I have done something really stupid," my friend told me on the phone last week. I was worried. It could have been anything. The heat gets to us all. But then she started babbling about her new job. In a move towards being more independent, supporting herself and paying for her own studies, she had started work as a junior employee at a leading company in Abu Dhabi. And after a month of long hours dealing with weird supervisors and mundane tasks, finally came the payback: a lovely cheque with her name on it, and the sum of Dh15,000 only in big bold letters.
It was the first income she had ever earned, and I called her while she was rushing to cash the cheque. She was so excited. "The HR lady told me that I have to open an account, like, within the next 24 hours and deposit the money," she said breathlessly. But before going to the bank, she decided to stop at Marina Mall. It took only 45 minutes for Dh4,300 to evaporate. "Besh, can you imagine! OK, no more Marina Mall for me at the beginning of the month," she wailed. I tried to calm her down, but she went on, "It was pink and from that shop that I like. A Chanel. You know as well as I do that Dh4,300 is never wasted when it's on a Chanel." She paused for breath.
I noted that it wasn't the first story of this kind I had heard. It happens with Burberry, LV, Jimmy Choo. And then it got me thinking. The custom in our region is that a man - a father, husband or brother - is always there to take care of females financially. Expenses such as accommodation, food, cars, university fees, and medical and travel bills, are usually all magically taken care of. It is a custom dictated by our religion and our society.
Personally, I think every woman should have the chance to spend her money on what she thinks is a priority in her life without being judged. Some spend it on knowledge by taking more courses and buying books; some book a weekend somewhere; some make others happier by giving them presents; some invest in the hereafter by sending money to charity or by helping a person in need. Others, like my friend, buy brands. I tend to be mesmerised by two very different things: books and earrings.
Girls who work put their salaries into real estate or real shopping (spending wisely on things that will last). For some, it is OK to spend their liquid money on cars, bags and shoes. In other countries, women express themselves by wearing different colours and cuts of outfits. But when you wear an abaya, shoes and bags are the only things that can be seen. They are the only way you can say that a girl has taste and fashion sense, or maybe observe something about her personality through what she is wearing - which in a woman's world, says a lot.
Women are complicated beings, and they articulate themselves in many creative ways. Elegance in a woman does not depend on her status or income; it is a natural instinct of taste. Some girls could have all the money in the world and still wouldn't know the right outfit to wear. Others are born with it. Yesterday, my friend and I met. After two hours I remembered the bag and asked her where it was. "It's too delicate to carry around," she said. Suddenly, in my mind's eye, I saw my friend's new pink oh-so-French Chanel baby bag looking up at her and saying, "Maman."
Fatima al Shamsi is away