ameera sat on the floor, her voice floating around in the semi darkness.

Salim bent down and held her face up, "I’ve been busy, you know that. Our ship’s been traveling to so many places… the whole of Middle East, Africa… all the way to Tanzania… Daar… have you any idea how hard I’ve got to work? Money doesn’t come easy, does it, my princess?"

Ameera thought of all the things Salim promised her before they had left for this country. A job, a home and marriage and, of course, the many things he rattled off the day he had called to announce his arrival.
"Ameera, tell me, what can I get for you?" he had said in all seriousness.
"Oh Salim, I just want to be with you," she had cooed on the phone, almost blushing.
"I insist, Ameera, tell me, quick!" he urged. But Ameera had kept quiet, not knowing where to start. She has often spent her weekends walking around in the old quarters, looking at the shops that sold the lovely silk abayas with precious stones on them. In her mind she had made notes of the ones she would wear after her wedding. The long black robes would make her body look so smooth, and hide all her rough edges and the uneven contours. And the bling would give her such a regal air. She had pictured herself walking with Salim along the creek, her face partly covered. They would have an abra all to themselves and Salim would take her to the souqs to buy her the frankincense, the satin and the gold. Her dreams were filled with all those evenings when hand in hand they would walk the cobbled pathways of the old Arabian markets, with their swinging lanterns and huge sacks of various spices that had the sweetest fragrance she had ever known.

Outside the wind howled and sounds of laughter filled the air. Ameera got up and switched on the light. Salim was looking at her, and Ameera could feel his gaze following her every step. "I’ve missed you, Ameera, don’t get me wrong. You don’t know how lonely the nights are when you’re at sea. I wish I didn’t have to go back again," he said.
"Go back? Did you say that, Salim, you have to go back again?" Ameera turned around, the words falling like a slap on her face.
"Oh yes, I’m here only for a while. Our ships are docked at the port and we’ve been given some downtime till tomorrow morning. The night is ours, my love," he smiled and drew her closer.
"But that was not what you promised me, Salim. That was not what was agreed. You said you would take me with you this time, and we would get married. You’ve worked for all these months… surely we have all the money now," Ameera tried to reason, still keeping her calm.
"Now, now, don’t be silly, my girl. We have a future, don’t we? And I’ve just about earned enough to pay back those nasty mother fuckers who got us here… do you have any idea how much I’ve had to shell out for both of us in order to get our papers in order," Salim hissed, the anger in his voice palpable.
"For both of us? I thought I had paid my share when I had handed you all that money with my passport," Ameera sounded concerned
. "Well, that was not enough. And don’t worry about your passport… you’ll soon have a new one," he said smiling, bringing his face closer to hers.
"A new passport? I don’t understand, Salim. What have you done with my papers? If they find me here without my papers they’ll put me behind the bars or send me back home. They do that all the time." Ameera looked away, her eyes filling with tears. She hadn’t bargained for this. Salim had changed. His breath on her body felt different. And in the next few minutes when Salim forced himself on her, undressing her swiftly and whispering sweet nothings into her ears, she tried to make sense of his plans. He said their passports had been stolen and he was trying to get a lawyer to get them new ones. Once they had their papers in order, they would sail to an island in Iran and become man and wife. Salim’s assurances didn’t make sense to her… what if they deported her?
"My love, without a passport, where would they send you to? You don’t belong any country now, do you?"

In that darkness, as Salim lay beside her, all passions spent, Ameera tried to figure out who she really was. Salim’s lover or Salim’s mistress? Would he always come to her after sailing the seven seas for just a night as did this evening, or would he finally give her a real identity. All these months she had remained like a shadow, for the fear of being identified. Today, with the last bit of that identity finally gone, she was just another of those nameless and faceless individuals that she came across every day. Ameera turned around and closed her eyes. The end was nowhere in sight.

© Esha Nag September 2009

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