On November 1, National Novel Writing Month will begin, and for 30 days, I must write 1666 words per day in order to accomplish the goal of writing 50,000 words (the length of a novel or novella). Since I came to Doha, I have written/created at least one blog post per week of varying lengths in different modes of writing. But for the month of November, I must focus on telling a single narrative, either fiction or creative nonfiction, and write primarily in the descriptive mode. In order to prepare for this feat, this week’s blog post is exactly 1666 words long and is composed of three stories: two are true-ish and one is not. Next month, my narrative lies must feel as real and emotionally true as the stories I copy and paste from my everyday life. See if you can suss out the lie.
“Bro,” Ismael paused from sipping his Stella Atois out of a tulip-shaped glass held up to his lips. “You should write your next blog post about nose hair.” He then resumed drinking his beer.
We were sitting with two other colleagues at a high table outside on the deck of the Belgian Café. The night was hot—not as hot as it had been a month ago, but still it was slightly hot. I could feel smears of sweat on the top of my head. Skin glistened as people walked by the light near our table. Drink glasses became prismatic from condensation as the cold beer and night air collided.
I took a sip of my beer and asked Ismael to explain his ludicrous idea further, unsure if there might be some vision behind his thought or if a combination of post-op pain medication and alcohol was fueling his bizarre idea.
“You know,” he continued, “write about who at work has the most nose hair.”
I asked him why would I ever do such a thing, scrutinize my male (and female) colleagues in such a peculiar and insulting manner? This would require me to get close enough to people at work to appraise the amount of hair poking from their nose and decide if this constituted an egregious amount which I would then use to nasal shame them in a future blog post. Is this what you’re suggesting, Ismael?
He chuckled. “Just an idea, bro.” He then turned to Naabih who was sitting across the table from us talking with another colleague. “Habibi!” Ismael said to snag Naabih’s attention. Ismael held two fingers in the air next to his lips, the universal sign that he had consumed enough alcohol, and now he (not a regular smoker) wanted to social smoke, so would Naabih (a regular smoker) please provide him with a cigarette? Naabih slid his pack of Marboro lights and lighter across the grains of the wooden tabletop towards Ismael, then resumed conversing.
Ismael fished out a cigarette from the pack and brought it up to lips. His face was covered in salt and pepper beard stubble. He then cupped the cigarette, a flame flashed inside his hands like a candle in a lantern, and he took a drag. He must have noticed how I was watching his actions because he then held the pack up to me. Did I want one?
Of course I did. I will always want a cigarette after a couple drinks. Nothing like a Marlboro Red with a Jack Daniels and a Diet Coke with a splash of lime juice. I will always want a cigarette after a stressful day. Stepping outside and approaching the smokers congregating at the periphery of the campus. No judgment as I bum a Menthol light from them. Just the tacit understanding that I had a hard day and need a smoke. I will always want a cigarette after breaking up with someone. To comfort me during the ensuing emotional churning and sleeplessness, waking up at 5am and standing on the outside steps of my apartment in my pajamas and overcoat so that I can smoke an American Spirit Blue and satiate my first of many nicotine cravings of the day.
However, I simply told Ismael no thanks, eliding my reasons why I won’t allow myself a cigarette ever again. Instead, I returned to his initial proposal.
Do you want me to make enemies with your stupid blog idea?
A month ago, I didn’t dare go outside at night for a walk. The humidity would drop, and it was like stepping into a sauna just as someone threw water on the rocks that had been heating all day.
Now the temperature is tolerable, and I like to clear my head after teaching my afternoon classes. Plus, I have a surplus of time as a recently single man. There’re only so many errands that I can run, list of goals that I can make, household projects that I can do perform before I run out of things to do and must sit with my feelings. Instead, I prefer to walk with my feelings and listen to music.
The corniche in Lusail is the perfect walking route. I first head south and walk towards the canal where men jet ski on the weekends. From there I walk east along the canal towards the Arabian Gulf. The water around Qatar is so shallow that it appears light blue, and if marine life ventures too close to the shore during the summer, they will cook and die. From my apartment on the 19th floor, I can see dark blue path in the water where the seafloor has been dredged to allow ships to navigate into the marina.
