At the border with Iraq, on a dusty hillock, a man in a long white dishdasha and plain white headdress, wearing white leather sandals with three horizontal straps and a bright golden buckle, stood watching the sun conceding the horizon to the Gulf. Hadid al-Mutwakkil, a solidly built Kuwaiti with veins protruding on arms and neck, did not rise spontaneously sculpted from the stone underfoot. But it did look it. And yet, in the fading orange light and undulating gray heat seeping upward from the desert his presence carried the tincture of vulnerability, as if upon the onset of darkness the latticework of sinew and skin that was his physique might melt and turn into silk, and with a twang in the night, snap.
Once wived, now no more, he looked upon the royal palaces that till recently were home to him and Muizza, the Emir's third daughter, until she had revealed herself to be a modernist. Theirs had been an arranged union, mutually rewarding, that had given to her a man statuesque in appearance and him a woman loaded with stature. But only two months in she had caught him cold in cloudy Vienna with her college-aged cousin and upon their return to Seif Palace in Kuwait the aged Emir—immense and imperious (though not imperial because he was a peon of the Americans)—had come to Hadid and said: "Muizza says it is over, therefore, kun fayakun."
So it is; the phrase God used when creating the world, or when destroying.
Hadid had fought the judgment. A woman cannot just toss a man away for libidinal indiscretion, he said. A woman could not call for the divorce, he got his father's jurists to express in fatwas. It was against the law of history and tradition, was his protest. But Muizza had won and he was rendered notorious.
It was all very shameful but it could've been worse. He could've been prosecuted as a criminal of the state. Though no longer applied, the law books still contained statutes about killing adulterers. Then it would've been stoning; despite the fact that such a punishment had never been meted. Frankly that was the end that Hadid had expected. After all, even though the Emir was enlightened he was also a father. He could've easily turned vengeful and vindictive. Ultimately Hadid was aware that it was only another man's mercy that kept him alive.
Now emasculated in the public sphere and resented by his own chagrined family—they had been expecting a reversal of their declining fortune through the princess—Hadid was a pariah. Wounded like he was a woman. Burdened like he was a camel. He slunk far away from home. From his deteriorating mother's verbal detritus. From his father's aloofness. Exiled to the glittering Crystal Palace mall downtown. Living in the JW Marriot. Meals brought up by a Filipina receptionist whom he fucked for seventy five dinar an hour. Once upon a time she couldn’t have charged him anything; princes took for free. But those days were gone. Sometimes he didn't even have seventy-five to give her and had to beg to just be ejaculated for fifty.
Hadid hid from high society. He donned the dishdasha—the long robe white in the summer and tan in the winter that identified a Kuwaiti native—only when he was alone or when wandering around in the mountains watching from afar the falconeering patriarchs once friendly with his father. At most times in the mall he was veiled in Ray-Ban and concealed in jeans, as if he was some kind of dirty Indian expat. Some kind of anonymous Lebanese mall rat. Muizza, that witch. She had stripped him of manhood by taking his marriage and by taking his dishdasha stripped him of citizenship. Death, were it not painful and inconvenient, would've been preferable to this.
While people were not, at least fantasies were friendly. One in particular came to see him often. In it he was in Farwaniya district, at the abandoned factory that was the sole asset to his name, bringing in a multi-national British corporation which wanted to give him a big contract. Maybe making anti-bacterial wet wipes for the emerging Arab market. Maybe simply brine. Either would be fine. He envisioned Egyptian foremen everywhere. Lebanese supervisors screaming orders. Pakistani workers running here to there. Sri Lankan laborers listening intently. Soon a Bentley Continental would be bought. Soon a block sized Rolex watch. Soon he would proudly wear a dishdasha again with a scarf. This time lined with silver instead of shame. Villas in Bahrain and condos in Qatar would be sought. Filled with wives from Oman and Malaysian maids kept like concubines. It was all so very imminent. As soon as his woe was repealed and dreams rendered real.
