The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Dubai with my parents. The place appeared to be as crowded as Mumbai. I wasn’t in the mood to do any sightseeing. Dad and Mom were so eager to explore the place as if they had landed in Switzerland.
I groggily sat in the hotel’s cafeteria for breakfast staring at my empty plate. As usual I busied myself with the salt and pepper shakers at my side. I sprinkled a little of salt on my plate hoping to catch my parents’ attention, but they were oblivious even to themselves.
My Dad’s glasses were stained and he was intently listening to Mom rant about Burj-Al-Arab. Mom was talking so fast I wondered how she didn’t choke on her tongue.
The lid on the pepper shaker was loose, I took it off noisily hoping to attract my parents’ attention but it just rolled on the table and came to a stop staring at me, challenging me.
I poured the pepper onto my plate to fill its inner rim. I kept the empty shaker aside. It looked decapitated and nude. I swiped my index finger across the pepper to make space for a smile. The pepper collected to the left and looked like a cheek. But I wasn’t smiling so I shifted the pepper again to make a frown.
Then I made two ovals for eyes but then I changed it for question marks. I sat back and stared at my pepper face.
White frown and white eyes stared through the dark face. I loved the contrast.
Just then the waiter came by our table and I didn’t want him to notice my pepper face because I knew he would be obliged to replace it with a fresh plate. I was embarrassed that I would cause him inconvenience when I only wanted to attract my parents’ attention.
I wanted my parents to notice it before he did so I dropped my fork on the floor. It clunked on the floor but sadly it was more like a pin drop silence as my parents didn’t even flinch.
But when the waiter reached near me my father turned and smiled at him.
After placing the plates of breakfast on our table he lifted my fork and smiled at my pepper face before taking it away.
I tried gulping down the omelette Dad had placed on my fresh plate. Usually Mom fed me omelette as she knew of my aversion towards it but now she or Dad were least bothered about me. I didn’t know a vacation could be so laid back.
But an omelette is an omelette, vacation or not. So I threw- up on my omelette face. And finally I had my parents’ attention!! I had tried puking a couple of times back home by sticking two fingers down my throat but this time I hadn’t done it on purpose.
My parents’ decided that the foreign air must have made me sick so they left me in my room and went out for a quick round of shopping in the vicinity.
I lay on my stomach on the big bouncy bed wondering about the tall waiter at breakfast. He was white like the ghost Casper, I guessed he was from Kashmir.
As I drifted off to sleep I heard noises in the living room, I jumped off the bed to see who was making the noise, it was the cleaning lady. She was changing towels in the bathroom. From the corner of my eye I noticed Casper at the door of my room! He smiled his smile that made my heart melt like an ice-cream.
‘Hey did that omelette really make you sick?,’ he asked from the door frame.
‘I hate egg,’ I replied forgetting all about my parents’ warning me never to talk to strangers.
But was he a stranger? He had served us breakfast didn’t he? He had smiled at my pepper face, didn’t he? And he was only checking on my health right?
The cleaning lady was busy changing sheets in the bedroom of the bed I had just slept in a while ago. ‘Come here. I want to make it up to you for giving you a lousy omelette that ruined your day,’ he held out his hand.
To be frank, I really wanted a distraction, the least you want when you’re sick is to be left alone and definitely not when you’re a kid. I looked behind me to see if the cleaning lady would have any problem with my disappearance but she seemed to be in a hurry to finish everything with lightning speed. I’m sure she didn’t want to be disturbed and most importantly she wouldn’t even notice if I disappeared.
My parents have taught me that adults can be quite ignorant and kids quite observant and that’s where the problem lies.
I took his hand and realised how Belle’s slender fingers in Beast’s fleshy palm must have felt. I noticed he had a small silver earring on his left earlobe that glinted.
He took me into a room at the far end of the hallway. I wondered how he would make it up to me and whether it was really his fault. ‘I want to show you something,’ he said.
The room was much smaller than ours and sitting beside him on the bed I noticed the grey hair near his ears. ‘I had a daughter just like you,’ he said looking at me but at the same time not looking.
His eyes were focusing on something that only he could see at the deep end of my pupil. I remembered the time I had peeked into a deep well trying to stare at its bottom.
He turned around and reached for something under the bed. He took out a briefcase that didn’t look dusty like most briefcases I had seen that had their habitats under beds. He tried a lock code, his fingers appeared jittery and he got the code wrong twice.
When it finally snapped open he smiled sheepishly and said, ‘Close your eyes.’
I did so, excited that he had a surprise for me. I felt something lowered on my lap carefully.
I opened my eyes immediately.
It was a small pink frock.
I had never seen a prettier dress.
‘This was my daughter’s. Will you try it on? You can keep it if it fits,’ he said softly.
I tried taking off my sweater. I totally forgot my manners of changing only in his absence. He helped me with the sweater. And then with the small top underneath it. I was bare chested. I felt cold. I quickly got off my bed and asked him to put the dress over my head.
Just then I heard my Dad’s voice in the corridor, ‘MINKI!!! WHERE ARE YOU?!’
I froze, before I could put my top on I saw my mother in the doorway. Her eyes wide she stared at the waiter as if she would eat him alive.
I looked so out of place like a cartoon character in a funeral.
My Mom dragged me out of there. I looked back at my sweater that was in his hands. I hoped he would keep it to remember me by.
The next morning I didn’t see him at breakfast. And my parents paid so much attention to me. It was all so new. I wanted to know where he was and to thank him for bringing the change in my parents’ attitude towards me.
After that incident my parents were so worried about me, they kept questioning me. ‘Did he touch you anywhere?’ and I could only think of the pink dress I could not wear and would never know if it fit or not.
© Michelle D'costa April 2013
Michelle D'costa is an Indian writer/editor born and raised in Bahrain.
She edits at Decades Review.
She is published in more than 30 literary online/print journals.
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