Dubai, pearl of the Persian Gulf, a modern metropolis, is famous for its oil and free trade zone. It is situated in far North-East of the United Arab Emirates. In cosmic view the city has a form of a short, but very wide strip stretching throughout the coast of the Gulf.
The city is divided by a creek in two parts: Old Dubai or, as the people call it, Deira and New Dubai, which arose from sand in less than a decade. To the North from Dubai stands a city named Sharjah, the capital of another emirate.
Here prices are low and life is luxury. You can call the city "heaven". Skyscrapers, shopping centers, souks, restaurants, fast-food chains, bazaars and others can be found in this oil rich oasis. There are many modern famous places people visit here, like Burj-Khalifa, the highest building ever built, artificial islands called “The World” and “Palm Islands”, Dubai Mall Aquarium, Atlantis Hotel and ect. Traders often visit the Gold Souk. It is obvious from its name that people buy and sell gold here, but there are shops that sell other products including a line of electronic shops. It is not a secret that people come here to empty or fill their pockets.
It has always been hot here. Dubai is one of the warmest cities in the world. The temperature rarely drops below 20 degrees of Celsius in winter. Spring and autumn have almost same temperatures that vary between 25-35 degrees. The warmest season is, of course, summer. This season’s temperatures could rise up to 50 degrees, making it almost unbearable to breath, which is why every single place is air conditioned starting from an ordinary bus stop and ending with Burj-Khalifa.
The majority of city’s population are workers from India, Pakistan, China and many other different countries of the world. Many businesspeople reside here because of the free trade zone. Naturally, many citizens of UAE live here as well. Almost all of them are Arabs. They are wealthy and influential people. They are mistakenly called Petrol Kings or Petrol Sheiks, though their main sources of income are companies. The law of the UAE states that if a foreign national desires to open a company he needs a local partner. More than a half of the revenue of the company goes to their Emirati partner.
Like in many countries of the Middle East, most of the citizens of this country are very religious people, but there are many secular citizens.
Many tourists and shoppers visit Dubai from different European countries and from The USA. Among tourists there might be a possibility to see a famous person, but of course it is low.
In this city, in a very beautiful, large estate right on the coast of the Persian Gulf, somewhere in Jumeirah District, lived a religious family, citizens of the UAE. Sheikh Malik Al-Kareem was the head of this family. Al-Kareem family had a long history. His grandfather was an emigrant from Yemen. He had arrived to Dubai at the end of the XIX century, but before that the Al-Kareem family had served in armies of various Muslim countries. They participated in conquests of the Arab Caliphate, in Seljuk Empire’s attacks on Byzantium, fought against Crusaders in the XI-XII centuries, Fought side by side with Ottomans, joined the resistance against the British Empire. All of those events made them generational fanatics.
Before oil was discovered in their property, the Al-Kareem family had lived in great poverty. Despite that Malik’s father Akbar had had three wives and ten children. Malik was the child of Akbar’s third wife Halima and his only son, the rest of his children were girls. There were days when Malik and his sisters hadn’t eaten at all. His father had always told:
“Pray and one day Allah will hear us”.
Every member of the Al-Kareem family prays five times a day as all Sunni Muslims should. Sheikh Malik was a six year old child when he first saw oil fountains in his yard in 1966 and didn’t know what they were. He had never imagined that the day he saw those fountains was the last day of their poverty. It seemed their prayers were really heard.
After his father’s death in 1985 Malik inherited all the properties and companies. Even though he was religious he still decided to learn English for making great deals and became a partner of more than a dozen new companies. Every year his wealth grew larger and larger. English and American businesspeople described him as a “Fat man with long hair and beard in traditional Arabian clothing, very rude, but honest, honorable and a fine businessman”. He built and sold many buildings and managed three companies that he fully owned.
He was married twice. His first marriage was with a woman named Hadija. From this marriage he had three children two girls and one boy. It was a forced marriage supported by his parents. After eighteen years he was married once more to a woman he loved named Zaynab. They had four children; the first was born in 1996 and was named Ahmed.