In the meantime there was hooka. He smoked it at all hours. Apple entwined with apple. Vanilla wrapped in mint. Jasmine and grape jostling. The base cooled in a bowl of ice. The coal cut into cubes and heated till it grew hair. Little orange eyes glowing in their bellies as if there were miniature dragons concealed. From time to time, like a catholic priest, a uniformed attendant swooped in from the kitchen, letting his long-handled tray of stoked coals swing as if it were an incense burner, bowing down over the hookahs, cupping his hand around their heads, and performing salvific ministrations. An ashen coal was shaken until its fur blew off. A nozzle that tasted bitter was unplugged and blown into as if it was the angel Israfil's trumpet.
His favorite place was Cafe Blanc in Marina Mall. The one mall in the country where the visitors were equal part Kuwaiti and expat, especially rich western expats, the kind that had attractive women, meaning white, Aussie women, South African women, British women, American women. Their blank expressions attracted him because his travels had told him that these women didn't wear such expressions back in their home countries. This expression they donned now was their equivalent of the Arab woman's veil. The facade that they showed to the stranger. The lie directed at the men who were not their husbands. It masked everything yet simultaneously demonstrated contempt. It said: your wealth might have brought me here, Arab, but you will not take anymore from me. With his black eyes he would gaze at their faces and hope to penetrate their parchment skin. He was trying to elicit something. A smile. A flash of lust. Even contempt. Yet he got nothing. Even a woman in the middle of a laugh, upon seeing him staring at her, would freeze her face, hold her breath, a thief during theft.
The Kuwaiti girls at Marina were totally different. In their mind a place that wealthy western expats frequented was the abode of freedom. Where one could get away with more. Where an "accidental" congregation with strange men outside of the Starbucks could last a little longer than the inland malls. At Marina, he saw pampered middle-class girls, wearing sequined hijabs, parrot green eyeliner, fake eyelashes, their ever so revealing clothes. Most wore a tunic style blouse with a belt cinched tight at the waist and clingy leggings, all with matching strappy heels of the sort in fashion magazines. They preened and postured hoping to be discovered by upper echelon Kuwaiti men, or in the case of the more desperate among them, any man from the Gulf region willing to make a claim. Hadid knew what they wanted. Men like the kind of man he used to be. A native. From a well known family. With businesses. With status. Like the kind of man he would be again once he fixed up that factory in Farwaniya and became rich. Then he would return to Marina and all the girls would know well in advance that he was coming. His arrival would result in a thousand eyes prostrating themselves before him like the moon and the stars before the Prophet Yusuf. Then he would pick the one with the nicest body and longest torso and thickest thighs. While in Kuwait he would adorn her in the best new abayas from the fashion boutiques. But when they went west on vacation, he would show her off at the French Riviera in the tiniest bathing suit, all while instructing her never to smile at the European man, just like the white man's women didn't smile in the Gulf. When they were alone he would instruct her to get long glittery nails and make her sit on his bed and cup her tits in her hand as she stroked her nipples with her thumb. Then when he had impregnated her only a few months later, just to show that he could, he would take on a second wife, this one from an aristocratic family in Saudi, or perhaps Bahrain, where the royals were always in search of good wealthy Sunni men with resources.
He was so certain that this was the course his life would take that he didn't even let himself feel a shred of skepticism when dreaming such dreams. All of these visions were etched in certainty. They were brought to him by a time-traveling angel from the future. The singular thing preventing the realization of his fantasies was that the moment of their fulfillment had not yet arrived.
The rest was in place.
* * *
Hadid led a regimented life.
He woke up at dawn with the first azan and went to pray—on foot instead of in a car—where he made ablution with cold water and put his head to the floor, uttering Allah's majesty in a state of abject weakness. Berating himself in prayer served to protect him against the doubts that crept into his heart over the course of each day.
Then he came back to the hotel room and took a nap. After that he went down to the lobby where, resisting the urge to go into one of the gourmet restaurants and be waited upon hand and foot by a delicious Filipina, he ate a small meal at the self-serve deli, sometimes being forced to stand until one of the Indian office workers that arrived early to their jobs left their seats.
