Big-sis and Kalahili have had little sleep. They have also been having nightmares simultaneously. The night the Boy takes Pixi home from hospital and orders her to start packing, Big-sis dreams of none other than the blue-eyed Djinn with the black robes. Like Pixi, her dream also told her she'd been chosen by him. And again like Pixi, she also mistook him to be a very wise, very spiritual man (which was in no way a deception but simply something misread by the unfamiliar.) Consequently, she was rather chuffed, until her underlying animal instincts, picked up on his true intents and started ringing the alarm bells.
At the same time Kalahili dreamt of sleeping. He dreamt he was lying with his wife in their giant four-poster bed with its Thai wood-carving wall mount etc. just as he was doing in real life, at that very moment. He then dreamt that he woke from this sleep to the sensation of someone lying in-between his wife and himself. It was a small someone, child sized, a bit skinny, and with very, very long hair. Startled, Kalahili acted to catch the thing, but it jumped out of their bed and scuttled away.
He and Big-Sis woke up simultaneously. Soaked in sweat and sharing a mutual horror, they stared at each other in the dark with massive eyes. After that, there wasn’t much of rest or sleep left. The dreams shook acutely and had them both barely functioning on tenterhooks all day. Thankfully it was a Thursday.
Now, both are buried into the soft folds of the L-shaped living room sofa set, near-comatose in front of their 12inch HD screen. Their watching Gladiator, which looks like a cheap, straight-to-DVD release, because it is not HD and so the clarity only serves to highlight bad skin and unconvincing props. Both are hungry, but neither has the energy to get up and order in takeaway.
Meanwhile, the boy and Pixi are crammed together in the front passenger seat of a dingy taxi-bus at Abu-Dhabi bus station. They'd waited 15minutes for it to fill up, while they watched the bus-station goings on which transpired around them. Now the driver is collecting the fare, and there are arms all over the place, passing change back and forth.
The driver, a Pakistani uncle in Kurta and a long beard, seems peeved. Pixi doesn't understand him, but she puts together the words 'kullu' and 'mia' as well as the rhetorical question in the tone of his voice to deduce that he's saying ‘how am I meant to give you all change when everyone's giving me hundreds?!' Eventually the change issue gets resolved and they set off along the Salaam St highway, on the hour long drive up to Dubai.
The two share a heavy silence for much of the journey. The Boy, deep in dark, worrisome thoughts about Pixi's encounter and all that it means. And Pixi, bearing the working-weeks exhaustion, and the relaxation which has come to her with the relief of having handed in her resignation. Editor had not been amused, but he understood her reasons. He’d felt the growing office-toxicity himself, and had worked long enough at Time Out Abu Dhabi to know what a thankless job it is. Once you get over all the fun and perks.
Eventually, when he thinks she’s fallen asleep, the Boy reaches out and gently takes Pixi’s hand. It pains him to feel how frail it is. And he boils with anger at himself and everything and everyone which has lead to this moment where he’s cramped in a half-seat between the Pakistani uncle and Pixi, feeling absolutely helpless.
By the time the two get to Dubai, disembark on the rumbling highway that is Sheikh Zayed road, cross the sand-pit construction site under the JLT metro station, cross over to the Marina side via the overpass, weather the 10 minute walk in the sticky UAE summer heat, and then eventually ring the bell at 503 Westside Marina, the sun has already called it a day. Kalahili answers the door, and his initial surprise at seeing Pixi instead of the water delivery guy, is quickly replaced by irritation over seeing some random guy with her.
“Marti,” he yells in the direction of the bedroom as Pixi and the boy remove their shoes in the hallway. “Put your hijab on.”
“Who is it?” Big-sis emerges, wrapping her head-scarf. “Oh hello.” She too is surprised to see Pixi and then the Boy, but unlike Kalahili she knows who he is. “You’re back!” she states. “And you’ve…” Big-sis struggles to find a word that’s appropriate to use in front of her husband without getting him more ruffled than he’s already displaying signs of being, “grown tall.” Is what she settles for, catching Pixi’s eye for an instant to smile in a way that makes the Boy uncomfortable and tips Kalahili’s dominoes.