When America attacked Afghanistan in 2001, Malik Al-Kareem was very angered and did not listen to reason about the Taliban’s cruelty and degenerative politics. He wanted to break all deals he had made with Americans before. During this period Ahmed was a five year old, but he “absorbed” all the hatred his father let on the Christian World.
After the invasion of Iraq by the US his father had been so angered that he gave his children a warning:
“If I see you talking to an American or any other infidel about something different than education or business I’ll kick you out of the house”.
Speaking of their house, it was so enormous and completely indescribable by words. It had luxury life conditions and all of technical innovations. If there was a new gadget that had been presented to the public, it appeared in Al-Kareem family’s house an hour later. Their father strictly forbid them to visit social networks, chats or as he called them “Infidel” websites. Ahmed’s elder step brother sometimes disobeyed those orders and entered such sites. Ahmad has been always telling on his brother, to his father.
As Ahmed grew his father had thought about making him the heir of his property, because he strictly obeyed his father and had radical views. He was very intolerant towards people of other religions, bullied them if he had the chance. His father sent him to a prestigious school. There he was taught almost everything, including English. His father approved it because he knew that without English it is almost impossible to do business.
At school Ahmad had a childhood friend named Khalid Al-Waleed. He had a secular Sunni Muslim family. They supported tolerance and democracy and their actions were well promoted in the past making them millionaires in the early 20th century and billionaires after the discovery of oil and the economic growth. They owned several hotels and a shopping center in the city. They had great friendly relations with European and American businessmen.
Ahmad and Khalid have always argued over themes on equality and right. Ahmad defended the theory of “World Wide Caliphate”; Khalid on the other hand defended secularism, democracy and equality. He supported peaceful globalization. They argued almost all the time: at school, at home, outside and etc., though they had many common interests like learning languages, watching football, reading and they were obsessed from watching documentary films, but even their interest led to arguments.
Once they had had an argument over secularism. Ahmad wanted to prove that secular people are also Infidels, but he was proven wrong, Khalid told him:
“It is you who is the infidel, you’re supporting international terrorism. Killing people is wrong! We are all equal; we have exactly the same rights”.
Ahmad instantly changed the subject; he didn’t want to listen to talks about secularism, knowing he’ll lose the argument. Ahmad’s father barely approved their friendship. He had no other choice, because all other students from his class were from Indian families. He also warned:
“Khalid is a Muslim, but he is influenced by ideas of Infidel scum, do not let him mess with your mind”.
As Ahmad grew his views on the world became more conservative. He began to insult people of other religions more often; sometimes he even insulted Khalid and called him “Ally of Infidels”, a traitor.
Everything in the world change including people. One event in Ahmad’s life changed not only his views but also views of the whole Al-Kareem family.
In a sunny July day of 2012 two young men about 16-17 years of age were standing in the middle of crossroads of Al-Makhool and Kuwait, where many warehouses were situated. It was very hot so there were almost no cars. There were only large trucks coming from Oman.
One of them was dressed in a white T-Shirt without any signs, light blue jeans, dark blue baseball cap and black sandals. He had curly coal black hair and wide brown eyes.
The other was in traditional Arab clothing: he wore a long white thawb (Arab robe), a white kufiyah (Arab headwear) and a pair of brown pointed shoes. His hair was hidden under his headwear, though judging by his eyebrows it was also black.
It was obvious the first was Khalid and the other was Ahmad. They were as always arguing. The Arab Spring helped Khalid in bringing such arguments that Ahmad put his fingers in his ears.
“You have seen all the horrors Qaddafi and Assad did. They killed their own people and…” Khalid was saying, but stopped when he noticed that Ahmad was looking at a girl of average height approximately their age. She had long eyelashes and beneath them were her dark blue eyes, sparkling from sunlight. Her small nose and mouth perfectly fit on her face, making it simply gorgeous. Her blond hair was loose and shiny. She wore a white blouse and a light blue knee-length skirt. On her left wrist hung a golden bracelet with beautiful patterns, on her feet there was a pair of black high heels, which seemed new and bought only for fashion. It looked like she could fall any second.