In the beginning, enduring this part of the day was one of the most difficult things Hadid had ever done in his life. As he would bite into a sugary pastry, he would look around furtively for anyone wearing a white dishdasha, desperately fearful of being recognized by prominent Kuwaitis, who would see "the al-Mutawakkil boy unable even to afford a waiter." He even started glaring at the veiled women walking about the mall, afraid that they were from some family or other and behind their veils were smirking at his misfortune. He knew that while the outsiders had been led to believe that he was the one to divorce Muizza, those in the know were aware of the truth, and precisely because they knew something extraordinary, something as serious as a woman divorcing a man, it made them more likely to gossip about it. This knowledge always left him with a sinking feeling.
Over time, however, Hadid was able to incorporate this morning torture into his daily routine. It gave him the drive he needed to rescue his finances. Money, he believed firmly, would make him a man again, would undo the trouble that Muizza had caused him. And the best way to make money was to get the factory going, making something, anything. He hadn’t quite made up a plan on how to revive the factory but every day he sat down and brainstormed something. Most of his note taking occurred at a beachside hotel cafe where American contractors congregated.
At lunch Hadid usually returned to his hotel and went to the small gym at the top floor, where he could switch into workout gear and join the expat lawyers, businessmen, and contractors sweating and grunting on the treadmills and benches. He had to hand it to the Americans. While they did not know how to be elite—having neither a royalty nor aristocracy—they certainly knew how to be plain and anonymous, a skill that was perhaps more important, because it allowed one to conceal one's influence. Sometimes he almost wished that his society would lose its unstated code of treating the white dishdasha as the de facto uniform for the country's natives so that when he went somewhere, not dressed in one, all eyes did not automatically turn towards him. Still, even when he had such a wish, he knew he did not mean it, because eventually he would be wealthy again and then he would want very much to be distinguished from the Americans in their suits, as well as from the Indian, Pakistani and Filipino laborers that stole about the country in dusty denim and faded dress shirts that Hadid was currently condemned to.
He spent the afternoons at the Grand Mosque, opposite the Palace, reciting the Quran. He then lay about, ankles crossed, hands behind the head, scarf over his eyes, in the cool corner of the mosque, until asr, the afternoon prayer, for which he gave the public call to prayer. Knowing that his voice was tumbling out of the loudspeakers of the largest mosque in the country; was rolling over the ministers in Parliament that once used to kiss his feet; was being heard by the nattering bureaucrats at the Ministry of Finance where he had held an office after marriage; was being filtered into the Emir's personal chambers; and even making its way to Muizza in the event she was listening to the radio, filled him with delight. He was well aware that making the call to prayer was an act of egoism on his part, but since his act was a pious one and brought believers closer to Islam, he felt it could—at least should—be excused by Allah. It also did not trouble him that he had bribed the mosque's resident muezzin to gain access to the microphone.
After another quick meal and hooka, he went back to his hotel room, plugged into the internet, and did his homework. He was obtaining an online bachelor's degree from the University of Phoenix. He had never bothered with school before, but had started noticing that the more time the Americans and British spent in the Gulf, the more discerning they were becoming about who they entered into deals with. Back when his aged father had started doing business, all it took to hook a Westerner was to invite him out to dinner at the house and flash a few dinars. Then there would be a handshake and belly-dancing and pledges of friendship. Now, though, each deal required braving a miasma of lawyers, accountants, analysts, and consultants, mostly taciturn Pakistanis or shrewd Lebanese boys, who had either acquired real life experience in Dubai or were educated in America by men who had made exploitation into a science. Satiating them required a different kind of show: they liked seeing plaques on the wall, conversation about majors and minors and talk about Bachelor this and GPA that. Fine. He would play their game as well.
As soon as he finished his homework he flipped on the TV to Sports One and while listening to the latest headlines about Liverpool FC tried to go to sleep.
It was around this time he usually called the Filipina. He knew her name was something like May or Tay. She meanwhile didn’t know his name because he had forbidden her from learning it. “And if you ever try to find out,” he had warned early on. “I will get your visa canceled.”
Recently they only had oral sex. The slowness of the act allowed him to think some more about what to do with the factory. He recognized that most of his plans would end up getting hindered by the fact that he couldn’t ask his father for financial backing. The society of which he was a part was still driven by the power of the family. And by being unwanted in his father's family, Hadid understood that he was at a great disadvantage.
His expulsions in the girl’s mouth were as much a cry of pleasure as they were a growl of protest. Mostly he preferred licking her, because of the silence.
