Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Chapter 1

     Darwesh Bin Khalifa was a respected man.
     He had excelled at school, and gotten into one of the most prestigious universities in the UK, graduating with high honors. He had mastered the art of shooting and falconry, as most men of influence in the Emirates did. And when his father was sick, and could no longer run his multi-million dirham company, he had been more than worthy to hold the title of Chairman.
     Yes, by all means, Darwesh was well prepared for any ball that was thrown at him, and excelled in every thing he did.
     But nothing- not one second of his privileged life- could have prepared him for this. Darwesh had never felt so many eyes on him in his life as much as now, as he poured a shovel worth of soil over his diseased wife.
     There were nothing but "I'm so sorry"'s from everyone around him, and Darwesh couldn't help but wonder if God might punish him, because all he could think was-
      I'm not.
      He had quite a lot not to be sorry about.
      Ah, Shoug. Where to start? There was, of course, the fact that she had ruined his reputation. She had come to him during his last year of university in the UK. He had known her since he was a freshman, as she was also from an influential family. Her father was a drunkard though, who had divorced her welsh mother and left her upbringing to the housemaids.
     In their last year, Shoug had managed to get herself pregnant. In an attempt to save herself from the humiliation, she decided to seduce Darwesh into marriage.
     Darwesh stared at the grave of his wife, who was only 25 years old.
     Apart from his reputation, Shoug had also taken his soul. Darwesh was a man who saw the good in all people- he believed the best of them, and so treated them all with honor and respect, as they would do onto him.
     He had fallen for her entirely. Unaware of the kniving snake that she was.
     And even as he prayed for her, he knew that deep inside he was glad that he was rid of her, and this was just what he had wanted.
    When they had married, she told him the truth about her plans, and that she was pregnant with some Kuwaiti freshman's child. It was a blessing from God though, that she'd had a miscarriage in her sixth month, and then died of complications.
    Shoug had been his biggest mistake, and changed the person he was for good.
    Darwesh refused to spend another minute mourning her.
    She had been his dream,
    And then she had been his nightmare.


    Noora let out a long sigh. After spending the evening pouring arabian coffee for a group of women she was barely acquainted with, she couldn't wait to get to bed.
    "It's been a long day." Afra said, walking into the spare room in the Khalifa Family's house that had always been a second home for her best friend.
    Noora nodded in agreement.
    "It's so sad, she was so young." Noora mumbled, "How is your brother fairing?"
    Afra crawled beside Noora on the bed and rest her head in her lap, taking an exasperated breath.
    "I dont know. No one has seen him since they left the house to go to the graveyard."
    Afra turned her head to face Noora, "Thank you, Nunu. For staying the night and all."
     Noora smiled.
     They sat in the peaceful silence for a while, letting the events of their long day sink into their skin.
     "He's more angry than upset." Afra mumbled.
     "Is he? Odd."
     "Not really. She was a witch."
     "Afra!" Noora smacked her lightly on the shoulder, "Don't talk about the dead like that. It isn't good."
     "She was, though. You know how horrible she was to my brother. All she wanted was his money."
     Noora stared at the floral designs on her bed covers, only half listening to what Afra was saying. It'd been seven years since the fateful night that she'd met Darwesh, and as much as it broke her heart when she had heard of his abrupt marriage, she was still deeply in love with him.
     He was after all, her first, and only love.
     "You should head to your room and get some sleep, Afra. It's been a long day, and you really need to adjust your sleep. We start senior year next week."
     Afra sat up, and her big, beautiful brownish-green eyes sparkled.
     "Oh my God, it completely slipped my mind! We must go finish our school shopping this weekend."
      Noora laughed, it was typical Afra to get excited about a new school. Noora wasn't feeling the same because she knew that it wouldn't make a difference. The only friend she cared about was Afra, and it didn't matter where she went for senior year. But Afra's family had all graduated from a specific school in Abu Dhabi, and as much as she'd fought to stay in her old school just to be with Noora, her family insisted that she transfer.
     And naturally, stubborn and persistent as she is, Afra had managed to convince Noora's mother to allow her to do the same.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012


    At the age of ten, Noora Bint Mbark showed no signs of Great Beauty. Her hair was dark brown, as were her eyes. And her legs, which were uncommonly long, refused to learn anything that could be remotely defined as grace. Her mother often made a point to remind her of them, as well.
    Unfortunately for Noora, the society into which she was born placed great importance on female appearance. And although she was only ten, she knew that in this regard she was considered inferior to most of the other girls in her Freej.
    Children have a way of finding these things out, usually from other children.
    And it was just that sort of incident that occurred at the eleventh birthday party of Afra Bint Khalifa, who was the daughter of a thriving businessman, and also happened to be Noora's best, and only, friend.
    Noora and Afra had shared horse riding lessons at the age of six, when their fathers were business partners. They had become quite the inseparable pair, and rarely played with any of the other girls in the area, as most of their family acquaintances lived about an hours drive away in Dubai.
