Sunday, January 09, 2011

Closing time

My concert finished fairly early so I decided to take the Metro home rather than a bloodsucking cab, with a (more and more likely to be) surly cabbie. Mostly, I took it just to celebrate the fact that I could and found myself unexpectedly on the last train to Jebel Ali.

I got on at Burjuman and had a long ride ahead of me. (As with everything else, the deeper you go into Burdubai and Deira, the more “real” the city becomes. The Burjuman station is properly confusing, crowded and large. Also, it’s underground, which gives it the right sort of air.) That late train was surprisingly full – of the girls and boys who work in the malls, gym instructors, lifeguards and RTA police going off duty. At every stop, hoardes of chattering young people got on, having thrown off their invisibility with their uniforms. The train was abuzz like at no other time. Some people were greeting old friends, others were making new ones. Several, who weren’t working the next day, were brandishing barbecue materials and inviting fellow passengers to parties.

News of upcoming sales was passed around, as were job vacancies and apocryphal tales of employer iniquity. At least, I hope they were apocryphal, but this being Dubai, you never know. Formidable policewomen dissolved into groups of girls discussing mascara and heckling the new male recruit on the last shift at the next station. Four boys in a corner, any of whom may have helped me buy shoes at some time, were discussing increasing the repertoire of their band. Another group was engrossed in various kinds of reading material, crosswords and Sudoku, looking up only to greet yet another member who got on at some other stop. In their midst, a stunningly beautiful Somali girl stood emptily in a private patch of silence, probably living the other kind of Dubai dream.

A couple stood at the partition between two coaches, too shy to look at each other much but not too shy to hold hands. The policewomen derived much entertainment from this, but were kind-hearted enough to do it privately. The faceless checkout girl was clearly memorable to the coffee shop supervisor who was looking out for her at the Dubai Mall stop.

Walking home from the station was fine along the main road but got uncomfortable when I entered the Greens, because somebody in their wisdom had decided the streets needed mood lighting, and the mood is Hitchcock. But I soon realised that the silhouettes of serial killers were caused by people walking their dogs and the ominous car parked in the shadows had a blue light on top. And as I passed it, the polite, uniformed nod from within held all the security of the noonday sun.

A few more steps brought me to the chatter and lights of the restaurants and supermarket, but I left them behind too and came to the path by the silly lake. I can understand people from Northern Europe not connecting stagnant water to mosquitoes, but there’s no excuse for all the Indians who must also have been part of it. They didn’t even have to invent any solutions – I just spent three days at a resort in Cochin where they’ve used fish to great effect to keep the mosquitoes down. My first thought when I saw all the picturesque water there was the hope that my mom would have remembered the mosquito repellent. She did of course, but I didn’t need it at all.

Anyway, silly or not, the lake is undeniably pretty. Whispering rushes, flowering trees, an imported (I’m told) bird or two muttering drowsily in its sleep, wooden bridges reflected in water, the brightness of the stars undimmed by city lights. Positively ill with atmosphere, as Bertie Wooster would say. I’m not even sure there wasn’t an imported cicada or two out there. It’s all artificially created, but there’s nothing fake about the chilly desert air or the clear desert sky. At night in the Greens, all the paving and topsoil can’t hide the fact that it was built on desert and not long ago. In fact, I myself remember the time when it was sand. It’s a strangely reassuring thought.

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