* * *
Much of the week Kuwait City had been enslaved by an orange dust carried from Saudi. It seemed unmoving and implacable, like a bad dream. Then just as suddenly it had walked off into the Gulf. Now the country unclenched its throat and loosened its nostrils and spat people into the streets, malls, alleyways and cafes, in the same way that his childhood imam advised spitting to the left after a nightmare.
For his evening smoke rather than going to Marina he made for Diva's, a stand alone hooka bar and restaurant which prior to the Iraqi invasion was a Lebanese speakeasy. There was still a bar inside it though there was no more alcohol. It was in Salmiya, near the residential complexes where many American contractors lived.
The usually twenty minute drive from Kuwait City took him more than an hour, because close to the Corniche Club on Gulf Road he got stuck behind two Hummers, one an H3 and the other a larger H2. The trucks, one in each lane, drove alongside one another at barely more than a crawl, holding up all the traffic behind them. The boys in the gold-plated H2, alternately hooted at and pleaded with the girls in the Barbie pink H3 to lower their windows, share their phone number and set up a rendezvous. The girls, meanwhile, playing coy, teasingly wagged their lit up phones and pretended to be talking to one another with exaggerated pouty expressions. Hadid, driving immediately behind the girls, kept honking and gesturing, but neither of the trucks sped up. He was the only one protesting. He looked at the rear-view mirror to see why the other drivers were allotting such deference to the children. He scoffed. It was all expats behind him. Europeans in fine cars, Indians in beat-up pickup trucks, and buses transporting workers to the slums. Out of fear of reprisal they wouldn't interfere with Kuwaiti youth.
Frustrated, Hadid took a quick right onto a service road, making his car jump over the curb onto Salam al-Mubarak Street, taking to the backstreets of the congested district. He cursed the other drivers for their reckless driving and inability to yield at the roundabouts, then at the government for placing such sharp speed-breakers everywhere.
On his way he passed the newly established American University, located directly across a mosque and a grocery shop bearing a Turkish flag. Even here he couldn't escape the country's cavorting teenagers. Three guys wearing professional rubber riding suits and helmets pulled up on brand new Suzuki Gsxr 1000 motorcycles, each one with a girl in a tight shirt and tighter jeans sitting in a squat on the backseat, so that when she leaned forward to hold onto the rider, her bare back was exposed.
Hadid stared at the pair nearest to him, how they both, together, were complicit in the act of showing off the width of her bottom. It made him miss the feeling of pride a man feels when his woman commands the admiration of other men.
The parking lot at Diva's, like most of the lots on Gulf Road, was full of high end cars. Jaguars. Benzes. Ferraris. Lamborghinis. Many Escalades. He drove around looking for a spot. Through the glass he could see into the restaurant on the first floor. He saw a couple of suited up Lebanese men, having dinner with blonde girls wearing short skirts. He scanned left to right and upon not seeing anyone in a white dishdasha released his relief.
Adjacent to the lot was al-Fanar Barbershop, a hang out for the youth, where adolescent boys in tight jeans and clingy sequined t-shirts, wearing blue and gold colored hair in mohawks and crazy spikes, hung out and jeered at one another. He smiled at their wild clothing and then swung his car around in the next row.
Since many of the cars were parked without regard to the lanes, he was unable to find a place to pull in and was forced to park on top of a curb with one wheel hanging into the road. He walked around to gauge whether it was dangerous leaving his vehicle like this—and decided that he had no choice. Parking lots were a good metaphor for life, he thought, everyone else claimed their space before you and you were left dangling.
Hadid came upstairs. He was greeted by a pleasant Lebanese girl wearing a white flower in her hair and jagged bangles on her right wrist. Drifting behind her was a Bangladeshi fellow wearing an orange “Shisha Man” shirt. Hadid asked her to bring him sparkling water and gestured to the Bangladeshi to bring a grape-mint hooka. He passed through the inner lobby, careful not to look at the other Kuwaitis present, most of whom were wearing their sunglasses in the dark to avoid having to make eye contact with someone that might recognize them. Unlike them Hadid hadn’t come with a foreign girl so he moved out to the outer sitting area, hanging above the parking lot.