“Waleik! I kill you!” he booms, “and you,” he points a furious finger at Pixi. “Who’s this?!”
“He’s her childhood friend. He’s practically family.”
“He’s my half Djinn Boy.”
“He’s on our side,” Pixi and Big-Sis say simultaneaously, respectively.
“Assalamu alaikum,” the Boy steps forward. “Bro, I’ve known Pixi and your family for a very long time. I don’t mean to intrude-”
“Waleik!” Kalahili cuts him off. “Who’s half Djinn? You’re half Djinn?” he quips at the boy.
“Yes,” the boy gulps.
“I kill you!” Kalahili turns the angry finger at him this time. “Which half is Djinn?”
“The better half, I promise,” says the Boy. Kalahili eyes him and then decides he’s telling the truth.
“Good. I don’t kill you then. What do you want?”
“Pixi…no, you’re family… hell, the whole world, is in danger.”
“I’ve failed at protecting Pixi too many times. I don’t want to fail again.”
“Oi, who needs protecting? I’m fine,” Pixi butts in.
“Silence woman,” the boy rumbles ominously. “Don’t get me angry. You’ve seen what I turn into when I get angry.”
“What does he turn into?” this time Big-sis butts in, with intrigued curiosity.
“Actually I was unconscious when that happened, but Zaru said she saw the whole thing, and she said you were positively grotesque.”
“An accurate description on Zaru’s part. How is she, by the way?”
“She’s cool. Her and Miri are planning to visit in a month’s time. But that was before I resigned.”
"They’ll need to change their plans then. I haven't met Miri, have I?"
“Waleik!” Kalahili interrupts. “I kill you all, stop going off topic!”
“Yeah, what’s this about you resigning?” asks Big-sis.
“We should sit down. This could take a while.” Pixi draws everyone’s attention to the fact that they’ve all been standing at the entrance for a good twenty minutes now.
“I get my bag, we go.” Big-sis goes back to the bedroom.
“Go where? We just go here,” Pixi calls out after her. She’s sticky and all desk-work tension-knotted. She wants a shower.
“Out. There’s no food in the house and we’re hungry,” her sister calls back.
“By the way,” Pixi turns to Kalahili. “Bro, has Big-Sis felt anything strange? Tummy pains? Weird dreams?”
“Did you say weird dreams?” Big-Sis comes back with her fake LV in tow. The real one she saves for work and special outings.
"His name is Azazeal," the boy says, twirling the steak knife they've just won at Butcher Shop & Grill, because Kalahili finished a giant slab of sirloin.
"Eh?!" says Pixi through a mouthful of roast potato that's been a bulge in her right cheek for way too long for it to still taste good. It’s like she's so unenthusiastic about her food, she keeps forgetting to swallow. Depression might have something to do with it. Eating out at fine-dining joints for a living might also.
"Wasn't that the Devil pre-divine-deportation?" Asks Big-sis.
"Old boy aint got a copyright on the name. There's been loads of Azazeals since him. This one's Azazeal MDXVII."
"Sounds like a corporate tycoon," says Kalahili.
"Sounds like a human genome code," says Big-sis.
"Sounds like a razor blade," says Pixi, finally swallowing her cheek-bulge.
"In any case, he means business," the boy drains the bottle of San Pelegrino into his glass and downs it. Kalahili tries to catch a waiter's attention to order another. "Compared to Azazeal, Qiran was small-fry."
"Like a newt."
"What's a newt?" says Kalahili and Big-Sis starts Googling for the Arabic equivalent on her blackberry. The Boy tries to indicate the size of the thing with his fingers but then gives up and attempts to explain. "If Qiran was village elder of some African tribe of forty huts, Azazeal would be secretary of state of the United States of America."
"Errrrrr," Pixi is none the wiser for this. She’s politically and numerologically challenged.
"Who's Qiran?" asks Kalahili, and Big-Sis goes to Google.
"He's my uncle. Late."