But every few times a year, especially on birthdays, all the children of family acquaintances are gathered together. It was for this reason that Afras' mother, Leila, let out an exasperated groan as eighteen children ran through the meelas boisterously trampling dirt across one of her favorite carpets preparing to sing a loud and tone-deaf "Happy Birthday."
    "You've got dirt on you, Foofy" Said Noora, trying to dust the desert sand off her best friends birthday dress.
    Afra let out a dramatic sigh, "I'd better go to the wash room and clean it. Mama hates seeing me dirty, and I hate hearing about how much she hates seeing me dirty."
    Noora smiled and watched Afra exit the room, then turned to watch the boys wrestle in their kandooras on the impeccably clean meelas chairs. She doubted her mother would notice the dust on Afras' dress with all the destruction the boys had already done.
   Noora was silently observing the chaos when she'd noticed Sara approaching from the corner of her eye.
    "What did you bring Afary for her birthday?" Said Sara, her voice more annoyingly high-pitched than the last time they'd met.
    "A drawing journal." Noora smiled, "Afra likes to draw. And you?"
     Sara raised her left hand to show Noora a miniature, well polished, mahogany treasure chest.
   "It's filled with Fyonkas." Sara whispered. "I picked all the colors out myself."
   Noora reached out for the box but stopped when she saw the worried look on Sara's face.
   "My hands are clean, I promise." She said.
   Sara let out a weary smile and opened the box. Noora caught her breath. At least twenty ribbons lay neatly on the black silk of the box, each tied perfectly into a fyonka. Noora reached for a pink velvet one, and placed it gently against her hair.
   "What do you think?"
   "Not pink, Noora. Everyone knows pink is for lighter skin and chestnut hair. It'll look awful against your brown skin and hair. The color would look horrible against brown. You can't wear that one."
   Noora put the ribbon back into the chest. "What color looks good on brown hair then? Green? My mama has really dark hair, and she looks very pretty when she wears green hair clips."
  Sara eyed Noora's hair and skin. "Green would be acceptable. Maybe. But it's better on light skin. Everything is better on light skin."
  Noora felt a spark of anger rise inside of her.
  "Well, I dont know what you're going to do then, Sara, because your skin is the same as mine."
  Sara stepped back in defense, "It is not!"
   "Yes, it is."
   Noora leaned forward, her eyes narrowing, "You had better take a look in the mirror, Sara, because you are not white."
   Sara took the ribbon and snapped the miniature treasure chest shut.
   "Well I was white, until my family and I went on holiday for the summer. Mama said that if I dont play outside for the next month, I'll go back to being light skinned again. You were never light skinned, Noora. Besides, I'm no where near as dark as you are. I'm tanned. And everyone knows being tanned is better than being black."
    "Theres nothing wrong with being black!" Noora said. But she knew that most of UAE didn't agree with her.
     "And," Sara continued, "you have an ugly nose."
     Noora's hand shot up to her nose as she gasped. She knew she wasn't beautiful; at least no one considered her to be. But she'd never noticed anything wrong with her nose before. She looked up at the smirking girl. "You have a shanab!" She burst.
    Sara's eyes widened like she'd just been slapped. "That can be fixed. Mama said that she'd take me for laser hair removal when I'm older." She sniffed. "But you, Noora, you can't be fixed. Enti Khala."
    "She is not!"
     Both girls turned to see Afra, who had just come back from the wash room.
     "Afary!" Said Sara, "I know she's your best friend because your fathers worked together and you live so close to each other, but you have to admit, she's not pretty. My mama says girls with dark skin aren't pretty. She'll never find a husband!"
    Afra's wide eyes sparkled dangerously. Khalifa's daughter had always been the most loyal of friends, and she thought of Noora as her best friend. "Noora will get a better husband than you, Sara. Believe me."
     "Shut up, Sara."
      Sara knew better than to make enemies with Afra. Afra came from a family of highly influential people, and Sara's father made sure that Sara understood the importance of such relationships.
     "I'm sorry."
     "Dont apologize to me," Said Afra, "Apologize to Noora."
     "Sorry, Noora."
     "It's alright." Noora mumbled.
     Sara ran off in a hurry to find her twin brother amongst the boys.
     "You need to learn to stand up for yourself, Noora." Afra turned.
     "I was doing just fine. I just wasn't doing it so loudly."
     "Don't listen to that brat, Noora."
     Noora stared at the floor and bit at her lip.
     "Noora," Afra sighed, "You have beautiful skin. My older cousins are always tanning, hoping to get to your color. Don't listen to her, she's just silly."
      Afra held Noora's hand tightly. Noora smiled.
      "Besides," She continued, "If you dont find a husband, I'd be happy to marry you off to my brother. I know you've never seen him because he's been in boarding school since I met you, and he's a lot older than we are, but believe me, he's very handsome."
      Noora laughed.


    The party had ended just over an hour ago, and Noora was seated in the mess that was supposedly a Meelas. She was staring at her hands. She examined them. The warm, earthy complexion. Noora had never really put much thought into her skin color, because no one had ever pointed it out before. Her mother wasn't as dark as she was. Noora's father had passed away when she was seven, but he was a color closer to hers. She stared at her hands until her eye sight began to blur.
