A young Western woman works in a Gulf emirate and befriends her boss a sheikh who is the half brother of the local Emir (king) He has taken her to the desert oasis to see a glimpse of traditional life when she falls ill. He leaves to go to the UK and the USA while she spends time with his mother and his great aunt.
WARNING: NO SEX SCENES but you might like the story
The jet was touching down in Al Dahaab three days later. Sheikh Khalid switched on his phone while they were taxiing. Immediately it started to beep like a morse code. That was odd. He looked at the dozen of whatssapp messages. Something urgent from Omar. From the office. From his brother. What was going on?
He noticed people waiting on the tarmac. Omar. As soon as the flight attendant had opened the door he climbed down the stairs. What was going on?
"Please follow me boss," said Omar. "There is an emergency. One of your tankers was hijacked off the coast of Somalia..."
"Pirates? I thought we dealt with them."
"This guy is named Abu Djodjo and he insist on talking to you. Says his tribe is suffering and he want aid like you offered the others. Says he does not want money. Just wants to talk with you. I have a team of advisers and security ready and the minister of defence borrowed you a governmental jet. We can leave for Somalia now and brief you in the air my sheikh."
"No sheikh Khalid is not coming with you on his own. His team is coming with him," said Omar to a thin guy in his thirties with the dark bronze skintone of a Somali tribesman.
"Your crew is on the tanker Sheikh. Abu DjoDjo just wants to negotiate with you. You can see they are treated well. My tribe is hungry. Give us food and solar generators and a flatscreen tv and some goats. You come. You two talk. You and the crew go to the shore. You bring the stuff and we hand you the tanker. New friends."
"No sheikh Khalid is not going alone. Me and four other men come as well."
"No. You can come if you want. No gun. You and the sheikh".
He turned towards Khalid. "We are hungry. We meant no harm. We just want your aid."
"You guys have a funny way of asking favours," said the sheikh. "You could have asked nicely."
"Look" said the man. "I did not bring a gun. I can tell my men to put theirs aside as well and then we talk."
Omar took Khalid aside.
"Ya sheikh this whole thing is weird. Why hijack a tanker and then want to have tea together?"
"Maybe it was just their idea of getting my attention. What other option do we have? The tanker has a crew of 20."
"They can kill you."
"Yes and if I refuse and they kill those 20 I will loose my honour. Do you have another plan?"
Omar looked at the small dot on the horizon that was the ship.
"My men can follow us in a dingy. I can say to this shitface that they will follow us and move in for the kill the moment he starts to act funny.
"You listen up. Yes you shitface. I will come with the sheikh. No weapons. These killers here will follow us in a speedboat. You might kill us but they will kill you."
"Sheikh you will be safe with me. Please follow me to my leader."
Khalid could see that his friend was nervous. His black features looked cut out of a piece of basalt rock. His lips a thin line. Khalid knew the both of them were very trained in fighting hand to hand combat but like every wise warrior he still was nervous and on edge.
They climbed an uncomfortable rope ladder up towards the high deck of the tanker. Vertigo luckily not his weakpoint. The man who had said his name was Abdelkadir climbed up behind the two Arabs.
On deck it was deserted.
"Your crew is in the messroom. My brothers are waiting there as well I think. Please follow me.
He walked them through a corridor with doors alongside to a room at the end.
"Please" he gestured to the door.
Omar walked in with Khalid one step behind. Omar came to a sudden stop.
"Danger!" He whirled around.
Khalid saw red. Brown faces. Yellow faces. A white old officer. Red smears everywhere. Blood.
The first thing he noticed while turning was Abdelkadir dropping dead.
"So my prince" said a voice in Arabic. "Looks like I saved you."
Khalid saw a man in his fifties who looked like an Arab. He was clothed in battlegear. Mesh with all kind of weaponry strapped to his body.
"Let me introduce myself. My name is colonel Al Amiri of the presidential guard of Dharan. Or maybe I should say I am prince Masoor al Dharani the younger brother of the true king of Dharan. You will help my family reclaim the throne again."
"What are you talking about?" said sheikh Khalid. "Of course I am grateful of for you saving my life but what happened here? And what do you mean by reclaiming a throne?"
The man pointed his gun to Khalid and Omar.
"I am so glad you fell for my trick. Unfortunately your men and those poor Somali met their demise. When your brother finds out - and he will. I left a diary with my things on shore - that the presidential guards were involved with killing his brother he will attack Dharan. And then my brothers can revolt."
"You dear sheikh Khalid. His silly humanitarian brother. My cousin will whisper in his ear that he has to take revenge. My other cousin will urge that he would be so much better as a ruler when he would be crowned as a king."
He put his free hand in his pocket and held a device in his hand.
"Bye sheikh see you in hell".
"Bomb!!" roared Omar and with one hand pushed Khalid away while jumping on top of the Dharani soldier.