"He's coming?" asks Big-sis.
"No he's dead," says Pixi.
"Oh, I'm very sorry," says Big-Sis to the Boy.
"Don't be. I killed him," the Boy says nonchalantly through a mouthful of spicy sausage, and she and Kalahili look mortified. "He was Ifrit."
"Masha-Allah," says Kalahili, a little surprised, a little impressed but mostly like he’s missed the first instalment of a trilogy.
"So who is he exactly, this Azazeal MDXVII?" Big-sis asks.
"He's the most junior among the seventeen Dai-tengu."
"The great Tengu, they're like demonic high-priests," is his response, and it strikes a familiar cord in Pixi’s mind, which is like a bric-brack shop of useless or archaic facts in the true Wilde-inian sense of the word.
"You mean Tengu, as in the Japanese Tengu?" she asks.
"Tengu is an evil spirit in Japanese folklore," Pixi explains to big-Sis and Kalahili. "They must basically be Ifrit Djinn."
"They're THE ifrit Djinn," corrects the boy, "Azazeal holds sway over the Higo province. He’s known to the locals of Higo, as Ajari." The San Pelegrino arrives.
"So what do Japanese Djinn have to do with us?" asks Kalahili
"They’re no more Japanese Djinn than I am British. They’re just Djinn in Japan. There have been many wars to curb the rebellions of my kind. The last great war forced us to flee to the Eastern Islands. That's where they built their strongholds. That's where they thrived. And over time, man made many things of them; spirits, demons, gods."
"Astagfirullah," mutters Kalahili.
“So what does he want?” Asks Big-Sis.
“I don’t know,” the Boy scratches his head, dishevelling his mousy hair. “He commands a leviathan of an army, and has over ten like Qiran at his beck and call. It doesn’t make sense to me why he’d be appearing in people’s dreams."
"ShiKt," Pixi hangs her head in despair. "We're doomed whatever way you look at it. Might as well just lay down and die now."
"Shuddup Pixi!" Big-sis snaps. "No one's dying!"
“What she said,” the Boy quips, grabbing Pixi’s fork from her hand. He’s had enough of watching her push food about her plate for 48 minutes straight. Startled, Pixi looks up at him. He meets her look, holds it, and then brings the fork down on a by-standing potato rather threateningly. It makes Pixi flinch and then she flinches again when he holds it under her nose. Taken aback she sits there a little cluelessly. "Eat, woman!" He orders and turns to Big-sis and Kalahili who have been interrupted in their own conversation and, like Pixi, are also looking at him. "She's wasting," he offers.
"Yeah, I tend to do that." Pixi takes the fork from the boy and the potato into her mouth. "haven't disappeared yet," she adds with a new bulge in her cheek.
"Shuddup," the boy quips, grabbing her fork again, stabbing a second potato and pointing it at her.
"Yeah, you tell her," says Big-sis, who's savoring the satisfaction of watching someone other than herself scold Pixi for wasting. “So any way,” she tries to guide the conversation back to the matter at hand. “What do we have to do?”
“We have to be on our guard,” the Boy gives Pixi’s fork back to her, confident that she will now be able to use it herself. “And I will alert my people. Something is amok. We’ll soon find out what. ” It doesn’t escape Pixi’s attention that the Boy mentions nothing about ‘harvesting’ to Big-Sis and Kalahili. For this she is thankful, because it means their nightly encounter with Azazeal was not grave enough to necessitate alerting them to it. She is also equally troubled though, because it means hers was grave enough for the Boy to decide to conceal it from her family.
Pixi sees out her notice period with newfound purpose. That of seeing out her notice period. Upping sticks is what they call it. And it involves finding new homes for her limited Ikea furniture; Tying up loose ends at work; Neatly packaging her responsibilities with detailed instructions in email format; Passing on contacts; dishing out business cards, and saying long drawn-out goodbyes. Over billowing cigarettes and Arabic dubbed Turkish soaps in the evening, Tunisian-Flatmate tells Pixi she’ll miss her. Kinsi, The only other friend Pixi made in Abu Dhabi, tells her the same over Shiesha at One to One Hotel’s sad fish restaurant, which had once suffered a ruthless review at Pixi’s pen. Her work colleagues ditto the sentiment but don’t really mean it, which is fine because the feeling is mutual.
