A Chance Encounter
A short story set in Dubai
Hello and welcome to this week’s Rosy’s Reading Room.
This is a short story set in the opulent metropolis that is Dubai.
I hope you enjoy it.
Have a wonderful week and I hope to see you back here next Sunday.
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Melinda raised her head from the sun-lounger, cupped a hand over her eyes, and peered up at the young Filipino pool boy casting a shadow over her. He was offering her a tray of neatly rolled-up white flannels in a bowl of ice, tongs at the ready.
“Would you like a cold towel, ma’am?”
“Ooh, yes please,” she said, taking one from the top of the tray and removing her sunglasses before settling it onto her face, grateful for the coolness against her hot skin. The temperature was 40°F — normal for the time of the year — and lazing by the pool on a weekend was all Melinda was fit for after working ten-hour days at an American Law Firm as a Legal Assistant.
As the cool flannel began to warm in the intense heat, she removed it, and there he was again, hovering over her, the super-efficient pool-boy cum waiter but this time, he was offering a tray of assorted sliced melon with cotton napkins. She took one slice, and a crisp white napkin while he efficiently removed the used face towel with a nod of his head and a beautiful smile, backing discreetly away, leaving Melinda with her thoughts on another day in the opulent metropolis that was now her home.
The pool where she was languishing was at The Address Downtown hotel and it was actually her home; she rented a suite on the twelfth floor which she could only afford due to the financial crash last year. Before that, she had been living in shared accommodation, sharing with three guys, which wasn’t ideal. They all had their own rooms and en-suite bathrooms but unruly late-night gatherings in the lounge kept her awake into the small hours and when she woke up one morning in February 2009 to see all the cranes motionless on the horizon as she stood at the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the magnificent apartment, she knew something was seriously wrong. The stillness was eerie; no Bangladeshi worker ants scurrying around in the desert heat, no movement at all save for cars glinting in the distance as they snaked their way along the Persian Gulf state’s roads. That was three months ago. The financial crash of 2008 had hit.
Working in a Law Firm was fortuitous, but thousands of ex-pats had been forced to flee the Emirate after their jobs had simply disappeared, dumping their cars at the airport before they left. She was glad she had decided not to buy a car but instead used taxis to travel back and forth to work. A good move in hindsight because if a debt is not paid in Dubai, foreigners can be sent to debtor’s prison.
With so many people having lost their jobs, she was grateful that hers was safe; in fact, she had been approached by the Office Manager to work extra hours but she had declined; a 48-hour working week was quite long enough for her.
Almost melting in the searing heat, Melinda decided to head to the Zeta bar for a light lunch. Choosing to take the elevator down the three floors to the restaurant, the intense summer heat was almost unbearable.
As the elevator slipped elegantly into position and the doors swished open, she was conscious of somebody running behind her.
“Hold the elevator, please,” and as she stepped inside, she pressed the ‘door hold’ button.
“Thank you.” A man with olive skin and a very seductive voice stepped inside the capsule next to her. He had a beautiful smile.
“Which floor would you like,” he asked, his elegant hand hovering over the numerous buttons.
“Oh, three, please,” Melinda responded, clutching her poolside bag and feeling disheveled after her morning of sunbathing.
“Ah, me too. I’m heading to the Zeta bar for lunch. Would you care to join me?”
Melinda was taken aback but there was something very alluring about the man’s personality, as well as his suave, chiseled features which she thought may have Omani origins. Living in Dubai, she met such a cross-section of people from so many different nationalities, that she was quite good at guessing where people were from.
“Um, well, er, that’s very kind of you.”
“That’s settled,” he said.
The perfect gentleman, he stepped to one side as the elevator’s doors slid open and she stepped out onto the terrace of the swanky bar. As a single woman living alone in Dubai, she was all too aware of the dangers of meeting strangers and was careful not to give too much about herself away.
“Are you visiting Dubai or do you live here,” her new-found companion asked.
“I live here. I work at an American Law Firm.”
“Ah. Interesting. My name is Adnan, by the way. You are?”
“Melinda. Pleased to meet you”, she responded, stretching out her small hand. He had a firm but gentle handshake and a frisson of excitement shot through her as she smiled at the handsome man who had already caught the eye of a waiter and was beckoning him over. The waiter led the way to a table inside an air-conditioned section of the restaurant.
“Are you available for dinner this evening?” he asked, his dark eyes glinting. Wow, she thought. We haven’t even had lunch yet and he was already planning another date. His smile was mischievous and he had a wonderful depth to his eyes. He looked wise, intelligent, and sophisticated and Melinda’s stomach was doing somersaults. She wished she would have checked her appearance in a mirror before leaving the pool area and surreptitiously tidied her blonde hair, hoping it didn’t look too messy. Aged 34, she knew that her make-up-free face, which was tanned and glowing, wasn’t too bad but nonetheless, she was feeling rather self-conscious.
