A Travel Story
Thursday, 10.50am en route to The Dubai Mall
Every time you need something to work, it doesn’t. It’s as though life knows the situation is a matter of life or death, and instead of working with you, it would rather you just suffer. And no matter what you do to work around it, it firmly states, ‘Computer says no.” All I needed was one extra second and order could be restored. Just one…
“Damn it, why don’t you just connect?!’ I grumbled, repeatedly reloading my insubordinate phone screen in desperation to upload my latest Instagram post, “If I don’t do this now, I’ll miss the internet rush and lose followers. Arghh.”
“Put that thing down, would you?’ Kieron commanded, shooting more daggers at me than a Ninja, “We have an important meeting at the Waterfall in 10 minutes and we need to pick up the pace. Your followers will survive without you for an hour, I’m sure.”
Kieron just didn’t understand. But then again, why would he? He was crazy old. Like, at least 50. That’s virtually bus-pass age now, right? Plus, as a stone-age boss, his head was far too in work-mode to care about the world going on around him. Unlike me, who totally embraced this neo-futuristic city for all it was worth. But that’s because I had my head screwed on. I was savvy and aware. I made sure epic videos of the Fountain’s showtimes went viral, I was the one you saw posing by the fibre-glass divers in the latest D&G jacket and I was the one gracefully gliding about on the mall’s indoor Olympic-sized ice rink wearing the world’s one and only Louboutin-stylised skates. If you wanted to know anything about Dubai’s landmarks, cool things to see and do and all the best fashions, the girl you went to was me. Plus, I did it all solo, which, in these parts, is actually pretty respectable. It’s the niche that got me internet famous! As the famous Pussycat Dolls song goes, “I don’t need a man to make it happen. I get off being free.” That was my mantra and my followers loved it! I wouldn’t expect the likes of old people to understand the importance of that, though. They only cared about boring meetings.
“Fine,’ I harrumphed, dishearteningly placing my phone back in my bag, “But you’re going to have to take a picture of me drinking posh tea at TWG by the waterfall to make up for it.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Sophie.’ He said, staring straight ahead as he power-walked like a cardboard cutout onto the next set of escalator conveyor strips, “Let’s see if you can negotiate as well with our new client, eh? He’s notoriously stubborn.”
“Oh well,’ I smugly began, adjusting my new Prada blazer with confidence, “If anyone can untie stubborn knots, it’s me. Have no fear, K-Man. I’ll work my magic.”
He turned towards me and raised his eyebrows, “Be sure you do.’ He said, sounding unconvinced despite my self-assured bravado, “And it’s Mr Patterson today, please.”
“Sure thing, K-Man. I mean…Mr Patterson.”
Around the bend, the last set of strips awaited us. The many signs pointing in direction of all the Mall’s hotspots meant we were drawing near.
Maybe the signal would be better inside, rather than through the endless tunnel from the Metro?
Business meeting or no business meeting, a lot can happen in the space of 10-minutes – things needed to be documented. Mr Bossy Boots with his unfashionable stiff-suit would never understand that. He was clueless! Living life with your eyes closed inevitably means you miss out on so much. And I for one certainly couldn’t afford to miss out on anything that mattered.
Thursday, 11.15am at the Dubai Waterfall
“Sir, yes. I know, sir. The lady joining Mr Patterson, a Miss Sophie Karina, said they were on their way and sent her utmost apologies, sir.”
“Miss Karina, eh? Hmm.”
Being late was still considered fashionable in this day and age, so that’s exactly what I did. After pointing out to Kieron that his suit looked like it belonged better in a cartoon show rather than on the catwalk, we swiftly turned right into Fashion Avenue for a quick changeover. After all, no business deal was ever secured when tatty clothing was witnessed. Late or not, a sharp suit could save anyone’s bacon. That, my lovelies, is a matter of fact. Plus, whilst he was changing into something with a bit more movement, I finally got the opportunity to upload my post. Hurrah! Zen had been restored. Now, all we had to do was to make like Usain Bolt and run for it.
Past the Aquarium and tempting candy stores, cleverly avoiding the floor with all the beauty and clothing sales on it, we sprinted for our lives towards our time-ticking destination. The Mall seemed far bigger when racing against the clock. But finally, despite a few stumbles with my heels and a quick tearing of an exposed price-tag, we made it.
“Good morning, Mr Havers,’ Kieron puffingly greeted, swiftly offering him a professional shake of his right hand before we took our seats inside the golden tea shop, “The Metro was running late.”
“Isn’t the metro driverless?” Mr Havers quickly queried, taking a firm grip of Kieron’s hand whilst he waited for his answer.