    "Nunu?" Leila, Afra's mom, had walked into the Meelas.
    "Yes, Khalti?"
    "It's getting rather late. Did your mother say you'd be staying the night?"
    Noora fidgeted in her seat. Her mother probably forgot that she was even out. She'd been doing that often, ever since Mbark, Noora's father, passed away. She'd slowly become distant, and had started to forget many things.
    Leila smiled at the girl she considered her second daughter.
    "I'll call Darwesh. He'll take you home."
    Noora smiled. (Not that she knew who Darwesh was.)
    A few minutes later, a man around sixteen or seventeen walked into the room.
    "Noora, right?"
    Noora nodded, shocked.
    "Did you come with a bag?" this man was clearly talking Noora, but he'd had his eyes on his phone the entire time.
     Noora followed him until they'd reached the garage, and proceeded to follow him to a Land Cruiser. The same one that would sometimes pass by her house to take her to school with Afra.
     She reached for the back door handle when she heard his deep voice bellow again, "No, no. I'm not a driver. You can sit in front."
     "You're not?"
     "Do I look like one?"
     Noora stared at him quietly. He was unbelievably tall, with broad shoulders and piercing brownish green eyes. Just like Afra's mothers. He had chestnut brown hair that fell in soft wavy curls down the nape of his neck, and just barely reaching his ears and eyes. Lips that looked like they broke into a wide, boyish smile sat above strong, defined jaw line, accentuated by his dark, clean trimmed beard.
     "Are you Afra's brother?" Noora asked, baffled.
     "Yup." He replied, uninterested.
     The short ride started in absolute silence, and Noora went back to examining her hands.
     Darwesh put his phone down, and examined the little girl from the corner of his eye. Something tugged at his heart strings when he'd seen the too-serious expression on her face. She was a funny looking girl, but there was something quite loving about her big brown eyes.
      "Do you like your name?" Noora asked.
      "Your name. Do you like it?"
      "I guess..."
      "Oh. I dont like mine."
      "Why not?" Darwesh turned to the little girl. How odd, she was.
      "I'm not sure. People expect something different from a Noora and are almost always disappointed when they meet me." Noora said.
       "Nonsense. You make a wonderful Noora." Darwesh replied.
       "Thankyou. Your name suites you, I think."
       Darwesh smiled to himself.
       "What's that in your hand?"
       Noora hid the Fyonka under her thigh. "It's just a fyonka. Sara gave a bunch to Afra for her birthday present, and Afra insisted I take one."
       "Did you have a good time at the party, then?"
        Noora nodded.
       "Why dont you wear the fyonka?"
        Noora looked up at Darwesh. "Because I'm not sure if it'll look good on me. The color, I mean."
        She stared at the emerald green velvet fyonka that she'd picked. Didn't Sara say green would look okay on her skin tone?
        "Why wouldn't it?"
         Noora's eyes widened. "Because everyone knows that everything looks better on lighter skin. I'm too dark."
        Darwesh almost stopped the car. "What?"
        "The green would look better on lighter hair, and lighter skin. Sara said that the colors would practically disappear on my brown skin and dark hair. Being brown makes you ugly. Mama says my legs are too long, and I'm too thin. And I have a long face. I didn't notice my skin though."
        "You're right." Darwesh said, stopping the car.
        "I am?"
        "Yes. You are thin, you do have unusually long legs, and there's no denying you have brown skin and a long face. But that does not make you ugly."
         Noora's heart leaped out of her chest.
         "It doesn't?" She whispered.
         "No," Darwesh continued, "In fact, I myself prefer tall girls. And as for being thin, or long faced, you'll grow into yourself eventually. It only takes time."
         "Sara said I have an ugly nose. I'd never noticed that before."
         " I dont think you have an ugly nose."
         "You're just saying that to make me feel better."
         Darwesh laughed. "I do want you to feel better, but that's not why I said it. And next time anyone says you have an ugly nose, tell them you have a button nose. And that button noses are cute."
         "Oh. Sara has a nose like a sword."
         "I like button noses better." Darwesh said, empathetically. He quite liked this funny little girl.
         "Why?" Noora asked, curiously.
         Darwesh made a silent prayer of forgiveness to God before his reply.
         "Because they dont get in the way of a good kiss."
         He smiled as her eyes widened in shock.
         "Do you know what I think?" He said, "I think you just need to grow into yourself, Noora. Give it time."
        "Do you know what I think?" Noora smiled, "I think Afra is lucky to have you as a brother."
        Darwesh smiled at her.
        "You should probably get going now, sweety. Your mother may be worried." He said.
        Noora climbed out of the car and turned before closing the door.
        "Thankyou for taking me home, Darwesh."
        "La Shkr Ala Wajib"
         Darwesh watched until she'd safely gotten passed the house gates, unaware that he had just stolen a little girls heart.