Dreams die in a desert paradise
By Nancy Collisson
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Vivek managed a wry smile thinking that if the shredded Carole-King tapestry of his life were re-woven right now it’d form the design of a one-million dirham note because that’s what he owed. Then the fucking black hole in the tapestry of his life would be repaired and he could get on with carrying out whatever good deeds he was put on earth to do.
Hundreds of thousands were owed to different people all over the place. With various interest rates heaped on original amounts due, Vivek was fast losing track of the to-whoms and the for-whats and wearied of keeping it all straight.
He wiped the sweat collecting in the creases of his eyelids with the back of a hairy wrist. He then lifted a brown envelope from the table beside him. He read the front: ‘Bur Dubai Police Station Detention Centre – Ladies Section.’
‘Broke. Ha.’ He set the envelope back down, and lit another cigarette. ‘Okay, so broke’s not a fair way of putting it. Who cares? What difference do silly things like semantics make now? Only one thing matters in this place. Only one thing.’
He knew. And, ‘Oh Christ, so did Astrid. My darling pecan-kringle-baking Astrid.’ He picked it up again. He slid his thumb against the flap, opened it, and held the long thin folded cardboard it contained over the street so that he could read the cramped, tiny print on it by the last glimmer of sunlight.
He took a drag, tossed the butt from the balcony, and began.
With God as my witness Vivek, I will never, ever forgive you for the terrible nightmare you’ve put me in. How can you even call yourself a man?! A ‘man’ in his full stereotypical capacity should PROTECT a woman! All you did was clutch your nuts while gathering up your skirt like a frightened school girl and abandon me! To what? To my great fucking new life on the Planet of the Apes!
Vivek stared down at the endless parade of walking dead. It was a sad spectacle, a leaden march of flesh – all in poor posture – in the form of Indians, Chinese, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Somalis, Ethiopians, Filipinos, Russians, and locals. As cars were parked on the sidewalks, the plebian pedestrians ambled dully up and down the center of the street. No pep, vigor or determination was discernible in their attitudes, as is generally the case in other parts of the world – in places where you felt like getting somewhere quickly in order to successfully accomplish the simplest of tasks. ‘Ha! Finishing a task in Dubai?’ The thought was laughable.
Yeah, that’s right. The apes are running the zoo here, Vivek. I am in a cage, sleeping on a floor, sharing filthy mattresses and unwashed blankets with normal people while brutes hold us inside sans paper, pens or books! I’m only writing this – on the inside of an empty juice box – because one girl managed to smuggle a pen in and keep it under her mattress. I’m going to pass this to a friend who will try sneaking it to her visitor on visit day when she gives her a hug and tucks it into the over-sized pocket of her friend’s coat! All of this kind of sneaky stuff has to be carefully planned! I’m afraid I’m going to waste her precious ink on YOU! NO 5-minute phone calls this week! Why? Because two Bengali VICTIMS OF HUMAN-TRAFFICKING who are unable to speak English (advocate for themselves) or afford lawyers OR BE GIVEN GOVERNMENT-APPOINTED ATTORNEYS, were laughing too loudly in the ‘take-food’ line.
A local lady in an abaya dragged her skinny little son along by his delicate wrist. The tot’s two elder tween sisters clad in tight jeans and tops but with their hair carefully wrapped in colorful skeins of fabric, ran ahead shouting and laughing at their mother, staying just out of reach of a firm swat, it seemed to Vivek. The mother raised her free arm and pointed at them, scolding, but the girls just kept laughing.
A lime-green sari’ed south Indian mother held up her swaths of silk and Vivek noticed her elephantine ankles and massive sagging belly She plodded behind her crisply pressed slender-belted husband who was holding the hands of their two frail little daughters. The girls were dressed in frilly yellow and pink party dresses. Apart from the fact that the girls had dark skin and straight black bobs, Vivek thought they looked like they’d just walked off the set of a 1950s American TV show. He was at least certain that such was the intended effect of their parents. He appreciated the absurdity.
And get this. Last night a hospital car brought to this dump a Filipina mother of three WITH HER NEWBORN PREEMIE because that preemie – was delivered in the back of an ambulance and she was accused of attempting to commit an abortion! Hospital administrators told her they were certain that she’d attempted to abort it, so they were obligated to bring her to the police station detention center! My God! What is this? She asked them, well, if that were true, then why was it the case then that she bothered phoning an ambulance as she began to deliver?! Wouldn’t it have been more the abortion style to deal with it in her bathtub??? But they told her they could ‘just tell’! I don’t have time to go on and on about all the garbage and crap that I’m witnessing here, Vivek, but where? To whom am I to go with all these stories?
