The Displaced Nation

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An expat novel in episodes: SUITE DUBAI #1 – Arriving (1/8)

Suite Dubai Collage Drop Shadow

Image: Top: Book cover & author image (supplied by Callista Fox); bottom: By vahiju (Morguefiles).

Today we begin a serial novel by Callista Fox, called Suite Dubai. Recalling her childhood as a Third Culture Kid in the Middle East, Callista had a story in her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?” Sounds tantalizing, doesn’t it? On that note, here’s the very first part of Episode 1…with 7 more parts to come. (Warning: Highly addictive!)

ML Awanohara

When Rachel walked through the sunlit terminal at the Dubai airport, her student-loan payment was a month past due; her credit card, maxed. She had thirty-six dollars in her bank account and twenty-three in her purse, minus the ten she’d converted to euros to buy a stale ham-and-cheese croissant from a vendor at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. Now she couldn’t find the name of the man sent to pick her up. She’d printed the e-mail back in her mother’s office, folded it into a neat square. But where was it? Not in her purse or her carry-on bag. She’d checked them twice. It was a man’s name, something that started with an S. Her phone was no help. When she turned it on, the word ROAMING flashed across the screen. She was definitely roaming. At least Sallie Mae couldn’t reach her here. Not for a few weeks, anyway. And when they did, Rachel would finally have the money to make a payment. Unless her new boss realized she was a fraud and sent her home.

They wouldn’t have hired you if they thought you couldn’t do it. That’s what she’d been telling herself since Paris, since before Paris, really. Since she’d gotten the job offer.

You will do it, she whispered.

Down an escalator and along a series of moving walkways, she followed a family she recognized from her flight: a man in loose-hipped pants and long tunic, his wife in a bright green sari, the end of her scarf trailing behind her sequined shoes. Between them, holding their hands, a tiny girl in a yellow dress kept bending her legs, lifting her feet off the floor and letting her parents carry her along. The little girl shrieked and giggled, and in spite of the strain on their arms, her parents smiled down at her. In front of them, two men wore long, floor-length dress shirts. Checkered scarves flipped away from their faces like long hair. To her right, in the aisles of a duty-free shop, a woman covered in black gauze moved like a shadow among the perfume displays.

Rachel switched both bags to her other shoulder and smoothed the front of her wrinkled t-shirt. Her pants were no better. All those hours of travel had left a dull film on her skin and her head felt like it was filled with cotton.

She needed something. A trip to the bathroom to splash more water on her face. Something to eat. Several hours of real sleep—not the kind you did while trying to sit straight up until, desperate to finish your dream, your head slipped down and found a comfortable spot on the shoulder of the man sitting in 32F. “Excuse me…miss…”

She handed her passport to a man behind a high counter, who studied her picture then thumbed through the pages to her visa.

“You are here for work?” He asked.

“Yes,” she said. “The Al Zari Hotel.”

“The Al Zari Hotel,” he repeated. He looked at her t-shirt, her pants and then down at her tennis shoes. “Housekeeper?”

The customs line was long but it moved quickly. A man straightened his black beret before motioning for her to put her suitcase on the counter and open it. “Medications?” he asked. She shook her head. “Cash over ten thousand dollars?” She laughed. No. “Gifts over three thousand AED?” She had exactly no gifts worth any AED, as far as she knew.

“You have nothing to declare?” He said, looking annoyed.

“No,” she said. “Nothing to declare.”

“You are in the wrong place.”

She stared at him, not sure what to do next.

He pointed across the room to the Indian family who was waiting for their luggage to travel along a conveyor belt through an x-ray machine. “There,” the man said.

She grabbed her suitcase first, then her carry-on by the strap, tipping it over and spilling an envelope of pictures onto the counter. Together she and the customs man began to scoop them into a pile. He lifted one and squinted at it. Then he turned it around so she could see it. It was her with Truman, taken by a stranger while they stood in front of the roller coaster at Dollywood. They were doing that couples pose they’d perfected the one with their heads tilted toward each other. She was holding a mass of fluffy cotton candy and his face was scribbled out with a black marker.

“Oh, yeah.” She took the picture from him. “I should just throw this away.” She turned and slipped the picture into the side pocket of her bag.

On the other side of customs some sliding doors parted to reveal a crowd. People craned their necks to see who was coming through. Some held signs in Arabic. Some in Chinese or Japanese. The only English sign had the name Mr. Duncan written in marker. She walked along, looking for someone looking for her. The family from the airplane walked past her, the man pushing a luggage cart and the woman carrying the girl, who had fallen asleep on her shoulder.

Someone touched her arm.

“Rachel, eh, Lewis?” A short man with a horseshoe of black hair on an otherwise bald head, wearing delicate gold spectacles, stood a few feet from her. “You arrre Rachel Lewis?” His rolled rs made the question sound dramatic.

“Yes,” she said, and gave him a smile that remained on her face against her will. This was not the professional look she’d practiced but the face of a girl watching a friend of her father’s pretend to pull a quarter from behind her ear. “I’m Rachel Lewis.”

“I am Sayeed,” he said. “The car is outside.” He picked up her suitcase and headed for the exit.

Outside there was no sky, just the sun’s glare. It stung her tired eyes and she had to blink just to see where she was going. The heat felt thick as fur against her skin, too thick to breathe in all at once. Sayeed crossed a road and led the way along a row of cars, finally stopping at a white Mercedes.

The city looked nothing like she’d hoped. She saw no ancient markets shaded with draped fabric, no tents, no camels. It was as modern as downtown Atlanta with silver skyscrapers and wide, smooth multi-lane highways and perfectly painted crosswalks. A Rolls-Royce passed them on the right, then a big truck hauling men like cargo. They were packed tight on benches bolted to the truck bed; the ones on the end braced with their feet to stay seated. Their faces sagged, their shoulders, their arms and hands. They looked as tired as she felt. . . .

* * *

So, readers, would you like to hear more? Let us know in the comments… And if you can’t wait until next month, you can always download the complete episode of “Arriving” (this is just the beginning) —as well as the next episode, provocatively entitled “Party on Palm Island”—from Amazon.

Callista Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. she went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. She has written two travel books and a travel column in the Sunday Oklahoman. Currently, she writes proposals for a consulting firm that provides technology and management solutions to governments and nonprofits around the world.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some musings on Thanksgiving from an expat point of view, by Anthony Windram.

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Image: Top: Book cover & author image (supplied by Callista Fox); bottom: By vahiju (Morguefiles).

One response to “An expat novel in episodes: SUITE DUBAI #1 – Arriving (1/8)

  1. Callista Fox November 26, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Reblogged this on callista fox and commented:
    Check it out!

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