I spent 7 years of my childhood living in UAE, before moving back to India.
Looking back, I can without a doubt say it was one of the most oddest years of my life.
I’d spend hours sauntering through the wayward lanes of al aquah or rather le meridian that lead to the beach,
I remember my mum unlocking the door without a question after my 6 year old self finally decided to show up home past midnight, sun-tanned, pockets stuffed with seashells and sand in her hair, sand sprinkled on her arms and wedged in her butt crack.
I remember walking back late night, tiny me with tinier friends, after the Halloween party, holding my plastic pumpkin sans candies.
I remember cycling through the boulevard maze that is jeb al ali, exploring pedantic buildings, getting lost among the concrete fraternal twins, and yet finding my way home.
Strangely, I cannot for the life of me remember having a phone.
Probably because my parents never felt the need to give me one, for some reason I spent my days in wanderlust uninterrupted by the jarring ring of a phone every five minutes, Where are you? Why aren’t you home? What are you doing? Who are you with?
I cannot remember sprinting,
I cannot remember quickening my pace when consumed by a shadow other than mine,
I do not remember having the urge to scram when being approached by a man on the road, when being stared at by strangers on the bus
I do not remember dread
I do not remember throwing furtive glances into shadows, the hair on my neck standing up like vain picket fences on guard,
I do not remember a constant presence lurking in the corner, being followed, stalked, like that gazelle on Discovery science, its nostrils flared, its chest heaving, eyes wary of the predator who will soon devour it
I do not remember feeling hunted.
I remember running,
I remember salty air being forced down my lungs, untainted laughter, exhilaration, the security of being unperturbed by my own skin, the rapid thumping of my heart against an ivory casbah.
A different kind of thumping
Different from the ones I feel now,
when my body is undressed by unfamiliar eyes,
when paranoia looks at every unknown man I cross as a vile vermin, a bearded drunkard, a potential rapist
when I am unnerved by my own flesh
When I cannot hear the rhythmic thumping of being alive,
When all that echoes in my pinna are the rattling steels of a cage I am trying to escape.
I do not run anymore
I only flee.