Smoking Shisha from the Shore of a Muscat Beach Resort

The thatched-roof resort cabana that serves alcohol and shisha resides on the right side of the beach, near the cove wall, away from the family area. Excuse me, I would like to order one shisha. I’m sorry, sir, shisha not available until 6 o’clock, replies the Filipina bartender. That’s ok. I wait.

Nothing to do but lounge outside the cabana. Mashallah. What luxury! A minute later, unsure what to do next, I turn on my phone and send you a message. Guess what I’m doing? Sating this impulse, I am able to put my phone away and return to the moment.

Nearby, group of young womecongregate on the beachenjoying their mocktails and smoking their cigarettes. They titter in Arabic, and all I can understand are their laughs and their yanniand their wallahs. After a whilea couple of them wade into the water. Modest swimsuits adorn their cherubic bodies.
A shisha tender delivers my hookah early at 5:30. He plants the contraption in the sand. A mound of fresh ice sits in the tray underneath the burner, cooling the smoke pulled down the stem into the water-filled base through the hose and into my lungsI puff away on the orange-lemon vapor
As the tide rises, an inlet forms between the rock wall of the cove and beach sand. Schools of small feeder fish ripple the water as they race up the entrypursued by predatory fish. Occasionally, one of these hunters breaks the surface as it catches a harried quarry from out of the frenzy.
A young Omani man approaches the edge of the water before the wading women. He looks debonair in his crisp white dishdasha and lavender kuma. His teeth beam from his bearded smile and brown face. Hello, Noor! He purrs to the girl that he knows. Oh! she responds, Hello, Muhannad! He stands on the seashore like a handsome lighthouse. She floats in the water like a wary mermaid, resisting the turbulence beneath the water pushing her towards the beach.

The shisha tender interrupts my reverie. Excuse me, sir, good? He inquires about my coals. I motion for him to replace them. He grabs the spent embers with a pair of tongs and places them into the thurible that he is carrying. He spins the vessel. Centrifugal force holds the coals in the bowl as air rushes over them, creating orange meteors. After several orbits, the tender selects four pieces of the pyre and rests them atop the burner of my hookah. Shokrun! Afwan!

Ping! You message me back. What are you doing? I smile, and the crow’s feet reveal on my face. I snap a picture of my beachside hookah to tease you as I smoke and relax like a pasha. A moment later, you reply simply with Enjoy! 😛 I send a message asking about your day and put my phone away.

Noor introduces the other wading girls, her cousins, to Muhannad. He politely says hello to all of them, but his gaze always returns to her—even though, in my opinion, she isn’t the prettiest of the nymphs. Noor says that she and her cousins are going speedboating, but if Muhannad can wait for them to return, then she promises to go for a swim with him. He obliges and reclines on a lounge chair gazing patiently out of the cove.

The shisha tender brings me my bill. What’s your name? My name is FaroukI learn he was a nurse in Egypt, but now he is a shisha tender here in Muscat. He makes 200 RO a month and only spends 1 RO a day on food, eating at 7pm each day. The rest of his salary goes to his father back homeYoure a good son! Hamdullah!

I pull out my phone to see if you have messaged me back. Nothing. Instead, I read a clickbait article about an Indian toilet attendant who lives in a room within the public bathroom that he oversees and cleans. There is a picture of him in his tiny cluttered room adjacent to the stalls. He is kneading dough in a plastic bowl. I consider the karmic imbalance that would result in a person living in a bathroom in India and another lounging on a beach in Oman.

From a precipice near the inlet, a plover intently watches the fish hunt. He waits for the school as it races frantically underneath him. Suddenly, he stabs the surface of the water with his beak and removes a meal from the mayhem. He repositions the fluttering fish in his beak before finding the optimum angle to swallow his supper. One by one the hapless shoal is being devoured by a tandem of mouths.

The ice in my hookah tray melts into a puddle as the ocean water continues to climb up to the tideline on the cove wall. Noor returns, and Muhannad joins her in the water; they swim a gyre around each other. The cunning plover and predatory fish continue to feed on the dwindling school of feeder fish. I check my phone, but no response. I puff on the shisha, a slight pang of unease mingles with the smoke in my tightened chest. I intend to tip Farouk 1 RO so that he might eat another meal, today or tomorrow, but he is nowhere to be found. So, I simply pay my bill and leave the Muscat beach resort, trying to navigate the turns and bends that led me here.

2 thoughts on “Smoking Shisha from the Shore of a Muscat Beach Resort”

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