During this month the Boy also keeps busy, which involves him disappearing and reappearing rather frequently. He requests assistance from his clan to send out scouts and up surveillance on the borders. He calls in favours and asks for star-logs dating back from two years prior to be examined for possible breach patterns or significant incidents. He sets about reading universal signs, and the behaviour of certain heavenly bodies particularly grabs his interest. Namely, Venus and Jupiter have taken to aligning with the moon for several nights straight.
When he’s not scrutinising the night sky, the Boy turns his scrutiny to Pixi. He’s subtle, so she mistakenly suspects on occasion that he’s checking her out. But he’s also very thorough. Eventually, and during her final week in Abu Dhabi, the Boy’s conclusive suspicions grow to un-ignorable proportions. He pops the question.
At the time, Pixi is systematically packing. Her red suitcase looks like a bento-box, with all her clothes and possessions arranged into neat little sections inside it. Pixi notices the ruminating way the Boy looks at her handiwork and quips, "Ok, so I don't colour coordinate my underwear anymore, but there's nothing wrong with being neat. I don't like losing things." Her use of the word 'neat' is a gross understatement of course but the Boy doesn't point this out. Instead he says, "When was the last time you lost something?"
"I lost a sock the other day. It didn't come back out with my washing. But then it came out with my Tunisian-flatmate's. That machine is rhubarb!"
"No, I mean, really lost something. You know, without explanation. And so you never found it again."
"Oh that's easy," Pixi's closet OCD pokes out its nerdy head. "My house keys and my prayer beads disappeared last year. I turned the whole flat inside out before the move, but they never materialised. I'm still gutted about the key-chain. Little-Sis had given it to me. And the prayer beads were from Damascus."
"Was this before or after you and 夢幻 broke up?" the Boy's mention of 夢幻 dampens Pixi's mood.
"What's he got to do with anything?"
"Just answer the question."
"Before," says Pixi, trying not to remember any other details about the dark times which followed, and everything started going to shiKt. How their relationship had expired almost overnight. How a coldness had descended over their home. How words became few and forthcoming. How their meeting gazes became clouded. How 夢幻 started coming home later from the restaurant where he worked, and Pixi couldn't greet him by burying her nose into his top, taking a deep, satiating breath of relief and declaring 'yummy!' because he smelled of tempura.
After he left, misfortune followed ugly misfortune at near-comic frequency. By the end of it all, the only thing missing from Pixi’s plethora of misfortunes was a car accident that would leave her blind and busking at tube stations.
"And when did you last communicate with Glorious?" asks the Boy.
"What's he got to do with anything?" Pixi says again, her annoyance growing.
"Nothing, I hope," is the obscure response.
That evening, the Boy pulls his final disappearing act. While he’s away investigating the possibility of black-magic, Pixi is taking a detour home from work. She follows a random route that turns into some residential streets, passing villas which remind her of growing up in Saudi Arabia. The evening is warm and it carries the scent of night blooming flowers on its windless refrains. Pixi spies running children, and Indian men holding hands, and drinking-water fountains posted outside homes as a charitable gesture for passersby on a hot day. Thus she says her goodbyes to this strange city. And then she hears a cat calling from across the empty street. It calls to Pixi in particular, as if it'd been waiting for her, and was complaining that she's late.
Pixi halts under a buzzing street lamp, and waits as the cat crosses over very vocally. Pixi notices that the cat is a Mrs cat, and furthermore, that she is with kitten. She reaches into her shopping bag for the film wrapped polystyrene tray of smoked turkey salami. Mrs cat complains impatiently as Pixi struggles to unwrap the cling film and extract a slice of turkey. 'ok, ok, it's coming,' she says to Mrs cat, and then finally crouches to present her with a slice. Mrs cat takes it and traipses off, her bulging kitten-bump in tow.