Ah whoosh. A wave of heath. Flying. Something slicing his face. Falling. His leg hitting something. Hurt. Pain in his head. Darkness.
The sheikh was draped over a table at the far side of the mess hall. His leg in an odd angle. A gash in his face oozing blood. A wound on the back of his head. Completely unconscious when his backup team rushed in. The other people had met a worse faith. It seemed Omar had tried to shield his friend by jumping on top of a man wearing a bombvest. The bomb must have lifted both from the ground. There was hardly anything left to recognise the both of them.
In the village the owner of the only hotel listened to the story young Felis was telling. She had heard from the fishermen selling their ware in the harbour that the Arab ship had been filled with dead men. The sons of Mo had done some deal with the Arab who stayed in her father's hotel. All were dead. A prince was alive but would probably die too.
The innkeeper walked up to the room of that Arab. Cloths. He could sell those. Some money. Papers. He would burn them. No family of a rich Arab prince would be able to link him to the guy's murderer. In 15 minutes there was nothing left that would remind people of the foreigner who had paid to rent a room but had never stayed there. A large envelop with a pile of papers in Arab handwriting curled to dust in the kitchen fire.
Lisa spent a few extra days with Aunty Zara and Umm Khalid in the house in the oasis. The sheikh's mother offered to take her back to town when she would go home again.
"Did Beth and you ever go back to England?" asked Lisa Zara one evening.
"Beth did send letters to her family after the war." In the end we found out that her parents had died when a V2 had fallen on their London townhouse. Her brother had gone down with his airplane over Germany and her cousins had emigrated to Canada but no one knew to where exactly. Beth was happy with her husband and her family and rather stayed in Arabia."
"My own father was a widower and very unsupportive of my wish not to marry but to work as a nurse even before the war. The fact that I had become a matron in no time did not impress him. And the fact that I liked girls he thought just needed the right man. In the tribe I have a good friend in the sheikh and Beth and the love of my life Samira. Sarah had died with the ship."
"What I did do was go to India with my girl here in the 1990-ties. Khalid's father could not care less what we did so we got his permission to take the children on a tour of India. We took her housekeeper with us as she is Indian and was willing to assist. It is so different now from those days of the Raj. No white officers more in charge. I could recognise our old teagardens as hills stay the same but Indian society is so different. The area I grew up in had had a large Muslim population. They had all moved to Pakistan. But I saw parts of the land I had never seen as a young woman. The trip was great. A few years later we visited the Lake District and Scotland. And of course when Khalid studied in London and stayed there for many years we would go and visit him."
"Do you miss roaming the desert?" asked Lisa.
"Oh no. It is a real harsh climate and I rather have my own home in a oasis with a garden full of flowers."
Khalid's mother and Lisa left the next day. Sheikh Khalid would be back home from the United States and his mother assured her that he would check on her to see if she was ok again and they could use that evening to have a family meal together.
Lisa liked this Arabian woman whose Scottish ancestry was still apparent in her green eyes and auburn hair. The sheikh must have inherited his father's colouring.
They were chatting nicely in the back of the airconditioned towncar when the sheikha's phone rang. She picked up and listened and then uttered a weird sound like a sob. Lisa gazed at her face and saw it had turned ashen. She hang up and burst into tears.
"My son. My son was in a terror attack. He is very seriously wounded. They are medevac'ing him to Dahaab from Somalia. He might not survive. He lost his eye. He might loose his leg. Omar is dead."
She started to cry. Heart wrenching sobs. Lisa cried with her. He could not die!
The next week the people in the office walked like ghosts. Omar's absence an open wound. Sorrow about sheikh Khalid who was still in a coma. Lisa could not sleep. And found herself crying and praying behind her desktop.
One day Umm Khalid walked into the building and asked for Lisa's office. She seemed to have aged 10 years.
"Lisa my dear I would..." . She started to cry again. Lisa walked around her desk and hugged the woman to her. They were holding unto each other. Lisa felt her own tears threatening to overflow.
"How is he sheikha?"
"Oh binty he is still in a coma. His sister and I sit with him for hours. Talk to him. They say that helps but nothing does. Would you please go and sit with him for awhile and talk to him? I thought he really liked you."
She stood in the doorway. The man in the bed was pale under his bronze skin making him look yellowish. A bandage covered half of his face and what must have been his ruined eye. His leg was in a kind of sling.
He looked like he was sleeping.
"Good morning my sheikh," she said standing at the side of his bed. "I came to brief you on our legal cases."
She talked about their cases and in the meantime looked at him. He was still her handsome sheikh. It did not matter that he would have scars and a no eye on one side. The rest he was still his handsome old self. That face now so stern again.
She dragged a chair next to the bed.
"I will sing for you sheikh" and she started to sing the songs she remembered they had played from that Andrea Bocelli cd. He just lay there. Motionless. His mother had said the doctors did not expect brain damage. But he seemed far away.