“Ahmad, are you ok?” Khalid asked smiling.
Ahmad responded after two seconds:
“Of course, why would I not be? Infidel scum infested my country and I…” Ahmad started.
Before he could finish the girl had twisted her ankle right in the middle of the crossroad and there was a large red truck heading towards her in a very high speed signaling. Ahmad instantly ran to save her and grabbed her arm jumping forward at the last moment. They both fell on the ground a few feet away from the truck. They stayed on the ground face to face for about five seconds. He looked at her and she looked at him, with their eyes widened from surprise. Ahmed stood up and ran down Kuwait road. For all his life he had had a hatred for all infidels and now he suddenly saved an infidel girl. He was amazed by her beauty; he had a strange sensation in his stomach and heart. He had almost fallen to oblivion, but managed to get home. He felt guilt consuming him from inside. His conscience was trying to knock him down on the ground and make him cry. Despite all that there was very sweet feeling inside him that grew and grew more when he thought about the girl. He had barely arrived to his house thinking about his actions. Without greeting his father he ran up to his room and shut the door.
Khalid didn’t follow his friend. He approached the girl who was on the ground moaning from pain.
“Let me help you”. He offered on his funny accented English "What on Earth are you doing in this area? There is nothing here, but closed buildings".
“Why would you care?” The girl asked yelling and looking at him suspiciously. To Khalid she looked familiar, but he could not remember where he had seen her before.
“I wouldn’t just leave you here. I saw you sprain your left ankle. There is a hospital near by”. He said and helped her up putting her arm over his shoulder and taking her to the opposite side of the road.
“What will happen if paparazzi see us? The press will ruin me!” She whispered with a frightened voice and looking around, but there was no one outside, as it was the afternoon and the temperature was over 45 degrees of Celsius. The sun was burning every living thing.
“Why are you afraid of paparazzi? You’re a Hollywood star or something?” Khalid asked widening his eyes. They almost arrived at the hospital which turned out to be a gray building. Its entrance was in a large and beautiful neighborhood.
“Yes, I’m a Hollywood star that is going to cancel her press conference in this dump!” She yelled angrily in Khalid’s ear almost strangling him. Khalid, on the other hand, noticed that he girl experienced some sort of a shock after the incident.
“Chill out, you haven’t seen the best places in Dubai yet! Let’s see what the doctor says and then we will discuss this issue”. Khalid murmured saddened by the girl’s comments, though it was not easy to hurt his feelings. In the hospital it was revealed that she really had a shock from the whole situation and this explained the girl’s actions. Khalid was asked to wait outside. He had a call from Ahmad:
“Where are you?” He asked angrily like he was talking to someone he was about to fight.
“The real question is: where are you? You save a girl and later run away, leaving me with all the responsibility. I had to bring her to the hospital alone. Do you know that she experienced a shock?”
“Shock? How is she now?” Suddenly Ahmad asked yelling with great concern, which was very unusual for him. Khalid got surprised that he was worried:
“I do not know. I’m waiting for the doctor. Wait one second, since when do you care?”
“I…I…” Ahmad mumbled and turned off his phone. Khalid thought smiling: “He is totally in to her. Finally an argument he cannot ignore!”
Meanwhile Ahmad was home lying on his king sized bed. He was lost in his thoughts:
“This can’t be happening to me…Why? Was it a sin or was it a good deed…Why cannot I forget her! True, her beauty is something unimaginable, but she is an infidel”. He began to silently cry, but thoughts were still haunting him and burning his heart like lava: “What will my father think of me when I reveal…never! I will never tell him what had happened. Never! Why did I have to break his word? Why did I jump and saved the girl? I do not know! Maybe I was possessed by the devil or maybe, angels…No; I must not question our laws! I committed a crime and that is all! I put a shame on myself and my family…Still, I will keep this a secret…Allah knows all…”
He reached the phone and once again called Khalid, who was still waiting for the doctor.