On the eastern side of the corniche, there are a series of fountains that are illuminated at night. Children run and scream in the playful burst of water from the fountain. Some shoot up in the air like geysers. Some cascade over you like they are being spit from the mouth of whales. Some jump in the air like tadpoles leaping from puddle to puddle.
Normally, I don’t linger around areas where children are playing. Locals are wary of foreign single men in areas that are officially or unofficially designated for families. Unless a man is coupled with a woman, he is deemed a potential pervert and can only interact with other PPs in fenced in enclosures on the peripheries of the city.
However, I watch a young boy in a walker with wheels slowly advance towards the edge of a fountain. There is a patch in the ground where spouts shoot up like corn and is illuminated by a rainbow of lights. His father in local garb is following close behind him. Other children, likely his older siblings, dart in front of the boy as they chase each other. The father shoos them in Arabic and motions for the Filipina nanny to lead the children from their sibling as he ambles towards the water like a sea turtle hatchling slowly making its way.
Eventually, the boy makes it to the edge of the fountain, but just as he does, the stalks of water drop, and the lights of the fountain go dark. He reaches out towards the emptiness and darkness. His hands tremble with frustration. The father yells to a security guard who is nearby, but the guard can do nothing. He doesn’t have access to the controls of the fountain.
The boy starts to wail. The father tries to comfort him pointing in the direction of the stall of a nearby food vendor, making promises of salty and sugary treats to distract the boy from the injustice of life. The father is not able to pacify his son and soon calls for the nanny to deal with him as he walks in the direction of the parking lot. He yells in Arabic for his other children. Time to head home.
You WhatsApp me to let me know that you finished with your prayers and are leaving.
Ok, I message back. I will leave now as well. From my apartment in Lusail, it normally takes less than 10 minutes for me to drive to Eggspectation in the Pearl. The roads are especially empty on Fridays since the locals spend the mornings with their family and friends after the congregational prayer. I hit a wave of green lights and arrive at the restaurant in 5 minutes.
I find a parking spot near the restaurant and walk over. As I approach, a woman is waiting outside. For a moment, I panic wondering if you arrived before me. However, the woman’s hair is uncovered, and then a man arrives. They shake hands and walk inside. This is the universal sign of a first date.
I WhatsApp you to let you know that I will be sitting outside and waiting for you. I am attired like a villain in a cowboy movie. I have a black shirt with the sleeves rolled up and Levi jeans that I had tailored to fit me better. It is hot and dusty outside, and after 5 minutes, I contemplate going inside and waiting in the AC. However, I am stubborn. I told you that I would be waiting outside, so I will wait outside.
As I wait, a man approaches and stands outside. He is soon joined by a female. They shake hands and enter the restaurant. Again, the universal sign of a first date. I wonder if when we meet, will we shake hands? What is your position on touching the hand of a strange man? I will let you make the first move.
About 10 minutes later, I see a KIA compact SUV pull into the parking lot across the street where I parked. All the spots are taken, so it journeys out of the parking lot, then finds its way to the empty parking spot across the street from where I am sitting.
The driver is wearing sunglasses and a hijab. This must be you.
The driver then reverse parks into the space, but because she doesn’t turn in sharp enough, her vehicle is a little too far from the curb, so she pulls out of the space in order to correct the parking job.
When the driver has finished parking, she takes off her sunglasses and steps out of the vehicle. We make eye contact. She is dressed in a dark blue pants suit with an ornate paisley print. Her hijab is fashionable and pinned in place. Her belt cinches at her waist and the cuff of her pants are tapered. She is wearing a smart pair of heels. I am entranced by the cultural juxtaposition of hijab and heels.
She smiles as she approaches me. “Hi, it’s nice to finally meet you.” She extends her hand for me to shake, which I do. Then we enter the restaurant to order our lunch.