Where was everyone going? To the corner grocers to buy little cartons of strawberry milk and KitKats, sure. Vivek found it intriguing that every breed of human in the check-out line at the corner grocery bought these same colorful, crappy combinations. Pringles, Koka, and mango mazza were other popular must-haves.
The really hungry set pulled their cars up to the only available parking space in front of Abu’s Jerusalem of the Gold to pick up take-away tinfoil trays stuffed to their cardboard tops with chicken or mutton biriyani.
A taxi brought a drunken tourist here! A taxi! The cab driver was a CID (criminal investigation department) informer! She said the driver picked her up from the Crown Star – a 5-star hotel – where she’d been out at a bar with friends, and then stepped outside to catch a cab to go home. It’s the right thing to do, as we all know, to grab a cab after drinking – but as it’s against the law to BECOME DRUNK, she was brought in! She said she was just happy! Not fighting, not beating up guests in the hotel lobby – just happy and laughing with friends! She didn’t even know where she’d been brought, as this dump’s not well marked from the streets. I asked her why she didn’t just run away once she got here, but she said that by the time she realized she was in a police station parking lot, the taxi was suddenly surrounded by cops! One of them hand-cuffed her and dragged her in for a blood test. They even had the nerve to ask her if she was a prostitute! Now her only hope of getting out of here is to get a MAN to voluntarily submit his passport to the court as a surety that she’ll stick around before and during the months of court proceedings due to follow.
Middle-aged British women wearing frumpy skirts that exposed and heels that drew attention to their heavy legs stomped from fabric to fabric shop. They by-passed bolts of lime green swirling with red and orange spattered with pink, and black and white flecked with yellow to find something Laura Ashley, and cheap.
Outside one shop, three Filipino guys were draping thin sheets of barely transparent and barely legal black plastic across the insides of car windows.
Great! Sure, as she’s a tourist, she doesn’t actually KNOW anybody to even make such a request. She’s going up to everyone in the jail asking if they know anyone who might put up a passport with the court on her behalf. Of course, no one will. It’s crazy here, Vivek. But I think I’m on to something. There is NO help given to detainees so they can GET OUT – like rarely a phone call and then only after business hours. No access to phone numbers in our mobiles – because they immediately confiscate them as soon as anyone’s hauled in.
Children darted everywhere. Two were standing between cars parked on the sidewalks and three were kicking a ball in an alley. It always surprised Vivek that despite the dire economics of the area, Muslims and Hindus – who comprised eighty-percent of the UAE’s population – insisted on having large families, indeed, insisted on having children, at all.
Who would win this baby race – this unspoken quest to dominate the earth? Looking at the spindly calves and protruding clavicles of the teenaged boys scraping a cricket game together on the side of the street, Vivek felt that the joy of having a child couldn’t possibly have been the primary emotion sustained during their conception.
Those who manage to round up a lawyer, are not able to meet frequently or in private with those lawyers. What could be the possible benefit for keeping people in and for as long as possible? What is Dubai all about? MONEY. Somebody has to keep all these stupid jail people employed or they’ll be out on the streets making the most trouble! Right? Because nothing is more dangerous than ignorance and poverty. BUT dammit I don’t want to talk about other social evils or other people’s problems! As you well know I’ve got ENOUGH OF MY FUCKING own problems now don’t I, Vivek? GET ME OUT OF HERE!
Astrid – ‘DISASTER’ (Remember?)
Vivek knew that he had never been among a more dismal collection of miserable ex-pat mugs that comprised the ugly face of Dubai.
Vivek heaved from the table and held up to the last vestige of sunset a bottle of Black Label. He unscrewed its cap and in a mock toast announced, ‘Here’s to you, Astrid. Sorry there’s not a damn thing I can do for you at the moment, kid.’ He took a swig, closed his eyes and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He took another gulp and then crushed the letter, packing into a tight ball. He set down the bottle, took aim and whipped the missile as hard as he could at the back of the head of the cycling bread guy. At the sound of the smack, Vivek grinned and ducked before the guy could turn around and peg him as the culprit who’d thrown it. When he was sure from the fading squeak that the coast was clear, he stood up and banged his head on the air conditioner unit jutting out from the balcony wall.
‘Fucking hell!’ Vivek pounded his fist on the hunk of metal.
In a series of jerking and lifting motions, he opened the patio door just wide enough to wedge himself inside, and went to his room, to bed.