Saturday, August 25, 2007



Unable to understand her friendly banter in what sounded gibberish to me, I started with a ‘hi’. Unaware of the prejudices that reside in me, I felt scared of this beautiful girl. She was an Arab, wearing a customary black niqab. Her face was fair and as pretty as every other Arabian girl.

But, unlike any other girl, she spoke carelessly, unperturbed by the lack of a common language of communication. Her frantic gestures and twisted alien words continued, heavily interspersed with her giggles. It finally dawned on me that she was genuinely friendly and Arab men will not reprimand me for responding in my own peculiar gibberish.

India,” I said, making sense of her mother’s broken English and familiar Persian terms.

Dehli, Bombay, Madras,” came the reply.

“Yea, Dehli,” I smiled at what was now being termed a cultural breakthrough in my head.


I wasn’t expecting that and I immediately put up my guard again, uncertain of what was coming next.

“Husband?” interrupted the girl who did not want her mother to steal the spotlight.

I tried to control my laughter but gave in. “No husband”.


She did not respond with her infectious giggle and the disappointment on her face made me wish I had a husband.

The dusky skyline had turned deep purple and the ocean dark green. She started waving her hands and continued talking in Arabic, while I looked at her mother for assistance.

“Beautiful, beautiful, Masha-allah, good,” said the mother.

The laughter on the deserted beach returned.

Shukran,” I said, suddenly remembering the one word I had picked up on the trips to the supermarket.

The girl held up her palm and folded down three fingers. My confused expression made her laugh again and I noticed the kohl under her eyes. She then sketched invisible symbols on her left palm with her index finger.

“Two-zero,” she said and started laughing again.

By now, I was honestly perplexed by her sense of humour, but once again found myself beaming at her.

“Twenty-one,” I said. Her mother added another, “beautiful”.

The girl lifted her niqab till her waist showing the pink pajamas below with blue triangular patterns, and walked into the water. She sat down and pulled up the pajamas, exposing her knees, and skin untouched by the harsh sun.

I felt she will melt away with the waves, and I will probably find her floating over the ocean like golden butter. I was wondering why these poetic notions were swirling around when the flow of her Arabic words resumed. Lifting her arms and impersonating a swimmer’s action she managed to ask me.


I laughed in reply. She seemed relieved as the possibility of her going in the ocean like her younger brothers in the distance was quite slim. A little boy was wading towards us with a plastic glass in his hand, screaming excitedly. He ran to the mother to show off his catch –- a crab.

“Commerce, college, bank,” says the girl and points at herself with a proud grin.

“Your name?” I asked.


It was dark when I returned from my walk to the spot where Sarah was still sitting at the edge of the waves, letting an occasional bunch of sea weed tickle her toes. I wanted to tell her to be careful. She might melt like butter and gleam at noon, when sunlight splits the ocean in tiny crevices and ridges made of gold. This time my thoughts did not surprise me.

I was in love with her happiness.

I wanted to sit among the tiny waves, dig my toes deep in the sand, sing a song that was mine, and wait to laugh with complete strangers.

But, I was walking towards the pavement with my feet now sinking in the dry sand.

She yelled.


I screamed back, “bye”.