International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: Dreamscapes Life Stories - From Our Archives
Ameera couldnt 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 Dubais 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 didnt know their names. She wasnt
interested, and they werent 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 didnt
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
couldnt hold her excitement. "Salim!" she burst out
in a smile, "Salaam Alaykum!"
He turned around, and smiled, "Ameera, good to see you
you look beautiful!" For a moment they didnt 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 didnt 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 dont know how the time went by today.
I couldnt wait to see you. The children didnt give me a
hard time as well," she said.
"So youre happy with your job?" he enquired.
"As happy as I can possibly be in my situation, Salim. Do I have
"But youve 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 didnt you come
and see me even once Salim? Ive been so lonely
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, "Ive been busy, you
know that. Our ships been traveling to so many places
whole of Middle East, Africa
all the way to Tanzania
have you any idea how hard Ive got to work? Money doesnt
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
"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. "Ive missed
you, Ameera, dont get me wrong. You dont know how lonely
the nights are when youre at sea. I wish I didnt 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, Im here only for a while. Our ships are docked at
the port and weve 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. Youve worked for all these months
have all the money now," Ameera tried to reason, still keeping
"Now, now, dont be silly, my girl. We have a future, dont
we? And Ive just about earned enough to pay back those nasty mother
fuckers who got us here
do you have any idea how much Ive
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 dont worry about your passport
youll soon have a new one," he said smiling, bringing his
face closer to hers.
"A new passport? I dont understand, Salim. What have you
done with my papers? If they find me here without my papers theyll
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 hadnt 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. Salims assurances didnt make sense to her
what if they deported her?
"My love, without a passport, where would they send you to? You
dont 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. Salims lover or Salims
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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