Useless. Kieron just stood there gawping, completely flummoxed on how to respond. It was lucky he had me there and wasn’t wearing that shitty suit anymore or he’d be so screwed.
“Don’t be so modest, Mr Patterson,’ I began, also lightly panting as I gently rested my hand on his forearm, “You should tell him what really happened.”
He stared at me blankly. His shaky smile beginning to wither as he waited for me to step in with the story only I knew the words to.
“Well, at Deira, there was a man in the woman and children only carriage causing a scene. Mr Patterson here saw what was going on and bravely stepped in. Despite the fears of a penalty, he knew that he had to do something for the greater good of the situation. And that’s exactly what he did. Isn’t that wonderful?”
I continued to nod my head at Kieron hoping he’d mirror it back, which, eventually, he did.
“Yes,’ he stammered, clearing his nervous throat, “It’s true. Thank you, Sophie. Anyway, shall we begin our meeting?”
The spearing green eyes of Mr Havers that could’ve sliced a man in half soon faltered after hearing this sob story. Not that I’m sure he entirely believed it, mind you. But he certainly seemed captivated by my way of telling it. Either that or he just loved the Vera Wang corsage I was wearing on my blazer’s lapel.
“Very commendable. Yes, please, take a seat.”
Thursday, 12.45pm at the Dubai Fountain
15 minutes before the Fountain’s first show gave me plenty of time to sweet-talk Mr Havers, who had decided that he was now fond enough of me to let me call him by his first name: Lewis. Score!
See, I told you I was good.
Anyway, he was seemingly unconvinced by Kieron – despite his amazing suit and fake heroic tale – so I did what any smart woman would do and take the reins. If you can’t get a job done properly, do it yourself, right? Plus, who in their right mind would turn down a free lunch at The Social House, sitting outside in view of the monumental Burj Khalifa with yours truly? A mad person, that’s who. And Lewis was far from bonkers.
“Cheers.” I said, clinking my tonic water with his.
He smiled and clinked back, “Cheers.”
After a brief sip of our drinks, taking in the colourful view of the Burj Lake and the many tourists piling up by the railings of the surrounding water, Lewis turned back to face me.
“You know,’ he began, moving his sunglasses from his nose and placing them atop his rich chocolate locks, “I’ve never been so moved by a business proposal before.”
“Moved because I took you from one side of the Dubai Mall to the other?” I toyed, pretending to not know what he meant, “It is quite a walk, I know.”
“No,’ he laughed, “Because usually, people get too frightened of me to stand by their case. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but I’m considered the infamous bad man in these business parts.”
I looked at him whilst I sipped my drink, thinking about how to reply before breaking free from my straw. Obviously, I knew what he wanted me to say. Men were pretty predictable like that.
“You’re no bad man,’ I declared, cocking my head to the left, “You’re a pussycat. People just need to be more confident in themselves to earn your respect, that’s all. I can see you’re a man of distinction. So why should you accept anything less from those you do business with?”
A smirk drew itself on his lips.
Why anyone would be scared of him baffled me. He was only a young guy (probably in his early thirties) who wore nice clothes and aftershave. Sure, he knew what he was doing and most likely had a house made with gold bricks, but that didn’t make him scary. People are too worried by the superficial these days. They need to take a look at the person behind the money to know whether fear or admiration is necessary or not. That’s how I look at things. Plus, the only thing I cared about was life outside the work walls. So the quicker I could get him to say yes, the faster I could go back to my world.
Suddenly, music began to play from the speakers, filling the air with a chorus from an operatic concerto. Now was the time for the first fountain show. 50-storey high streams were about to shoot to the sky and I simply had to capture it.
“Ah, how wondrous,’ I stated, fiddling with my phone to start live streaming the show. “Sorry, I’ve gotta film this. No one could ever tire of such beauty.”
His jade eyes pressed against me as he watchingly smiled, “Indeed they could not.”
“Say,’ he interjected, nearing the end of the display, “Would you like to accompany me this weekend around Dubai? I was going to take my assistant, but he’s a little bit of a snowflake at times and I don’t think he’d know the place as well as someone like you.”
I pressed “stop” on my camera’s recording button.
Was Lewis asking me out…?
“Err,’ I uttered, for the first time ever completely stumped on what to say, “As like…a tour guide?”
He nodded, “If you like.”
There was a brief pause between us.
“Of course,’ he finally continued, “Should you do this for me, then I will happily oblige to Mr Patterson’s former business proposal, too.”
Well, I thought. It would give me the chance to get some good pictures…
“Okay. You’re on.”
