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An expat novel in episodes: SUITE DUBAI #1 – Arriving (2/8)

Suite Dubai Collage Drop Shadow

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

It’s midDecember—perfect timing for the second installment of Suite Dubai, a serial novel by adult Third Culture Kid Callista Fox. As Callista tells it, the book grew out of a story that entered 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?” Missed the opening installment? Get caught up now!!! NOTE: Highly addictive! Six more parts to come in 2014.

ML Awanohara

Her parents hadn’t wanted her to take this job. “Where?” her dad had asked, like he’d misheard her. “Dubai?”

Her mom had put her hand to her mouth. “All the way over there? In the middle of all those bombings? Can’t you wait a few more months, you know … see if something comes up here?”

A few more months? She’d already waited a few months. Twelve, to be exact. She’d already filled out more applications than she could count, for jobs she didn’t want until they’d rejected her. She had a degree in journalism and couldn’t get a job working the desk at the Motel 6. “Have you ever worked in hospitality?” a woman named Melinda had asked her over the phone, missing the irony of her own inhospitable tone.

In hospitality? What did that even mean? She’d spent her whole life being unnecessarily nice to people, on the phone, at the store, even in heavy traffic. She was certain she could hand someone a room key without causing a scene.

This job, the one waiting for her on the other side of the crowd, had been advertised on a website with an international employment section that she read mostly to pass the time, something she’d had plenty of since graduation. The public-relations position caught her eye, but she didn’t apply. She didn’t even know where Dubai was.

Then, rather than ask her mom for gas money—again—she threw some old clothes into the back of her Honda and headed for a consignment store. At a busy intersection she saw a guy dressed as a mattress, dancing on the side of the road, flashing a 15 PERCENT off sign at oncoming traffic. While she waited at the light, a gust of wind came and caught the inflatable costume like a sail and blew him back a few feet. He stumbled, almost fell, and then regained his footing, but his sign was blowing along the strip of grass and he had to turn and chase after it, the wind blowing against the back side of his costume now. His legs, outfitted in gray tights, stumbled along as he tried to slow himself down lest he become airborne and delivered to the brick wall of the nearby Chick-fil-A. She was scared for him, and she was even more scared she might recognize him from one of her writing classes.

That day she drove home and rewrote her résumé.

She added that she had done some public-relations work for a local nonprofit (omitting that it was her mother’s nonprofit). She had promoted an art auction that raised over $120,000 for at-risk teens (omitting that she’d really paraded paintings, like a woman on a game show, around a banquet hall, encouraging people to bid). She had been more of an art Sherpa than an event planner. Yes, she embellished. That’s what writers do. She wrote a kick-ass cover letter about the lost art of storytelling in the business world and clicked send.

“Where. The hell. Did you find this job?” her friend Emily asked, scribbling down the name of the website with a pen she’d chewed until it cracked. It was her tenth day without a cigarette. “I’d do it. I’d go in a heartbeat. I’m so tired of serving penny beer to drunk college guys.”

When they’d started their journalism degrees, they had both expected a job with the local newspaper that would lead to a column with the New York Times or a wire assignment that required a khaki blazer and a handsome translator. Now all they heard was, “Journalism is dead. You need to start a blog.” She and Emily scraped up money for domain names but neither of them got very far. Her life had become so dull and disappointing she was too embarrassed to write about it.

Emily was having the same problem. “I could describe the texture of the vomit delivered to my left sandal by a guy in a Georgia Tech jersey, or how I’ve started stealing my parents’ dog’s antidepressants.”

“Don’t worry,” Rachel said as she moved her chair into the shifting shade of the umbrella in Emily’s backyard. “I won’t get it. I’m not really qualified. Five years’ experience? Everyone wants five years’ experience. What I really need is a time machine.”

“But what if you do get it?” Emily said squinting at her. “I mean, a real job. One your parents wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell their friends about. I see my mom’s lip quiver before she tells people I’m a waitress at Kelly’s. She’s embarrassed. I don’t blame her. All those ballet lessons, cello lessons, Saturday Spanish classes, SAT prep courses, so I could get ahead. That’s what they said. So I could get ahead. Ahead of what?” She leaned back in her chair. “I wear a green apron with a pin that says ASK ABOUT OUR BUCKET SPECIALS. I count out change and signal to the bouncer when he needs to intervene. But see, I use the word “intervene” instead of “throw his ass out.” So it was all worth it, right? Because…vocabulary.”

“At least you’re good at something. I was a horrible waitress. Always forgetting who got the water, who got the wine. Twice I left a family sitting there, at a table, for almost an hour before even taking their order. The tips they gave me were out of pity. I saw it in their eyes.”

“You’re good at something. You just don’t know what it is yet,” Emily said, unwrapping a piece of gum and folding it into her mouth. “I should go back to school, take some architecture classes. That sounds so much better, right? ‘My daughter’s studying to be an architect.’ Especially if you go off to Dubai and leave me here alone.” Her eyes got shiny with tears. She looked away. “Or you could take me with you.”

“Well, there’s no way I’ll get this job.”

None of it was awful. They weren’t starving. They weren’t homeless. But enough days repeat themselves and you can’t imagine any day in the future being different than the one before it. This is how people fail, Rachel thought. A little bit at a time.

Two weeks went by without a reply. Then one night she remembered the business card in her nightstand. The one she’d had for over a year. The one she’d almost tossed in the garbage. When she had put it in the drawer she’d wondered why she was keeping it, but she knew she’d never get another business card with the word “sheikh” on it. She dumped the drawer on her bed and dug through the gum wrappers, hair ties, and scraps of bad poetry she’d written late at night when she couldn’t sleep. There it was, a simple white card embossed with the name Sheikh Ahmed Al Baz. He lived in a city called Riyadh, not Dubai. Wherever it was, it was closer to Dubai than Atlanta. So she wrote him an e-mail, asking if he remembered her, asking if he’d heard of the Al Zari Hotel.

* * *

So, readers, how are you enjoying the story so far? 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, an interview with this month’s featured author, Alexander McNabb, back by popular request. We’ll be talking about, and giving away, the final book in his Middle East trilogy: Shemlan!!!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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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.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

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

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