The phone fell from her hands through the air and landed with a gentle thud on the industrial carpeted floor in much the same way a low budget film does slow-mo.
Ashen-faced, she bent down and picked up her phone, giving it a subconscious rub of her dusty pink blouse to remove the lint on the screen. She continued to stare at the screen without really seeing anything. Aware of nothing but his face, his smell and the rhythmic thumping of her heart, that topsy-turvy adrenaline feel of queasiness and fear. She exhaled, realising now that she had been holding her breath since she saw his name, Abdullah Al Thani. Oh Christ!
She repeated his name under her breath Abdullah Al Thani. She glanced around the office, conscious once more of the constant ringing of phones and the mumbled hum of conversation. Nothing had changed, the seismic earthquake felt by no-one but her. Her spray tan and Mac make-up teamed up as one to create a flawless mask that now managed to hold her face together. With shaking hands, she picked up the phone and dialled her mother’s number.
“Martina! Aren’t you at work?”
“Hi Mam, Ya I’m still at work. Is Aoibheann there?”
“Aoibheann? What raving is on you? She is at playschool like she is every Tuesday. Are you okay darling?”
“Of course she is. It’s Tuesday. Oh sure don’t heed me, my meeting was cancelled and I was just ringing to say hi”
“Don’t forget to bring home a bit of meat for the dinner”
“I won’t mam”
She struggled to press the red button to hang up the phone. Breathe she told herself breathe. She needed air, the warmth generated from the gentle purr of the computers and artificial lighting now felt invasive, straddling her body without permission, constricting her movements, confusing her thoughts. Her hands still trembled. She inhaled and exhaled quickly, too quickly; she was hyperventilating despite her best efforts to stay in control. Stars and sparks danced in front of her eyes. Aoibheann, Aoibheann, Aoibheann she muttered under her unsteady breath, a mantra that failed to bring her comfort.
Her breath made little transient patches of fog in the cold morning’s air. Her chattering teeth reminded her that she’d left her coat inside. But the coldness felt good. A small cloud of cigarette smoke hung low in the stillness of the morning air. Spinning around, she faced the man with the smokes and bummed a cigarette and a light vaguely aware that she resembled a psychiatric patient. She inhaled deep, the fog of grey smoke wrapping itself like a protective cloak around her, caressing her gently as she inhaled deeper still. She was dizzy after three deep drags. It was her first cigarette in four years, just over four years actually. She had given them up when she found out she was pregnant with Aoibheann. Now however, it steadied her and the crescendo of thoughts in her head.
The pee stick that turned blue; the two-minute wait in her locked bedroom. The sacrilegious cross sign that emerged; the shock, the confusion, the fear and the loneliness that descended immediately; the glib snippets of her flatmates conversation that echoed through the thin walls; the hazy blue sky and the blazing sun that seemed to aim itself through the tiny frosted bathroom window, illuminating the particles of dust that danced through the air; the familiar sound of the call to prayer filtering in through the apartment. Her Qatar Air uniform lying creased in the corner.
Yet it was the rejection, that’s what she remembered the most; that’s what hurt the most; what was still hurting the most. He was scared, she got that, understood it even if she could never condone it. His parents would disown him. Did she not realise that he was closely related to the royal family, to the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Hamad bin Abdullah bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani. Both of them would be arrested and imprisoned. He wanted it gone; this little blip that wasn’t even the size of a poppy, and it couldn’t think or feel. It was a mass of cells, a cancer. Lots and lots of vitamin C would do the trick or papaya or failing that illegal abortion pills. No biggie. Sex was for having fun not for making babies. This would destroy both their lives if she continued. It was the blip or him.
The stub of the cigarette burnt her finger and Martina dropped it on the ground and stamped it harder than necessary with her new six-inch Walter Steiger’s. The vibrations of a bus startled her, and she took a step back from the curb. The phone weighed heavily in her other hand. She wanted to read the email, but she couldn’t. What could he possibly want after all this time? He had never even tried to contact her before and she had left Qatar without as much as a good bye, an unceremonious end to a heated romance.
Surely by now he was married to his first cousin.