There was only one pairing sitting out here: a well dressed Pakistani man chatting with a red haired middle-aged American. At first Hadid paid them no mind; but twice he heard the Pakistani speak to the Lebanese waitress in nearly flawless Kuwaiti dialect and this caused him to become curious. He kept his ears pinned in their direction. They were discussing a new property development off the coast. He failed to catch the name.
Hadid inhaled his hooka so hard he made the top tray rattle. He remembered the days when he used to sit with his father and talked property. The conversations had established that he was his father’s heir, the anointed scion, and not his two younger brothers. It was because of the confidence Hadid had inculcated that the old man had been willing to use up all his social capital to get his son the Emir’s daughter. Hadid held the smoke in his lungs. He wished it could stay in there long enough to mutate and emerge from his belly in the shape of a hand sheathed in flesh and choke the life from his neck. Tears welled up in his eyes. They could only be concealed by releasing a cloud around his face, making him look like those old paintings of the Prophet, where his head was depicted as a flame. Perhaps they concealed the Prophet’s face because he was a sad man, thought Hadid.
Suddenly he heard the thumping of American rap music. Three cars fully refurbished, one Ford and two Chevy's, all late 60's or early 70's models, came up the parking lot, crowding around him like sharks stalking the shore. The guys inside, bobbing their heads and lightly bouncing in their seats, wore loose T-shirts emblazoned with the names of American record labels, as well as silk bandanas in reds, baby blues or pink, capped off with baseball hats tilted or lowered. Their severe expressions cut a clear contrast to the cartoonish boys inside the barbershop.
Hadid al-Mutawakkil, came the shout from the '69 Chevelle. Glory be to God, the sustainer of the world. My friend, where have you been?
Hadid looked down and extended his neck to peer into the car. As he leaned down, with a sudden buzz, the hydraulics on the car jacked up and the Chevy rose up nearly two feet, now teetering on its extended legs like the aggressive alley cats found in the Dar-ul-adl slums.
Muhannad al-Shatta, he squinted. When did you become a drug lord?
Careful you don't slander me. I am only posturing for the women.
Park your car and come up here to posture.
The car dropped down to street level and Muhannad stepped out. He was approximately twenty-five, a long nose set artfully, fresh brown skin that suggested many hours spent in the male spas, and a French goatee undoubtedly manicured by a personal barber. He came upstairs alone, without his friends. He wore a jewel-studded platinum watch that hung loosely on his thin wrist, requiring him to repeatedly raise his forearm and give a little shake as women do bangles. Hadid looked but couldn't tell what brand it was.
Your false status as a criminal mastermind is secure with me, Hadid said and then embraced the young man.
In that moment of physical contact Hadid was transported back three years. To his wedding reception at Seif Palace. He and Muhannad had shared an effusive hug then also. Chest to chest. Pectorals magnetized. Goatees locking horns and prickling skin. He had felt from Muhannad an outpouring of affection and awe. A feeling that he was someone the young man looked up to, admired, perhaps even resented in that deferential way boys do men. Now, though, that submissive affection was gone, replaced, not just by restraint, but outright inhibition. The hug was suffused with all the satanic susurrus of feminine gossip, patriarchal chastisement, and social judgment. In that fleeting moment, holding Muhannad against him, Hadid was overcome by a feeling of tremendous pity, towards himself, one that threatened to turn into tears, that threatened to expose the blisters of rejection that he concealed even from himself.
He shoved Muhannad away, cleared his throat and pinched his nose to make it easier to breathe. Platitudes followed. Met by same.
Cooler than last year.
How is school?
Left it. Managing properties now.
Hadid nodded as he was reminded of his own family's declining rental portfolio. He wanted to wish the al-Shatta family prolonged success but jealousy stopped him.
How is your father, Hadid asked.
Crazy as always, Muhannad replied. He has gone to Qatar. Believers the future is in natural gas.
It is. Qataris will pass all of us behind. Take over the Gulf. Oil is dead. Hadid didn't particularly believe such things himself but praising the Qataris seemed a convenient way to humble an arrogant Kuwaiti boy.
Nonsense, Muhannad replied. They are still Bedouin. They can barely drive their cars.
