x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A Day of Reflection

M presents the second-place winner in our short story contest.

Illustration by Martin O'Neill / www.cutitout.co.uk)
Illustration by Martin O'Neill / www.cutitout.co.uk)

Rajeev was a simple boy, but he was not stupid. It's fair to say he was capable of being more than just an office boy at Prem Oil's Dubai headquarters, located in one of Al Quoz's hidden alleyways. He had slipped into a groove and found his place in the world. When colleagues shouted their orders at him, venting their frustrations on the one co-worker they knew couldn't or wouldn't defend himself, he felt no need, or no purpose, or better still, just no motivation to detract. He followed his programming: just make the coffee, clean. Make the teas, drive. He had his place, his place had him.

That morning, his place was outside in the stockyard, with his general manager, Paul Mathews. "Rajeev, go to Mr Ehab's cabin and bring me back two pairs of safety gloves."

"Yes, sir," he answered with a familiar smile.

As he turned and strode off, he was so blinkered by his chore that he walked straight over a betrodden bank note, which was caked into the concrete floor of the yard.

"Rajeev!" shouted Paul. The older Welshman chuckled as he made a half-jog and pulled Rajeev back by the shoulder. "Look." Paul gently pointed down to the floor to the faded note, which now also bore the imprint of Rajeev's boot. "Oh. It is yours, sir?" Rajeev stated, looking up at his much taller boss.

"My friend," Paul said, as he picked up the note by one corner and put it into Rajeev's hand, "keep your eyes open when you are out here, it is a dangerous place."

Rajeev was delighted to accept this unexpected fortune. He smiled, and his stomach tingled with a spark of electricity. How grateful he was at that moment to experience the shock of unexpected happiness.

Crash! Rajeev instinctively dived for cover as a horrific clang of grinding metal rang around the yard, sounding like a giant bell being smashed with a sledgehammer. The noise alone struck the men down like bullets. A nine-tonne drill bit being loaded onto a 40- foot trailer had somehow came loose, and dropped three feet onto the concrete floor, rolling 15 feet across the yard before being stopped under its own monstrous weight. Rajeev had been standing across the yard, but the power of the vibrations had still raged through his bones. Everyone was momentarily shocked. Then Paul swung into action, ordering men to their tasks. He turned to Rajeev. "Go down to the Jebel Ali office and bring Mr Rashid back here."

Rajeev stormed across the yard, out into the car park and into a white pickup truck bearing the company logos. As he drove out onto 10th Street, his phone rang. He searched inside his trouser pocket while steering with his other hand. "Mr Rajeev Nanda?" said the smoky voice on the end of the line.

"Yes." The next words were all spoken in the Malayalam language because the smart gentleman calling Rajeev recognised instantly that he was also from Kerala, south India.

"Sir, my name is Arul, and I am calling from Union Phone Company."

Rajeev broke the speed limit as he listened. "Sir, I am calling to inform you of very good news." Rajeev was focused on the road. "Sir, are you driving now?"

"Yes, I have to go. Can you call back?" Rajeev swerved past a dirty, red Toyota Landcruiser. Arul squeezed in another sentence: "Sir, you have won one million dirhams!" There was silence on the phone line, then Rajeev's foot softened off the accelerator, and the pickup began to slow.

After another 20 metres of bumpy road, Rajeev pulled the pickup to a stop. "What?" "Your name is Rajeev Nanda. Sim card number, which is printed on the back of the Sim card in your phone, is 940315."

"But sir, I do not understand?"

Arul then countered dismissively, like a champion tennis player returning a weak serve: "Mr Rajeev, sir. As per our records the phone is registered to you, and as per our Shopping Festival promotion, you were entered into our Grand Draw, and we are happy to say that you have won the Grand Draw prize of One Million Dirhams." Rajeev hung up the phone.

Ideas exploded in his mind. During the next three seconds, he planned the next 30 years of his life. He saw his parents' faces arriving at Dubai Terminal Three. They were tired from the flight but so excited and proud. He saw his children graduating from a great private school. He pictured Paul's response when he gave him the news. Blood rushed to new places in his brain. "Paul. Yes." Rajeev dialled his boss's number, seeking confirmations that such things were possible. "Could this be a mistake? Paul is so smart. He will know!" He felt fear and excitement. As the phone rang, he returned to focus on where he was - parked in the shade of a date palm, engine running, 10th Street. "Rajeev?" Paul'svoice was tense. "Are you in Jebel Ali?" "Sir, sorry Sir I had to stop. I received phone call from Union Phone. Sir, they are saying I have won a very big amount." Paul laughed in a kind manner. "Well, I think you had better go to see them my friend - But not now! We can do that later. Now I need Mr. Rashid here." "Yes Sir." Rajeev snapped out of his dream, put the phone down, and prepared to get back to his task, but his mind was a sea of confusion, with waves of contradicting thoughts smashing against each other. He couldn't drive. Grabbing his phone from the empty passenger seat, he ripped open the back cover, removing the battery, and then the Sim Card. He read the Sim Card number aloud "Nine, forty, three, fifteen." His hands trembled as he threw the phone back together and dialled the previous incoming number. "Union Phone, Special Customer Relations Department. How may I help you?" "Mr. Arul please. It is Rajeev." Rajeev finally drove the pick-up truck back onto 10th street, but he certainly wasn't going to Jebel Ali.