The woody, spicy scent of his Ambre Topkapi cologne, on him, on the crumpled up white Egyptian cotton bed sheets of the revolving four poster bed in Dubai’s most luxurious hotel The Burj Al Arab, his black Captain’s uniform strewn across the soft carpet, glasses of half drank champagne by the bed sides, the bottle of Dom Perignon now floating in the once ice filled bucket, both out of breath and sweating in the coolness of the air-conditioned room; nostrils burnings with a few more lines of coke snorted through 10000 Dirham notes; the warmth of his breath on my neck…
Martina put her hand to her burning face, embarrassed by the sheer vividness of the memory and how it still managed to make her feel. She shook her head vigorously as though to force the memory back to where it had been hidden in the outermost periphery of her mind.
Fear grabbed her from behind, gripping her tightly by the oesophagus.
Could he have found out about Aoibheann? Surely if he saw her he would want her. She was such a beautiful child, surely he wouldn’t be able to resist? Aoibheann.
A sudden surge of love coursed through her, she longed to feel those little hands tighten across her thighs, to see her beautiful black curls bounce as she ran to welcome her mother home, her chocolate brown eyes alight with devilment and wonder, and her soft, sallow skin that could wear any colour and still look good. The feeling of love was so intense, it felt physically heavy on her chest, like a block wall was lying on her, her throat felt obstructed as though she was literally choking. Then the tears came slowly at first and then like big fat droplets of rain, they tumbled from her eyes without restraint.
She glanced at the phone and hit her finger on the email. It wouldn’t work. She hit it again and again, much more easily now that she had built up the courage. She dried the screen with the bottom of her shirt and pressed on the email again. The blue circle rotated round and round and round. Everything else faded into the background. And then, after all that, it was there:
Hey Beautiful Stranger,
Long time no see. Why you never contact me anymore. I miss you baby. I want to see you. I love you Martina. Why you leave Qatar? You know I would look after you and the baby. I will pay your tickets to Qatar business class. You will have villa and house maids. I will treat you like queen that you are. Is it looking like me by the way? Please don’t block me on this like you did on the others.
Sent from my I-pad
Martina read the email again and again with complete disbelief. Was he for fucking real? She blinked her eyes furiously to fight the tears that were still forming in the corners of her eyes and trickling down her face. She wouldn’t satisfy him to cry. Silly, she knew. The waterproof mascara burnt her eyes and inside she simmered with an aching sadness that frightened her. Why was he saying this now? It could never work, ever. If she went to Qatar, then they would both be arrested. She couldn’t even bear to contemplate Aoibheann growing up and looking forward to wearing a hijab and abaya when she reached puberty. No, she was Irish, instead of reciting the Quran she would go to discos and dress in short skirts and belly tops and get her friends to ask boys to kiss her.
His inky black hair brushed against her neck, the softness of his touch on her face, the piercing blackness of his eyes, the gentleness of his voice calling Maar-tina, the way the jeans sat on his hips, the tight white Armani t-shirt that emphasised every flex of those perfectly sculpted muscles…
Press block and walk away.
I know it’s stupid but what if it’s actually real? What if he loves me?
You big dope, he doesn’t love you. He wants your child.
No, no he doesn’t. Sure he never wanted the child, it must be me. Something must have made him think of me. Imagine he has never forgotten me even after all this time.
Don’t be so fucking thick, of course he has never forgotten you, you almost ruined his life! He is probably married three times over by now.
Then why did he contact me after all this time?
Don’t do this Martina. His family would never accept you ever and mam will kill you with her bare hands.
Sleep on it.
To: Abdullah Al Thani Mar 14
It’s definitely been a while.
Where has all this come from? You haven’t tried to contact me in almost four years. That’s a long time even by Arab time. I thought by now you would be married with a family that you actually wanted. You ask about our child. I miscarried the day I got home. You got your wish after all. It hurts me to talk to you. I don’t want any more contact. Have a nice life.
Send from my I-pad
With one hand Martina stretched over the edge of her double bed and put the I-pad down on the floor. She then turned around and curled up beside Aoibheann, wrapping her arms tightly around the toddler’s warm sleeping body, inhaling the coconut scent of her freshly washed curls, finding comfort in the heat that radiated indiscriminately from one body to the other, savouring the feeling of both of their hearts pulsing to the same beat.