“Khalid, is the girl alright?” He asked wiping the sweat from his forehead.
“Listen, I do not know yet, but I think you should also come here”. Khalid answered with an annoyed voice.
“No, I won’t! I’m sick you and your infidel propaganda! You are not my friend anymore, you are a scum!” Ahmad yelled shutting down his phone. His shout was almost close to a cry for help. He was lost in his thoughts and his conscience was torturing him:
“Why did I break the rules? I should not have saved her! I should have let that infidel scum die!” He thought and tears appeared on his eyes. A few minutes later his fever had risen and half an hour later he had fallen into delirium.
Khalid wanted to call back but the doctor interrupted him:
“Sir, we have good news. She is, just a minor ankle injury and the shock is completely gone. She can leave in one or two hours. Oh, and also, the patient wants to talk to you!"
Khalid got inside her room. The girl looked at him and smiled:
“Thank you …” She murmured kindly. “I’m sorry for the mean comments…I was not myself…Where’s your friend, who saved my life by the way? I want to thank him for his most heroic act. It is the least I can do”
“He’s not coming, alas, but if you want, we can meet him later”. Khalid answered cheerfully smiling and sitting on a chair that was near her bed.
“We will…Oh, and I was not lying about being a Hollywood star…My name is Mercedes Grace Murray”.
“Ah, yes now I remember! Yes, I watched some of the movies you played in. Allow me to introduce myself too. My name is Khalid Al-Waleed, son of the local oil sheikh”.
“Al-Waleed? That is the name of the hotel I’m staying in!” The girl said rising up from the bed.
“Really? What a coincidence! My father owns it!” Khalid said in excitement. It was in his nature to get excited over everything that he heard. This did not please Mercedes; she thought Khalid is one of her fans, who was lucky to meet her in person. She waited that he would ask: “Can I have your autograph” or “Can I take pictures with you?” Mercedes herself was from a religious Christian family. Like Ahmad’s parents her parents also forbid her to befriend people from other religions. The only reason she came to Dubai was an important press conference.
“Your family is Muslim, isn’t it?” She asked a sudden question again narrowing her eyes and looking with suspicion at Khalid, who slowly began to despise this look, nonetheless he felt something familiar in this impression.
“We are secular Muslim”. He answered like a person who is proud of his family. Some sort of a smile appeared on his face, but his eyes weren’t smiling at all.
“Well, we are religious Catholics, so they won’t tolerate our newly found friendship because they consider that you may have a bad influence on me. Thank you for your assistance; it will be appreciated by God in contrast to your previous sins”. Mercedes murmured with such tone that created a thought in Khalid’s mind: “We are all equal, sister, do not speak highly of yourself”.
“You’re completely identical to my friend!” Khalid exclaimed like someone who won an important competition, not mentioning that he was talking about her savior.
“What do you mean?” Mercedes asked widening her eyes. The smile on her face completely disappeared.
“He is a radical Muslim and thinks about me the same way. We’re childhood friends and it is hard to break, but I do not think our friendship will last long (he remembered Ahmad’s words). His family does not like my “way of life” and always says that I have a bad influence on their son. Well, I think you two would make a fine couple”. Khalid noticed enjoying the conversation.
“A fine couple? Are you kidding me? Why did you open this subject anyway?” The girl glared at him with a look full of surprise and anger. Her pride was hurt. She realized that Khalid was not her fan; on the contrary she thought he was hostile towards her and she hated him with all her heart the moment when he compared him with a person from another religion and even proposed that there could be something between them.
Khalid gazed at her with pity, which made Mercedes uncomfortable. The “Gaze War” continued throughout the conversation.
“Think about it yourself”. Khalid whispered mockingly. Suddenly an idea like lightning stroke the young actresses mind and made her ask:
“He…he saved me?” She mumbled. She felt thousands of ants on her body.
