For three months – the first three I spent in Dubai – I walked past a dead cat each morning on the way to work. For a while, I gave it a wide berth. This required crossing and immediately recrossing the road, which always instilled a premature sense of self-doubt in the day ahead.
Gradually, the cat began to decompose and its corpse assumed the same colour as the dusty ground around it. After three months it began to resemble a scrap of carpet, and I once came close to stepping on it.
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I once interned with a Singaporean girl called Miao. We didn’t interact very often, though we did spend a morning franking envelopes together. She pawed at the buttons.
The cat disintegrated somewhere between the metro station and the hotel that I was living in. Along with its carcass, I would often pass Mary Grace.
Mary Grace worked behind the reception desk at the hotel and rarely did she falter in her duties. The swivel chair she sat on was set a little too low, but I was always pleased to see her head crowning behind the counter.
Her head, as I recall, was irregularly structured – as rounded as heads are, yet somehow boxy too. She carried it on her shoulders with all the elegance of her name, however. The appendage of Grace to Mary struck me as descriptive; Mary Slender was also befitting – Mary Christmas the morning I caught her hanging baubles on a lonely Christmas tree.
The road lead through an industrial estate on the outskirts of Dubai, the Jebel Ali Free Zone – a sub-city of warehouses and factories fenced off by ten-foot high barbed chicken wire on three of its sides, with the sea at its fourth. Jebel Ali was my neighbourhood for three months. It was as empty as one might imagine an industrial estate in the desert. Acknowledging Mary Grace every morning seemed only polite.
The hotel was run by a low-budget European airline that didn’t charter flights to Dubai. It was the cheapest in town, a vacuum-suck of air-conditioned inertia at the end of the metro line. A room with a window cost extra; my partner and I took a twin without one, pushing the beds together at night and separating them again each morning lest housekeeping disapprove.
Al Juma’a, Friday mornings, the metro line would close. There were no distractions, save for each other and a sad café in the hotel lobby, Stefano’s – named after the lazy-eyed Italian owner who would hobble around it.
We would sometimes take one of the wooden booths and order coffee, thighs sticking to the vinyl-covered benches, keeping half an eye on the Bollywood action movies playing out above the counter (most likely, we thought, how Stefano’s right eye had wandered to the edge of its socket and decided not to return).
I had always wanted to live in a hotel: grandiose and transient – the exact opposite of the three months during which I would. My partner spent Christmas Day there, alone in our room. He said he would have jumped out of the window, had we been able to afford one.
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I started a blog called 'New Filth' last year, and then forgot about it. This is the entire archive.