Pixi thinks of Sufi-cat in Turkey with Mum and Little-Sis. She thinks about Big-sis and Kalahili in Dubai, about Dad in London, and about how life scatters families to the winds. Then she considers her encounter with Mrs cat. It dawns on her that there might be a kind of script for them all, a plot and stage cues even, determining the routes they'll walk, the lines they'll talk, the people and cats they'll cross paths with. It makes her feel safe. As if there's a safety net.
When finally the evening heat gets too much for walking, Pixi catches a cab. When she gets in, she finds that Tunisian-Flatmate is out, and so settles for a lonely dinner propped up in her bed, the TV filling the room with noise. She has a cigarette, and then reads. But her mind keeps wandering off away from the narrative, and she has to keep pausing to go after and fetch it back. Eventually the effort makes her tired, and Pixi falls asleep with the side lamp on and face buried in her book.
At three am she’s wakes with a start and an imprint of a page on her left cheek.
"How’zzatwhywho? " she exclaims.
"Shhhhhh!" the boy shushes angrily as he climbs onto the bed. "Tunisian-Flatmate’s back. You’re gonna wake her!" He plumps up the pillow next to hers as Pixi sits there a while, waiting for her faculties to return. He lies on his back and closing his eyes, breathes a deep sigh.
"Eh, what’s this?"
"What does it look like?"
"Dude, you’re not sleeping in my bed."
"I’m not in your bed, I’m on your bed. And I’m not sleeping,” the Boy turns over onto his side, facing Pixi, and hugs his pillow. “I’m just resting my eye-lids while I keep watch over you."
“I don’t need you keeping watch,” Pixi pushes him “Now get out!” Caught off-guard he falls off the side.
“Oww!” The Boy sits up and glares at her. “Fine! –if that’s how you treat a guy that’s just returned from waging most valorous combat in your name?” He grabs the pillow, and makes himself comfortable across the sheepskin on the floor.
“What are you spewing?” Pixi was about to turn out the night-lamp but has a second thought. When she gets no response, she inches to the other end of the bed and peers over its edge. Eyes closed, the Boy is lying with one arm under his head. His breathing isn’t steady enough for him to be asleep already, which means he’s ignoring her. “Hey,” she tries again. “What does that mean?”
“It means you so need me keeping watch, because you’re utterly useless at protecting yourself and particularly vulnerable at present.”
“You met Azazeal?”
“Sure. We had a drink. Played some pool.”
“Eh?!” Pixi ‘eh’s and the Boy opens his eyes to behold at her in all her spectacular idiocy.
“Azazeal? Really?” he cocks an eyebrow.
“The guy who was responsible for you being found.”
“Found? Since when was I lost?”
“Since Jordan. Since Al-Aqazaam put a veil over you and your family, coz after what happened to Qiraan there’d be questions, and a whole lot of Ifrit wanting to know the full story.”
“But I never killed Qiraan.”
“Of course not. I did. But I was able to do it because of you.”
“Ok.” Pixi sits up pensively and crosses her legs. “So we were safe. For a while. But now we’re not?”
“No. You’re not.”
“What like the black-eye?”
“Yes. Combine it with someone with the capacity to do black-magic, and you don’t just have misfortune befalling you.”
“You’ve never read The Tale of Genji?”
“No, I believe in all that, it’s just….who would…why?”
“When was the last time you communicated with Glorious?” The Boy sits up, and looks Pixi square in the face. She’s flummoxed.
“That’s impossible.” Pixi goes pale. “He was pissed at me but…he’d never…”
“Never what? Want to hurt you?” The Boy is sorry that this news is distressing her so, but he remains cold-blooded. He needs to drive it home so she won’t forget it. “Pride, bitterness and stupidity –it’s the recipe for disaster. Oh he wanted to hurt you alright, though he didn’t realise the breadth and extent of what he was dealing with. In any case it’s too late now.” The Boy pulls off his t-shirt so Pixi has to look away, and lies back down. “Could you get the light please, I want to sleep.”