“My, we haven’t had our lunch yet,” she quipped, taken aback by his forward manner.”
“I learned at a very early age never to pass by an opportunity when it presents itself.”
“What do you do, Adnan,” she enquired as the waiter promptly brought their drinks, discreetly setting a virgin Pina Colada in front of each of them. She was non-plussed at his use of the word ‘opportunity’ but chose to ignore it.
“I am a businessman, here on business but unfortunately, I have to leave tomorrow,” he made a sad face, and Melinda smiled. She also smiled at his superfluous use of his explanation.
“I will send a driver to collect you at 7 pm this evening. I hope that is OK for you?”
She nodded, trying not to feel too overwhelmed. She was enjoying his company immensely and had had some terrible dates recently. So much so that she had given up on the dating scene altogether and had resigned herself to being alone.
“Yes, seven o’clock is fine.” She smiled warmly at him.
“That’s settled then.” With that, Adnan caught the waiter’s eye, whispered something in his ear, and before Melinda knew it, two magnificent seafood salads materialised and she tucked in heartily, wishing she had ordered a chilled glass of Pino Grigio to accompany it but had thought better of the idea of drinking at lunchtime. She liked the way Adnan had checked what she wanted to eat first and hadn’t just assumed what she had wanted to eat.
After a very pleasant lunch following which Adnan excused himself, saying he had an important meeting to attend, Melinda made her way back up to her suite and wondered whether she had just dreamed about the chance encounter with the handsome Omani stranger because everything had happened so quickly but it all felt so natural and comfortable.
She knew nothing about this man who had swept her off her feet other than he was, as she had guessed, Omani. What did ‘businessman’ mean exactly? He could be in any sort of business from dealing drugs (which was highly improbable) to selling fake art (also very unlikely). Lunch had been fairly hurried and although they had chatted comfortably throughout, he hadn’t told her very much at all about himself. But then neither had she.
Feeling refreshed after an afternoon nap and a long, reviving shower, she checked her watch for the umpteenth time, before making her way down to Reception just before seven o’clock, expecting to see him there waiting for her.
Dressed in an elegant black cocktail dress with shoestring straps, she had piled her hair into an elegant chignon and made a special effort with her make-up. She wore a lightweight shawl across her shoulders and her eyes were sparkling at the prospect of seeing Adnan again. Clutching her pretty beaded clutch bag, she looked around the huge marble foyer, which was full of Western and Arab guests milling around, but there was no sign of her the handsome man she had had lunch with. The Address Downtown Dubai was a popular destination with its stunning array of award-winning restaurants including ‘The Garden’, which was very popular and was in the shadow of the imposing Burj Khalifa and it also overlooked the Souk Al Bahar.
“Miss Melinda?” a young Indian man inquired.
“Yes,” she responded, spinning around when she heard his voice.
“I am Mr Al-Quereshi’s driver, ma’am. The car is outside; Mr Al-Quereshi has been detained in a meeting and has asked me to take you to him.”
Melinda suddenly felt quite anxious. If only she had got Adnan’s cell phone number, she could have called him.
“I’m sorry, do you mean Adnan, is that Mr Al-Quereshi?”
“Yes, sorry, ma’am, it is. My name is Rahul, and Mr. Adnan sends his apologies.”
Melinda’s heart sank and she was not impressed. Was her date off? Had she been stood up? She hesitated as she stood next to the black limousine where Rahul was waiting with the door open and a beautiful Goan smile.
“Where is Mr Adnan’s meeting?” she asked, standing her ground firmly with no intention of getting into the back seat of the imposing car.
“I don’t know, ma’am. Mr Adnan apologised because he was not able to come in person to collect you. As I told you, he is in a meeting but will be waiting for you by the time you arrive.” The young driver was obviously very anxious and keen to get Melinda on board.
Finally, she decided to get into the back of a complete stranger’s car driven by somebody she had only just met and as they pulled away from the hotel forecourt very slowly due to the heavy traffic and elegantly dressed guests being disgorged and others queuing for taxis, she pulled out her mobile phone and dialled her friend and colleague, Angelique.
“Hi, Angelique. How are you?” she inquired when her friend answered after the second ring.
“I’m fine, thanks; how about you? Is everything okay?”
“Yes, I’m just being driven to meet Adnan, a man I met at the Address Downtown today and he invited me for dinner. His driver has just picked me up outside the hotel.”