We don't drive much better, Hadid gestured with his head towards a twisted black Acura TL smashed into a traffic pole. The immense number of traffic accidents caused by speeding assured that most major intersections in the country bore similar proofs of unsafe driving.
That's not even a race car, Muhannad said sarcastically about the Acura. At least total something that goes fast. Like a Subaru maybe. WRX STI. You know I have one, right?
Aren't they illegal? Hadid vaguely recalled a regulation promulgated during the country's first Parliamentary session a few years ago.
They are. The Emir allowed that law to pass.
I don't remember, Hadid said, willing himself not to wince at the reference to his former father in law. Why are they outlawed again?
Too fast and too cheap. In the amount it takes to buy one Ferrari you can get ten Subarus, which are just as fast, at least from zero to hundred. Plus you can tweak them. Make them go even faster than a motorcycle.
If they are illegal...?
Got mine before the law was passed. I am not stupid enough to race mine in the street. I know I'd crash it. Mostly I just use it for drifting in the desert.
I don't care much for the Parliament, Hadid replied. They are all self-interested businessmen trying to extend their particular monopolies, but with the Subaru law they made the right judgment. Our streets were already so unsafe. One time Muizza and I decided to drive ourselves to the airport...
The involuntary mention of Muizza brought the conversation to an end. The name shattered the flimsy barricades of reservation between them. They felt exposed to one another like the sand to the sun, on land recently reclaimed from the Gulf. Hadid chastised himself and wanted to unleash a torrent of retractions. Muhannad's reaction, however, was even more dramatic.
My dear friend. My dear brother. Why don't I know where you live? Why don't I know where to find you. I always think of you. For the last week I have been thinking of you in particular. Thinking whether you knew or not, thinking whether I should make a search for you, wondering if you'd be upset, or if you'd be grateful, if you'd shun me, or if you'd embrace me as a companion.
Knew what? Hadid said cautiously, narrowing his eyes.
The news about your ex-wife. The news that is being passed around from mobile to mobile.
What is it? Hadid said and took Muhannad's hand as if to yank out an answer.
Muizza. She's gone. Gone, you know where? To Pakistan. Can you believe it? She took a jet to Karachi. She won't come back. Come back to Kuwait.
A man, said Muhannad, coming close to press his shoulder to Hadid's so the young men in the cars wouldn't hear. It must be a man. What else could it be? Or she has gone to join the Taliban. Either way it is sordid.
Hadid chuckled, he chuckled audibly, he looked in the direction of the bouncing cars and chuckled loudly, a chuckle of conscious disregard, willful disinterest, a chuckle that would not stop, one that prevented him from saying anything sensible.
I think, he said after a minute that mimicked eternity, I left my mobile at home.
Then he got into his car even as he held his mobile in his hand.
* * *
It was nausea. A deep and sickening stench took over his body.
Hadid remembered when he was a little boy the first time he had left the confines of his house and actually remembered where he went—it was to the camel races in Kabd. He had been led around the grounds by his father and waved at the little jockeys, six or seven years of age, no older than him, getting ready to race across the many kilometer long hilly track. He had been lectured about the various breeds of camels and found he liked the small Gulf ones the best. Then he had been led back to the stables, where a young Sudanese camel, with its beige skin, was being prodded into a stall, as green diarrhea leaked ceaselessly out of its posterior. The owner, who had come from Abu Dhabi, screamed at everyone to put a stop to the mess, but the camel would not oblige and numerous men in tan dishdashas were coated in slimy muck. He had tried to pinch his nose and tried so hard not to throw up. Eventually a man had come with a pistol and shot the camel in the head, which fell to its side into the fluid composed of guts and undigested food and bile. Hadid had not been surprised by the death, but by the fact that the bad smell hung in the area only for a little while, then the vastness of the desert, channeling the breath of the sun, had overcome the fetor.
Hadid smelled that camel now, except the smell bubbled inside him, where the blasts of fresh air could not reach, a place where he was not just alone—because loneliness comes with the possibility of a more hopeful antithesis -- but where he was a rotting nothing.
Driving around and around the country on the ring roads, four to five to six, as if he was trying to make ever larger circles around the locus of his confusion like some ancient Majnun lost in the desert acquiring concentric blisters on his feet, he was as much perplexed by the reality of his reaction than by the scandal that Muizza was involved in.