“He broke all religious laws! If he hadn’t had everything would have been different” Khalid nodded approvingly. An anvil fell on Mercedes’s heart and rage overwhelmed her. She thought that Khalid was trying to convert her to his faith, but he only wanted her to understand that religion should not limit a person in doing good deeds and in general.
“I want some time alone. Please, visit me some other time or I’ll find you myself”. She said in a great rush, though there was no place for her to rush to. She was breathing heavily and it looked like she could yell any second.
“Shocking, isn’t it?” Khalid mocked and his eyes sparkled. This was the final straw in their so called “war”.
“Get out, now!” Mercedes yelled the same way as Ahmad had yelled at Khalid.
Khalid got up and said leaving despite that he was insulted:
“I hope we’ll meet again soon. Oh and one more thing: wrath is a deadly sin”. Khalid researched the information about all religions in the World. He knew everything about Christanity and Islam, but this knowledge sometimes lead to a dilemma inside him.
“If you say one word again, you terrorist scum, I’m going to call the police”. She hissed, but Khalid was already gone. She never experienced such anger in her life. She was ready to tear Khalid apart. “How dares he bring such a statement?!” This thought burned her, but Khalid’s words never left her mind. She put her head on the pillow and fell in to delirium.
Three days later…
The Gold Souk. Khalid was sitting on a bench with his classmate Raj, whose father worked in one of the gold shops. Khalid during those three days had been wandering around the city alone. He arrived to the Gold Souk by accident and there he collided with Raj.
“The doctors say that Ahmad has fever. It is because he is worried about something. I visited him yesterday; he was in a very bad state. He said something about angels with long hair made of gold and eyes blue as the sky. His father thinks that he is dying”. Raj told looking at the people who passed by.
“I do not think he is dying. This “angel” he is talking about is not what you think it is. She is a…” Khalid was saying when someone touched his shoulder.
“…and there she is”. Khalid said to Raj pointing on Mercedes with his thumb.
“MERECEDS MURRAY!” Raj yelled like he an animal that was just shot by ten hunters. “Can I have your autograph? I’ve been dying to see you!”
“This is my friend Raj; he is a bit exited as you can see…” Khalid whispered to Mercedes, who cut him off whispering:
“Can I talk to you for a moment in private?” She asked him whispering. She was concerned about something and wanted to spill everything out at him.
“Wait here for a moment, Raj; we’ll be back in a minute”. Khalid said to his friend smiling and Mercedes nodded approvingly. Raj thought: “She is the cause of Ahmad’s illness? I better tell his father this, maybe I’ll get a reward”.
“Khalid, we’ll meet sometimes later, I remembered I need to go somewhere”. Raj said and literally ran away causing Khalid to suspect something, but he didn’t let Mercedes know.
“Waleed…” Mercedes started slowly shaking. Khalid noticed and helped her to sit down.
“Khalid”. Khalid corrected and smiled. Mercedes was shocked that he forgave her that easily and that there was no need to apologias, but still her conscience made her:
“I…I wanted to tell you how sorry I am for yelling at you. Instead of thanking you I shouted and insulted…” She said and began to cry on his shoulder. Khalid wanted to say something but then he realized something that worried him a lot.
“I was never angry with you Mercedes, even though you yelled at me”. Khalid whispered back, but looked at Raj who was running towards the taxi park in great hurry.
“Ahmad is in big trouble” He accidently said out loud his thoughts. Good thing that Mercedes did not pay attention. Khalid whispered to her:
“Let’s go to the Dubai Mall. There we can talk”. Khalid offered standing up from the bench because his shirt soaked in his new “friend’s” tears. The girl was still crying. He got annoyed and said helping her to stand up:
“Let’s go, drama queen”. He smiled.
Mercedes did not protest, because her mind was somewhere else. Khalid noticed that she wanted to empty her heart for some reason. Khalid called his driver:
“Mahmood, I’m at the Gold Souk, come and pick me up!”
To be continued…