Friday, 10am at the Financial Centre
On a Friday, the metro didn’t go live until 10am. Any other day and it would begin around 5.30am, but not on a Friday. It always threw me off. I’d make a plan to be somewhere for half 9, stand at the metro like a lemon for 10 minutes only to suddenly remember that there was a good reason I was standing there on my larry. Today was that day. At least Lewis didn’t want to meet me at the Mall of the Emirates until 11am for city sightseeing. Something bugged me to say that – city sightseeing. Was I playing tour guide or what? Telling Kieron what had happened didn’t make things any clearer for me either.
“Great!” He’d said, practically leaping about The Souk like a crazy person, “So show him the sights and keep him sweet. It’s only for one weekend, Sophie. And after that, you’ll be free to return to whatever it is you do with your internet postings again.”
Evidently, he was too excited about me bagging him the deal to care what it all meant for me. Which, even though I was properly confused, I would still brave my big-girl boots and do as I’d promised. But, I must admit, not being able to do these things solo was a bit of a buzzkill for my channel. People don’t want to see me together with some guy posing in front of the Burj Al Arab on their feed. That defeats the whole point of my content. Saying that – he did make okay eye candy (if you like the whole Disney’s Ariel meets Eric kind of thing) So it could be advantageous for me. After all, who doesn’t like seeing images of hot totty every so often? Maybe, if I was lucky, I could get him cosy enough to strip off his shirt on Palm Jumeirah Beach, too? That would get so many likes…
“Good morning, Lewis.” I saluted, waving happily as I approached him in the metro tunnel, the daydream of 5,000 likes in 30 seconds still spinning round in my head.
“Ah,’ he said, showing off his pearly whites. “Good morning, Sophie. No delays this time?”
I bowed my head a bit, nearly getting distracted by his Nike Trainers – they were virtually the same shade as his teeth. They definitely wouldn’t stay that colour after a few days wandering around the UAE’s man-made island.
“Not today.” I affirmed, lifting my head back up to meet his gaze.
It had to be said, he did look good today. Seeing him in more regular clothing was somewhat refreshing, even though you could see it must have still cost him a good dirham or two to buy, his vibe was more chilled. He looked cool and young and fun. Nothing like the intimidating tyrant everyone else kept banging on about.
That was when I bravely linked his arm. He obviously wasn’t used to it because he looked pretty startled. But, nevertheless, like a pretty ribboned Puma shoelace, he let me intertwine. And then he smiled at me and I smiled back. The whole situation was pretty different from what I was used to as well. There was no way I’d let him know that though. This was a deal or no deal opportunity and it was down to me to make it a success. All I had to do was nod in the right places and seem interested in what he was saying and we’d be in the money. Then, just like K-Man said, I’d be free as a bird. Easy.
Friday, 11pm at the Rose Rayhaan by Rotana
This had to be the most stupid business deal I’d ever done.
Not only did I end up getting no pictures in the most ideal photo-opportune places, but my phone battery died just before the fireworks at Global Village began to display. This whole thing was turning out to be annoyingly naff and I was pretty damn sure I’d lost at least 200 followers during my cyber-absence.
Oh, and did I mention that talking to Lewis on a level outside brainstorming blueprint ideas was actually crazy hard? The guy was so quiet. And the worst part was that I wasn’t even sure if it was me or him that made it that way. I’d never had this trouble before. Saying that, most of my time outside the office was spent alone anyway. So it was hard to really gage why it was such a mission. All I knew was that I liked my own company and whatever was going on with him and me in combo was doing my head in.
The only thing that made the day better was being put up in the world’s second tallest hotel and having the ability to watch the lights of the city through my room’s panoramic window. Hypnotic views certainly do well for escaping reality.
Hmm, I suddenly thought, that could be a new tagline for a pic?
Anyway, tomorrow was another day.
Saturday, 3pm at Zabeel Park
Hotfooting it out of Al Jafilya metro is a dangerous game – I nearly lost my Swarovski watch running down the stairs. The things you put yourself through for other people are not worth such sacrifice. However, at least I managed to get some much-needed beauty sleep last night.
After yesterday’s non-stop antics, I was pleased to get a lie-in and use my free time to upload posts, gain back my numbers and figure out potential conversation with Mr Mute. Honestly, the guy may have been business-savvy, but his chat needed a lot of work. And so, inspired by seeing Dubai from such a great height the night before, I decided to take him to Zabeel Park for an afternoon. The famous Dubai Frame was located just outside it and made an ideal spot to watch the sunset over the city. Plus, you get to see both old Dubai and new whilst you’re up there, which I think is pretty swish. At least that way if he was rendered speechless by the view it’d be understandable.