During their excited conversation confirming Rajeev's magical win, Arul informed him that he would be receiving his fund transfer by tomorrow morning. As he arrived at the Mall of the Emirates Shopping Centre, he was pulsing with life. He was a millionaire. "How will I tell them?" he asked himself, smiling so widely and honestly as he flooded in to the Main Entrance with all the tourists. He would call his family either later tonight or tomorrow morning, he couldn't decide. He wanted the build-up to last forever. He headed in to Carrefour Supermarket. As he waited in line to buy phone credit, he felt his worn-out old phone in his pocket. The woman in front of him was talking on her i-Phone. He felt his phone again, and then left the line. He returned to the same line in two minutes with a velvety black box in hand. Not a thought of the cost of the new i-Phone crossed his mind as he paid the three thousand Dirhams on his rarely used credit card. "I can afford this" he thought as he left Carrefour. His senses were heightened to new levels, and he noticed on his right a pair of sunglasses that he might buy tomorrow. On his left he saw the words Shopping Festival in big red colours, followed by Grand Raffle ticket with every One Hundred Dirhams spent. Top Prize Half a Million Dirhams. "I'll win that. I'm sure of it." he thought. At the Information Desk, he handed over his receipt for the i-Phone, received his tickets, and dropped the stubs into the barrel. Then he strolled out of the mall, picking up from the floor a One Dirham coin he had noticed out of the corner of his eye. As he swished out of the mall confidently, an aura surrounded him, it's epicentre and source deep inside.

Rajeev had driven the three miles or so over to the Jumeirah Beach Residence, and there he sat, watching the waves rolling in amongst the sand-coloured towers. "I may move here" he thought as he watched the waves, beautiful and tranquil, as they curled their way towards the sandy beach. He hoped this moment would last forever. Then his phone rang. "Yep." answered Rajeev. "Marhaba. Mr, Nanda? This is Colonel Mubarak, Dubai Police. Could you confirm your full name please?" Rajeev answered promptly before the policeman with a strong Emirati accent continued "Have you been in contact with Union Phone Company today regarding a raffle prize?" Rajeev answered promptly. "I need you to report to Al Barsha police station immediately. You have been the victim of a trick. There is no prize money. Did you give them your Bank information so that they could transfer the prize money?" Violent waves crashed in, and the shadows cast by clouds overhead darkened the beach. Rajeev put down his new phone, it's sickly black colour reflecting the feeling in his heart and stomach. He reached Al Barsha Police Station in under ten minutes and was told to wait. As each minute passed he convinced himself that there had been some sort of mistake. "Please don't take it away from me" he pleaded silently. The Colonel arrived to deliver the painful news as gently as he could. He had been tricked. His Bank Account emptied of it's remaining four thousand Dirhams of savings. Rajeev had given the thieves all of his bank details in the hope of receiving the transfer of money which would have changed his life, and changed him, forever. Dubai Police had raided the rooms the thieves had used only that afternoon, but they were gone, already melted away, with Rajeev's savings and hopes.

That evening Rajeev the Office Boy sunk into his bed to depths of loneliness and longing that he had not felt before. Paul had been understanding, and even offered to contribute back One Thousand Dirhams from the company towards his lost savings, but he had lost so much more. He had liberated himself for one day from his confines, but was now once again incarcerated by them. He wept, knowing that his eyes would never again see the world in the way that they had today. He finally fell into a sleep at around 10.15pm, with a tear still wet on his cheek, with no idea, and no hope for what tomorrow, and the rest of his life, would bring. He was broken.

At 10.30pm, about a mile or so away, the Henna-wrapped slender hand of a young Emirati lady delved into a huge drum of paper slices. The large crowd, high in spirits, held their breath. All eyes were on the make-shift stage erected under the main dome of the Mall of the Emirates. Each member of the crowd held their own little slip in their hands, wishing and waiting. The young woman withdrew her hand from the huge barrel, a close-up of the intricate Henna was displayed to the crowd on large screens as she clutched the winning Raffle Ticket. The young woman handed the ticket to an older Emirati man standing in the centre of the stage. He looked at it, then raised the microphone up to his lips: "Remember, Ladies and Gentlemen, whether you think you can be a winner, or you can't: You're Right." He then read the Winner's name. The silence in the room indicated to everyone that tonight, the winner was not present. The older man looked out across the sea of people, but saw nobody screaming for attention. He then motioned towards the red coloured phone on a small table next to the barrel.

He dialled the number of the winner written on the stub, the dialling tone being played across loud speakers for the crowd to hear. One moment later, in a small apartment in Al Quoz, Rajeev was awoken by the ringing of his iPhone.

 

About the author

Daniel Taylor, an Englishman living In Dubai, was the runner-up in M magazine's 2011 annual short story contest presented in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. The 29-year-old came to the UAE in 2004 to work for the construction company Aluma Systems, where he is area manager for Abu Dhabi. He and his wife, Jennifer, have a 2-year-old daughter. His story presented here is first he has written, and he says he combined a real-life experience of being contacted by swindlers with "one of my core beliefs, being that our life is generally a reflection of what we believe we are capable of doing, and when we change the inhibiting belief, we change that we are capable of doing". Taylor hopes to complete The Inventor, a novel set in Dubai, this year.