“Wow! Lucky girl. You have a date, at long last,” she teased.
Hoping that the driver could hear her conversation, she went on, “I don’t know where I’m going but I’ll let you know as soon as I arrive.”
Angelique immediately picked up on what her friend was asking her to do.
“Of course. Please keep me informed”, she replied with a serious tone in her voice.
Melinda ended the call and was slightly perturbed when the driver took the road to the airport.
“Rahul, where are we going?” she asked, trying to keep the hysteria out of her voice.
“A surprise, ma’am. Adnan asked me not to tell you. He loves surprises. Do you?”
“Well, that all depends on whether it’s a nice surprise or a nasty one,” she replied sarcastically.
“Don’t worry, madam. You will have a wonderful evening, I am certain,” he said in his sing-song Indian accent and for some reason, she believed him.
The car pulled up next to a helicopter with a pilot waiting and before she knew what was happening, Rahul had opened the car door and was offering his hand to help her out. She was embarrassed because her high-heeled shoes were hardly conducive to a helicopter ride and she felt rather foolish for having dressed up so elegantly.
“Good evening, madam,” the pilot greeted her, “This way please.”
Taken aback by the speed with which everything happened, the next thing Melinda knew she was hovering over the city of Dubai and headed out to sea. Her stomach was in knots but she couldn’t help but enjoy the ride; the view was spectacular and the city in the desert sparkled in the shimmering dusky light beneath her.
Suddenly, the pilot’s voice cut into her thoughts, “Our destination is just ahead of us, ma’am. The Burj Al Arab — Mr Adnan is waiting for you in the Skyview bar.”
Melinda took in the amazing Palm Island just beyond the magnificent sail-shaped Burj Al-Arab, which was situated at the end of a long causeway out in the azure blue Persian Gulf; it was as beautiful as it was iconic.
As the helicopter approached, she spotted a tiny white car pulling up at the main entrance of the hotel. It was almost surreal in its beauty and opulence and as they rounded the back of the hotel, she spotted the sleek Skyview bar which looked like a small, white cylindrical mouth organ stuck to the side of the hotel on the 27th floor.
As they approached the helipad, which looked way too small to land a helicopter on, Melinda felt a mixture of fear and excitement and was nervous as the pilot meticulously navigated his way onto the helipad, hovering and manouvering the machine skillfully into place. The engine quietened from a high-pitched whine to a slower, mechanical sound and the thwack-thwack of the rotors above her was loud and rhythmical. Then she spotted Adnan waiting on the steps, his grey suit billowing in the strong down draught. He had the biggest grin on his face and was waving frantically.
“I have delivered you safely to your Prince Charming, ma’am” the pilot announced over the headphones. “Have a wonderful evening.”
“Thank you so much!” she enthused, relieved to be on terra firma.
The pilot helped her alight from the passenger seat and delivered her to his boss who was walking towards them and in all the excitement, she had clean forgotten to ring Angelique back to tell her where she was and more importantly, that she was safe.
“Melinda! Forgive me,” Adnan half shouted, holding her tightly for fear that she would blow away. She caught a waft of his expensive cologne and the down draught buffeted them as they walked hand-in-hand down the steps from the helipad and into the quiet calm of the luxurious seven-star hotel. Melinda felt exhilarated and relieved in equal measures.
“I am so sorry I could not come to the hotel in person, but my meeting has only just finished.” He smiled mischievously and put his arm gently around her waist as he guided her into the Sky View Bar where he led her to a quiet table for two with the most amazing view over The Palm. A bottle was nestled in an ice bucket on a wine stand to the side of the table and a waiter materialised as soon as they sat down to pour them each a glass of bubbly.
As they sipped the Cristal champagne, Melinda’s heart skipped a beat. “I hope your journey was to your satisfaction. I am so happy that you are here with me to celebrate.” She looked at Adnan quizzically.
“Today, I became the owner of this hotel,” he said, chinking his glass gently against hers. Angelique would never believe her. Which reminded her.
“Please, excuse me, Adan. I have an important call to make.”
She felt like a complete fraud compared to him for using that phrase, but she had to let her friend know that she was safe. She was going to have the hardest time trying to convince Angelique about her date but she would give it her best shot.
“I’ll be right back,” she said, skirting past the handsome man who she felt as though she had known forever.
“Don’t be long,” he said, following her with his eyes. “I have more surprises for you.” He was clearly as smitten with her as she was with him.
This story was first published on Medium but I have adapted and changed it slightly.
uh-- is this chapter one of a new novel? If not, I think it could be!
Oh, Rosy, I think Adnan may have changed his name toward the end of the story.