After she left him, he'd anticipated never feeling anything towards that girl-woman whose—what did she call it—"pride" had turned his casual indiscretion with her cousin in Vienna into something shameful and humiliating. First she ruined him by failing to behave in conformance with the ways of a good Arab woman; then she singled him out in society merely for following a more that everyone followed; and now that he was trying to suture up the rupture of his reputation, she had gone off to do something that would assure that everyone's barking would end up being about him.
At some point Hadid drove off the road and onto dusty trails leading into the squat mountains on the border with Iraq. It was on one of these paths—occasionally frequented by boys taking a joyride in a pick-up, or by expats from the west looking for a safe place to engage in cocaine induced indiscretions—where he was forced to put the brakes to the car. A solitary dromedary, of the Gulf variety that he liked, separated from its clan, came out of the shadow and then stopped in front of him, unblinking in the glare of his headlights, unflinching in the swirling globe of dust, the elbows on its front legs knocking weakly. The camel seemed to him unusually pitiable, the nostrils dry, the eyelashes shriveled, the legs emaciated, the hump a husk devoid of nourishment.
The camel's sudden appearance, the transmogrification from ethereal to material, was as sudden as the return of his feelings towards Muizza. He could neither understand nor resist. Vienna convulsed in his memory like the camel's body. He remembered the morning after he had spent the night with the cousin at the Marriot near Mozart Cafe. They had killed two bottles of Opus 1 during that insane fuck-fest. He was still drunk when he had stumbled out of the hotel at nine in the morning, rushing to the airport to pick up Muizza as she came back from a wedding in Sweden. But she had arrived early, an entire night early, and had intercepted him in the lobby. Tears in her eyes. Lamentation personified. She had been like a Shia mourning Ashura. Her heavy black mascara ran down her face. She had been wearing a black abaya—he later learned there was nothing underneath—and when she stood in the middle of the lobby and cried, he wasn't sure what shamed him more. Being caught by his wife, or being confronted in the heart of rich, European, cosmopolitan, Vienna by someone dressed like that. He had taken her by the hand and walked her out of the hotel and led her into the park where they had stood before a golden statue dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach, with little droplets of condensation frozen on the figure's mouth. The sky above had been an unforgiving blue. Muizza had been wearing heels—beautiful strappy sexy heels that wives buy for the bedroom—that clicked audibly on the cobblestone. He had been on the verge of saying something when she had suddenly stopped crying. Then she had opened her mouth. Then she had uttered one sentence. A proclamation. Something that was simultaneously academic and revolutionary. "I am dictated by my sense of pride to seek a divorce from you." He hadn't thought anything of it, of course, waiting till she disappeared into a taxi to go and spend the remainder of the day with the cousin. Now, though, he took that sentence seriously. It evoked respect from him. He had suffered through its vengeful devastation. One that was still ongoing. One that had rendered him as weak and defeated as that camel. Suddenly he was impressed by what Muizza had been able to do to him. There was something attractive in a woman that exercised power like that. A woman that despite all his pensive and penitent wanting he could no longer have. Could not even find because she was out in the world meeting other men.
Hadid looked back at the knock-kneed camel. He willed it to rise. And when it didn’t, he honked it at, and then he drove his car directly at it. He wondered how close he would get to the animal before mercy entered his heart.
ALI ETERAZ grew up in the Caribbean, South Asia, and the American South. His debut novel, Native Believer (Akashic), was published on May 3, 2016. It was a New York Times Editors Choice.
Previously, he wrote the short story collection Falsipedies and Fibsiennes (Guernica Ed. 2014). Other stories have appeared in StorySouth, Chicago Quarterly Review, and Forge Journal. In 2014, his story "Iron Bowl" was long-listed for The Million Writers Award.
Eteraz is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Children of Dust (HarperCollins, 2009). It was selected as a New Statesman Book of the Year and was featured on PBS with Tavis Smiley, NPR with Terry Gross, C-SPAN2, and numerous international outlets. O, The Oprah Magazine, called it “a picaresque journey” and the book was long-listed for the Asian American Writer’s Workshop Award.