"Oh sheikh please wake up.". She grabbed his hand. She started to stroke his fingers. He felt so warm. Too warm.
"Khalid you have to wake up. Your mother loves you. Your sister loves you. I love you. I so miss you. You will always send me one of your secret smiles. I like sleeping in the same bed as you do."
A nurse walked in.
"Miss would you like a glass of tea? You best let him rest now. If you want to you can come back in tomorrow. His mother is here in the afternoons but maybe before you go to work? My co-worker told me you work closely with the sheikh."
She did come in one morning but changed that to evening after work. She would tell him all the gossip around the office and fondle his hand. Some evenings she fell asleep with her head on his bed.
There was someone kissing his hand. Someone telling she loved him dearly and if he please could come back. His face hurt. His leg. His back. He turned around and went back to that comfortable place in the clouds.
There was her voice again. She was singing and it sounded so beautiful. She was his angel he thought.
When the mist cleared again he felt her cry with her face pressed on his arm. He could feel the wetness of tears. His angel should not weep. He would come and help her. He tried to stroke her hair. His armed spasmed and did not do what he wanted to.
"Nurse", she shouted. "nurse his arm moved."
He tried to open his eyes. He wanted to see her. Would she be wearing that silk nightgown he loved to peel off her? His eyes refused to open. Habibti where are you?
Some time had gone again but he had no idea how much when suddenly he woke up. He could not see on one side but the other side of the room seemed like a hospital room. Lisa was sleeping sitting on a chair with her folded arms on the bed he was lying on. Her head on her arms. He moved his arm. So heavy. He placed his hand on her head. So tired. He fell asleep.
Next time he woke up it was daytime and there were people in his room. Nurses. A doctor.
They explained. His eye. They called his mother. He asked how Omar was doing. She told him what happened. His mother looked very happy. He cried when she had left. His eye. His friend. For what? He could vaguely remember some madman.
He did not want to see anyone for a week. He mourned. The doctors told him he was allowed to go home as long as he took his rest. At home in the penthouse he hobbled around on his plastered leg. The mirror an enemy. A gash on one side of his face. It would leave a long scar. His eye socket empty. The doctor had said a glass eye would be hardly noticeable. He ordered an eyepatch like the pirates who had sailed his ship.
He rolled in his wheelchair into his brother's office. The minister of defence was there. So was his nephew the minister of foreign affairs. He told them he remembered a madman screaming about a plot. The minister of defence said that he expected it to be someone from Dharan. That they should attack. Should retaliate. His nephew insisted there was no proof. His brother his normal indecisive self. Khalid had the feeling his memory tried to tell him something.
"Yes the guy was from Dharan. He told me so. He was saying a lot. I cannot remember. Something about a true king."
The minister of Defence gave him an odd look.
"Sorry I have amnesia I think. Please excuse me."
His nephew rolled him to his car. "Are you doing any better uncle?"
Khalid smiled a sad smile. "I do not think my eye will grow back my friend nor my friend return to the living. I feel rotten."
"Maybe uncle you should try a few days on your ship. You always liked sailing."
Khalid had warned his office he would be away for some time. He had taken the brig and sailed all the way to India with the small crew. His leg had healed but he still walked with a limp. The sea air had restored his pallor. But the scar was still a red gash on his face.
In India he had taken a commercial flight to London and visited some renowned surgeons. They did some plastic surgery that would reduce the gash on his face to a mere red line that would fade in time and just be a white scar. They had given him a glass eye. He had refused it. Physiotherapists had put him through exercises. He also refused to see a shrink or an imam. He had just gone back to his ship and sailed towards Thailand.
But the fresh breeze and the beauty of nature seemed grey and dull. The sun seemed black. Khalid was mourning. Mourning his best friend. Mourning the woman he had wanted to marry before he got so disfigured. Mourning a body that refused to work as it used to.
He would dream about the attack and wake up feeling he had forgotten something very important: the clue of the why he was attacked.
The ship was sailing back towards Al Dahaab.
He had started to miss someone. Someone he had decided to marry that night in the USA two months ago. It had been thoughts of lust. Of wanting to screw her senseless. But at sea he had started to long for that voice telling him stories, singing for him. Those hands stroking his limb hand. He felt so alone. But standing in front of his mirror he saw a ruined face. And older man who had lost two people he loved to bombs. One good eye that looked sad. Could he ask her to come to him. Would she feel repulsed when she would wake up and see that empty socket? Some women would just marry him for his money and his royal pedigree. She seemed not to care for that. She was a woman who would only marry for love. Why would she love a monster like him?
"Omar", he said looking up to the sky, "old friend what should I do?"
He pictured the tall man and the wide grin he would have given when asked such a question.
Question: what should the Sheikh do?