~ A short story ~
That’s the thing about this city. It’s so loud and it never seemed to sleep, yet at dawn, it shows its mellow side. The streets are still almost empty, the train platform desolate.
The first train of the day crawled towards me like a giant yellow caterpillar. Sleepy-eyed, I pulled my luggage and entered the wagon, inhabited by few sleeping passengers. I sat on that long, empty bench beside a luggage area. The train’s announcement was played, mentioning the next station followed by the Arabic and English versions of the phrase, Doors Closing.
I looked out of the window as the train ran on the elevated viaduct, passing by the Sheik Zayed Road skyscrapers, buildings that looked like tall mirrors.
Next Station, Dubai Mall. Doors Closing.
A few passengers hopped in the wagon on Business Bay station, and then we headed to the next – Dubai Mall. I was mesmerized once more with the world’s tallest building and biggest mall backdropped with the lavender sky, standing on land that once was pure tangerine sand. I’ve watched the construction of these magnificent structures, like watching a kid grow up, from a tiny thing that crawls and holds on to your knees to an independent stranger. In time, I felt like I’ve watched a time-lapse of the city’s progress, just like how you watch kids grow up. They become bigger and bigger, and they outgrow you, kids, and cities alike.
Next Station, Karama. Doors Closing.
We passed six other stations and reached Karama, a place as old as time, a hotpot of culture, a house like that of your grandma’s, where you will meet all first, second, and third cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces, unbeknownst to you. Some buildings in that area were almost crumbling, waiting for the demolition team to take it to its final rest. Karama was always noisy during rush hour, and at night, the aroma of different spices lingered on the street as small cafes open up for ex-pats craving comfort food. This place is where I first tasted the sweet and savory Nasi Goreng and the homemade Momos. I’ve also tasted the spiciest Indian curry there that I vowed never to eat again after all the spasms I experienced after that meal.
Next Station, Burjuman. Doors Closing.
Burjuman station was next. My beloved old town Burdubai where I found my first family in this sleepless, lonely place. I earned peanuts that time and could only afford five-Dirham shawarma for dinner – that cheap meat on a slow-turning vertical rotisserie. That’s where I found the first guy who broke my heart as I sat in a small café drinking a fresh mango juice after downing one greasy shawarma. He offered me networking products, and I gave him my heart.
I was young and was swayed easily by his sweet nature. He told stories. I believed. He made me laugh. I fell in love. On a 50-degrees Celsius summer afternoon, he took me to the historical Bastakiya, where they sold colorful Moroccan shoes, Turkish carpets, and Arabic souvenirs in tiny shops along a narrow, unpaved alley. From there, we took a ride on an abra to the other side of the creek, the traditional boat taken by either wide-eyed tourists or laborers who wanted to save money on fair and avoid traffic. We sat side by side with men on safety shoes who stank of sweat, cigarette, and dust. Pigeons flocked towards the other side of the creek. The stench of rotten fish and diesel filled the breeze. The boat engine filled my ears along with the lapping waves. I thought it was romantic until I found out, I wasn’t the only one he took for an abra ride.
I almost believed in destiny until the day I walked home with red-streaked eyes along Khalid Bin Al Walid Road, my shoulders hunched, almost wanting to replace the genie inside its magic lamp.
Next Station, Al Rigga. Doors Closing.
Ah, Al Rigga, my second home. The place taught me how to be tough and strong, where I met a guy who stole my heart before stealing my life. I lived on the 2nd floor of a five-story building. There were five flats per floor, and ours was at the farthest end of the dimly lit corridor. Its poor ventilation made me aware of all the neighbor’s dinners every time I arrive from work. I would know which flat would have biryani or fried fish for the night.
I went home one night and saw a guy standing beside the door of flat 203. He was playing with the smoke of his cigarette, puffing minuscule clouds into thin air. I didn’t say anything, although I knew that smoking wasn’t allowed in the building. I only minded my own business. Our eyes met. His was piercing; mine was intimidated. The next day he sat on the floor outside his door with a cigarette stuck between his lips while his hands were busy playing the solo of Sweet Child of Mine. I noticed the tribal tattoos on his arms and the black earring on his right ear. He didn’t look at me that night; he was in a world of his own. He did that for days on until one night; he called my name. I was petrified. He handed me tickets to the bar where his band was playing. I watched his gig. It didn’t take long until we became a couple. I adapted to his lifestyle and became that stage girlfriend who accompanied him on all his gigs. I lost some friends along the way. It didn’t take long until I also lost my job because I couldn’t keep up with my work after late nights on his gigs.
He said, ‘it’s ok, you’ll get a new job.’ But the job I did not get any time soon. I spent all my savings until my bank was empty. He started spending his own money too. At first, we were surviving. Later on, we both retreated into silence, leaving issues unspoken until they grew into a snowball and exploded big time.
It took a little time to restart my life, but somehow I did.
Next Station, Terminal 1. Doors Closing.
The train went above ground once again.
My first ever flight to Dubai landed in Terminal 1, where my life here all started. I was a wide-eyed nineteen-year-old, hoping for a job that can feed my family back home who told herself she’d be back home once she completes her two-year contract. But two-years turned into three, then into five, then before she knew it, it was already a decade.
This terminal was my beginning, and the next will be the end.
Next Station, Terminal 3. Doors Closing.
As we approached Terminal 3, the city was already awake, and the sky tinged with amber. The train stopped; I pulled out my luggage and headed to the exit. I looked back at the train, and for the last time, I’d hear that recorded voice, ‘Doors Closing.’
The train left, and as I looked back at the city where I came in, pulling a suitcase of dreams and what I would go with a luggage full of memories.
I sat on the window seat, and as the plane took off, I looked at the iconic city built on scarlet sand, kissed by the deep blue sea.
For one last time, I bid this city goodbye, and with this, I close the door to this chapter of my life.
If you are still here, thank you for reading my short story. This was written for the prompt: Start your story with the line, “That’s the thing about this city…”
Obviously, this story was highly influenced by my previous life in Dubai (previous? nag-reincarnate na? haha).