Literature The Expat Issue

FICTION: Under the sun

“What I was doing wasn’t exactly legal.”

By Ali Al Ardhi

“The little girl was in the middle of the road, shrieking with excitement as she saw my car come to a halt.”

It’s much greener and richer in topography than I imagined; all my friends and family described it as a desert that just so happened to be touching the sea. As the plane was moments from kissing the ground, I noticed how populated the terrain suddenly became, giving way to generic houses and malls while foregoing the natural beauty that thrived moments ago. The airport was forgettable, perhaps due to it being merely a gateway to my destination and nothing more or because I found myself giddy with excitement over the idea of visiting the country’s terrain.

I got out and saw what were very obviously taxis, the men nearly shouting at me just to be heard over each other, no doubt hoping my hotel was far away from there. I acknowledged one of them at random and showed him my hotel booking; one glance and he immediately told me to hop in, and away we went.

What I was doing wasn’t exactly legal.

The hotel was okay but nothing to write home about, a clean place to sleep after a long day. I quickly tossed my luggage in the room and left, spending no more than a minute there I asked the receptionist where I could find a car rental office and was pleased when she said that it was about a minute’s drive from there and that, since things were a bit slow today, she’d drop me off there.

Having rented a 4×4, I took out my phone and punched in the coordinates for the area I was to investigate; it was going to be a two-hour drive, so I got some coffee and an oddly satisfying sort of bread that was large, thin, and crispy and had eggs, honey and cheese in it. When in Rome…

The drive to the mountainous area was quite spectacular; I drove on roads that had mountains carved out specifically for them, areas that were reminiscent of my trip across the continental US, in which were vast expanses of flat, desolate ground as well as mountains that were deemed too pretty to be carved, so the roads snaked up and down the mountains’ sides. At around the two-hour mark, I reached my destination, which required about a five-minute drive on loose soil. I got out and set up my equipment, wishing I were here for vacation rather than work, and began my measurements. What I was doing wasn’t exactly legal, but that’s only because politicians who were out of touch with the industry in which I work wrote the legislation, making an already difficult and tricky job more so.

I was halfway through my calibration checks when I heard a ‘hello’, which made me jump and almost knock over my £60,000 apparatus. I turned around, and to my surprise, there stood a little girl, with clothes and a smile that were a bit too big for someone as petite as her. I don’t like kids. I forced a smile and told her to run back home to her parents, which she acknowledged with a giggle and outright defiance to my instruction, mesmerized by my equipment. She was three years old at most, so long as she couldn’t convey to anyone exactly what I was doing, then I wasn’t too bothered with her company, provided of course she also didn’t touch anything.

After a couple of hours of work under the blistering sun, I was done with my measurements and the girl was nowhere to be seen, no doubt having slipped away while I was concentrating on the task at hand; I tend to block everything out when I’m working, so that wasn’t all that surprising. What was surprising, though, was the fact that no house was within a mile or so from where I was, and I didn’t hear any cars prior to her popping up behind me.

I packed my things and left for the second location, which was an hour or so away, according to Google Maps. As I merged onto the road, I noticed a pickup truck with no fewer than three men inside. They were eyeing me intently, spiking my anxiety and twisting my stomach into a knot, but I managed to push my suspicions aside and convinced myself that they were just curious as to why a tourist would be trundling along here. I focused my attention on the road and I braked. Hard. The little girl was in the middle of the road, shrieking with excitement as she saw my car come to a halt. She must’ve thought that we were just playing, unaware of the gory fate that almost caught up to her.

I stopped by a river located no more than half an hour from the rental place and washed away all of the bloody chunks from the car’s fascia and undercarriage. It’s a good thing I hate kids.

‘Get out’, said a raspy voice, inches away from my left ear, I turned and saw that it was one of the men. This was planned. I panicked and gunned the accelerator, running over the little girl while leaving the man in the middle of the road, at a loss over what to do. I kept driving at the limits of my car for a few minutes, but saw that they weren’t chasing me, I decided to head back home and finish the rest of the job some other day; my employer wouldn’t be happy, but he’d understand. I couldn’t tell if those were thugs or undercover police, but I hoped it was the former so I wouldn’t have to contend with the police chasing me for murder charges on top of my illegal activities.

I stopped by a river located no more than half an hour from the rental place and washed away all of the bloody chunks from the car’s fascia and undercarriage. It’s a good thing I hate kids.

I picked up my things from the hotel, checked out, and then dropped the car at the rental place and took a taxi to the airport; my plan was to get the earliest flight out of the country. Luckily, there was a flight to Dubai within an hour. I bought the ticket and checked my luggage. Nobody was giving me a second glance. It looked like I was in luck and that those men were probably thugs who nobody cared about.

I got to my seat in the plane and watched outside for any police cars nearby, but none were around. I took out my phone and called my boss to explain my situation, and as I lifted the phone to my ear, someone sat next to me and nudged my shoulder. I looked over at them.

It was the girl.

Ali Al Ardhi is a creative storyteller from Oman.

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