“They departed into their own country another way.”
– Matthew 2:12
I started my life this way, the earliest of memories, and so why should I be surprised that this is how it ends on Diplomatic Street in Doha? I should say nearly ended. I was raw after seeing Anne and so that much distracted. I walked on eggshells. The beach sparrows sounded that much bit louder, a lost yellow parakeet living among them. My skin burned to every touch.
“You’re not staying? You can stay with me,” I told her
She shook her head. Qatar was the transfer point only, en route to Australia.
“I nearly didn’t contact you,” Anne said
I nodded and turned my head to blink back tears. Our conversation silenced by the call to prayer.
“Do you remember his name?” I asked her
“Father Charles,” she responded
“He was a good priest,”
“Of course, that’s why they killed him,”
“You returned to the States after the evacuation from Algiers, but my parents…they just kept going,”
“And now you’re entangled in it all, the pattern…I know. There is still a way out.”
“It’s too late for me. It’s all I know,”
I watch her turn back once as she enters the no man’s land of Departures. I drive back down Diplomatic Street making sure I don’t look at the abandoned Egyptian embassy to my left. Each person behind the embassy walls no doubt has a family and children who are growing up like I did, outside their parents’ culture and for a limited time in host countries. They all have diplomatic immunity but immune from what?
“This time tomorrow, we’ll be on an airplane,” or “On this day, ten years ago…” my father used to say to me, looking at his watch. And I would readily take part in the reminiscing between geographical spaces. In my study, in the serviced one room apartment, I find a letter from Anne that she sent me after arriving safely back in The United States. I can almost see her hand moving with pen or pencil. A body immortal. Scattered in between other correspondence; A class photo from the International School of The Hague. A certificate from when I graduated from the 6th grade in Virginia. My cross country medal from Frankfurt and base entry identification card. A theatre award from my boarding school in Scotland. A pink card with my photo, weight and height issued by the Vietnamese government. A Paris Navigo travel card. They are nothing but museum pieces now.
“It should be in a museum,” a British man had said to me in Villagio mall, referring to a camel saddle he was selling.
“Or not, shame it’s not still used,” I said back to him
“And they call it progress,” he smiled
“Are you doing anything for Festive Eve?” he asked
“No, I’m not. Celebrating tomorrow,”
“We dare not speak his name,”
A little girl yesterday had almost said it.
“I tried to get through the wardrobe, like Lucy, but it didn’t work,”
“I see. Did you want to meet Aslan?” I asked her
“Hmm…I tried to do the same once when I was about your age,”
“There are no big coats in my wardrobe with fur,”
“No, we don’t need them here do we?”
The little girl finished her Santa Stop Here sign and put it in the window of her high rise but was unsettled as the solid fog suffocated all the windows.
“He will find a way,” I told her.
“Rudolph will help him?”
I decide to take a swim before setting off for last minute Christmas shopping at Souk Waqif. I often go there for the street cats, falcons, the African grey parrot, the camels and the Arabian horses. It is my favourite place in Doha for its authenticity.
“It’s cold,” the Kenyan security card says as he is doing his rounds
“It is and the sun soon to set,” I say back to him.
I thought it would wake me up as I buckled my seat belt but as I come to pass the embassy left to rot, some say, as punishment for the blockade I hear the voice of my colleague;
Trust me the Egyptian embassy is the worst ever, it have a good location,a huge building, with a huge empty hall at all inside. And the place where they serve their citizens is too small. Even though there isn’t this machine where you take a turn and wait for it so you go and do whatsoever you went for. And you have to pay cash, they didn’t heard about the plastic payments before. God Help my fellow Egyptians!!
His voice the last I hear, I am getting out of the car. I pass the high wrought iron gate and the black holes of the windows suck me in. I am in the hallway itself but I keep going down, room after room, to the Arabian Gulf shore.
No Photography No Hiking No Swimming
Well, they can’t stop me breaking the last rule. I know the current will take me away, never to return. I hear the whisper of the djinn.
And that pleading was enough to rewind me, like a recoiling back into foetal position. It was not my time.
“I will get up now,” I tell him
“No, Madam, no…I don’t think so,” he shakes his head
I lay in the rocking ambulance. Tomorrow or tonight, they will contact my embassy.