Round Trip

Umm al-Qaywayn, UAE

My brother Kamal wanted me to make the most of my stay in the Emirates, so, on the very first day after landing, he took me on a trip to Sharjah. What struck me most about Sharjah was how well-behaved, culturally-aware and respectful of the Islamic traditions its residents appeared to be compared to Dubai, which is rather a cosmopolitan city that thrives on the work of those who partake in business for pleasure. Because of the position Kamal held at the paper he worked for, which was no other than Al Khaleej Times, people recognized him on the street. After spending the whole day wandering around the city, I started getting tired. My brother noticed it at once and suggested that we return home. The road to Umm al-Quwain was bumpy, and in taking it, we were ignoring the risks it posed at our own peril. One such risk was bumping into one of the herds of wild and untethered camels that traversed the inhospitable deserts, running to and fro with little warning of their arrival.

Back home, Siham, my brother’s wife, told us that the National Bank of Umm Al Qaiwain, where I had recently been employed, had launched an investigation against me for disclosing classified information and selling company secrets to a competitor.

That news marked a very transformational moment in my fortune. Apparently, important documents that I had hidden had now come to light. It was a given that my boss had already fired me and I had to get back to Egypt immediately.

In the plane, I sat next to an elderly man with a wispy white beard. At some point during the flight, he mumbled out loud, “Our destiny is written down for us.”

I turned toward him to ask whether he was addressing me and saw him shaking his head. With a glazed look in his eyes, he resumed, “That’s what people say when they feel overwhelmed.”

I rejoined with a mirthless smile, “And yet, everyone here seems to be as happy as a clam.”

He let out an amused laugh and replied, “Don’t let looks deceive you, son. Most people don’t like to return home, no matter what their countenances lead you to believe.”

Looking directly in his eyes, I asked, “Have our paths crossed before? I feel as if you were talking about me!”

He laughed and, as he stroked his beard, he answered, “I am like the Genie in the Lamp. I have lived in this region for over twenty years and know all its secrets.”

The serenity in his voice and his relaxed manner encouraged me to share my story with him. When I finished, he shook his head anew and said, “Boy, you need to accept that everything happens for a reason. The fact that you left Egypt to move to Umm Al Qaiwain, only to board a plane back home not long after, tells me that your behavior obeys the logic of the vicious circles in which the nature of life comes into expression.”

“I just want to know the truth!” I uttered, “Who stole the files? Who squealed to the boss?”

“What’s the point in knowing? God’s ways are beyond our understanding.”

At that point, I assumed that we had run out of conversation. I smiled politely and began to picture my wife and daughter waiting for my plane to land at the airport. I missed them. I took my cassette player out of my bag, put in the headphones and pressed play. I was expecting to hear the tape my wife and daughter had recorded, so that I would feel closer to them and less lonely by listening to it while abroad, but instead, another somewhat familiar voice came out of the device. It was Siham’s, and it sounded as if she were talking to a friend on the phone. Her voice was clearly audible:

“Nour, I am so happy he is out of my sight, you can’t even begin to imagine—it’s a real load off my mind. After four months of unbearable stress, I finally plucked up the courage to do what was necessary to kick him out of our lives. I took all his zealously-guarded files from his bag and turned them over to his boss at the bank. Good thing nobody found out and only God can judge me.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. For a second, I felt as if the plane was about to plummet to the ground with me inside of it. I woke the Genie, who had dozed off a few minutes earlier, to bring him up to speed with the story of my life:

“Genie, I know who stole my files and ratted me out. I’ve found out who it was!”

The Genie smiled and turned to look at me with his penetrating eyes.

“So what? You weren’t meant to stay in the Emirates. That ship has sailed and this one is about to land. Let it be.”

I took the tape from the cassette player and laid it on my lap. We were already flying over Egypt. A few minutes later, an announcement came over the speakers stating that we were about to land. The plane made its descent and we arrived on the landing strip. We stood up and walked toward the exit. As I was about to step out of the plane, I heard a voice calling me from behind:

“Sir, I believe this tape belongs to you; it was lying on your seat.”

A stewardess was handing me the tape that proved who had destroyed my professional integrity. Right before I was about to stretch out my arm and grab it, I changed my mind, flashed her a smile and said,

“Sorry, it’s not mine.”


Written by Salah Maaty.