“Afternoon, handsome.” I leisurely greeted, smile bigger than ever. We all do it – look overly happy to conceal the fact our heart just sank like an anchor in our chest. That was exactly what I was doing. I mean, yeah, he was handsome, that part was true. And I did kind of get excited to go up the Frame, but that was it. Nothing more, nothing less.
“Greetings, Miss Karina.”
Formal as ever.
“Oh, Lewis.’ I gushed, swishing my hair over my shoulder. “If I’m on first name terms with you, then I want you to do the same with me. Just call me Sophie. The whole formal thing is strictly for the office.”
I winked at him and he jumped a little. What’s up with this guy? It was as if the charismatic man I’d had lunch with on Thursday had done an about turn and made a run for it so fast that an empty vessel was all that remained. A gutless, spineless, scaredy-cat dude with nothing to say other than formal nuances.
“I like you as Miss Karina,’ He asserted, before proudly presenting his Nol card to gain access to the park, “Shall we?”
I bit the corners of my cheeks in and nodded.
This was going to fun…
Saturday, 5.50pm in the Dubai Frame
Something he said shocked me. Words that could have only ever escaped a poet’s lips suddenly emerged from his own. A man who’d barely said a word in the last two days had all of a sudden come alive. This was it. This was the guy I’d been holding out for. If I was going to have to spend any time away from my business outside my business, I wanted it to be somewhat productive. And finally, that moment had arrived.
He’d given me my perfect tagline.
“The only thing that separates the old me from the new is perspective.”
It was just beautiful.
Sadly though, my Wi-Fi still wasn’t working. So the upload would have to wait until I got back to my hotel. That meant there was nothing left to do other than actually engage in physical conversation with Lewis. Nonetheless, at least he’d offered me a morsel I could work with.
“Inspired by the views?’ I asked, looking at his side-profile as he intently stared out of the window towards the illuminated Jumeirah Mosque, “It’s hard not to up here.”
“Miss Karina,’ He said, still staring, “Do you think I’m boring?”
Now it was my turn to jump. The guy was a mind-reader? So that’s why he never wanted to converse with me. He must have known what I was thinking…
“Err,’ I began, stumbling around in my head for a diplomatic response, “Not at all. A bit quiet, maybe. And sometimes a little hard to read. But, not boring, no.”
“Interesting,’ he said, before pausing to face me, “because I got the strangest feeling that my presence was getting in the way of your enjoyment here.”
Confused, I frowned at him, “What do you mean?”
He sighed before peering down at the phone clutched in my hand, “You seem far too driven by catching the world through a lens rather than seeing what’s happening right here and now.”
The anchor-feeling in my chest returned, but this time, it plummeted far deeper.
“I’m sorry,’ I apologised, placing the accused in my pocket, “I’m just used to a solo life, capturing pictures of my surroundings and then posting them online. It’s just what I do. Old habits die hard, eh?”
His face softened. Or, at least it seemed to. But perhaps it was all an illusion gathered by the sunset and the pink hues emanating from the nearby Garden Glow Park instead.
“I understand.’ He said, “To be honest, I asked you to accompany me here on false pretences anyway.”
Sudden anchorage turned into anger and left me lost for words.
Oh, the irony!
“I never needed a tour guide.’ He continued, “I just wanted an excuse to get to know you better. You seemed so sure of yourself and your direction, and I like that in you. It’s why I decided to do business with you and Mr Patterson, despite your tardiness. You’re different.’
“The truth is, Sophie, I haven’t had to compete for anyone’s attention before. Let alone something as small as a mobile telephone. Anyway, I’m grateful you’ve done all this for me and I apologise if my foolish pride has got in the way of things. But, I would like to start again, as equals this time.”
He called me Sophie: my first name. No formalities. No shake of the hand. This was real. He was being real. And for the first time, I could see it all with 20/20 vision.
Had I really been so blind that I couldn’t see what was happening? Thinking he needed me – a man like him. It was obvious. I’d used him like he’d used me. Both of us so aware of our status and yet so unaware of ourselves as individuals. With my intent focus firmly on a cyber-world, I’d totally missed out on reality. And Lewis, so conscious of how others treated him in business that he’d forgotten how to be anything but that. Annoyingly, the perfect hashtag summary popped in my head.
That was us. Not my unstylish boss. People like me and Lewis. Absolutely and undeniably clueless.
But not anymore.
Sunday, 7pm at the Dubai Fountain
Insert caption here…
“When the jet streams get tighter, the tug of war is on. Inevitably though, no matter which way it goes, it controls everything. I realised that today. So now, I’m taking over the weather.”
Are you sure you want to close your account?
Written in celebration of my debut book’s first anniversary